Cyrus is awkward. The kind of real-life awkward that puts you in the midst of uncomfortable human exchanges of love, hate, jealousy, passion and funny moments that “just happen.” In this Fox Searchlight film, John C. Reilly plays a lonely, depressed man named John who still hasn’t really let go of his wife (Catherine Keener), even though they’ve been apart for seven years. And she’s about to get re-married.
John meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) at his ex-wife’s house, in a way that can only be described as more awkward than meeting your new love at your old love’s house…
Their torrid love affair begins immediately, and could possibly end, but John realizes that he’s got something good. In a brazen act (probably not caring if he ends up on a “Most Wanted” poster), John makes sure that Molly will stay in his life. Things really might be perfect for this odd couple, until Molly’s son Cyrus (Jonah Hill) enters the picture.
As it turns out, Cyrus is the picture… in fact, he’s Molly’s whole world. The 21-year-old still lives at home, and consumes every spare moment of mom’s time when he’s not making his club-worthy dance music. John makes every effort to befriend young Cyrus, although there’s much more to this emotionally disturbed young man than meets the eye. Even then, a lot of what does meet John’s eye is so strange that he’s flailing to find solid ground in his new love.
Back to awkward though… Writer/directors Jay and Mark Duplass have captured the essences of insecurity, loss of hope, fear of rejection and other quiet emotions through the cast’s array of expressions. From eyebrow raises to long, uncomfortable stares, sometimes no words are necessary to make this rather dark romantic comedy work.
Jonah Hill’s portrayal of Cyrus is as disturbing and suspenseful as it is funny. John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei unite with an unusual chemistry that makes their pairing more than believable. The joy in Molly’s eyes when she looks at her son will suck you in, as if it were meant just for you. Ultimately though, it’s the exchanges between Cyrus and John that will keep you on your toes throughout.
Many people may walk into this film thinking they’ll see the Superbad Jonah Hill doing goofy things, or comedic genius John C. Reilly dishing out a bunch of one-liners, but Cyrus is so much more than superficial laughs. It’s real, awkward life – done beautifully.
Check out some insight on the film in this interview with Jonah Hill
*questions are from various participants in a roundtable interview
You’re a pretty busy man nowadays. Was there ever a point in your life where you were a major slacker, and who was most annoyed by it?
Jonah Hill: I don’t know that I was ever a major slacker, I just don’t know that I did things that were defined as productive by other people. I always put energy into creative endeavors, but I don’t know if that was always valued by certain institutions like strict schools and things like that. Then I found a school that was more geared towards the creative side of things [The New School].
What was the point where you knew you wanted to be an actor for a living?
JH: I wanted to be a writer and director, that was always my goal and when I went to school here in New York at the New School University I started writing these plays, then I would try to cast them. But I didn’t have good enough bedside manner to do what I wanted and to work with the actors to get what I wanted them to do in a nice way, so I started taking acting classes to learn how to speak to actors. I kind of fell in love with acting through that process.
You’ve been notorious for your humor and ability to shift serious subjects into funny things. In Cyrus there are funny moments, but a lot of them aren’t intentionally funny. How did you create the emotional disturbance in your mind about who this guy is?
JH: This is obviously a very different movie from the ones you’ve seen me in before. I was always a fan of Mark and Jay [Duplass] and I never said, “I’ve been in all of these funny movies, I need to show off my serious side.” I loved them and believed in what they were doing. My goal was, if I ever got any success I would help filmmakers who needed to get their voices put out there, so that was my goal with them when I saw The Puffy Chair and their short films. It was a completely different film, but it was a challenge where it was grounded, and if anything ever felt it was different from the character the three of us had talked about, then we wouldn’t do it.
There was standing up to the studio and making sure that you’re doing things that are true to Jay and Mark’s vision, and I think that having people like John [C. Reilly], Marisa [Tomei] and I around are protection. If they said something like, “You have to do this more comedic,” I just wouldn’t do it, because it wasn’t true to the movie they were trying to make.
For me it was great, I really love doing more dramatic stuff. Bennett Miller who directed Capote saw me in this movie and cast me as the second lead in Moneyball with Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I love doing comedy and dramatic stuff. To me it’s not about genre, it’s about what’s going to be a good movie. You do whatever people are gonna enjoy seeing and what you would want to go see.
Your character in Get Him To The Greek is a real go getter, and this character is a real failure-to-launch type. Did you pick roles that were so opposite intentionally?
JH: No. I’m only known for one movie which is Superbad, hopefully people go see Get Him To The Greek. The other stuff is smaller and candid scenes. In Superbad I’m this horny, loud-mouthed angst-filled teenager, and that happened to be a popular movie, so people assume that’s what I do. I love that movie, I think it’s fantastic and I’m so proud and lucky it entered my life the way it did. That being said, there are all different types of roles I’d like to play, and if you watch these three movies, the characters aren’t similar at all and that’s something that I’m excited about.
Do you think you’re going to use your success to become a director at any particular point?
JH: Yeah, that’s my ultimate goal. I really want to be a director, I know as a recognizable actor it will be beneficial and easier to get a job as a director based on the fact that I directed it and I know it will be judged a lot harsher by people like yourselves, because I’m an actor, there’s just an easier target to say it sucks. For me it’s one of those great challenges, but that’s totally what I want to do as well as act. I’m really focused on finding the right thing to be the first one.
In Cyrus, you have these staredowns with John C. Reilly, who is incredibly funny but can keep a straight face through anything. Did you have any moments where you had trouble keeping it together?
JH: Yeah! I’d say I’m pretty good about not breaking during scenes, and the only time in my short career that I’ve had difficulty was having to stare him down while I’m playing music, which was like one of the funniest scenes in the movie. I was just dying, I couldn’t get through it and when my family watched it they said, “This is weird because it doesn’t feel like you.” I was taught not to stare at people, and Cyrus just has this 40-yard stare at people with direct, unbreakable and unwavering eye contact.
What were your favorite improve scenes in Get Him To The Greek and Cyrus?
JH: There’s this scene in Get Him To The Greek where I have illegal narcotics in my body uncomfortably, and we improvised a scene where I have to sneeze and I’m scared because of what’s in my body. That was completely improvised. In this movie Mark [Duplass] always brings up the scene where we’re eating dinner together for the first time and I say, “But seriously don’t f**k my mom” – that was improvised.
To me, the best scene in any movie I’ve ever been in was in Cyrus, and it’s so hard to watch for me because it’s really heartbreaking. When Marisa and I are sitting on the bed and she’s explaining why she may have made some mistakes, and I’m explaining why I don’t want John in her life because I feel like he’s taking my place. It’s just hard for me to watch, that was improvised. While I love watching the movie, when I watch that scene I just feel bad for the both of them. The movie was really about three people, and I always looked about it from Cyrus’ point of view because I was playing that character. His story was heartbreaking because this was the closest person in the world, and that was being threatened.
My mom watched it and she cried. She said, “It broke my heart, because it made me think back on my life as a parent and whether or not I’ve made certain mistakes.” John C Reilly said the guy who was driving him around during Sundance watched the movie, and said his mom started dating a guy when he was at that age and he hated him. There’s things I never thought about, because I was always approaching it from one point of view, and there’s all these things that people related to.
The scuffle you had with John C. Reilly, was that really you guys? How choreographed was it, and did anyone get hurt?
JH: What’s funny is we did have stunt guys, and they must have thought they were preparing for a John Woo movie. They burst out of the door, backflipped over these chairs… and when they did the fall onto the table it was John and I after that.
Do you have it in mind to play any big characters some day from historical times?
JH: I don’t know… I was thinking if I ever did a biopic of someone that Daniel Johntson would be cool or maybe Frank Black from The Pixies. If I was going to do a movie about someone I think it would be a musician, that would be really cool.