With its weathered shingles and white picket railings, Shutters on the Beach is so New England it hurts. But for all its East Coast allure, the renowned Santa Monica hotel is flanked by palm trees, swarmed by Rollerbladers, and steps away from the sand. Call it Cape Cod on the California coast. Every window is a study in blue, and so too is Ryan Reynolds. In a blue Officine Générale shirt, blue Nudie jeans, and natural white Converse sneakers, he perfectly matches the view. "I actually like L.A. a lot more now that I don't live here," the New York-based actor muses in his distinctive, even tone. His voice, like Jack Nicholson's, never seems to rise or fall. His career is another story.
Reynolds soared to considerable heights opposite Sandra Bullock in 2009's workplace rom-com The Proposal. But like another captive of the genre, Matthew McConaughey, Reynolds admits to wrestling with what to do with his star power. "I made a lot of choices that were driven by the word 'should,'" he reflects, contemplating his San Pellegrino. "But the ones that are most satisfying are driven by the words 'I want.'" Falling in the latter category, Mississippi Grind (out Sept. 25) promises more than just satisfaction. With early raves and his deeply moving performance as Curtis, a charismatic drifter burdened by good luck, the film might do for Reynolds what Dallas Buyers Club did for McConaughey. This month, let the anticipated Reynoldsaissance begin.
Many of your characters, from Van Wilder to Mississippi Grind's Curtis, exude outsize amounts of confidence. Do you relate?
"Oh, I know how to play that in a film, but I don't have that kind of swagger in my life. My insecurity-to-confidence ratio is 90:10. I can kind of turn it on, but it's not me."
Do you remember your first date?
"Christine. She was very pretty and a grade older than me. A year's difference in high school is a chasm you can't bridge. I might as well have been 20 years younger. She wanted to go to this restaurant in Vancouver that I hadn't even heard of. I didn't know if I had enough to pay for the dinner, so I faked a stomach-ache and only ate the bread. I just made the bill with a really crappy tip. I remember I wore, like, a hideous '90s poncho. Not a full-on Mexican poncho. It had a weird tapestry in the front and a hood attached. She was dressed like she was going to the Met Ball."
Your style has definitely evolved since then. Do you have a style icon?
"I do for movies. For Mississippi Grind, which has a '70s vibe, I looked to Robert Redford. But Marlon Brando had fantastic style. Even into his later years, when he just rocked muumuus."
You're the youngest of four brothers. Was acting a response to that?
"—One hundred percent. When you're the youngest of four aggressive males, your defense mechanism isn't going to be your fists—it's going to be something else. My mind is the thing that got me through it without too many broken bones. One of the reasons I started performing was just to get out of the house."
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck wrote and directed Mississippi Grind and Half Nelson. Both films star handsome Canadian actors named Ryan.
"I did have joke with them. My character breaks his nose in the movie, and I said 'I kind of look like Gosling now.' We were shooting in the streets of New Orleans, and as soon as I had that nose on, everybody who walked up to me asked if I was Gosling."
Mississippi Grind tells the story of two gamblers—one with good luck, one with bad—making a run south in a Subaru hatchback. What's the craziest road trip you've ever been on?
"I once tried to ride a motorcycle from Sydney to Perth, Australia. It ended three weeks into it with a crash and a few other problems. I got bitten by some sort of spider that gave me the worst infection you've ever seen in your life. My friend totaled his bike. He split it in half. It's amazing that he walked away from it."
For Ryan Reynolds's full feature, pick up the October issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download September 18.