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How ‘Deadpool’s’ writers found scary new ‘Life’ in a familiar space alien story

Ryan+Reynolds+as+Rory+Adams+in+a+scene+from+the+movie+%22Life%22+directed+by+Daniel+Espinosa.+%28Alex+Bailey%2FColumbia+Pictures%2FTNS%29
Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams in a scene from the movie

Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams in a scene from the movie "Life" directed by Daniel Espinosa. (Alex Bailey/Columbia Pictures/TNS)

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Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams in a scene from the movie "Life" directed by Daniel Espinosa. (Alex Bailey/Columbia Pictures/TNS)

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With a resume that includes zombies, soldiers, a smart-mouthed superhero and now astronauts fighting a creature in space, screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have become specialists in crafting genre hybrids and defying expectations.

Their latest film, the sci-fi thriller “Life,” had its world premiere as the closing film of the recently concluded South by Southwest Film Festival, which has become one of the premier platforms for the smart and surprising.

Wernick and Reese first met in high school in Phoenix and have been working together for more than 17 years. Their first feature collaboration was on the 2009 hit horror comedy “Zombieland.” But it was their long-gestating “Deadpool” that brought them unexpected acclaim after the R-rated subversive superhero movie became not only a worldwide box-office success, it also earned Reese and Wernick a nomination from the Writers Guild Awards.

As Reese put it, “We just never would have guessed that ‘Deadpool’ of all things would be our prestige play.”

With “Life,” the two surprise yet again, creating a hybrid of a philosophical sci-fi story and intense thriller within the contained environment of a horror movie.

In the film, a group of astronauts — including stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson — aboard the International Space Station collect a soil sample from Mars that turns out to have a definitive example of life on another planet.

When that sample is re-animated and begins to grow beyond their control — revealing itself as bent on destruction of any other life it encounters — the astronauts must fight not only for their own survival but also to keep the creature from reaching Earth.

The origins of the film, directed by Daniel Espinosa, came from a lunch Reese and Wernick had with producer David Ellison during the making of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” which they wrote. Ellison, whose Skydance company produced “G.I. Joe,” pitched them the core idea based around his own interest in a recent NASA expedition to Mars.

From there, Reese and Wernick came up with a more fully formed story and then wrote the script.

“We were both fans of the movie ‘Alien,’ which of course our movie will be compared to, maybe fortunately or unfortunately,” says Reese. “But on this our general feeling was ‘Alien’ is, if you can believe it, almost a 40-year-old movie. And it was always set in a universe that’s pretty far flung from our own — it’s the future, it’s spaceships off in distant galaxies, and we were attracted to ‘Life’ because it really felt like the grounded, real, science faction version of this story. We really are on the hunt for life on other planets and on Mars itself.”

Within that context, their script makes the “Alien” story plausible.

“We really liked taking the genre aspect, this alien, and dropping it into today and a location that actually exists, the International Space Station,” Reese adds. “At every turn in the script we’d ask ourselves, what would really happen?”

“And what better haunted house in the entire universe than the International Space Station, 200 miles above Earth,” Wernick says. “You can’t get out, you’re stuck, it’s the ultimate haunted house.”

For Ellison, it was Wernick and Reese’s versatility that made them the right writers for the story.

“Paul and Rhett have unbelievable range,” Ellison says. “One of the things that was appealing to them from the original conversations was just really getting to dive into a genre they hadn’t gotten to get their hands on before.”

Espinosa had previously worked with Reynolds on the 2012 action movie “Safe House.”

And although many people know Ferguson from her breakout role in “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” which Ellison also produced, Espinosa has known her for many years from their native Sweden.

For Espinosa it was the “simple core idea” of the story that allowed him the freedom to dig into creating not only the realistic sense of being on the space station but also to bring out the human drama among the characters of the crew.

“I can look at this like I’m doing a big science-fiction movie, but I can also look at it as I’m doing this piece with six actors and one location,” Espinosa says.

Among the other films that premiered at this year’s SXSW Film Festival was “Atomic Blonde,” directed by David Leitch, who will be handling the upcoming sequel to “Deadpool,” also written by Reese and Wernick.

The success of the first “Deadpool” is something the pair are still surprised by, but it has made them feel even more freed to explore unlikely connections and pushing further in their work.

“I think it was an apple among oranges,” Wernick says of “Deadpool.” “There are superhero movies upon superhero movies and not only anymore in the summertime. Every month is the summertime, which is good for the movie industry but it feels like it’s just an onslaught of more of the same. I think (‘Deadpool’) had a freshness to it in the sense that people hadn’t really seen anything like this, an R-rated, self-deprecating, self-loathing anti-hero who you fall in love with and root for.”

With “Life,” the pair were able to combine the hard realities of science, the scares of a horror movie and even some of the most basic questions about human existence and our place in the universe.

“There’s great debate in terms of how likely is it for life to spontaneously occur somewhere when the conditions for it are present. I think my basic understanding is that while it is an unlikely occurrence, the universe is a very big place,” Reese says.

“I think that’s both the dream and the frightening idea, that we aren’t alone.”

———

©2017 Los Angeles Times

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How ‘Deadpool’s’ writers found scary new ‘Life’ in a familiar space alien story