From Scripting 'Deadpool' to Creating 'Life': Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick on Naming Their Alien and That 'Venom' Theory

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·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
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Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese
Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese at SXSW (Getty Images)

Screenwriting duo Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick had a very good 2016. They watched as Deadpool, their loooong-in-the-works labor of love (they were hired on it in 2010), defied conventional wisdom and proved an R-rated superhero movie could become one of the biggest box office hits of 2016. The film even scored some unexpected awards love, including a Writers Guild Awards nomination for the pair.

For their next act, Reese and Wernick (whose other credits include Zombieland and G.I. Joe: Retaliation) send their old pal Ryan Reynolds and friends (including Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson) to space in the new sci-fi thriller Life.

Directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House), the film follows a team of six astronauts on an international space station, where they study a sample of life brought back fresh from Mars. The alien (dubbed “Calvin”) soon becomes hostile and, well — you can guess what starts to happen next.

Reese and Wernick chatted with Yahoo Movies about how Life came to be, that viral theory about Life being a prequel to Sony’s Venom movie, and whose name they’ll be poking fun at in Deadpool 2.

I remember you guys talking about working on an original, non-Deadpool-related project when we were on the Vancouver set. Where’d the idea come from? And were you working on this at the same time as Deadpool?
Rhett Reese:
[Skydance Media CEO/producer] David Ellison came to us with the idea.
Paul Wernick: We wrote it over the course of about five months before Deadpool shot.
Reese: Easily the smoothest experience we’ve ever had in Hollywood.
Wernick: I mean it helps when the head of the studio comes up with the idea, so he has the impetus to make it. But yeah, I would say from start to finish, from when the idea was pitched to us coming up with the script to us being in London shooting it, it was a course of about a year-and-a-half of very smooth sailing.

So in other words the exact opposite of Deadpool.
Wernick:
Yeah, the exact opposite of Deadpool. The headline will be, “Life: The Exact Opposite of Deadpool.”

What do you guys have to say about this fan theory that Life is a prequel to Sony’s Venom films?
Wernick:
Spread it, man, spread it! If we could slap a Marvel on the front of it we would. People do love themselves some Spider-Man, so… Look, a lot of people with a lot of time on their hands definitely brought a big smile to our faces. We had been involved in the Venom universe many years ago, so it was fun to see those two worlds collide, at least in theory.

It’s a pretty good theory. And one devised by someone who hasn’t seen the movie yet, just the trailer.
Wernick:
It’s a darn good theory! And one that I think probably got spurred by the fact that they dropped a Spider-Man 3 shot in the final (Life) trailer, which is actually a lot more common than you think in trailers. But they thought they could get away with it and they got nabbed. And then Spider-Man 3 made somebody think of Venom and then the next thing you know we’ve got ourselves a rumor.

Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Life’ (Sony)
Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Life’ (Sony)

In the immortal words of Matt Damon, you guys science the s–t out of some things in this film, both when it comes to the biological aspects and the space travel/sci-fi elements. How factually accurate is the science? Will it hold up when Neil DeGrasse Tyson inevitably fact-checks it?
Reese:
Neil DeGrasse Tyson is going to beat the crap out of us the way he does everybody, so no, it won’t stand up to his [evaluation]. It has to basically pass muster for everyone who’s not an expert. And we think it really passes muster there. The experts will appreciate some of it, and then will likely raise their hands and say, ‘Well, that’s not exactly right’ more than once. But if we’re only offending a few astrophysicists, that’ll be okay to us.

What would you guys say changed the most dramatically from page to screen, from your script to the finished product?
Reese:
Probably the look of the creature. The look of the creature in my head was different, but it’s also very hard to communicate that on the page, and I think the visual designers did an amazing job visualizing it. It’s just different from what was in my head. But that’s not to say it’s better or worse, it’s just different.

How’d you guys land on “Calvin” for the life form? It’s a pretty unexpected moniker.
Wernick:
Calvin is such a cute, nerdy name, and kind of a name of yesteryear, so we thought it was ironically named. This absolute killer alien named Calvin after Calvin Coolidge brought a smile to our faces. So we kind of backed our way into that one.

Well, thank you for not naming him Kevin. I’m tired of all these Kevin jokes in movies.
Wernick:
You know my brother’s name is Kevin and we tried to squeeze a couple Kevin jokes into Deadpool. And they didn’t fit.
Reese: But keep watching.
Wernick: Yeah, there will be some Kevin stuff coming up.
Reese: The Kevin stuff will be worked in.

Damn you guys!
Wernick:
You should love it, Kevin!

Was it always going to be Calvin or did you guys workshop some other names?
Reese:
No, that came really early. We thought of Calvin and then thought, ‘Oh, maybe a school kid gets to name it and then names it after their school, Calvin Coolidge Elementary.’ So we thought of the name Calvin first, and then used the Calvin Coolidge connection to justify it.

Why do you guys think when it comes to aliens, we just generally assume if we do encounter them, they’re going to want us dead?
Reese:
Well, because it’s certainly a lot more interesting than if it just wanted to shake our hands and sit down and have lunch. I mean there’s E.T., which is awesome and we love, so there are counter examples. Paul or E.T

Arrival.
Reese:
Yes, they were very nice in Arrival. They gave us a gift and left. But I don’t know, I think that likely it’s not going to be the most wonderful thing when we discover that other life. If they’re smarter than we are it’s going to be trouble for us, and if they’re dumber than we are it’s going to be trouble for them.

Life opens March 24. Watch the trailer:


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