Ryan Phillippe Opens Up About Balancing Hollywood And Fatherhood
After nearly 30 years on Hollywood’s radar, Ryan Phillippe is continuing to find himself the most satisfying of roles to commit to, both on and off camera.
The beloved actor celebrated his 47th Birthday earlier this month on September 10 and though Phillippe still has his cinematic heartthrob looks the world has come to know, he playfully realizes that he is no longer the new guy on the scene. “I still think of myself as relatively young and I still look relatively young but I am not (laughs), clearly,” Phillippe jokes with me at Forbes.
With his career’s notable breakout roles in such films as Cruel Intentions, I Know What You Did Last Summer and 54, Phillippe is now starring in new comedies like Lady of the Manor, where he plays Tanner Wadsworth, a spoiled trust fund brat, irritatingly unwise beyond his years. Like many of his memorable 90s roles, Phillippe says he still enjoys occasionally taking on these less-than-likable on-screen personas.
“Well, there’s a lot of liberty and license that comes with playing these sorts of characters. Often times, when you’re the dramatic lead or the protagonist in the film, there are boundaries there and when you play a character that’s somewhat over-the-top, a silly personality, someone who clearly suffers from arrested development, that to me is funny. The immaturity of the character and lack of awareness. Playing characters like this tends to be more fun because there are less rules to consider.”
Earlier this year, Phillippe wrapped filming in Albuquerque on the set of the upcoming Peacock series MacGruber, which allowed him to reprise his theatrical role of Lieutenant Dixon Piper and happily reunite with his 2010 MacGruber film co-stars Kristen Wiig and Will Forte.
“The first day that we all got back together was for a promotional photo shoot and within five minutes, the three of us are doing a human pyramid and it just felt like we had never left the first set,” Phillippe recalls. “We all fell right back into it really easy. That’s a movie that when it came out, it kind of bombed and nobody really cared about it and it developed this huge cult following and became a favorite for a lot of people. You just never know what to expect sometimes. When that movie came out and we were all so disappointed by how it performed, you could have never convinced me we’d be revisiting that world again and we ended up doing a series and they’re talking potentially about doing other seasons. It’s a joy to work on, really.”
The ever-changing landscape of the Hollywood industry and Phillippe’s maturing approach towards his business are areas he acknowledges and looks to expand upon, even as advancements in technology come into play. “There’s a lot of complications now that weren’t there when I started out in regards to streaming, what happens to residuals and all of those things that I think haven’t fully been sorted out. I have people that represent me that look out for that aspect of my career and I try to focus more on the creative. It certainly has changed, there’s no question about that, but that’s inevitable in any industry and I think you have to learn to go with it and not resist it and find the way you feel satisfied to be successful within it.”
Phillippe goes on to say that selecting Hollywood roles for himself lately will come down to its story. He also says as time goes on, the experience you are going to have and the people you are going to work with become much more of a factor for him when deciding on a project.
“You read a script when you are young, you’re like Oh, I can’t wait to do this badass thing and we’ll be in this far off place. As you get older, it’s kind of like Well, what are the hours going to be and can I fly back home to see my family?”
Speaking of family, Phillippe says he finds it shocking that he now has a 22-year-old daughter, Ava Elizabeth Phillippe, whom he had with his Cruel Intentions co-star and ex-wife Reese Witherspoon, followed by their son Deacon Reese Phillippe, 17.
“It’s the best part of my life, being a father. You could take away all this other stuff and if you still have that, then my life would feel or be of value. It’s a healthy thing in a lot of ways too because it gives you that separation and gives you that selflessness and not just be so caught up in your own successes and achievements. I’m so proud of them and Deacon is beginning his music career and I’m trying to support that and kind of be a part of that in whatever way I can to get him to where he wants to go. I’m ready to phase into that. I’m ready to become the supportive dad and have less of the focus be on me.”
Phillippe and Witherspoon married in 1999, announced their separation in 2006 and finalized their divorce in 2008, yet Phillippe says the two Hollywood stars have been able to effectively co-parent together for the sake of the love they both have for their kids.
“The root of it is communication and to make sure that even once you’re no longer together, you cooperate to put the kids and their needs and their well-being first. I think that’s something that she and I have always done very well. We’ve raised two really incredible human beings.”
Beyond his Hollywood projects and family priorities today, Phillippe also has passionate plans already in motion to break into other industries. “I am involved in a couple of restaurants. I am fascinated by the hospitality industry in some ways. I’ve got dreams of opening a vineyard with my sisters and like a bed and breakfast type thing. I think I’m going to start branching out into that kind of stuff a little bit more. I’ll continue to act and produce and direct and those sorts of things, but I do like the idea of kind of experiencing other industries. I like investing in new ventures and new products and seeing if they work out and that’s really exciting.”
Being such a big screen heartthrob since early on in his career, I asked Phillippe if he might have any words of wisdom for these young Hollywood actors on the rise today, who find themselves right in the thick of the thrill and pressures of stardom that Phillippe once experienced.
“It’s so different with social media and all of the things, good and bad. That can really break careers and it can also really make careers, so they deal with a whole host of new challenges in that regard than we did coming up. I think that focusing on the work and being true to who you are are always going to serve you in the long run.”
As Phillippe reflects on his continuing Hollywood journey and the focus of his commitment to fatherhood, I concluded our conversation by wondering what advice he would give to his former self, the Ryan Phillippe who was just striving to make a name for himself in the early 90s, after all the life he has lived up to this point.
“Not everything has gone the way I’ve wanted at all times, personally and professionally, but I’ve always been a decent person. I’ve always treated people with kindness and so I’d probably reinforce something like that. You can’t control everything. You can’t control how everything’s going to work out, but you can control how you treat those around you.”