DATE December 1, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Actor John C. Reilly talks about his life and career
including his current movie "Talladega Nights"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave DAVIES, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.
My guest, actor John C. Reilly, has appeared in 40 films, earning a
reputation for authenticity that Daniel Day Lewis recognized when accepting a
Screen Actors Guild award by saying Reilly has a habit of making those around
him look like they're acting. Reilly recently costarred in "Talladega
Nights," which will soon be out on DVD. His other films include "Boogie
Nights," "Magnolia," "The Perfect Storm" and "The Good Girl." In 2003 he
appeared in three films nominated for best picture: "The Hours," "Gangs of
New York" and the musical "Chicago," in which he sang and earned a best
supporting actor nomination. He played Lefty the Singing Cowboy in Robert
Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion," and he's appeared on stage. Last year he
played Stanley in the Broadway revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire."
In "Talladega Nights," John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell play best friends who
are both NASCAR drivers. Reilly's character, Cal Naughton Jr., usually helps
Ferrell's character, Ricky Bobby, win races. In this scene, later in the
film, Ricky Bobby has slipped as a driver and is losing his luck and his lady
(Soundbite from "Talladega Nights")
Mr. JOHN C. REILLY: (As Cal Naughton Jr.) We're getting married, Ricky.
And we're getting matching leprechaun tattoos.
Ms. LESLIE BIBB: (As Carley Bobby) Isn't that cute? A little pot of gold.
Mr. WILL FERRELL: (As Ricky Bobby) Is this some kind of joke? You guys
putting me on?
Mr. REILLY: (As Cal) We just came up with a new nickname.
Ms. BIBB: (As Carley) It's so good.
Mr. REILLY: (As Cal) I got a new nickname, "The Magic Man." Now you see
Mr. REILLY and Ms. BIBB: (As Cal and Carley) (In unison) ...now you don't.
Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky) That is the stupidest nickname I've ever heard.
Mr. REILLY: (As Cal) Is it, Rick? Because I think you wish you thought of
Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky) All right, you got me. That is an awesome nickname.
Mr. REILLY: (As Cal) Watch the mail for that invitation to the wedding
because I'm wanting you there.
Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky) What?
Ms. BIBB: Baby, he's not going to come to the wedding.
Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky) God, do you realize the implications of your actions
Mr. REILLY: (As Cal) What's implication mean?
(End of soundbite)
DAVIES: Well, John C. Reilly, welcome back to FRESH AIR.
Mr. REILLY: Thank you.
DAVIES: You're in the new film "Talladega Nights." Some people describe you
as the actor who is in every other movie that you go to. But so many of your
well-known roles have been dramatic roles, and here, this is a very funny
comedy with Will Ferrell. I wonder if you can compare the experience--is this
like hanging around with the guys and goofing off and getting paid for it?
Mr. REILLY: Yeah, at first appearance, that's what it is. Yeah, I guess it
was a little bit of a different experience for me but the truth is a lot of
what I do as an actor is the same from a drama to a comedy. You know, you're
just committing to the given circumstances that a character finds himself in,
and in a comedy, those circumstances are often ridiculous. Yeah, but you
know, that's--it was a lot of fun hanging around with Will and Adam. They're
incredibly funny guys, and I've known Will for a while so we're pretty good
friends, and it's always really fun to work with your friends if you can.
DAVIES: Now I heard that your role in "Talladega Nights" was initially
smaller and then was expanded. Is that right?
Mr. REILLY: Basically what they said was `Are you interested in playing this
part?' and `Well, yeah, of course, I'm interested in working with you guys. I
feel like I've played the best friend a lot before so I wondered if you would,
you know, 'cause here are some of my ideas about this,' and they said,
`Absolutely,' you know, and that was one of the great pluses of doing this
movie. These guys, they asked me, you know, what my ideas were for the
character and I thought, `Well, if I play a best friend again, he has to be
the ultimate best friend. He has to be someone who's almost ridiculously
devoted to his friend, and that was sort of the beginning of, you know, how we
started to think about the character.
DAVIES: I know that you come from a working-class background in Chicago and a
lot of the humor here, spoofs, working people of the South, people have, you
know, like two names, like Ricky Bobby, and are from the Bible Belt, and I
wonder if there was any discussion, and I'll say that I ask this question as a
guy who grew up in South Texas and went to stock car races as a kid myself,
was there any concern on the set that some of the stuff might not sit well
with, you know, fans of NASCAR?
Mr. REILLY: Well, you know, yeah, sure, there was concern. It's a big
budget movie and there were representatives from the NASCAR organization on
the set every day so people were definitely you know, trying to oversee it,
but the fact is, if you sign on to a Will Ferrell-Adam McKay comedy, you're
saying, `Go for it,' you know, and if you give these guys the leeway to do
what they need to do, you have to be ready for some really, kind of, you know,
borderline scandalous stuff and craziness. I mean, that's the job of comedy
DAVIES: Right. It's so over the top, right.
Mr. REILLY: ...make fun of the world, you know, and this world is the NASCAR
world so we make fun of it, but, you know, Will's a really good-hearted, very
ethical decent guy, and Adam is also--I think that's one of the joys of
working with them, and so their viewpoint about comedy is not like a mocking
kind of viewpoint, you know. I never play a character like I'm looking down
on the character. I think that's death for an actor when you start to feel
like you're superior to your character, so when I embrace, you know, this
crazy redneck guy named Cal Naughton Jr., I do it with a lot of affection and
love, and I put myself in his place and I take his world view, you know, so I
think you can feel that in the movie.
DAVIES: You know, this son--in addition to being very funny and it really is,
it really captures this thundering excitement of being at a NASCAR event, and
I know that you actually did a lot of taping at actual races. I believe you
guys had to get acquainted with it by actually getting in a race car, is that
Mr. REILLY: Yeah.
DAVIES: What was that experience like?
Mr. REILLY: Well, we didn't have to. You know, the truth is the insurance
companies that underwrite movies get really nervous when actors even like, you
know, ride a bike. They want you to sign all this paperwork that says stuff
like `I won't jet ski, I won't twirl a pool cube dangerously, I won't'--you
know, like all these restrictions...
Mr. REILLY: ...so they weren't too hot on the idea of us driving at all, but
we wanted to for research and just even for a moment have that feeling of
what's it's like to go that fast and be in a race car, so we went to this
driving school in Charlotte that they have at the speedway there, and, yeah,
we all went out in these race cars and got them up to speed, and I couldn't
believe they let me do it actually. There was only about a 20-minute
orientation, and the next thing, I was going about 150 miles an hour by myself
in a car. It was preposterous, like how did they let me do this? But I had a
great time doing it. You know, they first take you out as a passenger, and
when I went around as a passenger, I get carsick in cars when I'm not driving,
period. No matter who's driving. I get carsick. So I don't know what I was
thinking, but I thought it would be fine, and I get in with this professional
NASCAR driver and, you know, he took us up to like 180 miles an hour, and I'm
in the passenger seat, which is on the--you know, as you're going around the
turns, you're on the outside of the car so it felt like my organs were
shifting and my body and my brain was being sucked out of my ear as we're
going around, and I got so sick immediately, I was white as a sheet when I got
out of that car, and all these, you know, gracious people that were hosting us
at this driving school were like, `So, what did you think?' you know, giving
me the big thumbs up like `Wasn't that awesome, wasn't that exciting?' And I
was like--I just shut down, like I wanted to say the right thing to them, but
I could not physically fake like I was feeling really great so I was just like
`Yes, it was great. I really enjoyed that. Wow, what an experience! I'm
going to go over here now and take off my helmet.' And then five minutes after
that, they're like, `Who's going to be first to drive a car? John Reilly,
let's go, hop in!' I'm like, next thing you know, I'm like starting up in the
car myself in the car, alone, and like going 150 miles an hour, but it was a
lot more fun when I was driving.
DAVIES: I know that you grew up in Chicago and read that you weren't the most
well-behaved youth. I mean, you said that you had kind of scrapes with
juvenile delinquency but got into acting, I guess, in high school, right, and
then really seriously...(unintelligible).
Mr. REILLY: It was in grammar school actually. I was about eight or nine
when I first started. Yeah, my mom really gets mad when I talk about the
rough south side of Chicago or that I got into any trouble. I think she has
kind of a retroactive memory of something about what I did as a kid, like `I
don't remember that.' `Yeah, Mama, I got arrested for shooting a BB gun from a
railroad track at people's windows.' `No, you didn't.' I was like, `Mom, you
picked me up from the police station. Don't you remember?' `No! I can't
believe you did that.' I'm like, `Well, maybe you blocked that out of your
memory' but, you know, the truth was it was all very harmless stuff so it
wasn't like, you know, not to make light of juvenile delinquency and those lot
of kids that have real problems. My stuff was just being bored and you know,
breaking bottles and getting caught for curfew and stuff like that, but, yeah,
but acting, I mean, as I got older I could see that some of the older guys in
my neighborhood were heading down a more serious road of, you know, crime and
addiction and whatever. You know, there's all kinds of stuff going on in that
neighbor, so, yeah, I was really lucky that my best friend at the time was
going to the local park near my house for these drama classes, or drama, as we
used to call it. `You should come with me to drama, it's great, you know, we
play theater games and you know,' and so I went there, and I realized that,
wow, these are my people. This is it. Because I'd always moved around from
the burnouts to the jocks to the, you know, academics kind of people, and I
finally found my people, the play people.
DAVIES: My guest is actor John C. Reilly.
We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: My guest is actor John C. Reilly. The film "Talladega Nights," in
which he and Will Ferrell play NASCAR drivers, comes out soon on DVD. When we
left off, we were talking about his early days as an actor.
I guess the big break was when you got cast in Brian de Palma's movie,
"Casualties of War." And I know you talked about how that was initially going
to be a very small part. You were going to get injured and then disappear
from the film, but then he expanded your role. But what I read recently was
that part of that came from rehearsals where they didn't have enough actors to
fill in some of the parts, and he would ask you to play parts of people that
weren't on the set yet. Is that right?
Mr. REILLY: Yeah. He actually didn't expand my role, he gave me another
role. He cast me into a cameo part that was different and then actually ended
up giving me one of the leads in the movie, because as we got over there, the
casting, he decided that he was unhappy with certain actors, and it got
shifted around a little bit. But, yeah, that's how I kind of--that's how they
found out that I have some ability was during the rehearsals. We'd be there
and there'd be these big group scenes, you know, where we're supposed to
be--the soldiers walking through a Vietnamese village or something, and we
didn't have all the actors there, of course, for the whole scene, so there'd
be, like, an 80-year-old Vietnamese man walks up and talks to the troops, and
they're like, `OK. We don't have the Vietnamese guy, so we need someone to
read this. John, read this part,' you know. And I, of course, coming from a
theater background, never having been in a movie before, never having left the
United States before, been on an airplane or anything, I just like completely
throw myself into it like it's, you know, Tennessee Williams or something,
reading the nonsensical lines of this Vietnamese guy. So I'd be--you know,
I'd just try to transform myself into an 80-year-old Vietnamese guy for the
purposes of the rehearsal, and I think that was much more than anyone was
expecting, and so Brian took note. Like, `Wow! Look at that guy.' And then
there'd be a couple of other examples like that. You know, I'll be the
sentry, now, you know, the pilot here, whatever, these different things, and
then when the opportunity opened up for some of these other roles, you know,
the "well was primed," let's say.
DAVIES: What's interesting it's sort of like an audition where you didn't
know you were auditioning, right, and it wasn't like--you just were
Mr. REILLY: Yeah, yeah. You know, I had no experience with movies at all.
I didn't understand any of the politics involved or how you were supposed to
act at a rehearsal. All I knew was just be the best actor you can be, you
know, like really commit to something and try to make it as real as possible.
And, you know, some of the other people on the film were a little more cool.
`I'm going to save it for the filming' or whatever, and I was just--you know,
I remember at one point doing a scene--when I eventually got the role that I
got in the movie, we're doing one of my first scenes, and we did one--we did a
couple of takes, and then I felt like the last take we did, I didn't do it
exactly right, and I felt bad. Like `I can do that better,' and I said to
Brian De Palma, I said, `Brian, can we do another one? Because I think I can
do better.' And he was like, `Oh, really?' And then he announces to the crew.
`Mr. Reilly would like another take.' And I didn't realize. I was just this
kid. I didn't realize like that was a big deal to ask for another take.
Like, I just thought like, `Well, don't we all want to be better?' Not--you
DAVIES: Did he give you the other take?
Mr. REILLY: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. No, that was a--I mean, I actually
accomplished one of the goals of my life on that movie which was--I had heard
the story when I was a younger actor about the Marx Brothers when they were
filming. They would get to improvising and goofing around so much that the
cameramen would start to laugh and the camera would start--in those days, I
guess they had the cameras on a gimbal that they couldn't lock off. It would
just be this kind of free-floating thing. And they said that you'd see the
film, the frame would start to shake and shake and shake and shake, and
eventually the lens would just fall down and point to the ground as the
cameramen literally fell down from laughter. They couldn't operate the
cameras anymore they were laughing so hard. I was like, `Wow! I want to do
that someday. I want to make the director laugh so much that it actually
ruins the take.' And it happened on "Casualties of War." It happened. Brian
De Palma was on a crane. You know, they have a chair on the crane that you
sit up, you know, when the camera needs to go really high. You sit up there
with the camera. And I was doing some thing. I was also a pretty dim-witted
character in that movie, and I just did something that was just so ridiculous
that Brian started laughing, and because he was laughing, he was shaking the
whole crane, and they actually missed the shot though.
DAVIES: You have been working ever since and got a lot of great reviews for
three Paul Thomas Anderson films you did, you know, "Hard Eight," "Magnolia"
and "Boogie Nights." And I thought maybe we'd listen to a clip from "Boogie
Mr. REILLY: All right.
DAVIES: This is just one where you are--this is a movie about the porn
industry in the '70s and '80s. You're a porn star, along with Mark Wahlberg.
And this is sort of as we're getting into the '80s and you guys are into
cocaine, and you're convinced you're great recording stars and have made a
demo tape which is excruciatingly bad.
Mr. REILLY: Hmm.
DAVIES: And in this scene, you have gone to the studio to pick up the tape,
but you don't have any money, and you are trying to convince the guy at the
studio to give you the tape. So let's listen. This is "Boogie Nights" and my
guest, John C. Reilly.
(Soundbite from "Boogie Nights")
Mr. REILLY: (As Reed Rothchild) Come on, come on, come on, all right? All
we need is the tapes.
Unidentified Actor: No. You don't get them until you pay.
Mr. MARK WAHLBERG: (As Eddie Adams) In our situation, that doesn't make any
Mr. REILLY: (As Reed) You can't pay the price of the demo tapes unless we
take the demo tapes to the record company and get paid.
Mr. WAHLBERG: (As Eddie) Hello? Exactly.
Actor: That's not an MP. That's a YP. Your problem. Come up with the
money, and I'll give you the tapes. That's it.
Mr. REILLY: (As Reed) OK. Now you're talking above my head. All right? I
don't know this industry jargon. YP, MP, whatever. OK? All I know is that I
cannot get a record contract, we cannot get a record contract, unless I take
these tapes. And granted, the tapes themselves are your--are your--are
your--that you own them, OK? But the magic that is on the tapes, that
(censored) heart and soul that we put into those tapes, that is ours, and you
don't own that. Now I need to take that magic and get it to the record
company, OK? And they're waiting for us. We were supposed to be there a
(End of soundbite)
DAVIES: That's my guest John C. Reilly from the film "Boogie Nights." You
know, I think that film really holds up well over time.
Mr. REILLY: It's funny you were talking about the improvisation. That whole
run in that movie was improvised. The whole section in the recording studio
was improvised. And that was--you know, that's when I sort of got my sea legs
for riffing was there with Paul because he would just let us go crazy and let
us do anything. And it's funny, between "Boogie Nights" and "Days of
Thunder," you know, those are the kind of, like, begat "Talladega Nights." You
think about this story arc of "Boogie Nights" and the title itself and then a
lot of the stuff that, you know, the hero arc of "Days of Thunder." Those are
the two movies that kind of--they must have been thinking about when they
wrote this script for "Talladega Nights."
DAVIES: Right. "Days of Thunder" was the stock car racing film starring Tom
Cruise that you were in.
Mr. REILLY: Right, right. That I did 15, 16 years ago.
DAVIES: Yeah. The thing about your character in "Boogie Nights" is that I
can't ever quite tell whether he's just dim-witted or so cocaine-addled that
he can't get his thoughts straight.
Mr. REILLY: Is there a difference? A drug-induced dimwittedness.
Mr. REILLY: I think Reed's pretty smart, actually. He's just kind of a
dork, but I love that character. I loved playing him so much.
DAVIES: You went on and worked with Martin Scorsese on "Gangs of New York."
Tell us about that, what was that like, working with him?
Mr. REILLY: I was pretty nervous the whole time around him on that movie,
and the way I dealt with it was by being extremely polite, you know. I have a
lot of respect for him, obviously. I think he's the greatest living film
director out there, and working with him you realize what the priorities on a
film set should be. And you realize it's not about, you know, facilitating
how quickly we can shoot something or--I don't know, there's like a sanctity
to a Martin Scorsese set. When he walks onto a sound stage of, you know, 100
Italian people who love to talk and suddenly the whole place goes dead quiet,
you know, like, `Wow! He's really special.' Everyone here is here because
they really want to be here. They really want to make a great film. And,
sadly, that's not the case most of the time. Most of the time on movie sets,
everyone's got some different agenda and in terms of why they're there, and
most people are there because it's a job and they just want to make some money
and the content of what they're doing is not that important. But when you
work on a Scorsese film, you think, like, `Wow! This is the best place in the
world of movies right now to be. I'm standing right here in the inner circle
of it.' And so that was never lost on me. On "The Aviator" either, for that
DAVIES: Actor John C. Reilly. He'll be back in the second half of the show.
Here he is with Mark Wahlberg from the soundtrack of the film "Boogie Nights."
I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite from "Boogie Nights" soundtrack)
Mr. REILLY and Mr. WAHLBERG: (Singing in unison) "All day. All night. You
feel my heat. Feel, feel, feel, feel my heat."
Mr. WAHLBERG: I think that we should repeat that again.
Mr. REILLY and Mr. WAHLBERG: (Singing in unison) "Feel, feel, feel, feel,
feel, feel my heat. Feel my heat."
Mr. WAHLBERG: Yeah, it's definitely cool. Let's lay it down. Nick?
NICK: Do you want to lay it down?
Mr. WAHLBERG: Were you rolling on the rehearsal?
NICK: Let's do it one more time, OK?
(End of soundbite)
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Singer: (Singing) "Doesn't take much to make me happy and make
me smile with glee. Never, never will I feel discouraged 'cause I love
so...(unintelligible). Demonstrating love and affection that you feel so
openly, yeah. I like the way..."
(End of soundbite)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross.
My guest is actor John C. Reilly. He's appeared in more than 40 films,
including the NASCAR comedy with Will Ferrell, "Talladega Nights." It comes
out this month on DVD.
Well, 2002 was a very big year for you. That was the year where you had
significant roles in three of the five movies nominated for Best Picture,
"Gangs of New York," "The Hours" and "Chicago," for which you earned your own
Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. You played Amos Hart, who is the
two-timed husband of Roxie Hart played by Renee Zellweger in the film. And I
thought maybe we'd listen to your performance of one of the signature songs in
that film. So why don't we give a listen to this? This is my guest, John C.
Reilly. And I guess for the audience, some may not have seen it, basically
you're a husband who is very put upon, and there comes a point in the film in
which you sort of describe your lot to the audience. Let's listen.
(Soundbite from "Chicago"'s "Cellophane")
Mr. REILLY: (Singing) "If someone stood up in a crowd and raised his voice
up way out loud and waved his arm and shook his leg, you'd notice him. If
someone in the movie show yelled `Fire in the second row, this whole place is
a powder keg!' you'd notice him. And even without clucking like a hen,
everyone gets noticed now and then. Unless, of course, that person should be
invisible, inconsequential me. Cellophane, Mr. Cellophane should've been my
name, Mr. Cellophane, because you can look right through me, walk right by
me, and never know I'm there. I'll tell you, Cellophane, Mr. Cellophane..."
(End of soundbite)
DAVIES: That's my guest, John C. Reilly performing the song "Cellophane" in
the musical "Chicago." I know singing is nothing new to you. You've been
doing it for a long, long time in musicals on stage. But you're probably
known as a dramatic actor a lot more to movie audiences. How did you get that
role in "Chicago"?
Mr. REILLY: Well, I was asked by Rob Marshall to do it, but there was this
little hiccup in the process where Rob wanted to have people in the movie who
could sing and dance. That was very important to him that everyone be able to
do their own singing and dancing. So no one was getting a part unless they
came in and met with him and sang for him and danced a little bit. And he was
in New York and couldn't come to Los Angeles. I was in Los Angeles and
couldn't go to New York, so I made a videotape of myself with a little bow-tie
on singing "Mr. Cellophane" in front of a big white piano with a candelabra
behind me and sent that along. And, you know, I think that's maybe why I got
the part because Rob could see from that tape, `OK, he understands,' you know,
`what's at the heart of this song,' you know, `what it's about.' I think Rob
was hoping to bring to that character a realism rather than kind of
over-the-top clownish sort of sad sack who you don't really believe would be
married to Roxie. He wanted it to be like a really working class guy from
Chicago who works in a garage who loves this girl. And it was important to
him to sell the realism part of the movie. That's one of the cool things
about "Chicago" is like you go into these fantastic fantasy sequences, but
when you're in the real world part of that movie, it feels very real, sort of
this cruel time in the 1920s in Chicago, you know. And all the scenic design
and the costumes and everything, it seems like a real realistic picture at
DAVIES: You know, it's interesting because you're right--I mean, in a lot of
the dialogue, it sounds like a guy who's being interviewed by cops after a
murder and at moments like that. And yet in the performance that we just
heard, there's enormous physical stuff happening. You're doing a kind of a
shuffle that evokes, I'm not sure what, Stan Laurel?
Mr. REILLY: Yeah, there was a whole bunch of people. First of all, that
song was written by John Kander and Fred Ebb as kind of an homage to Bert
Williams, who was a famous vaudeville star who had a song called "Nobody." He
was actually the biggest--he was a black man, and he was the biggest
vaudeville star of the day, the star of the Ziegfeld Follies and had a famous
song called "Nobody," and it's all about, you know, some of the same
sentiments that are in "Mr. Cellophane." And so, yeah, there was that. There
was, you know, everyone from Emmett Kelly to Bert Lahr to Stan Laurel to Dick
Van Dyke. I mean, all the tramp clowns over the years that have influenced
me. It was like, I felt like, it was just a really, really special moment.
Like someone was handing me a torch, and I was getting to hold that torch for
a second before handing it on.
DAVIES: We're speaking with John C. Reilly. He costars with Will Ferrell in
the film "Talladega Nights," which comes out soon on DVD.
We'll hear more after a break, this is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: If you're just joining me, my guest is actor John C. Reilly. His
NASCAR comedy with Will Ferrell, "Talladega Nights," comes out this month on
You know, another film of yours that I wanted to talk a little about is
"Criminal," the film directed by Gregory Jacobs, filmed a couple of years ago.
Was this your first leading role? People talk about you being a character
actor and having so many great supporting roles, but this is the first time
you really carried a film?
Mr. REILLY: I guess so. You know, I'm always surprised, I'm always kind of
ambushed by that question. When people say, you know, `This is your first'
whatever. Because the truth is I think of every role I play as the leading
role in that person's life story, you know?
Mr. REILLY: Even if you're playing a supporting part, it's not like you're
thinking, `Well, I'm just a supporting human being,' you know. You're
thinking of yourself in the way that everyone thinks of themselves as a
central character of their life story, but, yeah, yeah. "Criminal" was the
first time, I guess, they sold the movie on my face for better or worse. But
I loved doing that movie. It was shot very quickly in Los Angeles. We had
about 28 shooting days. And we shot in all real locations all over the city,
and I felt like that movie--I'm happy you brought it up because I'm really
proud of that movie. And as someone who's lived in Los Angeles for about the
past 10 years, I was getting really tired of seeing movies that didn't portray
LA the way I saw it, in all, you know, the different facets of LA. Even
though the movie's very tight, kind of daytime noir caper movie, it's also
this amazing look at Los Angeles and not just palm trees and people on roller
blades eating frozen yogurt, you know, which is what you see most of the time
when they show a scene of Los Angeles in a movie.
Mr. REILLY: But the East side. All the different neighborhoods and stuff.
And I thought it was an honest look at what life on the streets in LA is like,
a little bit, anyway.
DAVIES: You know, we have a clip I wanted to play for the audience here and
I'll just set this up. This is--you play a con man and you develop a
friendship with, as you mentioned, Diego Luna, who's a great actor who was in
"Y Tu Mama Tambien," and you're showing him the ropes, recruiting him as your
apprentice. And in this scene, we catch you in the middle of pulling a con on
a waiter where you pretend to have paid him $100 and demanding the change, and
then this is followed by a little dialogue in which you talk with Diego Luna
about the experience. Let's listen.
(Soundbite from "Criminal")
Unidentified Actor #2 : OK. You didn't pay, so don't shout.
Mr. REILLY: (As Richard Gaddis) I don't want to shout, but I'm late. I want
to see the manager. Go get your boss. Don't be stupid.
Unidentified Actor #3: Excuse me, is there a problem here?
Actor #2: Yes. This gentleman says that he paid.
Mr. REILLY: (As Richard) No, no, no. I did pay you.
Actor #3: There seems to be some sort of confusion here.
Mr. REILLY: (As Richard) There's no confusion. I had a cup of coffee. I
had two $100 bills, and now I have one. Oh, here. The corner's missing. The
bill I paid with must be missing the corner. Can you check the register and
see if there's a $100 bill with the corner missing, please?
Actor #3: Would you come with me, please?
Mr. REILLY: (As Richard) I'm not going anywhere. Just get my change.
Please, I have to get out of here.
Mr. DIEGO LUNA: (As Rodrigo) I know that trick.
Mr. REILLY: (As Richard) Oh, yeah?
Mr. LUNA: (As Rodrigo) Yeah.
Mr. REILLY: (As Richard) Did you ever try it?
Mr. LUNA: (As Rodrigo) No.
Mr. REILLY: (As Richard) Why not?
Mr. LUNA: (As Rodrigo) It's too loud.
Mr. REILLY: (As Richard) What?
Mr. LUNA: (As Rodrigo) You know, you have to make a full scene.
Mr. REILLY: (As Richard) That's the point. They're not interested in making
a scene. That's the key, OK? The more offended you are, the less suspicious
you look. You know, things get sticky, you blame everybody else. Have you
been paying attention?
(End of soundbite)
DAVIES: That's my guest John C. Reilly with Diego Luna in the film,
You want to talk a little bit about getting that part, being a con man? I
mean, inhabiting the part and getting that character right?
Mr. REILLY: Yeah. I was--going into it, I thought, `This is great,' you
know. This is a lot like an actor's life, being a con man, you know? Getting
people to believe something that's not true. You know, getting them to
believe that you're someone that you're not, and I felt, `Well, that'll be
fun. I'll have a lot in common with this guy.' And then you realize--or I
realized when I started playing the part, like, this guy lives on the dark
side of the, you know--if the acting ability is the force, he's using the
force for dark purposes.
Mr. REILLY: And I realized how lonely that is and when you do bad things to
people, how paranoid you become. You know, I suddenly realized that, `Wow!
This guy is truly an island. He's sacrificed everything for money.' You know,
he's like an addict, but his addiction is money, and he'll do anything to get
it and sacrifices every relationship in his life. And, by the end of that
month, I was really glad to take that gray suit off that I spent the whole
movie in because it felt like, I don't know, that guy was just such a dark,
DAVIES: Huh! Interesting.
Mr. REILLY: Kind of hapless as well. You know, he ends up being kind of--he
ends being the dupe at the end of the movie. So he's kind of a pathetic
character in the end. But, yeah, it was cool. That was a fun movie to do.
DAVIES: It's interesting. Some people have described...
Mr. REILLY: It's fun to get the--as I think about it, as an actor, I'll go
into a place, and I'll think, `Well,' you know, `if I told this person--you
know, if I told this woman at this rental car counter that the car was, you
know--I got carjacked or I can make up some story and I could probably make it
realistic enough that this person would really believe it, and I could get
them to do something,' and then, you know, you realize that, `Oh, no, but I
could never do that. That would be like using a force of good for evil.' But
it was really funny to be given the license to do it in "Criminal." I got to
actually act out all these little fantasy ruses that you hear about con men
DAVIES: Despite your--I think your growing success and recognition on screen,
you've continued to do interesting things off the screen. And I will tell
you, my son who is in school in Boston was an usher at a performance that you
did of a musical version of the film "Marty," right?
Mr. REILLY: Right.
DAVIES: You headlined that. And then you did "Streetcar Named Desire" on
Mr. REILLY: Mm-hmm.
DAVIES: You want to keep your hand in stage work.
Mr. REILLY: I've actually done "Streetcar" twice. I did it in Chicago at
The Steppenwolf Theatre, where I played the role of Mitch.
Mr. REILLY: Stanley Kowalski's best friend. And then, yeah, last year on
Broadway, I got to play Stanley, which was really interesting to do the same
play twice but in different roles.
DAVIES: How did you find the experience of doing Stanley?
Mr. REILLY: That was a bear. You know, I suddenly realized, one of the big,
you know, mysteries to me before I did "Streetcar" regarding Marlon Brando
was, you know, Brando did "Streetcar" and then never did another play his
entire life. To me, that would be like, you know, John Lennon playing one
concert and saying, `You know what? I'm not going to play any more concerts.'
And you know, because Brando had such promise. Of course, he went on to make
some great films, but as a theater actor, you know, everyone--he was the gold
standard. And then he never did it again. And I remember meeting some people
in Hollywood who knew him and asking people actively before I had done
"Streetcar," `Why do you think Brando never did another play? What is that?'
And people give me different answers. `Oh, well, you know, he came out to
California and they like the weather, and movies are very, you know, alluring
and the money's good.'
And I thought none of that can be true. Not with an artist like Brando, you
know. There must be some other reason. And I was always dissatisfied with
the answers people gave me. And then about two months into the run of
"Streetcar" on Broadway when I was playing Stanley, I was sitting backstage
between acts and I suddenly--it dawned on me. Of course, he never did another
play. Because he--I only did "Streetcar" for six months as Stanley--Brando
did it for two years. And the emotional and psychological toll that that play
takes on you every night is just--it's almost like Tennessee Williams just had
this sadistic streak because what he puts those characters through is
incredibly difficult, you know.
And, in the end, it's not just the Blanche DuBois character that's broken.
Stanley will never be the same man after the events that take place in that
play and Stella will never be the same woman. She'll never look at Stanley
the same way. And, of course, Blanche goes off to the nuthouse and Mitch
loses the love of his life, and it's just these shattered people at the end of
that play. And if you're playing that material honestly and you're really
giving it your all, that stuff has a big effect on you. And you can try to
let it go when you get out of the theater, but knowing that you're going back
into that every night, this sort of crucible of emotional pain, it finally
made sense why Brando never did another play.
DAVIES: Now, you haven't foresworn the theater, have you?
Mr. REILLY: No, no, of course not. Like I said, I only had to do it for six
months, and I got a lot out of that production, and I wouldn't trade it for
the world. But I'll tell you, there were some pretty big expectations
surrounding that play itself and the role of Stanley that I don't think I
was--I knew there would be, you know, slings and arrows to suffer in that
regard, taking on this big role, but I had no idea how many preconceptions
people were going to come with. And the truth is a lot of people who came to
see that play, their preconceptions were based on the film, which is very
different from the play. You know, they rewrote a lot of the play to suit the
morals of the time in the film business, so the play is different than the
movie. And I thought one of the big misconceptions I thought people had about
Stanley was that he's supposed to be this hunk. You know, he's this
attractive, charismatic, like you know, sex bomb kind of character. And that
to me is a complete misreading of the play. And if you read what Tennessee
Williams said about that character and you read what Brando said about that
character in his autobiography. Brando said, `I thought I was miscast in that
part because the audience--I felt like I threw the balance of the playoff
because Stanley is, in a lot of ways, the villain of the play.' You know, he's
written as a Polack, a simple-minded Polack guy who's, you know, he's striving
to make a better life for himself, but he's not this attractive, you know...
Mr. REILLY: ...steaming leading man type. He's like an animal, you know.
It's almost like his relationship with Stella is almost like bestiality, you
DAVIES: This is interesting.
Mr. REILLY: She, the Southern belle, is attracted to this animal, you know.
So that's the take I took on the character was a very literal take on what
Tennessee Williams wrote. He's a working class guy who came back from the
war, who fought for his country, and his whole life growing up, people had
told him that he's a Polack and he's no good and he was poor and he was
simple. Then he went away to the war and risked his life for the country, and
when he came back, he said, `You know what? No one will ever tell me I'm not
as good as them. No one will ever tell me that this country is not mine
because I risked my life for it.' So he has this chip on his shoulder that was
just, you know, it fills you with rage, but I don't know, it's an amazing
DAVIES: Well, John C. Reilly, we'll look forward to seeing what you come up
with next. Thanks so much for spending some time with us.
Mr. REILLY: Thank you, Dave.
DAVIES: Actor John C. Reilly. He stars as a NASCAR driver with Will Ferrell
in the film, "Talladega Nights." The DVD is being released this month.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Film critic David Edelstein reviews movie "Happy Feet"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
As the film "Happy Feet"'s domestic earnings approach $100 million, the
animated musical has started to pop up on lists of prospective Best Picture
nominees. It's directed by George Miller, best known for films like "Mad Max"
and "The Witches of Eastwick," and it features the voices of Nicole Kidman,
Hugh Jackman, Elijah Wood, and in several parts, Robin Williams. Film critic
David Edelstein has this review.
Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: The animated penguin picture "Happy Feet" has been the
country's number one draw for the past two weeks, and if you haven't taken the
plunge, you should. Not just because it's stupendous but because it features
the best dancing you'll see on the screen this year. Not that these penguins
are supposed to dance. The penguins here, one tribe anyway, are singers. To
mate successfully, they need to find their inner music, what they call their
`heartsongs,' and if you've seen the documentary "March of the Penguins,"
you'll be amazed at how these animators get something of the look of the real
penguin courtship ritual, even if the actual birds don't serenade their
prospective mates with Elvis Presley or Beach Boys songs. Our hero, though,
is a penguin who's made of more manic stuff. To the shock of his dad,
Memphis, voiced by Hugh Jackman, he comes tap, tap, tapping out of his egg.
(Soundbite of "Happy Feet")
Mr. HUGH JACKMAN: (As Memphis) You hear that?
Unidentified Actor #1: Yeah.
Mr. JACKMAN: (As Memphis) I can hear you, buddy.
Actor #1: Oh, he's OK, Maurice. He's...(unintelligible). That's his little
Mr. JACKMAN: (As Memphis) Oh, there's his other one.
(Soundbite of baby penguin laughter)
Actor #1: Oh, oh, oh.
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Mumble) Mumble, Mumble.
Mr. JACKMAN: (as Memphis) Are you OK?
Actor #2: (As Mumble) It's freezing. It's freezing.
Mr. JACKMAN: (As Memphis) You'll get used to it. Come on, son. Come to
Actor #1: What do you make of that?
Mr. JACKMAN: (As Memphis) A little wobbly in the knees, huh.
Actor #1: Is he OK?
Mr. JACKMAN: (As Memphis) I don't know.
What you doing there, boy?
Actor #2: (As Mumble) I'm happy, pop.
Mr. JACKMAN: (as Memphis) What you doing with your feet?
Actor #2: (As Mumble) They're happy, too.
Mr. JACKMAN: (As Memphis) I wouldn't do that around folks, son.
Actor #2: (As Mumble) Why not?
Mr. JACKMAN: (As Memphis) It just ain't penguin, OK?
Actor #2: (As Mumble) OK.
(End of soundbite)
Mr. EDELSTEIN: Memphis loves his son called Mumble but takes his cues from the
penguin elders. When the child turns out to have a singing voice that brings
down icicles, he's horrified, he's stricken. He doesn't care that Mumble is
one amazing hoofer.
Before I go on, let me be frank. I think this is a dumb premise. I thought
it was a dumb premise in "Footloose," when they wouldn't let Kevin Bacon
dance, but there at least the fundamentalist prohibition had some precedent.
The penguins here say that they can only survive in such harsh conditions if
they're in harmony, but the rule still seems arbitrary. If you've seen "Mary
Poppins," you know that penguins are dancing fools. It doesn't matter though,
once Mumble does his thing, the quibbles fly away. The great Savion Glover
modeled the penguins tapdancing for the animators, and all I could think as I
watched was that somewhere Ray Bolger was smiling. It's not big swinging,
ecstatic Gene Kelly-Donald O'Connor tapping. Mumble uses tap to work out his
frustrations. So sometimes the tapping is angry and staccato, and sometimes
it's a tap and a little soft shoe slide along the ice. That ice sounds
amazing when he taps and slides, and taps and slides. "Happy Feet" could
kick-start a vogue for soft-shoe iceskating. Movie musicals tend to be
chopped up in the editing room, so that you see one piece of a body at a time.
But the dancing in "Happy Feet" is often shot straight on against a vast
horizon of ice. The penguins have round little tummies and its lyrical just
the way their weight shifts from side to side. Because the other penguins
don't dance, you don't get big ensemble tap numbers, but the film has one
medley of pop songs after another, and they flow together the way they didn't
in the frenetic hash of "Moulin Rouge."
"Happy Feet" has been in the news lately because prominent conservative
commentators have attacked its underlying message of conservation. Thanks to
overfishing, the birds and animals in the movie are going hungry, and it falls
to Mumble to deliver a message to the world to respect the penguins'
ecosystem. The tone of the movie is hardly pious though. "Happy Feet" was
directed by George Miller, the Aussie who gave us "The Road Warrior," and Mad
Max never faced anything as harrowing as the huge leopard seal that comes
after little Mumble. The big chase is wildly kinetic and vertigo-inducing and
practically three-dimensional in the way the leopard seal explodes out of the
screen. Later, when Mumble and some penguins from another tribe with movie
Mexican accents go on a voyage of discovery, they go whooshing and bouncing
and spinning down a mountain side and one of the penguins yells, `I love
gravity!' I thought, I want to do that, too.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
(Soundbite of Spanish song from "Happy Feet")
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.