The youngest of four sons, Reynolds grew up in an Irish-Catholic household in the Vancouver neighbourhood of Kitsilano. As a child, he went to church regularly (“at least until our grandparents died”), played football, baseball and rugby (after his sixth concussion, they ordered him to stop) and, along with his older brother, Gordie, accidentally set fire to his school. When he was 12, he beat out 4,000 kids for a spot on Nickelodeon’s Fifteen, a low-budget clone of Beverly Hills, 90210. Living on his own in Ottawa and Florida for two years, Reynolds had only been back home for a year when, at 16, he moved out again. Jim, who had children at a young age and worked as a food broker to support the family, was conflicted about his son’s early independence. “It was a lot for my father to wrap his head around, and it strained our relationship,” Reynolds says, pulling on another cigarette. “But I have a tremendous amount of empathy for what he did… the sacrifices he made as a young man.”

I ask him if he could see himself as a traditional family man. “I did,” he says, perhaps alluding to Morissette. “I don’t know if I do any more. Nor do I see myself in the irresponsibility of perpetual bachelorhood. I think it’s important to partner with somebody who helps you grow.”

Acting is just one path to self-understanding for Reynolds. He’s an avid reader, lately devouring the novels of Philip Roth; he follows American politics keenly; he writes short stories; and, briefly this year, he contributed to the popular blog site The Huffington Post. He hopes the new roles will change the perception of him as an actor, but believes the process is more important.

The stakes are high for Reynolds, and comparisons to Clooney don’t help ease the pressure. Travel has been a critical escape hatch since, as a 20-year-old just a year away from starring in the ABC sitcom Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, he bought a ticket to Paris on a whim, leaving with nothing but a knapsack. The trip was, he says, “the beginning of an understanding of how to balance it all.” Since then, he’s motorbiked through Australia and explored Indonesia. (He was there with Morissette, safely inland, when the 2004 tsunami struck.) Last July, he and John August volunteered for two weeks at an AIDS hospice in Malawi. Then Reynolds flew to Barcelona, where Scarlett Johansson happened to be shooting a new Woody Allen film.

This fall, he’s working in L.A. on The Paper Man, a drama about a writer convinced that his imaginary friend has come to life. It’s another offbeat role  – a character that we may not all love and that may not get the laughs or the girl. But this will be another complex character in which Reynolds can lose himself, in which we lose sight of him and out of which, perhaps, he’ll emerge not just as a star but as an actor.

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