TORONTO — Auston Matthews needed more than a few takes to nail his commercial with Ryan Reynolds, but it wasn’t entirely his fault.
“I mean, it was slightly me and slightly the little girl that was screaming,” Matthews smiled Tuesday, discussing his new SickKids promo spot that went, uh, viral this week.
“We had a couple of different takes for that, but she was great. Definitely took me by surprise that first scream, but we got it. We got it locked in, and it turned out pretty well.”
Matthews’ cameo in the clever 30-second ad — promoted Monday by Reynolds to his millions of followers — didn’t come out of nowhere.
The Toronto Maple Leafs superstar’s relationship with both the children’s hospital and the Hollywood star have been developing for years.
Matthews says his connection to Reynolds — a Vancouver native who recently attempted to gain ownership of the Ottawa Senators — grew through Zoom meetings and Instagram chats.
On set for SickKids, a cause both celebrities have long supported, was the first time they met in-person.
“It’s been great. I mean, obviously him being who he is and being involved with the hospital as well, being able to do some cool stuff to raise awareness and raise money for the hospital, and it was cool to be a part of his little campaign and this commercial this year,” Matthews said.
“It turned out really well. He’s obviously very good at what he does. On the comic side of it, he’s pretty brilliant. So, it was pretty easy to hop on board with what he had going on.”
Amid a four-day break between games, the Maple Leafs made their annual Christmastime visit to SickKids Monday — a tradition that had been relegated to virtual meetings with the children for the past three Decembers.
“It’s always a very powerful visit,” Matthews said. “Not only for the kids, but I think for players as well.”
Shortly after Matthews joined the Leafs in 2016, his father, Brian, encouraged him to do some research. Find a way to get involved with the Toronto community.
Auston’s uncle, Bill — who took Auston to see his first professional hockey game — lived with cystic fibrosis until his death in his early 30s, and Auston has since dedicated his work with SickKids to Bill’s legacy.
Matthews visits the hospital quietly and frequently, and last winter raised awareness through his custom Christmas-themed skates, an extension of Reynolds’ ugly sweater campaign.
Coach Sheldon Keefe sees incredible value in his players recognizing the impact they’re capable of having even after they peel off their hockey gear.
With great power comes great responsibility.
“Also keeps you grounded in recognizing the difficulties that others are going through. To be able to contribute, to help and give your time to bring a smile to people’s face or to raise money or whatever it might be, I think it’s tremendous,” Keefe said.
“And in a market like this, there’s so many different causes and needs. The players only have so much time to give. But someone like Auston, I see it. Not just public things like the SickKids and these appearances he does, but so many things behind the scenes.
“I know he visits hospitals when no cameras are around and just touching base with kids. He’s constantly recording messages, sending messages to people, wishing them well. And not just him but throughout our team. There’s a number of things I’m privy to behind the scenes that our players in our organization do, and I think those are things that we should be doing, and you’re proud to see it happening.”
Matthews has recorded various commercials for sponsors and causes, but the Reynolds spot is particularly well executed.
He wonders if he and William Nylander — who recently acted in a Rogers subway ad — should appear in a movie together to determine the superior actor.
Increasingly comfortable in the spotlight, Matthews is open to more screen time and can see himself accepting a movie cameo one day.
“Yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t be opposed to it at all. I think it’d be really cool,” Matthews smiled. “As time has gone on and you do more stuff like that, you kinda get more comfortable as you grow up a bit. Get more comfortable in your own skin in those situations. A lot of times it can be a lot of fun too.”
Mainstream crossover appearances — when they hit the right tone — can simultaneously increase exposure for the sport, the team, and the individual athlete.
“It can obviously be a really positive thing for the league,” Matthews continued. “You know, I watch a lot of football, and so you see the way their ship runs with all the exposure and stuff like that.
“It’s obviously different sport and stuff like that, but for hockey, I think it’s really pushing, trying to grow the game — not just on the ice but off the ice as well. Players’ personalities get out there, more and more involved, and I think it’s slowly but surely kinda getting there.”
One-Timers: Ilya Samsonov hasn’t played a game since Nov. 24 due to Joseph Woll’s superb performance, and although the goalie got on the ice briefly Tuesday, he skipped another practice because he’s still feeling under the weather. “This illness has beaten him up pretty good,” Keefe says…. Timothy Liljegren continues to skate and progress well in his recovery from a high-ankle sprain, the same injury he suffered years ago with the Marlies. Yet there is no timeline for his return to team practice. “He’s told me this one doesn’t feel nearly as bad as that one coming back,” Keefe notes…. Expect Bobby McMann to replace Ryan Reaves on the fourth line Thursday in Ottawa…. Still no update on John Klingberg’s hip surgery decision.