'Deadpool 2' director opens up about the pressures of jumping into a hit franchise and what working with Ryan Reynolds was like

20th Century FoxDavid Leitch on the set of ‘Deadpool 2.’
  • David Leitch, the director of “Deadpool 2,” explains why he took on the movie following the exit of the first movie’s director, Tim Miller.
  • Leitch also explains the pressures of working on a big studio movie that has a set release date in place before production even begins.
  • He also tells us why doing multiple test screenings made “Deadpool 2” better.

David Leitch has proved to be one of the top filmmakers in the action-movie genre with only two movies under his belt – but they certainly left an impression.

After building one of the most respected stuntman crews in Hollywood with Chad Stahelski in the early 2000s (they were called on to do all the big action movies like “The Bourne Legacy” and the “Expendables” movies), the two made their directorial debut with the surprise hit “John Wick” starring Keanu Reeves in 2014. It proved that they could do more than just come up with innovative fight sequences. Leitch then went on his own to make “Atomic Blonde” last year (Stahelski made “John Wick 2”) and proved it wasn’t a fluke. He could really direct. His stylised Cold War ultraviolent tale starring Charlize Theron wowed audiences.

Now he’s hit the big time, having signed on to direct “Deadpool 2” (in theatres Friday) after the first movie’s director, Tim Miller, exited the project. The sequel doesn’t just deliver on bigger fights and jokes. With Leitch at the helm (and most likely a little more budget than the first one), and with Ryan Reynolds reprising the outlandish Marvel superhero, the movie feels bigger and more slick.

But Leitch isn’t letting up. He’s now prepping his next movie, “Hobbs and Shaw” starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, the first spin-off project from the “Fast and Furious” franchise.

Leitch sat down with Business Insider to talk about the pressures of jumping in a franchise like “Deadpool,” how the looming predetermined movie release date brought lots of anxiety, and why test screenings really helped the movie.

Jason Guerrasio: Was getting on “Deadpool 2” similar to what you did with “Atomic Blonde” where you showed Charlize a kind of sizzle reel of your vision of the movie?

David Leitch: It was a completely different experience. I was actually working on “X-Force” with Ryan and Simon Kinberg, for a very short window of time. I had gotten the gig to develop it and I had just started working in that world, and then when this opportunity came up for “Deadpool” – “We’re going to be doing ‘Deadpool 2’ first, would you be interested in directing?” – I was like [does a big exhale]. It was more an offer because we had a relationship.

It was a daunting decision to make because what I liked about the idea of “X-Force” was that I would be able to break new ground and create my own world. Here you have this franchise that’s a global phenomenon and how are you going to meet the expectations of that? But because there’s an element of “X-Force,” really the introduction of these characters in this world, I sort of got to have my cake and eat it too, I guess. I felt there was enough room in the creative palette of what “Deadpool” can be for me to have an impact as a director but also stay true to what people love from the original.

Deadpool 2 20th Century Fox20th Century Fox‘Deadpool 2.’

Guerrasio: And I’m assuming there was something on page already, so you could have some vision of where they wanted to go with the sequel when you came on?

Leitch: Well, no. [Laughs.] It was more of a pitch. They had gone down the road of trying to crack the story of what we wanted to do for number two, and when I came on board they were sort of piecing things together from those ideas. So I was loosely involved in the beginning of that process as I was coming on board. We put the movie out in note cards, as you do, and they went away and wrote it as I started to prep. We had a short time. We knew we were shooting in Vancouver, so we were scouting locations as the pages were coming in.

Guerrasio: So because of the speed this was very different from doing “John Wick” or “Atomic Blonde.”

Leitch: It is. It’s because of that release date. The release-date pressure.

Guerrasio: It’s hanging over everyone’s head.

Leitch: It’s hanging in the air and every week you push principal photography it gives you less days on post. And on these big visual-effects movies, post is key. It’s really hard with these release-date schedules.

Guerrasio: And with this movie in particular, because your main character is wearing a mask, post is crucial because if you guys think of a better line or joke, you can place it in with very little extra work.

Leitch: You want to allow for that process to take place. You need a window of creativity in post that you may not have in another movie. You have the luxury of putting words in the mask: making a joke more current, or work better, or help the narrative with a couple of lines. You want to maximise that.

Guerrasio: Were you aware of that need in post going into the project?

Leitch: I was pretty aware of it. I had never done it before, but talking to Ryan and his experience on the last film and understanding how post works, it’s a great tool. But we needed time to experiment. And test jokes. We needed some sort of development period where we’re not under the pressure of the release date.

Guerrasio: Did you test this movie with audiences a lot?

Leitch: Yeah. And I’m grateful we did. We were testing really high. We were testing in the 90s in our first test screening. It was crazy. On an independent film you get that score you pack up shop and polish the colour and sound and ship the movie. But because we had the resources of the studio and we had gotten our first test out early we felt we could improve on this. We did test a couple of more times and we refined jokes and we trimmed scenes, and it was definitely progressive. Our scores were increasing all the way to the last one where we had this insane score. But it was all due to this refinement process in post.

Guerrasio: And not every movie can be pulled off this way.

Leitch: Well, you have some help with the character being in a mask.

Guerrasio: You can put in anything and it’s going to match.

Leitch: Yeah. It helps.

Atomic Blonde 2 Jonathan Prime Focus Features finalJonathan Prime/Focus FeaturesCharlize Theron and David Leitch on the set of ‘Atomic Blonde.’

Guerrasio: Compare Ryan to working with Keanu and Charlize.

Leitch: They are in the position they are in the world because there’s a work ethic and a level of professionalism and then there’s a talent. So those three things are the mix that makes them who they are. I had close collaborations with Keanu on “John Wick” in the beginning process. A lot in the script and who he is as a character, and then once he connected with the character and found his emotional way in then he let Chad and myself, the filmmakers, go and do what we had to do. Charlize was a producer on “Atomic” so she had a lot of say in the beginning as well, but once I gave her the pitch of making it a punk noir music mashup she got really excited, and once she found the character and trusted the vision she’s all business. Ryan is a different process because he’s a producer, writer, performance artist –

Guerrasio: Keeper of the Deadpool flame.

Leitch: Yeah. Head of marketing, not really, but you know what I mean. He’s essential in marketing. So there’s a big brand that he’s shepherding so it was a little different process but it was really collaborative and really supportive. He was really supportive of me as a filmmaker to the studio. He wanted this to be a David Leitch film. It was a great experience.

Guerrasio: You’ve been working nonstop. Have you had a moment to take a breath and take in everything you’ve done in the past few years? Not just the movies, but the level of difficulty and scope in such a short time.

Leitch: I haven’t. My close collaborator since “Atomic” has been my wife, Kelly McCormick, and we were kind of looking at each other last night and were like, “Are we ever going to take a break?” And we do find joy in the process. But, in my below-the-line career I didn’t take breaks.

Guerrasio: But I hope you’re doing things now that are more financially satisfying than when you were doing stunt work.

Leitch: [Laughs.] Granted, this is a Champagne problem. But it’s just that the material has spoken to us and we see a path in. That’s so rare that I want to grab it. I know we’re now jumping into “Hobbs and Shaw” really quickly, but I’m not daunted by it.

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