Director David Leitch goes behind the scenes of 'Ashes' with EW

There are certain things you expect from a superhero movie sequel: explosions, villains, action set pieces. One thing that most of them don’t have is an original power ballad sung by the inimitable Céline Dion. That is, of course, unless you are Deadpool 2. In that case, of course you get Céline Dion, and you film an emotional music video to go with it, complete with dramatic footage of the Merc with a Mouth interpretive dancing along.

Before Deadpool 2 hits theaters on May 18, star Ryan Reynolds released a jaw-dropping music video to Dion’s original new song “Ashes.” It immediately went viral, racking up more than 2 million views in one day, so EW called David Leitch — who directed both the film and the music video — to get the details on exactly how they recruited the iconic Canadian songstress for Deadpool 2.

Leitch may be best known for his work in the action world — he was a longtime stuntman for actors like Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, and he directed Atomic Blonde and co-directed John Wick — but he jumped at the chance to do a dramatic ballad.

“I needed a song in the movie and I wanted a ballad that was thematic,” he explains. “But to do the music video, we got marketing involved, and I think their first reaction was, ‘Excuse me, what do you guys want to do?’ ‘Well, we want to shoot a music video. It’s a song from the movie. It’s Céline Dion singing this melodramatic song, and Deadpool’s going to dance an interpretive dance beside her, and there you go.’ And they were like, ‘Uh, okay.'”

Below, Leitch explains how the music video came together — and how Dion brought everyone on set to tears (in a good way!).

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First of all, how did Céline Dion get involved with this?
DAVID LEITCH: It’s probably not what people expected. I wanted to create an original thematic song for the film that sort of was an emotional through-line for the characters. It’s not only Deadpool, but also a lot of characters in the film. I was looking for a thematic song in the classic ‘90s style of “Take My Breath Away” or “My Heart Will Go On.” Because there’s real emotion in the movie, and we’re coming from a real genuine place. So I started to look for material. I was working with John Houlihan, the music supervisor. We were meeting with songwriters, we were hearing riffs and ideas, I was giving them briefings on thematics. And we ended up discovering the song “Ashes.” It just sort of fit and ticked all the boxes of what I was trying to do, story-wise. And I was like, man, I really would love to find an artist to record this — a contemporary artist who’s got the chops to make it super emotional.

I brought it to Ryan Reynolds and we started to riff on it. And he’s like, “You know who we should get? We should approach Céline. She’s an incredible singer, she’s amazing, but she’s also someone who works in the sort of subversive Deadpool universe.” It’s a lot of how things work on Deadpool: One of us has an idea, another one brings another idea to it, and then all of a sudden magic happens. [laughs] So Ryan reached out. We had the song that was going to work for the movie, and then Ryan reached out and said, “Céline, would you like to record it?” And then together we came up with this idea of having the music video.

I love that it’s actually part of the plot and the theme of the movie, instead of just being a fun music video to tease the release.
Yeah! And I’m sort of torn, like, do I want people to know that, or do I want them to sort of discover it? I was torn for a while when we decided that it was going to be a little bit of a marketing piece. I was like, “Ooh, do I want them to know?” But I think they should know. It’s a central part of the movie.

What was Céline’s reaction when you brought this to her? Was she a Deadpool fan?
She has a son who’s a fan. But I think she was actually taken aback by the song as well. She’s a really sort of fun personality and a really beautiful person, and I think she understood what we were trying to do. And yeah, it was fun, and there might be some slight satire to it, but the song is a really emotional song, and we needed it to land in a genuine way for the movie, first and foremost. So she got it. And I think she loved the material and she elevated it in a way that only she can do it.

What was the process like of shooting the music video?
Something that Ryan and I really wanted to make sure was that we were involved in it and it didn’t get sort of handed off to a music video director because we had a strong point of view of how we wanted it to be. [We wanted it to be] really sincere with Céline’s performance, but then do the classic Deadpool subversion and pull the rug out. We felt it was really important that we were involved creatively, so that’s why I really wanted to make time out of my schedule to direct it.

We got our cinematographer from the movie, Jonathan Sela, to come on board, who is an incredible music video cinematographer. He’s prolific in that world, so it was kind of fun working with him on that because we’ve shot three movies together, and I’ve never done a music video. It was kind of always my dream to do a music video with Jonathan because that’s where he comes from. We were sitting on set, and he’s shot hundreds of music videos, and this is second nature to him. And I’m geeking out, like, “We’re shooting a music video! This is great!” He’s like, “You know, we do shoot movies.” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s cool, but we’re shooting a music video!” [laughs]

Obviously your filmmaking background is so much in the action world. What was it like to do this sweeping ballad music video?
It was incredibly fun. The staging of dancing is a lot like the staging of action. But then again, I didn’t choreograph one move. That was an incredible dance choreographer. But the fact of the matter is that great composition and beautiful images are things that I always try to strive for in movies, so it’s really just painting a little bit of a story without any words.

I’m assuming that’s not Ryan Reynolds dancing in high heels, right?
We’ll have to wait and see. [laughs]

Between Ryan and Céline, what was it like to have that much Canadian royalty on set?
Pretty amazing. [laughs] They are like these two Canadian icons, and that was a really fun moment for them to have that banter together at the end.

That was one of the things I wanted to ask you about. How did that come together, that back-and-forth between the two of them at the end?
It’s like, they’re two mega stars. Two icons. Obviously Céline is such a great sport and also [has] great ideas and actually incredible comedic timing. She’s an incredible performer in not just music, but also her stage show. She’s the real deal.

Was there anything about working with her that really surprised you at all?
I think we knew she was really excited about the material. From everything I knew about her, I knew she was a really fun, collaborative person, and she was exactly that and the sort of consummate professional. She gave 110 percent in all the performance takes.

And the minute she opens her mouth and starts to sell the song, there were goosebumps. Like the first time we did playback and she sang the song from beginning to end, I didn’t yell cut. I didn’t know what to do. We’re all kind of breathless, people are crying, and I’m like, “Um…cut?” [laughs] It was really an out-of-body experience for everybody there. People were like, “Holy s—, what did I just see?” And that’s the magic that she brings to music. It’s no joke.

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