John C. Reilly Moves Beyond Dope To Romantic Lead Melissa Block speaks with John C. Reilly about his new film Cyrus, a story about a divorced man who meets the woman of his dreams -- and her odd twentysomething son. Reilly has starred in intense dramas like Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and comedies like Talladega Nights. His latest role has elements of both.
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John C. Reilly Moves Beyond Dope To Romantic Lead

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John C. Reilly Moves Beyond Dope To Romantic Lead

John C. Reilly Moves Beyond Dope To Romantic Lead

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

He plays bumblers, dopes, doofuses, the occasional criminal and porn star, John C. Reilly.

(Soundbite of movie, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story")

Mr. JOHN C. REILLY (Actor): (as Dewey Cox) (Singing) Walk hard...

SIEGEL: He sported a pompadour in the mock bio flick "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." He played Will Ferrell's mustachioed sidekick in "Talladega Nights."

(Soundbite of movie, "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby")

Mr. REILLY: (as Cal Naughton Jr.) I like to think of Jesus like with giant eagle's wings...

Unidentified Man (Actor): (as character) Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: (as Cal Naughton Jr.) ...and singing lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with like an angel band, and I'm in the front row and I'm hammered drunk.

SIEGEL: And he was a painfully earnest L.A. cop in "Magnolia."

(Soundbite of movie, "Magnolia")

Mr. REILLY: (as Officer Jim Kurring): You're listening to your music so loud, you're going to damage your ears.

SIEGEL: John C. Reilly's latest movie is the romantic comedy "Cyrus," and our co-host, Melissa Block, talked with him today about taking on the role of a romantic lead.


John C. Reilly's character is also named John, a shambles of a man whose marriage ended years ago. He falls for a woman named Molly, but he has some tough competition - her 21-year-old son Cyrus, who lives at home, and has an unusually close relationship with his mother.

Reilly told me most of the dialogue was improvised. He says it was a challenge, at times uncomfortable, and he thinks it makes the movie more natural and more tense.

Mr. REILLY: I almost think of the movie as like an emotional horror movie...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REILLY: ...where it's like don't go in that door, there's a dysfunctional relationship in there. Like - it's really funny the way - yeah, the movie does build in tension, almost like a horror movie. We think someone is going to get stabbed or, you know, some crazy monster is going to jump out of a cabinet, but what it really is is a - it's just the tension of these relationships.

And I think the reason that the movie is tense and the tension increases in it is because the relationships seem really real. You know, they're very relatable people.

BLOCK: Would there be times in these scenes that where you're improvising, especially with Jonah Hill, who's very funny and also very scary, when things would just go off the rails, when you would just be cracking up in there, just delicious outtakes that we'll never see?

Mr. REILLY: You know, I actually - I'm pretty good about not cracking up. There's something in me that has - you know, I just get this eye-of-the-tiger kind of attitude when I feel like I'm about to start laughing, I kind of get more serious, which tends to make other people laugh even more.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REILLY: But the thing with film is if you just start cracking up in the middle, if you break, then the take is no good, you know? That said, you know, a lot of times in comedies, you're trying to get right to that brink, you know, because the air kind of gets carbonated when people are about to crack up, you know? And, you know, that's the line you want to arrive because that's when things get funny for some reason.

BLOCK: What are you telling yourself to keep that - what you call the eye-of-the-tiger sort...

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: ...of face on? What do you - what are you saying inside your head to keep the laughter from coming out?

Mr. REILLY: Basically, the take is ruined if you laugh, you know? You know, it's this strange oppositional force. You're like you're trying to be there in the moment and at the same time you tend to pull yourself out of the moment so you don't start laughing and, you know, the impulses for creation and destruction are like pulling at each other in those moments.

BLOCK: Your character, John, is a mess. He's in a real tailspin. In the scene that I want to play a clip of, you're at a party, you're quite drunk and you've just met a woman named Molly. This is that's the woman played by Marisa Tomei.

(Soundbite of movie, "Cyrus")

Mr. REILLY: (as John) I can't talk to you. What am I doing?

Ms. MARISA TOMEI (Actress): (as Molly) I don't know.

Mr. REILLY: (as John) I'm just going to mess this up. Because you're a really hot girl, and I'm just - I'm sorry.

Ms. TOMEI: (as Molly) You're not messing it up.

Mr. REILLY: (as John) Are you flirting with me?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REILLY: (as John) This is insane.

BLOCK: It's insane, but you do get the girl. You get Molly.

Mr. REILLY: Yeah, yeah. Don't act so surprised, Melissa.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REILLY: Yeah, you know, she's looking for someone who's honest, and I'm looking for someone who's honest and, yeah, I think, you know, these guys are in their early 40s and they kind of been through the dating game. And they're both lonely, and they're just looking for someone who's going to accept them the way they are and tell them the truth. And, you know, they both kind of set aside some of the rules of the dating handbook in order to get to know each other quickly.

BLOCK: There's a moment at the same party that we just heard, the scene from where you crank up the music and you break into a kind of a song and dance routine. You're again quite drunk. Let's take a listen.

Mr. REILLY: Yes.

(Soundbite of movie, "Cyrus")

Mr. REILLY: (as John) (Singing) It's much too late to find. You think you've changed your mind. You'd better change it back or we will both be sorry. Don't you want me, baby? Come on. Don't you oh...

Not my finest singing moment.

BLOCK: No, the ending was interesting. John C. Reilly, is that we know from your other movies like "Chicago" and even - and "Walk Hard" that you can sing. You have a great voice. So I wonder how hard it was to sing bad. Or is it just really - actually really easy?

Mr. REILLY: It wasn't that hard, believe it or not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REILLY: For someone who has, like, spent his life trying to become a better singer and, you know, I've done a lot of music work over the years. It was really humiliating to be standing in front of this group of extras at this party, none of whom I knew, so it was a very flop-sweat-inducing moment for me.

BLOCK: I've read that it was musical theater that got you started in this business in the first place, back when you were a kid in Chicago.

Mr. REILLY: Yeah, I started doing musicals at the local park near my house. I wasn't doing musicals because I had some love of musicals. I was doing musicals because I was interested in acting and that's the only thing that anyone did in my neighborhood. There weren't any children's production of Ibsen or Shakespeare, you know, so "Free to Be...You and Me" and "Brigadoon" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" and - oh, the list goes on.

BLOCK: What was your first big musical part?

Mr. REILLY: Let's see. We did - actually, the big - my breakthrough role, I would say, in maybe sixth grade was "Peter Pan," the original production of "Peter Pan." I played Captain Hook.

BLOCK: Oh, excellent.

Mr. REILLY: It was really fun. I mean, that's a great show. I still love the music from that show to this day.

BLOCK: You want to sing us a song?

Mr. REILLY: Maybe, maybe in a minute. You know, you were asking me about playing romantic parts and I just thought of something else which I have to admit, like as much as I feel like I'm a romantic and I really did enjoy playing a romantic part in this, there's something about like the physical part like kissing and having to get naked in the bed is something that really...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REILLY: ...that I'm really much too modest for. I really - hats off to people that have to do that in every movie because I think the assumption is from audience members is like, wow, that must have been really sexy, except I don't know - except it's not. It's like all the uncomfortableness of a new sexual encounter without any of the pleasure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REILLY: You know?

BLOCK: And a lot more company.

Mr. REILLY: Yeah, a lot more company. Most of it, male.

BLOCK: Well, John C. Reilly, it's great talking with you. Thanks so much.

Mr. REILLY: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: And what about that Captain Hook song?

Mr. REILLY: Oh, let's see. Oh, you know, Captain Hook actually don't do much singing in that play. Oh, no, you know, what's better? Is this other song that children sing where they - and I still think of it. It goes...

(Singing) Let's be quiet as a mouse and build a lovely little house for Wendy, lovely Wendy.

Anyway, it goes on from there.

BLOCK: It never goes away, does it?

Mr. REILLY: No, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: John C. Reilly from "Peter Pan" to his new movie titled "Cyrus." You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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