Exclusive: Deadpool Writers Talk Mutants, R Rating & X-Men Connections

In May of 2015 we traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia to check out the set of Twentieth Century Fox's Deadpool, the first non-Hugh Jackman X-Men spinoff. To begin the day we browsed through some very revealing concept on display in a tent that sheltered us from the hot summer weather, before screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick came in to chat.

Reese and Wernick made their mark in Hollywood for writing the smash hit Zombieland but before that had the chance to write a script for Venom movie for Sony as well. Deadpool has been their most involved project though since they've been writing and revising it every year for six years.

In our conversion, I ask the pair about the development of Deadpool and how the project has ultimately benefited from its evolution over the years based on collaboration - from Ryan Reynolds' need to include an origin story in the first movie to director Tim Miller's desire to include more mutant powers. We also discuss how the Deadpool ultimately got an R rating, the other mutant characters and their powers, their first comics, how writing Deadpool is any writer's dream due to his personality and ability to break the fourth wall, and planning ahead for Deadpool 2. And yes, I also question them about the 12 images I saw which hint at an Act III set piece set in a scrapyard featuring a helicarrier...

You guys made a script for this a while ago. When was that first commissioned? Was it after X-Men Origins: Wolverine came out?

Rhett Reese: It was. Fox came to us in, I think it was June of 2009 and said they wanted to reboot Deadpool, which it was in need of, let’s just say. We pitched a vision for it to Ryan and they ended up hiring us, and we ended up writing in, what, the winter… I guess it would be early in 2010 is when we finally started writing.

Paul Wernick: We’ve been on the project 6+ years now. Ryan’s been on the project I think 11+ years, since Deadpool was at New Line, then went over to Fox. So it’s been a passion of his and quickly became a passion of ours.

Rhett Reese: And it was a very collaborative process. We first pitched a story to Ryan that was not an origin story, interestingly, because we thought that was a little old-fashioned. But when he heard it, he thought, “You know, I love it, but I also want to include an origin because we just need to understand his pathos and his issues.”

And so, we did this dual narrative where the script moves back and forth from present to past and we see how Deadpool became Deadpool, and we also see him in action in a present adventure. That was a function of us and Ryan kind of putting our heads together and figuring it out.

It’s gone through many iterations since then as well. We wrote a PG-13 version. We first started writing an R version, then it became PG-13, then back to R. and we’ve written multiple iterations. When our director came on we changed some things. So it’s been a…

Paul Wernick: And we’ve written a draft in each of the last six calendar years.

Rhett Reese: Yeah. We have drafts upon drafts.

Deadpool Set Photo - Ryan Reynolds, Gina Carano, and Ed Skrein
Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) subjects himself to an experiment to save his life and become a superhero

Looking at the artwork it seems vastly different than the version I read a couple years ago. What are some of the big changes that were made?

Rhett Reese: I wouldn’t say vastly different. I would say it’s maybe 30% different from that draft that leaked. I’m assuming that’s the one you read, maybe it leaked on the internet…?

Yeah. It spread around the tracking boards and…

Rhett Reese: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. There are a few sort of key differences. One is the character of Negasonic Teenage Warhead. That was Tim Miller, our director. We had a lot of gun fighting scenes and he wanted to emphasize a little bit more sort of superpowers and superheroes. So he said, “Maybe we can figure out a way to introduce a new superhero.” So he gave us this list of names…

Paul Wernick: Yeah, a list of names that Fox kind of owned in the X universe. We didn’t even read the powers. We locked on Negasonic Teenage Warhead and we’re like, “Oh my god. We love her.” She quickly became an integral part of our movie.

Rhett Reese: We lost a couple characters. We had Garrison Kane and Wire in earlier drafts. Just due to budgetary reasons we lost those.

Paul Wernick: They both ultimately got consolidated into Angel Dust, into Gina Carano’s character.

Rhett Reese: Which is probably good, because when you have a proliferation of villains that doesn’t always work. Sometimes it seems like the more villains there are, the muddier the movie gets…

Paul Wernick: We didn’t want to be Spider-Man 3. Didn’t Spider-Man 3 have a bunch of villains?

Rhett Reese: That happens. There have been a fair amount of Batman movies like that.

After going back and forth between a PG-13 and R rating before settling on going R, are their concerns about losing a segment of the moviegoing audience?

Rhett Reese: First it was R. We wrote it R… they told us to write it the way we wanted. And then I think there was just a little concern that there’s a ceiling on how well you can do financially when it’s rated R because there’s a certain bulk of the audience who just can’t go and won’t pay to go. So we decided to change it to PG-13. They decided that was the best move.

We actually like the PG-13 draft. It’s didn’t feel like we were selling out. But we still, in our heart of hearts, were hoping that they would make it R. When did that finally come together? It was Simon, really.

Paul Wernick: Simon, yeah. There were two drafts floating around over the last year. Simon Kinberg came aboard and he read both drafts, and he’s the keeper of the Fox X-Men universe; ultimately most trusted over there. He read both drafts and he’s like, “Oh my god. You’ve got to do it R because there really is a hole in the market place in terms of the audience has really never seen this.” The superhero market is so oversaturated. Guardians of the Galaxy filled a little bit of a hole there with the comedy side of it. But to go comedy, hard R just felt like an opportunity. And if they could keep the budget down, really it was the best move. And we’re most excited about that decision.

I know you guys said there’s been a lot of revisions in the last couple years. When the project was finally greenlit, was that based on a final script or did you guys have to make changes after that as well?

Rhett Reese: We still made changes. But once a script has been greenlit, the changes tend to be due to budget and production issues and letting the script actually become a shootable movie that’s not too costly and that matches locations and things like that. And then we’ve done a little character polishing, a little dialogue polishing. But I would say from the moment it got greenlit till now it’s 95% the same. Once they greenlit the movie, they are greenlighting a piece of material in that case, in this case.

CGI Colossus Costume in Deadpool Movie
The new, all Russian, all CGI Colossus

There are now three X-Men movies in one year, all releasing in 2016. Was there a push to meld it towards fitting in that universe or is this more standalone?

Paul Wernick: I’d say it’s more standalone but it lives within the X universe if that makes sense. Colossus is in our movie. What else?

Rhett Reese: Yeah, I mean it certainly will fit into the overall timeline that Simon’s envisioning. And he’s the keeper of that, so if we ever violate that… there have been a couple of moments that felt like they wouldn’t fit in as well, but I’m trying to remember what those would be in retrospect. In any case, we do fit into the larger universe. The question would be: what happens next?

If I had to guess, I’d say, in success, there would probably be a Deadpool 2, a standalone Deadpool, and then he would be inserted into the ensemble movies in some fun way. That’s a guess.

Paul Wernick: We’re going to call it Deadpool: Avengers, I think.


How is it writing for a character that can break the fourth wall?

Rhett Reese: It’s the best. Writing for Deadpool is the best. We were given a great gift in this character. He’s a lot of things. He’s a lunatic. He’s a talker. He’s a romantic. He’s an overgrown child. He’s a killer. And he has the capacity to break the traditional storytelling rules. He is very self-aware that he’s in a story, that he’s in a movie in this case. In the comic book he kinda knows he’s in a comic. Here he knows he’s in a movie. He can break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience.

It’s very freeing as a writer because you really never get a chance to do that. Suddenly, you are handed this Christmas gift and this character that allows you to break many rules. We have Deadpool making fun of that Wolverine movie and making fun of his action figure from that movie. We have Deadpool talking about Ryan Reynolds, which is funny. Those are the kinds of things you would never be afforded the chance to do with any other character other than this character. So it’s been wonderful.

Paul Wernick: He’s also an anti-hero. He’s a broken soul. He’s not kind of the broad-shouldered superhero type that everyone’s used to seeing. So that also was freeing. He’s self-loathing. And he’s got a couple of screws loose in his head. They say write what you know, right? So we really tapped into that in a fun way.

Next Page: A Revenge Tale Involving A... Helicarrier Set Piece?

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