Kurt Iswarienko (photographer),
Alison Prato (writer)
“I went to this shady, dirty tattoo parlor because I wanted to commemorate my first major role,” he says, smiling. “I grew up with no money or connections to the business. My family struggled, and finally I’d gotten to the place where I was making a film with Jeff Bridges. I felt like I’d arrived.” Of his six tattoos, Ryan says his first is the most embarrassing. “It’s kind of bleeding and looks like a butterfly. It’s cliché. But I was 19—it should have been a cliché.”
So would he ever get it covered? “No, but I did have a ladybug on my foot covered up. Its significance was with an ex. I put a stingray over the top of it. When people ask me why, I say, ‘Any animal that could take down the Crocodile Hunter deserves my respect.’”
“An ex,” he says, looking uncomfortable.
You can’t blame the guy for shifting in his seat. The ex in question is Reese Witherspoon, who Ryan was married to from 1999 to 2006 (they have two children, Ava, 10, and Deacon, 6). Theirs was a high-profile romance, and when they broke up, amid rumors of his alleged infidelity with his Stop-Loss costar Abbie Cornish, The Golden Couple’s personal business was suddenly splashed all over the tabloids.
It was rough for Ryan, who was being put through the wringer in the press. Around that time, he asked Cartoon to change the blue cross tattoo on his leg into a sword with a Latin saying that means, essentially, “words cannot harm me.” “I was in this place where I was tired of being talked shit about,” Ryan says. “No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. But I am a decent person. I got so sick of being told how shitty I was. I like the fact that it feels like I can just take [the sword] off my leg.”