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Playing Deadpool let Ryan Reynolds channel his inner Cary Grant

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Elena Gorbacheva/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images

Cary Grant retired from the film industry 50 years ago, but his unique blend of onscreen charm, wit, and self-deprecation is still the gold standard in Hollywood. In 1940’s His Girl Friday, Grant’s newspaperman responds to a threat by saying, “Listen, the last man that said that to me was Archie Leach, just a week before he cut his throat.”

Archie Leach just so happens to be Grant’s real name before he changed it.

Later in the same film, while trying to find someone, he shouts into the phone, “He looks like that fellow in the movies, Ralph Bellamy,” referring to the actor actually playing the part.

With that type of comic self-awareness, Grant might have enjoyed Deadpool, with its swirl of action, comedy, and constant violation of the fourth-wall. At one point, Ryan Reynolds’ masked superhero says, while groaning about the superficial nature of beauty, “Do you think that Ryan Reynolds got this far on his superior acting ability?”

Deadpool producer Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Apocalypse) mentions Grant when talking about Reynolds. “It’s the first model that comes to mind,” Kinberg says. “That’s the thing about Ryan — he can be 100 percent viable in different genres. And he has this ironic presence and a quality of playful ribbing that audiences respond to.”

Deadpool screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, likewise, recognized the similarities between the two men. “Usually when you’re a funny actor, you look like us,” Wernick says with a laugh. “Cary Grant was both funny and handsome.”

Reese agrees: “Ryan is a great wit and a great improviser. Just the little cocks of the head and the motion of the hands, that’s where he reminds me of old Hollywood actors like Cary Grant. Ryan was just so subtly great at understanding the irony in the role.” 

Grant never won an Oscar (and was only nominated twice, for lesser remembered roles in 1941’s Penny Serenade and 1944’s None But the Lonely Heart), but for the actor’s silky sarcasm and wit at maximum effect, check out His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, Charade, The Philadelphia Story, and most especially, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic North by Northwest.

In that Hitchock action thriller, there is a scene where Grant’s character is required to climb out the window of his hospital room, scale a ledge, and enter someone else’s room. It turns out to be a young woman, who is frightened at first by the sight of an invader — but then, once she puts her eyeglasses on, she’s seduced. It’s as if she suddenly realized, “Oh my God, it’s Cary Grant!”

It’s not difficult to imagine a Reynolds character provoking a similar reaction.