John C Reilly on 'Step Brothers'

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John C Reilly is a genuine rarity in Hollywood: a method-trained actor who has successfully crossed over into the world of mainstream comedy. Having worked for directors like de Palma, Scorsese and most notably with Paul Thomas Anderson on ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘Magnolia’, Reilly surprised many with his stellar turn as Will Ferrell’s dumbbell sidekick in ‘Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby’. Reilly's career now seems focussed around such broad, often largely improvised comedy roles, like his latest role as overgrown adolescent Dale in the newest Ferrell-fronted gagfest, ‘Step Brothers’

So why make this sudden shift into comedy?

'I wish I could say it was some masterplan of mine, but most of an actor’s life is just fielding opportunities that other people are throwing your way. A lot of the most talented people in the film business are gravitating towards comedy right now. A lot of intelligent, subversive, creative people, because you can say a lot in a comedy and get away with it.'

There doesn’t seem to be as much improv in ‘Step Brothers’ as in ‘Talladega’…

'You think? All anyone talks about is the improv, the improv, "All you guys ever do is improv". I’d be curious to compare the scripts of the two movies and get a percentage of how much improv ended up in the movie. On "Talladega Nights" we’d just think of stuff right there. But on "Step Brothers" we met beforehand, we were working together on the script so the improvs became the script.'But people can’t believe the lengths we go to for our improv. Most of the guys who came up working on more mainstream movies feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven. The stuff we get away with, it’s like they’ve put the kids in charge of the candy store. You don’t see all this in the movie, but in terms of the extremeness of a situation, in the movie it might get to a 3, but when we’re filming you go to, like, 11, just to see how much mileage you can get out of a joke. So the crew see some really bizarre stuff. 'The sex scenes between me and Kathryn Hahn became really explicit and crazy. In fact, Kathryn was the real discovery on this movie. She just jumped out and everybody was just like, this girl is a force to be reckoned with. There are a lot of guys who are fearless improvisers, but for some reason there are fewer women. But Kathryn just nailed it, I thought.'

Is there ever any clash between your ‘method’ background and Will’s comic background?

'I don’t really consider myself a method actor, I studied that in school along with a number of other acting techniques. I had friends in school who would ascribe to a certain technique or another, who would say, "This is The Way. David Mamet wrote this book and this is The Way." And I was always like: There is no way. An actor finds his own way. To a large extent you’re adapting to circumstances, to the script, the project, to the director, to the character, it’s a constant process of adaptation. So any dogma or set of rules about how you do it just don’t work.'But that said, one of the reasons Will, Adam and I all work well together is because of a similarity of backgrounds. I studied improv a lot in acting school, that’s where I really came into my own as an actor. I realised that the creativity can just flow from my own brain, I don’t have to be an expert on Shakespeare in order to be a good actor. So I studied in a somewhat more formal way than Will and Adam did, but we were all doing the same thing at different times.'

Are the two of you planning to go for the hat trick?

'I get the feeling that Adam wants to do something without either Will or I, to test his mettle on his own. But yeah, the three of us will definitely do something together again. It’s not up to me, but I would never say no to working with these guys.'

Which do you find more challenging, drama or comedy? And which is more enjoyable?

'I would say comedy’s both more challenging and more fun. Because it’s such a joyful experience, making you and your friends laugh. But it‘s a strict discipline. If it’s not working it’s so glaringly obvious, so painful and shameful. There’s nothing worse. So it’s a real high wire act every day. And improvising is something people devalue, you know, "you’re just goofing around, making stuff up". But to do it well, you really have to be screenwriting on your feet. So it’s not as easy as it looks.'

Author: Tom Huddleston


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