What if you had two Ryan Reynolds onscreen at once, ripping off sick burns and eye rolls and sarcastic comments like a Gatling gun? That’s partly the result in The Adam Project (now on Netflix) in which Reynolds plays Adam, a fighter pilot from a dysfunctional future who goes back in time 32 years and finds… himself.
Or rather, himself at age 12, played by very game newcomer Walker Scobell — who also rips off sick burns and sarcastic comments every two seconds. It’s hilarious, and exhausting, and also quite touching in the way that few time-travel sci-fi movies manage to be.
We have to mention the sharply honed sarcasm of Mr. Reynolds because — well, Deadpool, and most other opportunities he’s had to flex them onscreen. But also because, in The Adam Project, sarcasm almost serves as a form of protective armor, something as powerful for a kid as the many futuristic weapons Reynolds stashes in his duffel bag to fend off the dangerous Dr. Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener), who also comes back from the future with a jetload of baddies to track him down. (One of them is played by Filipino-Canadian actor Alex Mallari Jr., who joined our Zoom call.)
Director Shaw Levy, who teamed up with Reynolds previously on Free Guy (about an NPC video guy who breaks loose from his coding), says The Adam Project ticks a lot of boxes: it’s an action film with kickass martial arts, a sci-fi film with time-travel speculation, and an homage to cherished ’80s films (references to E.T., Return of the Jedi, Back to the Future, etc.). But it’s also what Levy calls “emotional sci-fi” — something that resonates and touches on issues that will hit parents as much as kids watching. “Those ‘80s films were part of our DNA,” he says. “They were escapist and joyous, but often they were about themes that felt bigger: E.T. is about an alien but it’s really about the loss of the father and abandonment, and the way connection can save your life.”
Levy discovered young Scobell through casting director Carmen Cuba from Stranger Things (his other big Netflix project). “We saw hundreds of boys, and when we hired Walker, he was very talented, a good, authentic, sweet kid. But what we didn’t know was that he was an extreme Deadpool fanboy. So Walker — even though he was only 11 or 12 when we met — had watched both Deadpool movies 25 times. So he didn’t need to be taught from the ground up. He came with an encyclopedic knowledge of Ryan Reynolds’ rhythm, delivery style and mannerisms.”
Ryan Reynolds & Walker Scobell (Adam/Adam)
PHILIPPINE STAR: You and Walker have some funny head-to-head burn sessions in the film. Did he give as good as he got? Was there a “hazing” process, working on set with the newbie actor?
RYAN REYNOLDS: Scott, there was no hazing process. Hazing did not happen. I also produce this movie and all I want, as a producer, is to have the safest, most awesome creative playground of a set as humanly possible — especially with an actor like Walker, who’s young, impressionable and just stepping into this business. I never messed with Walker, because I was just so grateful that we’d found this young man who could do the job in the way that he did. The first impression is everything, you know. You want to make sure it feels safe.
You’ve worked with Shawn Levy before. What connected you to this project?
It’s weird. I just finished Free Guy with Shawn and I was looking for something that was in that sort of Field of Dreams kind of space like this. I really wanted to be part of a story that uses that kind of ’80s architecture and that’s a huge wish-fulfillment type film, but with something really emotionally important at its core.
Does having three daughters (with Blake Lively) change the way you choose movies or the way you would play certain characters?
Having kids changed everything for me. More than anything, it’s highlighted the importance of where I place my time. You know, that’s like a resource. You can’t invent and create time — unless you’re in a time-travel scenario — so The Adam Project really spoke to me. It was worth moving my family across the continent (to shoot in Vancouver) and working our tails off on it.
Obviously, this is a huge, spectacle-driven action movie with comedy and all that, but those are all a Trojan Horse for a real love letter to parents. This movie tackles subject matter that is resonant to me, and certainly my own father, and how my relationship was with him — he passed away quite a while back — and how I treated my mother when I was a kid. That’s stuff both Shawn and I included in our rewrite, because it was very important to tell that story through the stuff Walker was dealing with in the movie.
Walker, how did you manage to hold your own against Ryan Reynolds? And practically steal each scene?
WALKER SCOBELL: I think I was… just trying to be like Ryan, I guess. I was just… I don’t really know. I think I just watched Deadpool too many times.
REYNOLDS: When you find somebody who steals the movie the way Walker does, they’re never trying to steal the movie. They’re just trying to do the best possible job, and every single day, he came ready to go. Whether it was a scene where he had to feel a kind of emotion that nobody wants to feel, or whether it’s a scene where you had to be quippy and hilarious and sharp-witted.
Walker, did you get to keep any trophies from the set?
SCOBELL: I’m wearing it. (Shows off the watch from his dad in the movie, played by Mark Ruffalo.) That was a wrap gift from the movie. I also took my old costume, a couple pairs of shoes, but I grew out of them in, like, two days. And I took this hard drive thing, which is pretty cool.
Zoe Saldana (Laura)
Zoe, you’re a bona fide sci-fi action goddess (having been in a handful of top-grossing films including Avatar, Marvel’s Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy series). Why do you think sci-fi is so relevant today?
ZOE SALDANA: I love this genre. It caters to the inner geek and it has a very special place in my heart.
There’s something really innovative about imagining the unimaginable, something that gives way for our imaginations to run absolutely free — but still have some kind of resonance with something that we have probably witnessed throughout history or that we are living currently.
I heard you had early dance training. Has that helped your strength as an action star?
That’s always felt like a huge accomplishment for me, because athletes are like outliers: you spend a minimum of 10 years of your life practicing something six hours a day, six days a week, and to the degree you master it, you’re able to use this trait for the rest of your life. So the moment I tapped into that reality about myself and knew that whatever I was doing in my life, before I started transitioning into acting, I was going to be able to only benefit and use for my advantage, I ran with it.
Shawn Levy (director)
What was your goal with The Adam Project? And how did you and Ryan Reynolds develop such a close working partnership?
I wanted it to be fun and entertaining, but also there’s a deeper idea here: the idea of reconsidering your past. All of us have ideas about our past, and we get locked into an idea of our history. But that’s not necessarily accurate. So I thought that might be really profound and emotional, if we could literally do a re-examination of one’s personal history.
With Ryan, we found we have very simpatico personalities, work ethic, work attitude. We like to work really hard, but we also like it to be fun. And we’d like to go home to our wives and our daughters. And so we don’t believe that work needs to be torturous and hard for it to be great.
Alex Mallari Jr. (Christos)
You’re truly menacing in this movie as Christos. How different is he from you in real life?
So different. Christos is — well, he’s an a-hole, and I tend to think that I’m very kind, for two reasons. One, I’m Filipino, and two, I’m Canadian. So I think that those are the two kindest things you can be in this world.
I also detected a fun side to your character, even in your fight scenes with Ryan. Care to share any funny moments?
Yeah, watching that man work is such a master class. With Ryan, you’ll get what’s on script — no matter what, the director will get the shot. But then it’s Ryan trying to play, and when Ryan is playing, the things that come out of his mouth for you… I’ll give an example. There was one take where he turns around and faces me and calls me “Slappy McTesticles.” (Laughs) I mean, where do you get something like that? How do you come up with that line, at what point in your life?
* * *
The Adam Project is now on Netflix.