They say that one of the most striking things about meeting movie stars is how tiny they seem in person. This is not the case with Ryan Reynolds.
The Canadian actor stands an imposing 6 feet 2 inches (at least), with veins snaked around his forearms that are so thick you'd swear they were Bugs Bunny's abandoned tunnels to Albuquerque.
It would all be pretty intimidating, if the guy wasn't so funny.
Imagine Jim Carrey with a better bench press and you've got an idea of Reynolds' effortless comic timing, which, like Carrey's, was honed among our neighbors to the north. (Reynolds is a native of Vancouver.)
But believe it or not, the "Van Wilder" star's latest role, in "Definitely, Maybe," which opened Thursday, had him dialing down his natural propensity for quips.
"I'm used to kind of spinning a web of one-liners," Reynolds said in a recent interview at the Four Seasons Hotel in Atlanta, "and I have a lot of fun doing that. But at the same time, this is a movie where I really had to exercise some restraint."
Reynolds plays Will Hayes, a 1992 Clinton campaign worker who starts out as a naive, almost dorky idealist and morphs over the next several years into a ladies' man lovestruck three times over. Meanwhile, in the present day, he's become a caring father to his daughter Maya, played by 11-year-old "Little Miss Sunshine" wunderkind Abigail Breslin.
The narrative, told mostly in flashback, has an unusually thick plot for a romantic comedy, even incorporating elements of mystery as Will tells Maya, using disguised names, about the loves of his life (played by the equally stunning trio of Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz and Isla Fisher), asking her to guess which one is her mother.
The film's unpredictable nature is actually what drew Reynolds to the role.
"I've never read or even heard about a romantic comedy that could be unpredictable," he said, "so I just thought that was a completely unorthodox take on that genre. It felt like a romantic whodunit."
The funnyman also had nothing but praise for his pint-sized co-star.
"She's like a pygmy Judi Dench," Reynolds said of Breslin. "She's a phenomenal actress. She's a real kid, too. That's something that I found most remarkable about her, is that she acts like a living, breathing child. She's not, like, some kind of alien with a SAG card."
Their father-daughter chemistry, he added, was a little tough to establish at first, because of his age.
"It was difficult," Reynolds said, "because I'm pretty young to be the father of a 10-year-old."
But because the movie takes place over 16 years, he said, the producers had to cast someone who could pass for both 22 and 38.
"But I really believe that you can't manufacture chemistry with anyone," he said. "You've gotta put your dynamic on the screen."
So, to discover just what that Reynolds-Breslin dynamic was, he took her out for a day of kid-style fun in New York City, capped off by a trip to the toy store.
"I bought her a stuffed animal, and didn't look at the receipt," Reynolds said of that fateful day. "It was a $300 giraffe, which is absolutely insane. Only in New York could you buy a giraffe for that much money and it not be a living, breathing giraffe."
Sure enough, when he turned Breslin back over to her mom, the actress immediately boasted, "Ryan bought me a $300 stuffed animal. What an idiot!'
"That was my first moment I truly fell in love with that little girl," he said.
It's a bond that translates to celluloid almost as easily as Reynolds' passion for politics, which made his character's on-screen occupation no big stretch.
"You'd have to be critically stupid these days to not care about the future of not just this country, but the world," he said of the current geopolitical climate.
But Reynolds' isn't so sure that Hayes, who becomes more than a little disillusioned with Bill Clinton as the film's storyline runs alongside the fallout of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, would be a Hillary voter in '08.
"I think he'd come out for Obama in a big way," Reynolds said.