The Life of (John C) Reilly

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We caught up with John C Reilly, the Chicago-born star of Esquire favourites such as Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, in Los Angeles where he shared his thoughts on his new film, being a party animal and Jonah Hill

In his new film Cyrus (out this Friday), Reilly delivers a funny, credible and moving performance as John, a divorced man who has lost way and his self esteem. His only friend is his ex-wife (played by Catherine Keener) and she is about to get remarried.

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Things start to look up when he meets the beautiful Molly (Marisa Tomei), a single parent, at a party. Sparks fly and the two begin a relationship. Everything seems to be going well until John discovers that Molly actually has another man in her life: her own son Cyrus, played by Jonah Hill.

What appealed to you about this character?

“I like the fact that he has gotten to a place in his life where he has nothing to lose. So he tells the truth constantly until he is put in a position with Cyrus, where he has to start lying to keep his relationship going with Molly. I love the first couple of scenes. He’s been divorced for seven years, he has been in an emotional spiral and then there is a jump-start when his ex-wife tells him she is getting remarried and that shocks him into action. He puts himself out there one more time. I like the way he is still emotionally vulnerable enough to go after love. He is beaten down at the beginning of the movie, then he takes that risk and meets this girl, Molly. Something happens, there is a spark and he cleans up his apartment and tries to make himself loveable again. I like the hopefulness of the character in that way. He is a more mature character than I have played recently. He is slightly different from some of the more broad ‘man-child’ characters I have been playing. I get to play my age instead of trying to pretend I am twelve years old. (laughs).”

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It must have been refreshing.

“It was. In Walk Hard I had to play fourteen years old – literally.  From 14 to 60. Step Brothers involved channeling my inner twelve year-old. But I also like this movie because it is truthful; it is an honest movie and has a genuine emotional core.

Your character John is very brave. He gets the dancing going at the party even though he is quite shy. Are you the life and soul of the party?

“I am not the cool movie star guy at parties despite what other people might think. I’ve gotten better at social situations from having to do interviews like this actually. I grew up acting, doing plays and musicals and I think one of the reasons I got into acting in the first place was because I was always more comfortable inhabiting a character than having to be myself in some situations. I’ve lost track of who that really is (laughs) but I am most comfortable at parties when I know everyone there.”

How interesting is it for you playing the romantic lead?

“It is fun to be the guy who gets the girl every once in a while. I’ve played a lot of different parts and I’ve played romantic parts in the past but I personally get a little uncomfortable having to do smoochy stuff because it’s a little more intimate than I am used to. But it is a lot of fun too because I think of myself as a romantic person. Not to be corny but it is all about the power of love and I’m generally a positive, optimistic person so I like playing characters like John.”

How much of you is in this character?

“I have been happily married for a long time so I am not in the emotional place that John is in, but I can relate to the more emotionally vulnerable moments he has. I guess I have a lot in common with his instincts because his instincts were mine. For example they would say ‘if you came out of the room to check on your girlfriend and her grown son was standing there in his underwear with a knife, how would you react? Go. Action.’” So a lot of the reactions and my facial expressions are real. I was really going by the seat of my pants. Circumstantially, I don’t have that much in common with the character but emotionally and instinctively I do quite a bit.”

What do you think stands out about Jonah as an actor?

“I think Jonah is a great actor. People think of him as a comedic actor but the truth is when you watch his performance in this movie you realize that like all good actors he is just committed to the truth of the moment to being honest. If you look at Superbad and Knocked Up, a lot of his humour comes from calling out the truth of the situation. He does that in this movie too. He is an ‘in the moment’ actor. He’s great at comedy but if more dramatic roles come his way I think he is really capable of doing them too.”

What is your criteria for taking a role?

“I used to base it totally on the character: is this a character I want to play? Is this something I have done before? If not it might be interesting. I still think about character a lot, because the truth is there is so little you can control as an actor  and because film is a director’s medium. So I ask: Is this a character I can believe in? Is this something I can feel connected to? Beyond that I look for people who are inspired and have a vision for what they are doing.

Cyrus is released this Friday