John C. Reilly lights up the screen with another amazing character in the Duplass Brothers, Mark and Jay’s first big Hollywood film Cyrus. The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival (read review) and blew everyone away with it’s free spirit and unique characters. Once again Reilly completely transforms himself, this time into a lovable, self-deprecating man who is completely depressed until he meets a beautiful women who comes with an insane son.
In the film Reilly pushes himself to a new level of improvisation which he fought against at first and comes out on top. Find out about what it’s like to when the Duplass Brothers go Hollywood…
The Duplass Brothers Go Hollywood
How did the Duplass brothers style help you at all with the character and bringing it to the big screen?
John C. Reilly: Shooting in order was a big part of it, being allowed to improvise and being allowed to put things in my own words constantly, gave a real natural feel to the character and the film, and I think I have a lot in common with him. Maybe not his circumstance, but I have a lot in common with his emotional vulnerability and his instincts for situations – how he reacted to situations – was pretty similar to the way I would have react to situations if I were put in the same position.
That’s really what a lot of it was, like, “What would you do, John?” Any time I asked them a question, like “What should happen here?” they’d say, “I don’t know, you tell us. What should happen? You’re the character.” That’s why it had that natural feel.
This was a quick shoot, about 30 days? Do you like that pace?
JCR: You get a lot and you risk a lot, too. I thought this movie would lose some of its spark and spontaneity if we had a lot more time and money. It would slow things down, and maybe we’d over analyze things. As it was, we reacted really honestly, and listened to our day-to-day instincts, and we had to move quickly.
When I work on lower budget movies with less experienced directors, I always say, “It’s okay if you only have a little bit of money, but use the money for more days.” Because I worked on a low budget movie one time where there was this one set that was where the two main characters worked, and this filmmaker was like, “Oh man, wait ‘till you see the office set. It’s amazing.” And I said okay, alright. And I got there, and thought, we could have rented this from a real office, and then had three more days to shoot!
They key is, no matter how much money you have, try to have as low a page count per day, if you can, to use a tactical term. It’s those tough days, on independent movies, where you try to get blood from a stone, and you’ve got 20 pages to do in one night and you lose the location in the morning, that’s really tough. That’s when compromises happen.
What did the Duplass’ brothers do to make sure that didn’t happen?
JCR: These guys were very smart, the way they spent their money, since they were shooting in order. The main reason that movies shoot out of order is because if there’s a scene in a hotel room, you want to shoot all the scenes that happen in a hotel room in the hotel room, no matter where they happen in the movie. Then we move on, and shoot all the stuff that happens outside of the hotel… these guys, in order to keep jumping back and forth and shoot in order, had to keep four locations open for the whole time.
So they paid these people for the house that I live in, and paid the people for the house that Marisa’s character Molly lives in, and one other place that they kept open the whole time, for the whole month. So at any point, if the story changed, or we decided we needed to get one more thing at Molly’s house, we’d just go back there, and they were all within 5 miles of each other on the eastside of LA. So that was very smart on their part.
So you did do some re-shooting at some point?
JCR: I don’t think so. Oh, well, we did do some additional shooting, but it was in Jay’s backyard. They wanted just one reaction shot to something at the wedding, or maybe two, so literally, it was me in my costume, standing in Jay’s backyard with some bushes behind me that looked similar to the bushes that were at the place where we shot the wedding. I know which shot it is, but I’m not saying. It’s pretty seamless.
How did you sculpt your character’s personality?
JCR: Well, I know a lot of editors, and have a lot of friends who’ve gotten divorced; luckily, I’m not one of them. The way I was able to sculpt the character was, Mark and Jay (Duplass) shot the movie in order, so it had an organic growth, starting from that dark place he’s in at the beginning of the movie, with his pants down. I like how he rehabilitates himself in pursuit of love. I thought it was a really cool part of the character. He’s just a mess when the movie starts. He doesn’t even know how to interact with people anymore, he’s been locked up in that room by himself so long.
Do you think that John is antagonistic towards Cyrus from the outset because he sees a reflection of himself, and he’s unhappy with himself?
JCR: Actually, I don’t think that John is very antagonistic with Cyrus. He just wants to be with Molly, and even says to her, “Work it out with your son. He’s your son, I’m not going to ask you to separate from your son. He seems like a nice guy, and we’re hitting it off.” The problem comes from when Cyrus decides to try to get rid of me. Cyrus chooses to make it a battle. I’m willing to accept him as long as long as he’s willing to accept me, and he’s not willing to accept me.
Can you see the similarities between those two characters? That they share codependency issues?
JCR: I guess so. We all see things through the lens of our own experience, so I guess I see John as being a little less culpable than Cyrus, but then, I am playing John.
What was it like working with Jonah Hill? We know him as a comedic actor, but in this film, he plays a more dramatic role, and in another interview, he said he admires you, because you can do both.
JCR: He’s great. Jonah and I worked together on Walk Hard, because he had a small part in that movie, and we know each other socially, a little bit. He really impressed me on this movie. He showed me that he’s just a plain good actor, as opposed to just a comedic actor. He can really play the reality of the scene without worrying about having to be funny all the time, he didn’t have to be constantly riffing.
There’s a lot of comedians and comedic actors that get really tense, because they get used to having the positive reinforcement of laughter all the time, so they don’t quite know what to do when it’s just a dramatic situation and there’s no punchline. But Jonah showed in this movie that he’s just a good actor. He’s able to be real, and be in the moment, and certainly went toe-to-toe with me.
Improvising on Set:
Did you enjoy that you were allowed to improvise? Is it a big change for you?
JCR: The truth is, I improvise a lot, in a lot of movies. In The Perfect Storm, I paraphrased pretty much every line that was in that script. Because I looked at it, and thought, “That’s not how this fisherman would say this line. We gotta change this, Wolfgang.” And he’d say, “What do you think it should be?” Wolfgang speaks perfect English, but German is his native tongue, so in terms of making things sound more colloquial, like a fisherman from Massachusetts, he trusted me to jigger things around a little bit. I get to do that a lot. There’s movies like “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” where I improvise a lot on camera. Sometimes I’ve done it in the past, but the level I got to do it was unprecedented. These guys are not only willing to let you make up your own dialogue, but if you felt the story changing, and you wanted to go in another direction, they’d say, “Great. We’re shooting in order. We’ll accommodate it, and the story will move in that way, so you guys should feel totally free.” Which is fun, and empowering, and you really feel respected and valued as an actor, and as a partner on the movie, but it’s also terrifying.
Were there any days where it just didn’t work?
JCR: There were certain days on the movie where I didn’t want that responsibility, [I would say] “this is your movie, you wrote and directed this movie, what do you want to happen this scene?” And they’d say, “We not going to say. Go with your instincts.” “My instinct is to do whatever you want me to do! What you want to happen?” And they’d say, “Whatever we could come up with ahead of time to tell you to do is not as interesting as what you guys find in the moment we turn the cameras on. So just relax.” And they stuck to their guns. I can be a pretty persuasive debater, in that way, and I was really glad that they forced me through those uncomfortable moments and made it okay for me to feel like, I don’t know what I’m doing, what’s going on. The movie ended up feeling really original and special for that reason.
Do you think Marisa and Jonah had the same kind of feelings you had for this?
JCR: I think so. I think Marisa’s less experienced with free-form improvisational stuff. I think. I remember her saying it wasn’t really her thing. But she did fine with it. Ironically, it works for her character, because her character, a lot of times, is in the dark about what’s really going on. She has her version of what’s happening, and then me and Jonah are behind her back, giving it to each other. Jonah, of course, all he does is improvise, especially with the comedies, it’s expected.
The Shrek line; was that something you added, or was it scripted?
JCR: That’s something I added. Came straight from my lack of self-esteem. It just popped out of my mouth. Some days I regret saying it, so I’m telling you that. I don’t know what the percentage is, but there’s a high percentage of stuff in the movie that’s improvised dialogue.
And was there a nudity body double, or all you?
JCR: That was my ass, pal. There’s no ass like that in Hollywood.
You also have The Extra Man coming out, which is quite a jump from this. How do you decide which roles to play?
JCR: Well that one, I’m friends with Kevin Kline and Paul Dano, so I just really wanted to work with those guys. I thought it was a really odd character, and a character I kind of recognized from my time living in New York, and I thought those guys did a really great job with “American Splendor.” It’s a small part, but I thought it was fun.
How did you develop the voice for that character?
JCR: There’s a book that the movie’s based on, and in it it says that he talks in this weird, whispery, very slow, halting voice. The idea in the book was that it was a physical manifestation of his psychological state, but you can’t really talk very slow in movies. It just does not work. Something about pace. So that was my solution, to come up with this falsetto voice that reflected his inner state, despite him looking like a hill giant.
Do you think you’ll ever get behind the camera and direct?
JCR: Yeah, I think you have to be ready to do it, though. I’ve worked with actors in the past, and the tendency is, if they’re not really ready to sit back and let an actor do it, they constantly ask, “You know what I would do? You know how I would do it?” I’m really sensitive to that, as an actor. I think there’s a big line you have to cross to really be happy as a director, to be happy to allow other people to bring something to life. I’m still more interested in playing the part than directing it.
That said, I’ve done a lot of movies at this point, and I’ve worked with great directors, and I’ve gotten to see how a lot of great directors work, and I think I’ve picked up some knowledge along the way. I’ve got something I just optioned, a lot of ideas I’ve been writing, and for whatever reason, I’ve been gravitating towards things that I help write, like “Step Brothers” I helped write, or “Walk Hard” I had a hand in the writing and creation of the music, and this movie, I felt like a co-author of this movie every day, with the amount of responsibility I was given, so I’m getting drawn to more and more things that have that component.
Is there more music, an possibly more Dewey Cox in your future?
JCR: I certainly hope so. Yeah.
Can you watch movies you’ve been in, while flipping channels on the TV?
JCR: Not for very long. Honestly, I don’t go back a lot. I actually got in trouble one time, a friend of mine gave me all my movies on Laserdisc, at the time, before DVDs, and I was like, “Wow. That’s so great. I’m not going to watch these.” And they’re like, “You asshole!” Well, it’s the truth. I don’t really go back. Maybe at some point in the future. I often think my children will have an amazing time going through this archeological dig of my career. I think about my own father and the few photographic memories I have of him, and the few bits of video, and it’s going to be a different story for me.
I love Dewey Cox. Definitely…
JCR: Glad you guys love Cox. Cox is the gift that keeps on giving. Amazing, how many people love Cox. Still.
Is there any chance of coming out with a super-extended soundtrack for Walk Hard?
JCR: Well, there is, on iTunes. You can get most of that, almost 30 songs, on the iTunes album.
You did a little bit of touring with that, right?
JCR: We did an 8 city concert tour. It’s still one of the high points of my life. Getting to bring Cox to the people. It’s called Cox Across America. Dewey Cox and the Hard Walkers. Yep. It doesn’t make any sense to walk hard, by the way. You’d just hurt your knees. But it made sense to Dewey.
Did performing live give you an adrenaline rush?
JCR: It was amazing! It was like doing theatre or something, I got to be that guy. My own personality is much more modest than the rock star personality, so it was really fun to get to be ol’ Dewey. And people went berserk at those concerts. I had a really good band, and it was one joyous night after the other.
Will there be more Cox in the future?
JCR: I hope so. Seems like people never get tired of Cox.
See John C. Reilly in Cyrus starting June 18th in select theaters!