Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have become known in recent years for their collaborative writing projects such as Zombieland, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and – most recently – Deadpool. Now they’ve joined forces again to deliver us a frightening, sci-fi tale titled Life.
Screen Rant spoke with Reese and Wernick at press day, where we discussed the film’s origins, the creative process behind the film, and their upcoming future projects like Deadpool 2.
Life, tell me about the process for this film because it terrified me.
Rhett Reese: Oh gosh. Thank you.
It reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode. And I loved Twilight Zone as a kid.
Rhett Reese: Yeah. We did. Well, it originated out of the head of David Ellison who runs Sky Dance. I don’t know if you got the chance to talk to him. He’s the head of the company. But he had this vision for a movie where they bring back a sample of life from Mars to the international space station for study and it grows when it’s exposed to the atmosphere and it starts to attack the crew. And so he pitches that at a general lunch, because we worked on GI Joe: Retaliation for him over at Paramount, and he pitched it to us over lunch and we said, “That sounds pretty cool.” And a few months later and went back in, pitched him our vision for it, and then – ultimately – wrote the screenplay. He hired us to write the screenplay. And it was probably the smoothest, easiest, most fun process of making the movie. Like it just breezed through to production.
Rhett Reese: We did a little rewrite on the script. It went to Daniel Espinosa. He loved it. He wanted to do it. Next thing you know, we’re casting. We have Ryan and Jake and Rebecca and this other wonderful group of actors. And they just made the movie. It was so easy.
Paul Wernick: It was seamless. Almost too seamless in a way where you think, “God. Making movies has never been this easy.” And, so, it was a wonderful experience for us with great collaborators and great visionaries like Daniel and obviously working with Ryan who we’ve had a great relationship and have known since 2009 and creatively have been hand in hand since. It’s been great. And you’re right. It’s terrifying. And that was always our intention. So, if you’re scared, we’ve done our job.
Well, it’s almost like you’ve pulled my nightmare out of my head. Because this is exactly how I’d assume aliens would come about. Legitimately, I always talked about this amongst my friends about how I think it would be this form of bacteria that would just. And that’s exactly what happened. So, it’s quite interesting that was projected on screen.
Rhett Reese: Interesting.
And Calvin is one of the most terrifying creatures I’ve seen in quite a while. This film almost seemed like a mixture of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 and Alien.
Rhett Reese: Well, that weightless really adds another element of terror.
Rhett Reese: Because we are used to being able to run away from whatever is chasing us. That’s why I think Jaws was so scary because you just think of being in water and being out of your element and you can’t run like you’d be able to do on land. Weightlessness is really similar right? In the sense that suddenly every muscle you’ve used to run away from something is useless to you if you’re floating. Next thing you know, you have to grab something and pull yourself along in front of a creature that’s very adept at doing that because it has appendages and tentacles and is able to do that quickly. It made us scared even thinking that and that’s one of the reasons why we got so excited.
It also felt like an escape room.
Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick: Yeah.
That’s quite big in LA, these escape rooms…
Paul Wernick: No one escapes. No one escapes from our room.
Rhett Reese: Well, Calvin escapes.
Paul Wernick: True.
Calvin did escape.
Rhett Reese: There is a claustrophobic quality as you point out.
Paul Wernick: It is the ultimate haunted house. The international space station is the universe’s ultimate haunted house. You can’t go anywhere. You’re stuck within these walls, floating 200 miles above Earth. You can’t go anywhere. That vision, David pitched us this vision of astronauts looking out of that grand window and looking down on Earth and it being home and, yet, not being able to return because of the circumstances they are under. And that was such a haunting image for us.
And this film is very grounded as well. It’s not 20 years into the future. It’s happening tomorrow. What was the decision behind that? Did you want to make something as relevant like that?
Rhett Reese: We did. We wanted something that felt like it could really happen. Kind of ripped from the headlines. That kind of movie. We did a lot of research on the science, so I think that helps. We set it in the present day. I think that helps. The ISS is up there right now. You can see it in the night sky if you’re in the right place at the right time. And there are six people on board and they are doing stuff right now. And, so, it’s just not a huge leap to imagine this happening. And I think at every turn in the script we asked ourselves, “What would really happen?” Obviously we have to tell a story and be dramatic and fun and silly. I mean not silly, but crazy. But at the same time, we want to make it feel grounded. We want to make it feel like this could actually transpire the way it does onscreen.
You know, the sci-fi genre has had a bit of a resurgence lately with The Martian, with Life…
Rhett Reese: Arrival.
With Arrival, Interstellar. What do you think is behind that? Why now do you think this is happening?
Paul Wernick: Well, I think Hollywood has always had a fascination with what’s above us. From all the way to E.T. to 2001, it’s the imagination of what is above us and what’s out there. Even, especially now, with the escapist fantasy of knowing that the universe is much bigger than us on Earth and when a lot of things on Earth now doesn’t make sense to us and I think that’s kind of a theme and an idea that people latch onto.
That’s crazy. So, this is obviously a huge departure from Deadpool. What do you have coming up next besides Deadpool?
Rhett Reese: Yeah. Deadpool is obviously on our plate. We are going to make another movie with Sky Dance. We can’t talk about it yet, but we had such a great experience with them that we are going to go do something with them. We are also working on Zombieland 2, which is near and dear to us. We are at the 2 yard line, we feel like. We just have to get the budget and the deals and the actors and schedules and things because we do have a script now that everybody is happy with, so we are inching closer there. So, yeah, a couple of sequels and a new one. And then we have some independent scripts that we’ve written. Some smaller things that we are trying to get going too. It’s an exciting time.
Paul Wernick: Deadpool 2 is probably taking the lion’s share of our time and energy.
I’m sure. You know, it’s funny because I’m a big comic book fan and I buy comic books based off of the writer. Now I’m watching movies based on the writers.
Rhett Reese: You’re very nice.
No, it’s true. GI Joe: Retaliation, for me, that is my childhood.
Rhett Reese: Ours too.
The resurgence, I mean, what you guys did with that film I loved it. That is exactly what I wanted. It had the heart of GI Joe that I remembered unlike the first one. No offense to the first one, but it just wasn’t there. It wasn’t the same. And you guys brought this Roadblock and I was like, “Yes. You got the Rock for Roadblock? Are you kidding me?”
Now Deadpool, obviously, is taking up a lot of your time and I loved the first Deadpool. I can’t tell you enough how much I enjoyed it mainly because it was a departure from the average superhero movie. But I know Ryan has a huge influence on that. When you are writing Deadpool, something like Deadpool, how much of the page is actually making it to the screen with Ryan improvising?
Paul Wernick: Well quite a bit.
Paul Wernick: There is always what we shoot on the page and then there is always the improvisation. You know, TJ Miller is a brilliant comic. And, obviously, Ryan is one of the smartest, funniest men on the planet. So, you know, when you are given those gifts, you use those gifts. We kind of turned them loose and we are on set every day and it’s also Ryan kind of powwowing and the director Tim, for the first one, Dave now for the second one, who are now the core creative team that are kind of huddled up and going, “Oh, what about this? What about this?” You know your mind just races as you see the action and the scene play out in front of you, you know, you start to go, “Well, what if he said this? What if he said this?”
Rhett Reese: It’s always good to have a script that’s really strong, so you know that you are in a safe place when you are out shooting the scene. You know if all we get is what is on the page, then that’ll be good. Then it’s also to see what they can do to amp it and make it better. And Ryan, every night before he goes to sleep, the night before the next day he’ll look over the next day’s pages, and he’ll come in with a couple of new ideas, whether it’s a new line or “What if I did this? Or what if I said this at the end of this?” And he always amps it. Every day.
Paul Wernick: And if we are making each other laugh, we generally feel like we are in great shape.
It’s very creative the way that (Ryan Reynolds) announced the casting for Domino. Now, Cable?
Rhett Reese: Yes, Cable’s gonna be announced reasonably soon, I think. We can’t say who it’s gonna be but it’s very exciting. Cable’s very important. He’s important as his own character, but his relationship to Deadpool is very important, so you have to get someone that has a good rapport with (Ryan Reynold), someone who can bounce off him, and someone that can be a straight man to his lunatic, but also be funny in his own right.
Paul Wernick: And ominous, and tough, and badass…
Rhett Reese: And kinda scary, and come from another time and not really relate to Deadpool and his ridiculous pop-culture references, so all of those things are gonna require kind of a heavyweight. Someone who can really handle it and we’re getting close to that actor. Again, I can’t say it.
[joking] So, it is Russell Crowe?
Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick: [Laughing]
Rhett Reese: Russell Crowe would be amazing, but here’s the thing, we have the luxury of the shortlist of amazing people. I almost think it can be any of the 5 or 6 people that have been tossed around or a couple who haven’t and we’re gonna be in great shape, so..
Yeah! That’s one thing about this movie that generated so much buzz. I’m a huge Nathan Summers fan, because Scott Summers is my favorite X-Man, but nobody likes Cyclops except me.
Rhett Reese: Oh really? You are in the minority there.
So Cable’s a very important character to me. I’ve heard people rumored, like I said, Russell Crowe, David Harbour from Stranger Things, all the way to Pierce Brosnan.
Rhett Reese: Pierce Brosnan’s been rumored. Liam Neeson’s been rumored, Michael Shannon’s been rumored. There’s a whole.. and each one of them are great, right?
Paul Wernick: Dolph Lundgren? I mean?
Rhett Reese: That, I’m not so sure [EVERYONE LAUGHING]
Paul Wernick: He has been rumored! And the guy from Avatar.
Rhett Reese: Yes. Stephen Lang has been rumored and Eric Dane has been rumored. Like, it’s been flying around, and most of those names, not every single one I mentioned, but most of them I feel very comfortable actually. There’s some solid, solid actors on that list.