Ryan Reynolds - Canadian beatific

Ryan Reynolds, Mr Scarlett Johansson, is Hollywood's new go-to hunk, equally at home in horror and rom-com. By Lesley O'Toole

Sandra Bullock knows exactly who to thank for the most successful American opening of any of her films ever ($33m plus). Women of most ages are lapping up The Proposal, in which Bullock's Devil Wears Prada-esque Canadian boss dupes her American assistant into marriage to avoid deportation. It's not that they don't still appreciate the slightly daffy Bullock, but they seem to like her assistant, played by the 32-year-old, effortlessly winning, Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds even more.

"It's definitely a big, busy year for me," he smiles, bashfully. He has previously told me he finds celebrity interviews "emotionally violent" because "they're all about me". He is having to get used to them. This year in the US, Reynolds has starred in Fireflies in the Garden, second-billed, amid a host of stars, to Julia Roberts. Reviews were fairly mixed, but Reynolds drew universal praise for his performance. In the critically-acclaimed Adventureland (directed by Superbad's Greg Mottola, billed as this year's Juno and released here in September) he was a dislikeable cheating husband, and in X-Men Origins: Wolverine he introduced the insane, wisecracking character of Deadpool.

Discerning film-obsessed young men appear to like him too. Reaction to Reynolds's parlaying his Wolverine debut as Wade Wilson (later Deadpool) into his own spin-off movie seems surprisingly positive. And next month, Reynolds goes to Barcelona to film an indie psychological horror film for the Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes called Buried. "I'm the only person in the whole movie," he explains, of playing a civilian contractor in Iraq who is buried alive with a cellphone, candle and knife.

Few would dispute that Reynolds is suddenly Hollywood's go-to thirty-something leading man. Undeniably handsome, the actor exudes a "good guy" appeal and, therefore, popularity with men and women of all ages and sexual persuasions. He has few current challengers in his age bracket bar The Hangover's Bradley Cooper.

While Cooper fooled around with Scarlett Johansson, 24, in this year's He's Just Not That Into You, Reynolds married her for real last September (after a serious engagement to Alanis Morissette) at a remote retreat outside Vancouver. When he was engaged to Morissette, he told me that he had tried relationships with Hollywood actresses: "It's not my bag." Now he defers questions about his marriage.

Ask him anything else and he is warm and animated, not overly impressed with his new Hollywood status but aware of its import in his own rapidly-changing life.

"I haven't auditioned in a long, long time," he says, matter-of-factly. "But if you want a film and they don't want you, sometimes you have to go fight for it." It is unclear whether Reynolds fought to be Buried. And he did not fight for The Proposal, which came to him in the random way that Hollywood projects do, despite the fact that he and Bullock had been close friends for almost a decade. It is their crackling chemistry which makes the film, with more than a decade's age difference between them and not a single cougar joke in range. "Chemistry is one of the few magical components left in this business and we had exactly what we were looking for, that spark, all the fireworks. This happened organically. It was like the stars aligned."

Aligned they have, too, for an actor who almost quit and who suggests that his family was sceptical during his early professional days. "I'd say my parents offered a modicum of support", he laughs. "My father's a cop and more rough round the edge, my brother's a cop too" – he's the youngest of four brothers. "It's not a family you'd think would produce someone who wants to go and sing and dance in Hollywood. And being a cop was a distant second after acting. It was a necessity that acting worked out. Now, they're over the moon."

From mainstream TV guest roles, he scored a regular gig on the sitcom Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place which kept him employed for three years until 2001 and allowed him to live more comfortably in LA and fly home to Vancouver ("I get homesick") more often. He does not say if his family ("conservative but shockingly open to a lot of stuff") is over the moon about his racy (for a rom-com) nude scene with Sandra Bullock in The Proposal. Reynolds describes it colourfully, and not inaccurately as, "nudity with stunts; expertly-lit Cirque du Soleil porn."

Reynolds's ridiculously chiselled abs seem to appear with some regularity in the film. "If I were really into that, I'd ask you to take my life with fire," he laughs of the Sexiest Man Alive accolades, but admits the tag can have some advantages. "It has a bit of a nod towards a certain marketability I guess." Rather disingenuously, he says he's not the sort to pump iron on set and that he just happened to be training for the New York Marathon at the time. "I was running five to eight miles every morning but a nice by-product was I had this nude scene upcoming." A typically Canadian outdoorsy-type, Reynolds also says he loves to hike: "I get depressed if I don't move every day."

He has always recognised the value of a great motorcycle trip up and down the stunning Big Sur coast in California and enjoys far-flung travels. He's trying to get one of his brothers to join him at the Top Of The World in Yukon, Canada for "midnight baseball when it's 24 hours of daylight", and recently visited Malawi with a writer-director friend where they helped build a well. Ask him slightly teasingly if he's competing with Madonna and Angelina, and he's ready with a quip. "No I'm not. I didn't leave with a child."

Do attractive men ever suffer the same apparent plight as attractive women in Hollywood – too pretty to be taken seriously? "That's a sweet thing to say. As an actor you always want to try different things and do different things. I wish I could look really different from one role to the next but you've just kind of got to go with what you're given. Look at Brad Pitt. He does fairly alternative, yet mainstream kind of work and honestly I've always considered myself a character actor. I don't care if I'm a big or small role."

Though Reynolds relishes his versatility, and resolutely strives not to repeat himself – "I get a little cooked doing the same thing over and over" – comedies have traditionally been his forte and comfort zone. Some have been better than others (some – not least 2005's Waiting – egregious) though, amazingly, 2002's Van Wilder won Reynolds something of a cult following.

"I started in comedy, and comedy to me was reactive to my environment. That was a shield, a defence mechanism to really avoid vulnerability. All kids are in pain, and that was my guard. It's really hard to put that down sometimes... it's really been about that search for me – being honest and vulnerable and letting go of anything that defends. Every actor has their significant challenges that they have to face – for me that's been it."

One of his favourites of his films was last year's Definitely, Maybe, a Working Title film designed to showcase Reynolds as that next thirty-something leading man now that Clooney, Depp, Grant et al are all the wrong side of 45. It did not do quite the business intended. Reynolds adores it regardless. "Smart movie, well done. It didn't pull any punches. I loved it."

Of his mix-it-up strategy – which has also included horror films (2005's The Amityville Horror and 2004's Blade: Trinity), Reynolds says pragmatically, "I think you have a longer career. Saying 'no' is part of it too, part of growing up. It's hard. It's an instant age. Get everything now, gotta keep going. It's hard to slow down. I'm just trying to integrate it all. Trying to find ways to balance it all. I can't just keep working and working and working because I can't have a relationship if I do that."

For a minute or two he even seems able to forget the whole "emotional violence" of it all and relish his first bona fide Hollywood hit. "The Proposal's a bit of a documentary as I'm a Canadian who married an American. I can say that I'm legal and we get all sort of benefits... Now I feel satiated and full and ready to move onto the next challenge."

'The Proposal' opens on 22 July

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