For six years, screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick had one mission in life: to get "Deadpool" made.
Before the film starring the eponymous foul-mouthed superhero broke box-office records in 2016 and became a 2017 award-season darling (including Golden Globes and a good chance at an Oscar), just getting a film made about the Merc with a Mouth was considered a million-to-one shot.
But thanks to the perseverance of Resse, Wernick, director Tim Miller, and of course Ryan Reynolds — who had been trying for over a decade to give the character a worthy standalone movie — they are now the toast of Hollywood, spawning imitators of their surprise R-rated blockbuster.
Reese and Wernick talked to Business Insider in a wide-ranging interview about what they're planning for the sequel, the shocking exit of Miller from the franchise over "creative differences," how James Cameron played a big part in keeping the movie alive, and why they would most likely have walked away from their screenwriting careers if "Deadpool" never got made.
Jason Guerrasio: When did you two start talking about a sequel? Or were you told to get started?
Rhett Reese: Yeah, it was June of 2015.
Paul Wernick: We were on set in May shooting the first one. The studio came out, they weren't out on set much, but they all came out and one of the executives said, "We need to start talking to you guys about a sequel." They had been watching dailies and were feeling bullish. A lot of times studios will start thinking about a sequel and say to the screenwriter: "We're thinking about a sequel. We're not going to pay you, but keep it in the back of your mind." With Fox, the next week we made a deal to write the sequel and started in June while the movie was still shooting.
Reese: Well, we were outlining.
Reese: We didn't start writing until a couple of months before the movie came out. We started writing around December and we're still writing. It's been a year process of slowly honing, trying this, trying that. It's really coming together. I think we're onto a draft that's going to be the movie.
Guerrasio: How many drafts deep are you currently in?
Reese: It's not that simple because we do so many revisions. They aren't really discrete drafts because it's constantly being revised.
Guerrasio: But you guys are feeling you're close to something that has a foundation?
Reese: We're feeling very good. It will shoot this year for sure.
Guerrasio: IMDb currently has the release date as March 2, 2018. Is that correct?
Wernick: Fox hasn't set a release date. We got to shoot this thing. But that's well beyond our pay grade.
Guerrasio: Will Cable be in the sequel?
Wernick: He will be in the sequel. The comic book fans will be pleased. It's going to feel authentic and of the world and tone that Cable was created and conceived in, and I think he will fit perfectly into the Deadpool universe in a way that will excite fans and non-fans who don't know who he is and fall in love with him by the end.
Guerrasio: Was Cable an early idea even back when Fox came to you saying they wanted to do a sequel?
Wernick: There was even talk of having Cable be in the first movie because he's so tied into that universe and he's such a fan favorite. People were like, "You can't make a 'Deadpool' movie without Cable," and our feeling was let's make the first one and establish Deadpool and then once the audience knows who Deadpool is let's then build out his universe. Fortunately, we have a second movie, and we will introduce him in a real way and he will be integral in the story in this next one.
Guerrasio: Can you talk a little about the exit of director Tim Miller from your vantage point?
Reese: The clean and true answer is exactly what first came out in the press: It was simple creative differences. It was true that ultimately Tim's vision for the movie was a little different from the studio's and Ryan's and ours. The paths felt like they were diverging a little bit, and ultimately Tim made the decision to walk away and it's not something anyone wanted to happen — it just happened, and it was unfortunate. But I think we're energized, we have a wonderful new director in David Leitch ("John Wick"). We all still love Tim, we're all still on good terms, but David is diving into it in a real way. We're excited about him.
Guerrasio: Anything to add, Paul?
Wernick: No, I think Rhett handled that perfectly. I don't have anything to add so I'm not saying a f---ing thing. [Laughs]
Guerrasio: What about the report that Tim wanted a version that was three times the budget of the original?
Reese: That was totally false. That was not the case. It was creative differences, but it wasn't at all about the scale or scope of the movie. That was crazy.
Guerrasio: What was with that story about Deadpool showing up in "Logan"?
Reese: I don't know. Tonally "Logan" is wildly different. I think secretly in their hearts of hearts Ryan and Hugh [Jackman] would love to work together —
Wernick: And so would we and so would the fans. Honestly we would love to write it and maybe one day will.
Reese: It feels like everyone's dream, but they may not just be compatible with what we're doing with Deadpool. But we're trying to look long term.
Guerrasio: Looking back on the first movie, you guys won over Ryan in 2009 and started working on a script. What happened when Ryan got the "Green Lantern" job?
Wernick: It's interesting, we had a script done before he tested for "Green Lantern" and right before he tested — and I'm not sure how public this story is — right before he tested, he called Fox and said, "Guys, I'm testing for 'Green Lantern,' and if I go in, I'm a frontrunner and I'm confident that the movie is mine to lose and all you need to do is sign me into a holding deal on 'Deadpool' and I won't show up for the 'Green Lantern' test. Give me some commitment that you guys are as passionate as I am." Ultimately, I don't think Fox could get their s--- together in time, and Ryan went in and tested and obviously the rest is history. We were hurt by the tepid response to "Green Lantern" because after that it was impossible to get a Ryan Reynolds superhero movie off the ground.
We actually flew to New Orleans where they were shooting "Green Lantern" and continued to hone the "Deadpool" script with Ryan. So Ryan did go off and do "Green Lantern," but he never gave up on "Deadpool." He was all in. We all were. Since 2009 we had written a draft of "Deadpool" in every calendar year until 2015.
Reese: Tim Miller was a pit bull, as were we and Ryan. None of us would let it go, and once a month one of us would email or call the others and ask, "What are we doing this month to try to get it off the ground?"
Wernick: We were shameless. In a town where you hear no constantly and walk with your tail between your legs and think about what's next, this was a project that we refused to lose passion in. We were so sure we had something unique and original. We couldn't predict how this movie would do commercially or critically, but at our core we believed in it. There was a time at our lowest point that I said to Rhett, "Look, if we can't get this movie made, maybe we should just stop writing movies."
Guerrasio: I've heard you guys say that in other interviews. Is that a joke, or were you serious? You would have walked away from the business?
Reese: Well, we talked about going back to television. [Laughs]
Wernick: Jason, we're not that skilled to do anything other than this.
Reese: But that said, I honestly have had over the last five years where I was so creatively despondent that you ask, is it worth it? I had a conversation with other writers and I thought I would find that they felt the same way and it turned out I was the only one, but I asked, "How many of you in the last year have questioned whether you want to move onto something else in your lives?" And it was like, no hands went up. And I was like, "Oh, that's surprising because I actually have." So much of it is out of your control. When you are dealing with budgets this big and corporations and very powerful actors and directors who have changes of heart, the things that go on above you that you can't control, it's called learned helplessness in psychology, where you learn that you're helpless and you curl into a fetal position and you give up. So there were definitely moments in this that I thought if "Deadpool" can't get made, we should give up because we can't do any better. Thankfully every four or five years that thing would happen that makes you go, it's all worth it.
Guerrasio: One of those things is the support of David Fincher and James Cameron. How did they help the movie?
Wernick: In one of those bimonthly phone calls where we would have to figure out what next to do to get the movie made, Tim said, "I'm friendly with Fincher and Cameron and Fox listens to them," so I know for a fact that they read the script during one of those moments when it stalled with the powers that be at Fox.
Guerrasio: And did that help at all?
Wernick: It did! Many, many times this project was dead at Fox, like not even on life support, and at one of those times Tim slipped the script to Jim [Cameron] and he was in the middle of writing one of the "Avatar" sequels, probably the next one, so we thought we aren't going to hear him for months, if ever. And Tim got a call from Jim the next day. And as writers we laughed because we thought we know what that's like — you're procrastinating to write the script, you're looking to do anything else, and that's what must have happened. "F--- it, I don't want to write tonight, I'll read this." He read it and went into [20th Century Fox head] Jim Gianopulos' office the next day and said, "This is something special." And within a week we got rehired by Fox to do a PG-13 version of the script.
Guerrasio: Looking back, was that PG-13 script as strong as the final one?
Reese: No, but I think it would have been better than people think. We did the PG-13 draft. I felt a little unclean doing it because we really wanted to do the R —Guerrasio: Hey, it was that or it being dead, right? What choice did you have?
Reese: Right. It was that or nothing at all. I think we felt when we finished it that this would still be a fun movie. Really, it would have been more in line with the tone of the Marvel comics because those "Deadpool" comics are not rated R — that's a misconception that we kept the tone of the comics. That said, we really think that the R version was better. When it was time to make the movie, [producer] Simon Kinberg really made the push at Fox. "Because we're making this at $59.999 million as opposed to $120 million, let's just do it the way the script originally was." To Fox's great credit.
Wernick: Simon's sell to Fox on the R was that there is a hole in the marketplace, let's do something that Disney and Marvel can't do. Let's embrace that. Let's be different. I think the audience responded to that.
Guerrasio: While you're writing the PG-13 version, is Ryan on his end going to the studio pushing for the R, or was he fine with doing a PG-13 version?
Reese: I think he was receptive to seeing it, but I think at the end of the day he liked it but didn't love it. We all felt the same.
Guerrasio: Did you get the vibe that Simon had tried to get a previous Wolverine or X-Men movie an R rating and wasn't successful? Or was "Deadpool" his first time pushing the studio to do it?
Wernick: I don't know. Obviously since "Deadpool" it's opened doors. Though I don't think "Logan" is R-rated because of "Deadpool."
Guerrasio: You really think that?
Wernick: I do, in fact, I know that. I know Simon and Hugh wanted to make that movie an R-rated movie, even from the very start. I think the success of "Deadpool" mitigated some of that risk for Fox.
Reese: But I do think Simon was jonesing to make an R-rated movie. If it hadn't been "Deadpool," he would have pushed for "Logan."
Guerrasio: There must have been so much temptation to change dialogue of Deadpool in postproduction because he's wearing a mask. Did that happen?
Reese: Deadpool being behind a mask and Colossus being CG were both incredible blessings and incredible curses for us. It was an incredible blessing for the movie because we really were testing out new lines in front of test audiences and plugging things into the cut right up to picture lock. Even after picture lock, because you can still mess with it. We were writing lines well late into the process. And the nature of technology now is so much easier to do that. You used to have to wait for an ADR session and for an actor to record something new. That would mean waiting a week or two and getting it into the cut. But Ryan would often use his iPhone in New York, we were in Los Angeles, and he would record the line in his phone, email it to us, and 10 seconds later it's in the cut. Invariably he would go back into an ADR session and rerecord that line to get it a little higher quality, but we could have dropped the phone line into the movie and it would have worked. You would really have to listen for it to notice.
Guerrasio: So that's the blessing — what was the curse?
Reese: Me and Paul worked harder in post than on set or writing the movie, almost. We tried so many things. It was like making an animated movie. I think the movie benefited, but it felt like there was no finish line.
Wernick: But that being said, we would be tinkering to this day. The movie didn't turn out perfect, there are things we would have changed.
Guerrasio: That's interesting —
Reese: Yeah, I would be interested what you would change. Not that I think it's perfect, but I don't watch it thinking, I wish we had done that instead.
Wernick: Well, there's a scene in the deleted scenes that I fought like crazy for, which was the moment where he and Vanessa travel to Guadalajara, Mexico, to get treatment on his terminal cancer.
Reese: It is a great scene.
Wernick: I loved it so much and it didn't make the cut just because tonally the movie got dark for a long period of time in that space and it felt like that scene could come out without losing story. I would have put that back in if it had been my cut.
Reese: I don't have anything like that, but I think if we watched the movie together, certainly with Ryan, you would hear us going, "I hate that moment." You can say that of any filmmaker, though.
Wernick: And there's "The Gambler," the Kenny Rogers song. I shouldn't say this because we may put it into the sequel, but there was a moment where Ryan is karaokeing "The Gambler" to an action sequence where he is kicking major ass. He and I just absolutely loved it, and I have a cut of it on my phone. I sometimes watch it. Again, "Deadpool" is a movie where you break all of the rules, where you can do things that you couldn't do in any other movie.
Guerrasio: In that time in post when you were constantly changing dialogue, what are the lines you're most proud of adding?
Reese: One was what Ryan came up with in an ADR session. Somebody said, "What if you did a Hugh Jackman impression?" when talking about Wolverine, and Paul had written the line something like, "Whose balls did I have to fondle to get this movie made — it rhymes with 'pullverine." We got Ryan going doing an Australian Hugh Jackman impression in ADR, and he's so funny that tears were streaming down our faces as he's doing it. It's something he's actually done around Hugh, which Hugh gets a kick out of.
Another one, this is one of my favorite lines, it's one of Paul's: the "McAvoy or Stewart" line. When Colossus said, "We're going to meet Professor X," and he's like, "McAvoy or Stewart — these timelines get so confusing," that was ADR, that was not in the script. Paul just threw that out, and we all cracked up.
Guerrasio: I remember that line getting the biggest laugh in the screening I was in.
Reese: It's one of the biggest laughs in the movie. One that Ryan came up with the night before an ADR session, it was the, "It's funny how I never see any other X-Men around the mansion, it's like the studio couldn't afford it." That was something he thought of in bed the night before. We had another fun runner, but we tried that, too. In front of audiences they vastly preferred "McAvoy or Stewart" than the other runner.
Guerrasio: What was the other one?
Reese: It was a communism runner, I think. Deadpool went on a communism runner about Colossus. Just berating him for being a communist. Oh, and there was another one — wait! I'm not going to tell you because we're going to use it in the sequel.
Guerrasio: It seems like there were a lot of bullets left in the clip. There's stuff that didn't make it in the first one that you can use in the sequel.
Wernick: Yeah, there's a ton of stuff that didn't make it into the first movie that will be in the second movie. There's new stuff coming up all the time, too.
Guerrasio: It looks like your next script we'll see, "Life" (opening March 24), is very different than not just "Deadpool" but also your scripts before that, "Zombieland" and "G.I. Joe."
Reese: Yeah, we wrote that in 2014. [Producer] David Ellison came to us with an idea, so it's his concept. I think it tapped into a different side of us. People know us for the comedies, but if you look into our pilots, you'll find dark drama, and in this case it's more of a thriller. We love to write all kinds of movies, and this was an exhilarating change of pace for us. It's got a little humor, but it's an R-rated, intense, and violent thriller. It couldn't be more different than "Deadpool." And Ryan went and shot it right after "Deadpool."
Guerrasio: Was Ryan the first to sign on?
Wernick: He was the first, then Jake [Gyllenhaal] signed on, and then Rebecca [Ferguson].
Guerrasio: Any nervousness with this coming on the heels of "Passengers"? That the audience might be burnt out on space movies?
Wernick: No, not really.
Reese: Everything is an individual movie, there are no real lessons to be learned, no trends to be followed.
Guerrasio: But you two are in a business where success is copied almost across the board.
Guerrasio: Since the success of "Deadpool," have you heard or seen the business try to create content that has a "Deadpool" tone?
Wernick: We have been hearing that some of the mandates from studios now is, "Let's 'Deadpool' it up," and that's the wrong lesson to be learned from the success of "Deadpool." The lesson to be learned is be passionate, be original. Take risks. Those are the lessons, not let's tell a raunchy antihero story. When you chase a trend versus set it, it definitely doesn't always work to your advantage. The success of "Deadpool" came because we weren't chasing the trend. It felt original and fresh. Hopefully the lesson learned is take those risks and do something fresh.
Reese: An overall movie succeeds or fails by any number of elements contributing to it. We tend to draw very enormous conclusions often, and it drives me a little nuts. Yet we can't help it because, out of fear, we're trying to avoid making a bomb, so we're drawn to things that have done well before and we shun things that have done poorly. That, to me, always feels like a mistake.