You’ll recognize Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick as the powerhouse writing duo behind Certified Fresh apocalyptic comedy Zombieland, sci-fi fantasy flick Life, and, of course, Marvel’s Deadpool, Deadpool 2, and Once Upon a Deadpool.
Their latest project is YouTube Premium action series Wayne, which stars Mark McKenna (Sing Street) and Ciara Bravo (To the Bone) as a teen vigilante couple out to battle injustice and rescue a classic car. Executive producers Reese and Wernick describe the show as “John Wick–meets–John Hughes” — heart-stopping, bad-ass action with a sweet, romantic core.
Rotten Tomatoes caught up with the writers-turned-producers to find out their latest TV and movie obsessions, what makes Wayne binge-worthy, and more.
Rhett Reese: Well, movie-wise for me recently is Free Solo. I can’t get over Free Solo. It’s all I can think about or talk about, as anyone that knows me knows.
Paul Wernick: I’m embarrassed to say I don’t have much appointment viewing because I like to shut my brain off at night because we’re working so hard in the daytime. It’s hard for me to commit to any one show. Inside The NBA, embarrassingly enough, is my favorite show on television.
Reese: Right now my wife and I are watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is like stepping into an incredible time machine. It’s very well-acted and beautifully shot. It’s just as rich and luscious a show as you could ever imagine watching. And then the other thing my wife’s got me into is The Great British Bake-Off, or Baking Show, or whatever. That’s our sort of guilty pleasure, where we watch as people try to make tarts without soggy bottoms. And that’s fun. And then our next thing we’ll be embarking on is Better Call Saul because Breaking Bad was our favorite show ever, and we’ve fallen behind on Better Call Saul for whatever reason.
Reese: We really went crazy for American Vandal on Netflix, and that’s not on the DVR cause it’s Netflix, but American Vandal my wife and I are totally obsessed with. … I don’t think there’s ever been a funnier, more grounded, real portrayal of high school on television. It’s just that funny, and that good.
Wernick: I would say mine is Shark Tank. I’ve probably got about 50 Shark Tanks on my DVR that my children and I like to watch.
Reese: For me it will be Game of Thrones because I was Game of Thrones obsessed since probably — let me think back — probably about 2007 or so. I read all the books, totally obsessed by them. And then was thrilled when they announced that they were gonna do a show, and I’ve done a deep dive on the show as well.
Wernick: You were Game of Thrones before Game of Thrones was Game of Thrones.
Reese: I was in the bookstore, and I was looking for a fantasy series, and I just happened to pick up that first book. And on page 100 when Jaime Lannister threw Bran out the window I was like, “All right, this is gonna be my series of books for the next, y’know, four or five years.” So I go very far back, and I’m really excited to see how they wrap it up.
Wernick: Wayne. Yeah, Wayne. I can’t wait until January 16. I can’t wait for Wayne.
Sophie-Marie Prime for Rotten Tomatoes: How did you become involved with Wayne, and what made you want to be a part of it?
Reese: Sean [Simmons] created this show. He grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts, which is sort of an “other side of the tracks” kind of place. He was inspired to write a spec pilot based on a little bit of his background and watching kids in Brockton who were real tough who would get beat up by groups of bigger kids, but not back down.
Wernick: You know, scripts end up on our desks quite often. This one really jumped off the page. Sean had such a distinctive voice, and that’s really what you look for. There’s so much out there that kind of feels the same, and it feels predictable, and this one you just — it was a page turner. It was kind of a perfect mix of tones for us, and fit into “brand,” if we were to have one, Rhett and I. We jumped at the chance to be involved.
RT: How would you describe the tone of the show, in comparison to your other projects, like Deadpool and Zombieland?
Wernick: I think it’s very similar. It’s in and out of different tones, and it’s a delicate dance. But real life, it bounces in and out of different tones; sometimes you’re laughing, and sometimes you’re crying, and sometimes you’re getting your ass kicked, and sometimes you’re kicking ass. That’s real life.
Heart is a big thing with all our projects. I think it’s something that we try and mine because if you can get people to feel — if you can ideally get people to cry in the same episode that they’re laughing — it’s a pretty great accomplishment. And we think Sean, as brilliant as he is, has kind of captured that in a way that’s really difficult to capture.
RT: How would you describe Wayne (Mark McKenna) as a character? What makes him tick?
Wernick: I think it’s justice and injustice, quite honestly. He just hates when people — good people — are wronged, and he tries to make right in the world. It’s this 16-year-old boy; he’s got anger impulse and issues, but he’s got a maturity to him in that sense. We always describe him as a little bit of a vigilante. He does have some Bruce Wayne in him, strangely, or Charles Bronson. He’s the badass, but he’s the badass for making right of the world’s wrongs.
Reese: We also wanted to hit the fact that not every tough guy is so tough when they’re faced with women, because he doesn’t know much about girls. And so, as tough as he is when he’s in a fist fight, he’s in over his head when it comes to meeting Del, this girl he’s got a crush on. He’s got to navigate that in his own inexperience, and that’s really fun.
We describe the show as “John Wick–meets–John Hughes,” and that’s for a reason. It’s an ass-kicking show, but it’s also a romance — it’s about a teen who’s really delving into first love. And we think that definitely gives the show sweetness to go along with its hard edge.
Wernick: Yeah, and Mark McKenna, he’s such a brilliant actor. … He’s a badass, but there’s a real kind of sweet vulnerability to him. And I think both in the character, and in the way Mark captures that onscreen, it’s awesome to watch.
RT: What’s Wayne’s relationship with Del (Ciara Bravo) like, and how does it evolve?
Reese: I don’t wanna spoil it, but it’s funny — in some ways they’re sort of meant for each other. They’re both from dysfunctional families, other side of the tracks, struggling to get by, don’t always get the support at home that maybe children with their good hearts should be afforded. But I think they’re also different. Wayne’s definitely more strong, silent. Del’s more talkative. They have strange idiosyncrasies that might not work together, and yet somehow do. So they’re a bit of a mismatched pair. I think watching that relationship develop, and go from being more than just the obsession or lust of first-time teenage love to something much deeper, is what this show’s about, really, over the course of the 10 episodes.
RT: What do you think makes Del tick? What makes her stick with Wayne despite everything they go through?
Reese: Well, you’ll see a lot of Del’s personality has been shaped by her mother — and you’ll learn more about Del’s mother moving forward, and her mother’s relationship with her father. She’s a complex character, more so than Wayne. Wayne is a little simple like, I think, most men. He’s got his wants and his desires. Things trigger him, and he acts.
Del is more complex than Wayne. You’ll see all kinds of different shades in her, and you’ll see a vulnerability over time that speaks to why she likes Wayne, and why she likes his directness, and why she likes his direct, non-deceptive way of dealing with the world. … You’ll just see her evolve. Episode 5, in particular, is just a stunner. It’s what we think is our best episode, and it’s focused on Del.
Wernick: Episode 5 is actually my favorite episode of the series so far. It’s exclusively about Del, and how she came to be who she is. The show’s called “Wayne,” but it really could be called “Wayne and Del,” because that really is what the show’s about. We wanted to make a strong female character, and she’s super super-strong — almost to a fault at times. She’s a badass.
Reese: But she’s also not at all one-dimensional either, because I think sometimes now the strong female is as much of a cliché as anything else. Every person’s got strengths and weaknesses throughout their character, male or female, and she’s strong in some ways, and she’s actually really vulnerable and weak, even, in other ways.
RT: What do each of you relate to in Wayne or Del as characters?
Reese: I came from a upper- to upper-middle-class neighborhood in Arizona where it was very suburban. … Very cookie cutter, and sweet, and almost Mr. Rogers–like. So I can’t relate to a lot of what Wayne and Del are going through. And yet, where I click into it the most is just the rage over injustice in the world. … And then secondarily, I was sort of a hopeless romantic in grade school and high school. Every year I was in love with a new girl, and was too afraid to do anything about it or tell her. Seeing Wayne and Del’s romantic relationship, I just find it very relatable — that lack of sure footing that you have when you’ve never really expressed romantic feelings to anybody before. And you don’t really know what you’re doing, and you don’t know how to kiss, and you don’t know the right things to say. I relate to that like crazy.
Wernick: And I relate to just the pure rage. I’m not as romantic and sweet as Rhett.
Wayne premieres Wednesday, Jan. 16 on YouTube Premium.