Before screenwriting duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick rose to fame as producers for major films like Deadpool and Zombieland, they were just a couple of guys from Paradise Valley.
You grew up in AZ. Represent! What are some of your favorite places in town?
RR: My wife, Chelsey, and I recently bought a condo in Paradise Valley, so we visit quite often. There’s so much we love about the area. Some of our favorite places include Mountain Shadows resort; Omni Scottsdale Resort at Montelucia; Tee Pee Mexican Food, Carlsbad Tavern, Scramble and Bandera.
PW: Phoenix is and will always be home. I visit with my family at least twice a year around Thanksgiving and spring training time. We hike Camelback, go to Richardson’s, sneak in an escape room or two, and go to a Suns game.
What do you love about it here?
RR: We’re both desert rats. Chelsey grew up in Litchfield Park, and I grew up in Paradise Valley, so Phoenix is still home to us. We even like the summers—maybe because we’re not around full time. We love coming back because our pulses drop the minute we step off the plane. Everything feels more relaxed than what we’re used to in Los Angeles.
PW: We love the people. And the desert. And the warmth of the city. Not temperature warmth. But quaint and cozy warmth.
How did you two meet?
RR: Paul and I met in high school, at Phoenix Country Day.
PW: I had the locker right under Rhett’s. He used to step on me between classes to get to his books.
How did you get into producing and screenwriting?
RR: We took quite different paths to begin with. I became a feature screenwriter out of college, and Paul produced news and reality TV. We partnered on a whim to create a reality show in 2001 (The Joe Schmo Show), and we’ve been working together ever since.
PW: I graduated UCLA with a degree in political science. And then decided I was neither a politician nor a scientist. I wanted to tell stories. I became a local news producer, starting at KTVK, on, I think it was called, First News 5, with Terri Ouellette. (It was the program before Good Morning Arizona came on.) I soon moved to Tucson to work at KVOA and KOLD, then bounced around the country producing, lastly in Los Angeles, when I realized maybe local news wasn’t the best medium to tell my stories. Rhett and I partnered up and the rest is history.
How did you land Deadpool?
RR: Ryan Reynolds convinced Fox to hire us to write the movie based off his love for a pilot we had written for HBO about a voyeur. Something about the darkness in the writing made him think we’d be the right fit for the twisted character of Deadpool.
PW: We landed it at a lunch with Ryan Reynolds at the infamous Chateau Marmont. We connected over ideas and quinoa.
Where do you get your inspiration when writing?
RR: There is no magical formula to come up with ideas. They either strike you or they don’t. But we certainly take inspiration from many sources. The Zucker brothers. Lonesome Dove. Breaking Bad. Spielberg. They’ve all been big influences.
PW: Ideas come on dog walks or in showers or waking up in the middle of the night. Where they come from, that’s more interesting. Usually, it’s little pieces of character or traits of people we meet along the way.
Is humor writing something you gravitate toward organically?
RR: I am by no means a hilarious person, but I do have an eye for finding the inherent humor in people and situations.
PW: Comedy comes naturally, not easily. Just something we gravitate toward. We like to make each other laugh. We were raised on Blazing Saddles, Airplane! and Steve Martin and SNL.
So... aside from the obvious, what’s the Ryan Reynolds mystique?
RR: Ryan is a genius. Full stop. He can act, write, improvise, etc., better than anyone we’ve ever met. We’d be blessed to work with him every time out. He’s what we call an ‘elevator.’ He elevates everything he touches.
PW: He’s also a kind human and a wonderful partner.
Which actors did you enjoy working with in Zombieland: Double Tap?
RR: Jesse Eisenberg and I share so much in common, it’s eerie. Woody Allan is a blast. Emma Stone is delightful (and from Scottsdale!). It’s just hard to go wrong with that group.
PW: Zombieland has always been about family. Behind the scenes, as well. Everyone loves each other. For many of us, it was our first real success. Emma was a 20-year-old kid when we shot the first one. Now she’s an Oscar winner—but still the same sweet amazing human being she was a decade ago before her rocket ride. They all are: Woody, Jesse and [Abigail Breslin] too, and all your newest additions. Just love Zoey Deutch so much!
PW: We are writing three projects right now that, if things fall into place, will all hopefully shoot this spring/summer: a remake of the 1980s movie Clue, based on the board game; a real-life story about the guy who ran the McDonald’s Monopoly sweepstakes and was secretly stealing the game pieces and giving them to his friends. Over the course of 12 years, he stole $24 million. And the third, a project called Escape From Spiderhead, based on a short story by the brilliant George Saunders. Every project is a dream project. It is so hard to get stuff made that we never take any of it for granted!
I have to ask. Which of you would be more likely to survive a zombie apocalypse?
RR: I’d be better because I know all the best places to hide. Paul’s a little too aggressive.
PW: Rhett would survive because he is so afraid to die. I’m surprisingly OK with death. (Mine, not other people’s.)
Photography by: Matt Doyle/Countour via Getty Images