July 16, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

Kermit was right: It’s not so easy being green. On a muggy May night, Ryan Reynolds sits on the New Orleans set of Green Lantern and ponders all that he’s endured to play the superhero of the title, a power-ring-slinging intergalactic do-gooder named Hal Jordan.

He’s been propelled at 60 feet a second on a wire to create the illusion he can fly. (”The first time you do it, you’re deeply considering an adult diaper.”) He’s spent countless hours training for elaborately choreographed fight scenes, and maintained a monklike diet — particularly torturous in a city famed for great food. ”It’s all part of the job, so I guess I can’t complain,” he says with a shrug. ”You spend one day a week eating what you want and the other six days eating drywall and wood chips.”

Since he was first created in 1940, Green Lantern has been one of the most beloved characters in the DC Comics stable of heroes, boasting a mythology as deep and rich as you’ll find anywhere in the comic-book world. But beyond a hardcore audience of fanboys (who’ll get their first taste of Green Lantern when it’s teased at this year’s Comic-Con), he’s basically known, if he’s known at all, as just a guy in a green suit with some magical finger bling. The first installment in a planned Green Lantern trilogy, this big-budget origin story, due June 17, 2011, aims to change that. With the film — which chronicles cocky test pilot Jordan’s recruitment into the Green Lantern Corps, an elite group of ring-wearing space cops — director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) and his team are attempting to pull off an Iron Man and vault a second-tier superhero to blockbuster glory. ”Green Lantern doesn’t enjoy the familiarity or renown of, say, Batman or Spider-Man,” producer Donald De Line acknowledges. ”We have to make the movie stand on its own.”

Green Lantern was originally conceived as a crime fighter named Alan Scott who wears a ring fashioned from a magic lamp. But the comics got a makeover in the 1950s with the creation of Jordan, a pilot who receives a power ring from Abin Sur, a dying alien, and is inducted into an organization of interstellar police. Armed with his ring — which enables him to fly, read minds, and create objects out of green energy, among other powers — Jordan has spent the past half century fighting evil throughout the universe. ”Green Lantern is DC’s Star Wars,” says DC Entertainment CCO Geoff Johns, who has penned several acclaimed Green Lantern comics and co-produced the film. ”It’s an epic story.”

Figuring out the right way to bring that story to the screen wasn’t simple. In 2004, reports surfaced that a zany comedic take on Green Lantern was in the works, with Jack Black in talks to wear the power ring. That notion made most fanboys go green around the gills, and the project quickly died. ”I was going to be catching bad guys with giant green prophylactics,” Black said in a recent interview. ”I don’t know, maybe they didn’t want to go that way with the character.”

With the comedy approach shelved, De Line took up the Green Lantern mantle and set out to develop a film truer to the spirit of the comics. Greg Berlanti, a comic-book fan and TV producer (Brothers & Sisters), wrote a screenplay and pitched Warner Bros. an outline for a grand trilogy. ”I had to convince them this was the most valuable property they hadn’t tapped into and that it wasn’t just a cartoony thing about a guy with a magic ring,” says Berlanti, who is also a producer on the film. ”Of all the comic-book movies, there hadn’t been something with an Americana feeling on earth and an epic feeling in space.” For his part, Campbell was drawn to the challenge of directing his first superhero movie. ”It was literally just that,” he says. ”I hadn’t done one before and I thought, Why not?”

Reynolds got hooked by the notion that Jordan’s power ring can conjure anything he dreams up. ”Imagination and will are his superpowers,” Reynolds says. ”We need a circus of Timothy Learys to think of things Hal would invent with his ring.” The actor already had experience in the superhero realm, having played the acerbic Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and flirted with playing the Flash. Though a Deadpool spin-off is in development, Reynolds foresees no problem juggling two superhero characters — even ones from rivals Marvel and DC. ”Green Lantern is a totally different bag of tricks,” he says. ”I wouldn’t think twice about playing a cop in one movie and an FBI agent in another one.” With Reynolds’ wife, Scarlett Johansson, playing Black Widow in the Iron Man franchise, he says, ”We have a lot of comic books lying around the house — more than the average young married couple.”

Of course, any superhero movie worth its salt needs a good baddie. In a counterintuitive piece of casting, Peter Sarsgaard, best known for his work in art-house films like Kinsey and An Education, was brought in to play Hector Hammond, a xenobiology professor who is infected by an evil alien presence, giving him powers of telepathy and telekinesis and causing his head to grow abnormally large. ”In generic terms, I never would want to play a bad guy in a comic-book movie, but strangely, I’m attracted to this guy,” says Sarsgaard. ”I assume they cast me because I have a very large head. I wear a size 61 hat sometimes. It was either me or Philip Seymour Hoffman.”

Rounding out the leads, Gossip Girl star Blake Lively plays Carol Ferris, a hard-charging aerospace executive and romantic interest for Jordan who, in the comics, eventually becomes the supervillain Star Sapphire. ”So often in a superhero movie, the woman is the prize or the damsel in distress,” says Lively. ”But Carol is so strong: She’s the boss of the company Hal works at, she’s a fighter pilot herself, she saves Hal a few times. That push and pull creates an interesting tension.”

As Reynolds waits to shoot his next scene, which sets up an action sequence in which Green Lantern saves a crowd of partygoers from a plummeting helicopter, he reflects on the burden of carrying a superhero movie on his shoulders: ”The pressure is all on me. I try not to think too much about that.” He muses about the merchandising blitz that this summer tentpole movie will eventually unleash, a bonanza of green-hued products, each with his face plastered on it. ”There’ll be the Green Lantern hubcaps,” he says drily. ”The Green Lantern terry-cloth onesie. The Green Lantern prostate check.”

For his part, there’s just one souvenir he wants when it’s all over. ”I’m definitely leaving with a ring,” he says. He pauses. ”And maybe an ulcer.”

Who is Green Lantern?
Our hero first joined DC Comics’ stable in 1940, but was reimagined in the ’50s as a brash test pilot named Hal Jordan, who is haunted by the death of his father. Hal receives a power ring from a crash-landed alien. He’s then transported to the planet Oa, the ultimate source of the ring’s green energy, where he’s inducted into the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps and learns how to harness the ring’s incredible power.

You May Like