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John C. Reilly
Illustration: Anne Emond

The Hot Seat: John C. Reilly

Hollywood's supporting goofball finally gets the lead-and, perhaps, the lady too.


"I'm the Magic Man—now you see you don't!" says John C. Reilly's boneheaded NASCAR driver in Talladega Nights. In many ways, this sums up the chameleon-like actor: Reilly, 45, an Oscar nominee for his crooning role in Chicago, can flip from Will Ferrell's footie-pajamas-clad sidekick (Step Brothers) to a tight-lipped businessman (The Aviator) and still not be pinned down. And he's about to surprise us yet again with a romantic leading role. In the sly indie film Cyrus, he plays a divorc who's after a hot single mom (Marisa Tomei). But her bizarre, synth-jam-loving kid (Jonah Hill) isn't having it.

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In Cyrus, you really hit the romantic jackpot: Catherine Keener as confidante and Marisa Tomei as lover. Nice.
Yep, animal magnetism. Actually, I'm kind of uncomfortable in romantic situations on camera. It always feels like prostitution.

We commend you for suffering through it.
One of the reasons I like Cyrus is that I'm sort of a weird person myself. It's a perfect part for me, because I was allowed to create it.

Didn't the directors, the Duplass brothers, have a script for you?
They did, but then they had the guts to throw it out as soon as we got to the set. They're very committed to honesty and making every effort to let an organic story unfold.

Sounds like the way to do it.
Yeah, I try to work that way in every movie. But it's a lot of responsibility, too. You show up to a set and they say, "Just go with your instincts and find the character and say whatever you feel." That's a much tougher day.

So when your lonely character, John, dances drunkenly at a party to the Human League's "Don't You Want Me"—is that the real John C. Reilly?
Yes. With enough Red Bull and vodkas.

What's the most embarrassing thing you've ever done at a party?
[Pause] Vomiting's always embarrassing, isn't it? I have a friend who once passed out at a party, and when he woke up, he walked over to the TV and started peeing on it. Because in his little magical world of alcohol, the TV was the toilet. Three people tackled him.

We confess we're slightly disappointed that scene didn't make it into Cyrus.
Well, what draws Marisa Tomei's character to mine is that I'm so pathetically open with everyone I come across at that party. And she finds it really appealing. Let's just strip away all the bullshit that most people say to each other when they're trying to get in each other's pants.

But then you find out she has this creepy grown-up kid, Cyrus, played by Jonah Hill.
I'm in her house and he starts busting out this Yanni worldbeat music. And he's got the dead-fish-eyed stare. Too strange.

We imagine it was hard to keep a straight face.
Jonah's a brilliant actor, funny or serious. Speaking of honesty, I think a lot of Jonah's humor comes from blankly calling it like it is. Like saying, "Dude, your beard looks like a vagina."

Cyrus is deadpan, but it has a sweetness to it, much like Step Brothers, which some people didn't get.
Are you kidding? That movie is beloved. Every other person that comes up to me on the street mentions Step Brothers.

Really? Not Boogie Nights or Magnolia?
Well, sometimes they say, "You always play the bad guy!" Really? Well, I did in three movies. Or, "You're always a cop! You play a great cop." Um, sure, I played three cops. It all depends.

That could get annoying.
I play this game with my wife where, based on what a fan looks like, I can deduce what movie they recognize me from.

Uh-oh. What do the fans of Casualties of War—your first picture—about a rape in Vietnam, look like?
Oh, those are the real hard-core film nerds. You totally gave yourself away.

Cyrus opens Fri 18.

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