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Ryan Reynolds Confronts His Younger Self in The Adam Project

January 31, 2022

Everyone has wished that they could go back and talk to their 12-year-old self again. Something unbelievably cool happens—you start a dream job, you fall in love, you experience an emotional or physical glow-up—and the impulse is to reach back through time, find the awkward fledgling you left behind decades ago, and offer reassurance that everything is going to be okay.

Then there’s the regretful side of the fantasy: the urge to go back and fix everything that ever went wrong, the wish to steer yourself away from mistakes, and appreciate more the people who may someday be gone forever.

All this is at the core of Shawn Levy’s new adventure film, The Adam Project, wrapped in a popcorn-movie premise full of time warps, futuristic fighter jets, timeline paradoxes, and Ryan Reynolds’s mercilessly smart-ass takedowns of his younger self. (The kid gives it back, though, and then some.)

Reynolds plays Adam Reed, a wounded time traveler from 2050 who has ventured into the past on a rogue rescue mission to search for Laura (Zoe Saldana), the woman he loves, who got lost in the time-space continuum under mysterious circumstances. When Adam’s ship gets damaged, he’s sent spiraling back to 2022, and the only place he knows from this era of his life: home.

That’s where a 12-year-old version of himself (played by newcomer Walker Scobell) becomes Adam’s suspicious and reluctant ally as the older incarnation tries to heal, rebuild his ship, and continue his journey. “The humor that Adam uses in the movie echoes certain aspects of my own life, which is that it’s a defense mechanism,” Reynolds says. “It’s a defense mechanism from allowing anything in and trying to deflect. And of course part of the journey that he’s on is to lower that shield.”

The film, which debuts March 11 on Netflix, came together when Reynolds and Levy were finishing their previous movie, Free Guy, about a video game character named Blue Shirt Guy who becomes self-aware and tries to escape his algorithmic routine. Reynolds brought the script to Levy, who was intrigued because one of the writers was novelist Jonathan Tropper, who penned the novel and screenplay for his 2014 family comedy This Is Where I Leave You.

“This character is night-and-day different from the character Ryan played for me in our last movie. Blue Shirt Guy is a deeply innocent, naive boy in a man’s body. Whereas Adam Reed in The Adam Project is bruised by life and consequently deeply cynical,” Levy says.

About a year before the time traveler’s arrival, Adam’s dad died. It’s still raw for the kid, who misses him deeply, but the older Adam has grown to resent his absent father over the decades. Reynolds said this element of the script was informed by his strained relationship with his own father, who died in 2020 at 74.

“I have this thought about life, which is that we tell ourselves stories,” Reynolds says. “So you have this central character who has told himself a story about his own father that isn’t necessarily true. I know that I’ve done that in my life. I’ve told myself stories to justify things about my father and my complicated relationship I had with him before he passed. Reconciling that is really difficult.”

“There’s the notion of confronting your younger self, who might just see things more authentically than you have come to narrate for yourself,” Levy adds. “The kid has real power because the kid’s the only one who can call B.S. on this grown man who has wrapped himself up in his ideas about his own history. The kid’s the one who’s living that history in real time and can say, ‘No, no, you got it wrong. I know because I’m in it.’”

The father in the story, played by Mark Ruffalo, is a scientist whose work posthumously helps open the door to leapfrogging through time. He never got to see that, however, just as he never got to see his son grow up. But when the Adam duo venture farther back in the chronology to seek his help, he gets to witness both accomplishments.

Jennifer Garner costars as Adam’s mother, who in 2022 is struggling to raise her troublemaking boy alone after her husband’s death. (Kudos to Levy for engineering a 13 Going on 30 reunion with the casting.) Whatever hard feelings adult Adam harbors toward his father, his reaction is very different when he gets to see his mother again.

“Ryan and I talk a lot about wish fulfillment being so critical to the movies we love and to the movies we want to make,” Levy says.

The movie was also wish fulfillment for first-timer Scobell, who turned 13 just a few weeks ago. “Here’s a little secret about maybe why Walker could give it back to Ryan and go toe to toe with him for a whole movie. He’s a natural and he’s super talented. But he also came to this as a massive Ryan Reynolds fan,” Levy says.

Scobell had seen Deadpool and its sequel so many times he could recite both from memory. And often did, to Reynolds himself, as he did below when they were stuck in a car together on set.

“He can do both movies back to back. If you could sit there for, you know, close to three and a half hours, he would recite them word for word, every single line of dialogue—my dialogue, the other person’s dialogue, every exposition line, everything,” Reynolds says.

“I never had to say, ‘Oh, can you kind of channel the way Ryan would say it?’” Levy recalls. “He knows how Ryan would say things because he had watched Ryan saying things with that very specific tone since he was, uh, probably way too young to be watching Deadpool.”