*questions are from various participants in a roundtable interview
Actor John C. Reilly is everywhere. Since his debut in 1989’s Casualties of War, the Chicago native has done formidable work in films like Chicago, The Hours and Gangs of New York, which were collectively nominated for 32 Academy Awards in the same year (2002). On the comedic side, it has been movies like Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and The Promotion that have imprinted Reilly’s classic improvised scenes and one-liners in our minds.
In the case of the 2008 hit Step Brothers, Reilly’s character Dale was middle-aged and still living at home. Now the versatile 45-year-old actor is taking a little different role in Cyrus, alongside Jonah Hill and Marisa Tomei. While his character, also named John, is a lonely guy stuck in a rut, he is now the authority figure in the equation as he attempts to date a woman whose 21-year-old son is a little too close for comfort.
UrbLife.com had the opportunity to sit in on a round table discussion with the brilliant John C. Reilly to get his take on the growth of his character in Cyrus, some behind-the-scenes secrets, his real-life dating experiences and what type of roles we’ll see him in next!
How old were you when you left home?
John C. Reilly: When I left home I was 18. I left as soon as I could, I come from a family of six kids so I was eager to get out.
Can you relate to your character’s arrested development [in Cyrus]?
JCR: Other than my own immaturity, yeah. In terms of his life experience, I didn’t want to stay at home. I wanted to get out and see the world.
Were there moments in Cyrus that should have been funny that you made darker, or the other way around?
JCR: I was just trying to be real, especially in this movie… it wasn’t being thought of as being funny. One of the great pleasures of doing the movie was that it’s a funny movie, but we didn’t feel like we had to make it funny or come up with jokes and funnier lines. We were just encouraged by Mark and Jay [Duplass] to inhabit the characters, be as real as we wanted to be and say whatever we wanted to say.
The awkward situations were just as dark as they became, and probably one of the most awkward scenes was at the dinner table when I first invite myself over to her house and Jonah’s like, “Seriously, don’t f*ck my mom.” My response was “I’m not gonna lie to you, you’re an adult and I’m not gonna be condescending to you. Your mom and I did have sex, and I think you can handle that.”
This character was so fun to play because he’s gotten to a point in his life where he has nothing to lose. He’s been down and out and lonely for seven years, and he’s just decided to be honest at all times, almost to a fault. He definitely didn’t get the rulebook on dating, being needy and saying too much too early. He just goes for it. At the first dinner he’s like, “Am I crazy to think this might work out?” and she’s like, “Whoa, hold on.”
What’s the story of how you met your wife [Alison Dickey]?
JCR: It was on my first movie Casualties Of War, she was Sean Penn’s development person at the time and we ran into each other in Thailand.
It seems like the fight scene with Jonah [in Cyrus]wasn’t choreographed. Were there any casualties?
JCR: It was pretty choreographed… the part in the bathroom wasn’t when we initially go after each other. The part where we smash out of the bathroom and end up on the ground, the stuntmen wanted to make sure I didn’t crush Jonah when I landed on him. I don’t think there were any casualties. You hire stuntmen for the day, they’re getting paid and feel like they have to do something for their money.
There was this moment where they went off and choreographed the fight on their own. It wasn’t time to do that yet, and they were like, “We need to be prepared” so in the time that they had they rehearsed the fight. When we went to see what they had before the shoot… they smashed out of this door, tumbled over the table, they were flipping each other and smashing into chairs. It was this crazy Crouching Tiger type of fight that was way more than Jonah and I could do.
What was it like during those intense moments with Jonah? Did he surprise you at all?
JCR: He’s just a good actor, he’s known as a comedic actor, but a lot of what he does in comedy is very similar to what he did with this dramatic character which was just to play things for the truth. To notice the elephant in the room and call it out, that’s the way he gets laughs in bigger comedies and how he played the dramatic roles in this movie. It’s a commitment to the truth of the moment and what’s really happening without artifice. But he was just really enthusiastic, and I can’t say I was surprised because I knew he was really good.
You and Marisa [Tomei] had great chemistry. What did you like about working with her?
JCR: If Jonah and I were left to our own devices the way we like to goof around, I think the movie would have been a lot sillier. But Marisa is very method in the way she likes to work, and not used to the no-holds-barred improv stuff, but she did quite well. I’m a little shy about romantic situations, my skin gets a little clammy so having to do all of this romantic stuff with Marisa was uncomfortable.
Whenever I’ve dated someone [in real life]we were always friends first, we got to know each other really well and it goes to a romantic place. We didn’t really rehearse… that party scene was the first thing we shot together, and I was essentially meeting her for the first time. I had met her the day before, but we got to know each other on camera.
The next day we were naked in bed together, and it was a little strange. But she’s really great, and she brings a lot of natural energy to the movie. She and Jonah created a great thing – you really believe that relationship.
Thinking about your dating life, what’s the worst excuse a woman ever gave you to turn you down?
JCR: This is going to sound immodest, but I was always the one to cut out first. If something seems like it’s not working out, I’d be the one to call it off.
Have you had nightmare dating experiences?
JCR: I think I’ve blocked them out. I did stand somebody up once, and I still feel bad about it. I never saw the girl again. I just got cold feet about it, maybe she was pushing really hard for me to meet up with her and I agreed to. Then I told myself I wasn’t going to go.
In your career you have some classic gag reels and bloopers. In [Cyrus], Jonah Hill mentioned he had a hard time keeping a straight face during the stare down. Were there any moments where you couldn’t keep a straight face?
JCR: I’m pretty good about not laughing, because if you laugh and you were doing something good, then you ruin the take. I’m pretty disciplined, but certain people are impossible… like Will Ferrell when he gets that gleam in his eye and everyone starts laughing. The music scene was hard to keep from laughing, though it was harder for Jonah than me because he has to be so serious with that weird fish-eye start he was giving me.
Also the scene where I’m trying to break it to Marisa that her son may not be entirely genuine, I’m sitting on the bed and he’s putting up the signs behind her. That was hard because Jonah was messing with me, he would add things that weren’t planned, like his personal inside jokes when the camera couldn’t see him.
You were so great in Chicago. Do you plan on doing more musicals?
JCR: I hope so, I’m still waiting for Guys & Dolls to get made. I will scratch the eyes out of any person who tries to get in between me and the role of Nathan Detroit. That is the holy grail. I love that musical and I cant understand why it hasn’t been made.
Have you ever considered doing superhero movies?
JCR: I’m not really into superheroes, but I have been offered a couple of things but they required extensive makeup. There was this one thing where I’d have to be covered in fur every day, and I’m really impatient in the makeup chair – after 20 minutes I start to sigh. I was offered something in Planet Of The Apes, and when they said it was gonna be the ape I couldn’t do it. If I have to sit in the makeup chair for over half an hour, I’ll go crazy.
Superhero movies have kind of passed me by, but I’ve done all kinds of movies. I just like to do something different than the last thing I did, that’s my only guiding principle.
Is there a role you’d really love to conquer that you haven’t had a chance to play yet?
JCR: I’m waiting to do a cartoon based off of a live production, to bring it all the way back around. [laughs]There’s archetypes I’d like to do… I always wanted to play a priest, I think that’s a pretty interesting life. An explorer – I read a lot of books about famous explorers. I always wanted to play a clown on film, I was a clown when I was younger.
Who and what makes you laugh? Do you have a favorite person?
JCR: That’s a very broad and general question. I think Will Ferrell is very funny, he’s one of those people like Bill Murray that can take a regular line that’s not meant to be funny, and all of a sudden you find yourself cracking up. I really like people like that. There’s these two guys named Tim and Eric [Tim and Eric Awesome Show] who I think are really funny – they’re two of the best funny people out there right now.
I love absurd humor. I’m a terrible joke teller, so I’m not a fan of joke-based humor, but I like people that keep it real. Chris Rock is really good for that reason, I like old Richard Pryor.
Are there any actors or directors you haven’t worked with yet that you want to work with?
JCR: I have a list, I can’t think of who’s on it right now other than Terry Gilliam [Monty Python, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus]. I’ve always loved him and I think we’d get along well. Guillermo del Toro, I loved Pan’s Labyrinth. The Coen brothers [No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man], I’d love to work with those guys. I’ve come close a few times.
What are the next projects you have coming?
JCR: I’m in a movie called Cedar Rapids with Ed Helms and Anne Heche, it’s directed by Miguel Arteta who directed The Good Girl. That’s a really funny one with Fox Searchlight about insurance salesmen who go to a conference in Iowa and cut loose, it has a lot of heart too.
Then I just did a movie with Tilda Swinton called We Need To Talk About Kevin, and that’s a much darker dramatic film based off of the book of the same title. It’s directed by a really great Scottish director named Lynne Ramsay.