David Leitch tells how he got into bed with the Merc with a Mouth.
This interview contains rather large and bulbous spoilers for Deadpool 2.
When Deadpool director Tim Miller left the sequel during the early stages of development, fans were understandably concerned: Miller was one of the quintet of creatives — including star/producer Ryan Reynolds, producer Simon Kinberg, and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick — who had rolled the first film up the studio hill for years, overcoming every obstacle and argument to get the movie made the way they wanted to make it.
But when David Leitch was announced as the new director, things started looking bright again. Leitch, a former stuntman and second unit director, made his feature debut as co-director of the stylish John Wick and followed that up with Atomic Blonde starring Charlize Theron. His action film chops were clearly more than up for the task, but could Leitch capture the comic tone and sideways superhero antics of a Deadpool adventure?
The answer is yes: Deadpool 2 is a hell of a lot of fun, in some ways more insane than the first film, with bigger action, funnier jokes and even some real humanity to it underneath the hijinks. Leitch has fit his style seamlessly into that of the Deadpool universe and its cinematic overseers, creating a follow-up that improves on the original.
Den of Geek got Leitch on the phone just as the movie was opening to discuss coming onto the project, his take on the character and the genre, working with Reynolds and Josh Brolin as Cable, some of those hilariously surprising cameos and his thoughts on Deadpool 3. Warning: Spoilers included.
Den of Geek: What, for you, was the selling point of coming on to the project?
David Leitch: It was such a global phenomenon. It was such a beloved franchise. The thing that Tim and Ryan, and Rhett and Paul created, and Simon. Man, to be offered the film is daunting, and I had to have a gut check about it. But I never saw myself wanting to do a sequel. I fancy myself, in some respects, as a world builder, and Chad (Stahelski) and I created the John Wick universe and then Atomic Blonde had a lot of, sort of world building, and taking their noir and turning it on its head and making it a sexy spy thriller. I just thought that this is someone else’s thing.
The thing about the Deadpool universe is that it’s so fun, it’s so expansive, it’s so creative, that I really started to think about it. I knew that there was a way to have my own creative sort of footprint in it and still be true to the original DNA of what makes it special. When I met with Ryan, he had a really good way in to the emotional hook of the film. And I knew that that part was taken care of, because I believed in and then it was just from there, how do we make this a summer movie? How do we sort of expand the universe? How do we ratchet up the set pieces and how do we start to have more fun with it?
Did you feel like your sensibilities locked in pretty quickly with Ryan’s, and with Rhett and Paul’s, all of whom have been involved with this for a long time?
Yeah, they did. I love comedies and I’ve been a fan of Ryan’s since Van Wilder. I love his particular brand of sort of wisecrack comedy and so I did sort of run to it. And again, being a fan of the original movie is a huge help because I knew what the expectations were. “This is why I loved it. I want more of that!” I wanted a little bit more of my perspective, but I’m a fan.
Were you familiar also with the comic book world beforehand?
I only explored the comics after the first movie. And then I saw how fun and irreverent they were, and at times they could go anywhere, even sort of subvert the expectations of the genre, even on the page. Deadpool gets to break the rules, not only on the screen but sort of in the canon as well.
This is the third time you’ve worked with an actor who took an especially large chunk of ownership over a character — Keanu Reeves with John Wick, Charlize Theron who was very creatively involved with Atomic Blonde, and now that same thing with Ryan. Is that something that you’d say is more unusual than not, to work with an actor who’s also a writer and/or a producer, and has such a big sort of personal investment in what’s going on?
It is unusual. It is unusual. And I would say you’re not wrong about my experiences. I think Keanu was really invested in John Wick, and essential in helping us develop who that character was going to be. Charlize again had a real point of view of how she wanted Lorraine to be. And in both those cases, I was on the same page. I love when an actor has a strong point of view coming into it that we can build on and sort of work on together, and make something compelling.
With Ryan, it’s that and it’s even magnified. It had already been done, it was successful. He’s now one of the writers. He’s sort of now in charge of the brand moving forward. So I found it actually really comforting to know that he had so much skin in the game. But again, as a person was so responsible and so creative, and again, so collaborative with me. It was actually great. A great experience. I do enjoy that, working with an actor that close.
How did you feel your directing style on this one built on what you did with those two previous pictures?
I mean obviously there were lessons learned in the two movies that I’ve done and I just grew as a filmmaker. I think everybody does. It was great to expand, sort of spread my wings and attack comedy and the comic book genre, and present my filmmaking point of view on it. I have a graphic sort of sensibility in my composition. I work closely with Jonathan Sela, my cinematographer, and we love that sort of comic book composition, and so we try to embrace it in a lot of things here. I think that’s part of the reason why it feels different, even the color palette. It’s really partly the material, partly my sensibility I think, that sort of made it feel that way.
How did Josh step forward as the choice for Cable?
Josh was on a short list of people and they were all great actors in their own right. Josh rose to the top as we started to get closer to the deadline and we had to pick somebody, and I’m grateful that he came on board. He read the material and responded to it and we had a quick conversation. I was really excited that he was up to do this because now I can’t imagine anybody else playing that role. And the humanity that he brings to this sort of cold calculated past-who-lives-in-the-future character that Cable is, only a nuanced actor could pull that off.
How early in the game was that Thanos joke in the movie?
It was very early. I can’t remember. I don’t want to take credit for who got what joke in the script because it was a very collaborative atmosphere between Ryan, Rhett, and Paul and myself. We were always about sort of, best idea wins. I kind of remember pitching that one, but I’m not sure. So yes, it made me laugh.
Were there any jokes or any scenes that you took out? Which also brings me to the Baby Hitler sequence.
So yeah, the script is strong, in production we did our best to shoot the script and any inspirations we had along the way. Then you go into post with this great sort of beefy, fat sort of expression of what the movie is, and you need to start chipping away at it and sculpting it. And Deadpool is sort of a balancing act with tone, so you are whittling away at jokes, you’re trying to curate the best jokes, and then you’re at the same time trying to keep this emotional storyline, which is complicated, right?
As a filmmaker, you always sort of have these babies that sort of die in that process. They get chipped away. But, if you are disciplined, at least for my process, what comes out on the other side is better, and it’s what the film is supposed to be. So there are scenes that I want people to see, but more importantly I want them to see this movie, because this is what this movie is supposed to be.
In terms of the Baby Hitler scene…that scene was fun and irreverent, and I think it actually ends in a very sort of open-ended way, which for me, it left a question. Which is the question that I’m seeing in the beginning, you’re still left with it in the end. And so it works for me, but I hope people get to see it in the future. I think they will.
How did you get Brad Pitt to come in as the Vanisher (who dies a quick death on his first mission as part of the X-Force, during which he’s revealed to be Pitt)?
I have a history with Brad in that I’ve worked with several movies with him as a stunt double, so there was a connection and a way to reach out. Obviously the massive love and good will from the first one, and Ryan’s charm and celebrity power (laughs) were also helpful, plus (producer) Simon Kinberg had written (Pitt starring vehicle) Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
So there was a lot of common ground to reach out to the man. There was also an early conversation about Cable with him, but there were time frames and things that just didn’t work for him. But he always left the door open that he would love to help and be involved, and if there was anything, to give him a call. So he held up his end of the bargain when we reached out.
And the scene in which we see the X-Men cast in a room at the mansion, behind Ryan?
That was interesting because Simon Kinberg was filming X-Men: Dark Phoenix in Montreal at the same time we were doing Deadpool. So this was in the script but we were always wondering how we were going to be able to pull it off. So the set supervisor, Dan Glass, who did the Matrix films, he came up with this idea of doing a composite, and getting the plates to match.
So we shot our side here, and we sent the measurements and the camera positions and things up to Simon’s team on Dark Phoenix, and they shot the plate for that there. Then we put the two together. So actually it turned out to be easier than we thought. If we would have had to get all those people in the room it probably wouldn’t have happened.
I noticed that Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is missing from the scene, which is interesting since she turns into the Dark Phoenix in the movie.
It might have been one of those things where we’re up against it, and it’s like, who’s available that day by the time we had to get the shot and get it down to us…we’re grateful to have anyone we could get at that point.
Are you a one-and-done type of guy, or do you find yourself thinking about a Deadpool 3?
No, I’m not necessarily one and done. I would love to work with Ryan and Rhett and Paul and Simon again. We just had a really good time and I love this world, and I love this universe, and I love the character that he’s made so endearing to the fans, and so I would be grateful to work on something again. It just depends on time and place, so we’ll see what happens.
Deadpool 2 is out in theaters now.