The NSFW ‘Deadpool and Wolverine’ Interview: Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman and Shawn Levy Go Deep on Making Marvel’s Wildest, Crudest Movie

Deadpool and Wolverine actors and director
Mary Ellen Matthews for Variety

Is this a photo shoot or a bawdy stand-up comedy routine?

When you’re hanging out with Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman and Shawn Levy, the team behind this summer’s “Deadpool & Wolverine,” it can be hard to know the difference. Instead of focusing on getting camera ready, the three men are cracking themselves up in a game of “Can you top this outrageous punchline?”

Given that they’re here to sell a raunchy, boundary-pushing sequel to the most profane superhero franchise in history, it’s not surprising that many of the jokes are NSFW. Take the moment when 47-year-old Reynolds, who stars in the film with Jackman, stands on a chair for a photo with his crotch hovering over writer-director Levy’s head. “What is happening?” Levy exclaims in feigned horror. Reynolds shrugs. “You’ve never been teabagged before?” he says.

That’s the kind of line that fans have come to expect from Deadpool, the merc with a mouth that Reynolds has played with such abandon for nearly a decade. Jackman, whose gruff Wolverine is the target of Deadpool’s humor in the latest film, serves the same role this mid-May morning. When the conversation shifts to the large splint on Jackman’s pinkie, the 55-year-old action star insists it’s no big deal. “It’s a broken tendon,” he says. “I just need to keep it straight for eight weeks, and it fixes itself.”

Mary Ellen Matthews for Variety

Reynolds rolls his eyes and pounces. “Oh, is that all?” You can see the wheels turning in his head as Deadpool takes over his brain. He looks at Levy and whispers, “Just an unfortunate masturbation incident.” Jackman, overhearing this, snorts and says, “I sprained my ankle last time.”

Dick jokes are normal for Deadpool but novel for Disney. The studio might need to cover Mickey’s and Minnie’s ears as it prepares to welcome a mercenary with a disfigured face and a balletic vulgarity into its Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the past 15 years, Disney’s MCU has attempted to get edgier — dropping an f-bomb in 2023’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” and showing the Hulk’s bare butt in 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok.” But “Deadpool & Wolverine,” whose characters were owned by Fox until 2019, is pushing the family-friendly empire to take even more risks.

In promos for the film, for instance, Deadpool jokes that Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige said cocaine was the only thing off-limits. In real life, Feige insists he didn’t issue that edict. “We were open to anything,” Feige says. “Maybe I’m slightly prudish when it comes to drug use, but I was like, ‘Eh, it’s not that funny.’”

Introducing a character who revels in perversity to this comic book world, though, proved to be educational for many Disney employees. “There’s a line in the red-band trailer — you don’t have to write this in the article, for crying out loud! — about pegging,” Feige says. “I know what pegging is — it’s in the first ‘Deadpool’ movie. But there were people I work with who didn’t know what it was. I had to explain it to them.”

As the House of Mouse braces for an R-rated makeover, Hollywood is eager to see if Reynolds, Jackman and Levy can help the superhero genre regain its footing. Though the MCU has delivered an unprecedented string of blockbusters across 33 films over 15 years, it has stumbled with more recent entries like “Eternals,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and “The Marvels.” In response, the comic book giant is trying to slow its cadence of spinoffs, sequels and TV series, leaving “Deadpool & Wolverine” as 2024’s lone Marvel Studios movie — the first time that’s happened since 2012’s “The Avengers.”

Mary Ellen Matthews for Variety

And Marvel isn’t the only one that needs “Deadpool & Wolverine” to deliver. The film is hitting screens as the box office is in a rut; the billion-dollar “Inside Out 2” helped, but ticket sales are down 17% from last year, and revenues have plummeted 36% from pre-pandemic levels.

If the movie business is holding out for a hero, the good news is “Deadpool & Wolverine,” which hits theaters on July 26, is projected to be one of summer’s biggest movies. That’s partly because Reynolds has upped the ante for the third installment, bringing Jackman’s brooding mutant back from retirement and enlisting Levy, the filmmaker behind commercial hits like 2006’s “Night at the Museum” and Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” to navigate the project through a long and winding journey to theaters. Development on the third film began at 20th Century Fox in 2018 but was left in limbo until Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of the studio in 2019.

“Deadpool & Wolverine” also offers Reynolds and Jackman the chance at a do-over. The characters faced off 15 years ago in 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and fans hated the film, feeling that Deadpool was far removed from his wisecracking comic book roots. But that “X-Men” movie, however flawed, proved critical: It motivated Reynolds to do right by the character, whom he relaunched with 2016’s “Deadpool.” That film, an artful, violent, self-referential comedy with niche jokes about Jared from Subway, Judy Blume and Shake Weights, grossed $782 million globally against its relatively trim $58 million budget. The sequel was even bigger, and at the time became the highest-grossing R-rated movie in history with $785 million in worldwide ticket sales. Now, with plenty of goodwill and support from Disney and Marvel, Reynolds gets to try again with Jackman.

 For Jackman, it’s the chance to play in something far sillier than the relentlessly sad “Logan” —the last Wolverine film until now. Gay sex jokes (another MCU first!), references to blow and bloody limbs fly in “Deadpool & Wolverine.” The exact plot remains opaque (the three certainties in life are death, taxes and Marvel movies remaining shrouded in secrecy), but the film starts as Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool) quits being a hired gun to become a used-car salesman. As he readjusts to a quieter reality, he’s approached by the Time Variance Authority — an organization that monitors the multiverse — and sent on a mission with Wolverine to save the Merc’s home universe. The result is an odd-couple pairing of the surly alpha male and the silly pansexual vigilante.

 As they sit down to talk about their latest film, with a few jokes about obscure sex acts tossed in, Jackman, Reynolds and Levy somehow manage to keep things PG. Well, PG-13.

Hugh, did you have any reservations about returning to Wolverine? Did you miss playing the character after “Logan”? 

Hugh Jackman: I didn’t miss it for a long time. And then, literally, it came to me one day as I was driving down to the beach. I knew I wanted to do this. I literally stopped the car, got out and called Ryan. He said, “Are you serious?” I said, “I’m serious.” And I hung up the phone. I thought I should probably call my agent. I had zero reservations about returning, but I was really happy with “Logan.” I said to these guys, “We’ve got to make a good reason for it to exist.”

So where did you start in terms of the story? How did Hugh joining change things? 

Shawn Levy: We had been trying to craft a story for several months. We had some interesting approaches, but it never gelled. Literally within a day of Hugh joining this story, we knew what the movie was.

Ryan Reynolds: We had a why. When Hugh called, Shawn and I were on our last pitch. Right before, we were like, “We’ll do the Zoom with Marvel, and if they don’t bite on this pitch that we have, we’ll stand down.”

LEVY: We got on Zoom with Feige, and he’s like, “Look, we’re not quite cracking it.” We were able to say, “Actually, a new wrinkle: What would you say to the Wolverine?”

REYNOLDS: We won’t belabor the creative part of it too long, but Hugh also unlocked the biggest thing when he sent us a 10-minute voice memo.

LEVY: It was more like 17 minutes.

REYNOLDS: Which is a terrifying thing to get from anyone. You’re like, “17 minutes?”

That’s a podcast episode.   

LEVY: It basically was.

REYNOLDS: I was like, “We’re fucked.”

LEVY: Ryan and I were working out together, which already is a shaky premise. What am I doing in that gym? But we get this text on our chain, and it’s a voice memo. We’re like, “The guy couldn’t call? He couldn’t type?” We connected Hugh’s voice memo to Bluetooth speakers, and it was Hugh scratching at “I’m happy with the script, but is there more?”

REYNOLDS: He was scratching at something opaque, and then suddenly it triggered epiphany after epiphany. So, Hugh, you have a huge hand in writing the movie as well. One of my favorite parts of your character in the film is from that voice memo.

Mary Ellen Matthews for Variety
Hugh, do you remember sending the voice note?   

JACKMAN: Fully. And I was embarrassed. I think at some point I say, “I am repeating myself …”

REYNOLDS: You said, “If you guys are still listening to this …”

JACKMAN: It was inarticulate. I learned this from my acting teacher: When you first read a play or script, write down everything you think because you never have those eyes again. So I read the script and immediately did a voice note. I didn’t call because I wanted it just to be my [stream of conscious] without any questions. And 16 minutes of it is crap, but there’s probably a minute in there that ends up [working].

These are two heavyweight characters. How did you decide who gets top billing in the movie’s title?   

REYNOLDS: Yeah, is it “Deadpool 3” or is it “Wolverine 10”? Certainly seniority, I mean, he’s 34 years older, so you want to take care of your elders.

JACKMAN: I don’t care. [To Levy] It was sweet that you called it “Wolverine & Deadpool.” I thought it was generous.

REYNOLDS: [To Jackman] It’s actually called “Deadpool & Wolverine.” I’m so sorry.

JACKMAN: Wolverine obviously cares, because he would never be in a movie where it wasn’t called “Wolverine & Deadpool.”

Mary Ellen Matthews for Variety
Ryan, you are the creative driving force of these films. How is it different making a “Deadpool” movie for Marvel versus the prior two at Fox?   

REYNOLDS: I have the least interesting answer. It’s been so lovely. They’ve been amazing partners. Shawn and I are exhausting them as opposed to the other way around. They allowed us to evolve not just Deadpool, but evolve Wolverine, and I think …

LEVY: … the MCU.

The first “Deadpool” has jokes about not having a budget to include more X-Men characters in the movie. Did you have more freedom this time?   

REYNOLDS: A little bit. But necessity is the mother of invention. The more constraints you place on a creative process, the more you think outside of the box. So, personally, I didn’t want more money than we needed. We wanted just enough money to make what we set out to make, but also find ways to creatively pivot.

LEVY: Certain stars or directors get some swagger from how big a budget they got from the studio. We want to make the movie for what it needs and not a penny more. Because it’s an MCU movie, access to certain characters and mythology was pretty unrestricted; that led to juicy moments and story­lines in the movie.

REYNOLDS: And a lot of nagging. With Marvel, I noticed a pattern, which is like, [we’d say], “Can we maybe have this thing that we would love to see?” And they’re like, “Oh, no, absolutely not.” Then like a week goes by and we’re like, “Can we have that thing we mentioned last week?” They’re like, “We’ll see.” And then a week later we’re like, “We really need that thing.” And they’re like, “OK, fine. Have it. We’ll deal with it later.”

LEVY: This happened at least a half-dozen times on certain things that are central to the movie.

REYNOLDS: Some sacred cows.

Ryan and Hugh, how did it feel to reunite as these characters after the less-than-beloved “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”?   

REYNOLDS: The first time we worked together on “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” it’s easy to say we got some things wrong. Deadpool sewing up his mouth was one of the all-time foolish studio notes. But at the same time, I’m so grateful for it. Hugh was a huge influence on me. It was the first time I saw how a movie star operates on set, and it defied all the preconceived notions for a movie star. He was so warm and welcoming. He made it safe to play. He knew every single person’s name.

JACKMAN: Thanks, Rob.

REYNOLDS: Thanks, Dale?

Mary Ellen Matthews for Variety
Hugh, how does life change for you when it’s time to play Wolverine?   

JACKMAN: Parts of my life get very boring. I have to sleep more. I get very disciplined. Part of me quite enjoys it.

REYNOLDS: People make too much of the physical transformation. It places a weird expectation for actors. But that was remarkable — you started looking like Tommy Tune. You packed on an entire other Hugh.

Ryan, how fit do you need to be to play Deadpool?   

REYNOLDS: It’s not so much about the aesthetic, though I have to fill out the suit. But you want people to see that you’re putting in the work. It makes me feel like I earned it. I have an intense relationship with Deadpool. My middle daughter said, “Daddy, when can you stop Deadpooling?” I was like, “Soon, baby. I promise.”

JACKMAN: You do have to stop wearing that mask in the house.

LEVY: Yeah, that’s getting weird.

JACKMAN: Just therapy coming down the pike.

REYNOLDS: It is weird. Listen, Blake [Lively] insists, so I just do it.

Hugh, this is the first time Wolverine wears his iconic yellow suit. How did you find the right look?   

JACKMAN: We had a couple of rounds of it. When we first started this in 1999, everyone was in black leather. Part of my brain was institutionalized that that’s the way it is. Then gradually watching the Marvel movies, I’m like, “This actually looks cool.” As soon as I put it on, I couldn’t believe I never had before.

REYNOLDS: I’ve never seen a crew reaction like that. We barely talked about the suit in the early development because it was a no-brainer. You don’t do this character now unless he’s in the suit.

This might be the first R-rated movie for many Marvel fans. How young is too young to see this movie?   

LEVY: It’s obviously R-rated, and I don’t want to get in trouble by encouraging …

REYNOLDS: I do. So many kids have seen “Deadpool” and “Deadpool 2.” My own kids have seen it. And they came damaged. But it’s never rated R just to be rated R. A lot of it is just the character. The character is very crass. His brain is like a half-eaten omelet inside the skull of a 7-year-old.

JACKMAN: I’m going to be responsible here. Don’t bring a 2-year-old.

LEVY: OK, fine. We draw the line at 3.

REYNOLDS: Don’t bring a 114-year-old, because that person will not leave alive. Anyone in a diaper.

Are there jokes or references that you had to Google after working with Ryan?   

JACKMAN: 100%. And thankfully, there’s a long monologue where one of the characters goes, “I don’t know what any of that means.” I was like, “Me too!”

LEVY: Ryan has a superpower of being able to invent forms of swearing that humankind has never known. Then there are obscure cultural references. Often, we’d be writing and passing the laptop back and forth. He’d turn it to me, and I’d be like, “I don’t know if that’s funny because I don’t understand that word.”

REYNOLDS: Well, there’s Ryan who’s the dad and husband, and then there’s Ryan [whispers] after dark. But everyone has that. There’s a Hugh [whispers] after dark and a Shawn [whispers] after dark.

JACKMAN: [Whispers] Not really — he’s asleep by 8 o’clock.

Since Deadpool is famously pansexual, is there sexual chemistry or tension between him and Wolverine?   

REYNOLDS: I can’t speak for Wolverine, but I feel like Deadpool has sexual tension with everything and everyone.

JACKMAN: Don’t deny this is special.

REYNOLDS: There is a … you’re right. I feel it right now. My God, like two magnets facing the wrong direction.

LEVY: Wade is a fan of the Wolverine. He drives [Wolverine] crazy off-screen and on. But there’s a reverence. There’s a fanboy love.

Mary Ellen Matthews for Variety
Now that Deadpool and Wolverine joined the MCU, will either of you appear in “Avengers” movies?

REYNOLDS: I don’t know. Yeah, we’ll see. Yeah.

LEVY: Now is where you go to the descriptive part of the article and say, “They were shuffling in their seats.

JACKMAN: Clearly, this is our first major interview of this press tour. I’m not sure how to answer.

LEVY: We’re going to get a far more packed and evasive answer for all future interviews.

REYNOLDS:An echoing cough in the distance; a hawk circles.” You can throw that in there if you like.

There’s been talk recently about whether blockbuster entertainment can be emotionally resonant. So how do you achieve feeling like there are big stakes when you’re working within a multiverse where it can feel like nothing is permanent?   

REYNOLDS: I know what you mean. Within the film, that exact thing is acknowledged. The emotional stakes have almost nothing to do with life and death.

LEVY: “Deadpool” is never going to be a space-battle, save-the-universe franchise. It’s a beautifully grounded character. This movie is definitely big in spectacle, but the stakes for Logan, for Wade, are what we anchor into. The multiverse is just a backdrop.

How is the theatrical landscape changed since the first “X-Men” and “Deadpool” movies?   

REYNOLDS: Well, come on. OK, there was this thing called streaming. No, it’s changed a lot. But people are craving connection. Even last year, “Barbenheimer” were huge event movies that people felt compelled to experience together. You need to have a movie that has a heightened-spectacle element to draw people, more so than those mid-budget films that packed them in in the early aughts.

JACKMAN: I agree. This is not my theory, but a guy who runs a studio was telling me that in 2000, people were going to the movies every weekend. He said, “Our job was just to tell them … this is a rom-com, this is a horror movie, and they chose off the menu.” It’s different now; there has to be a reason to go.

The box office is way down, and last year, several superhero movies were rejected by audiences. Do you feel any pressure in that regard?   

LEVY: I’m aware of that. We decided early, we’re going to shut out the noise.

JACKMAN: There’s always pressure, isn’t there? It doesn’t matter what movie you’re doing. In 1999, everyone was like, “You are doing a comic movie?” I had people say to me, “Make sure you booked another film before this thing comes out.” A good movie, whatever the genre, will rise to the surface.

Ryan, how much longer can you see yourself playing Deadpool?   

REYNOLDS: I don’t know. I could see any version of it. I can imagine a solo movie, being part of an ensemble. I can imagine that this is also the last time. I never feel anything other than that.

What were your last “Deadpool”-related dreams?   

REYNOLDS: I have so many nightmares.

LEVY: Making this movie has corrupted my mind so hideously. I was a clean-living Canadian when I met this guy.

REYNOLDS: You’re a filthy bugger now. I caught him smoking baby powder the other day. Who does that?

JACKMAN: Well, I wear the Deadpool suit to bed.

REYNOLDS: It’d be very tight on you with those muscles.

JACKMAN: It feels right.

LEVY: You were asking about sexual tension …

REYNOLDS: Yeah, there you go. Anyone have any oil? Let’s grease this seal up and do it. Let’s go.

Set Design: Dan Warden; Groomer (Levy): Natalia Bruschi; Styling (Levy): Chloe Harshen/The Wall Group; Groomer (Jackman): Thomas Dunkin/Art Dept. using R&Co and Mario Badescu; Groomer (Reynolds): Monica Huppert; Styling: Ilaria Urbinati/The Wall Group

From Variety US