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John C. Reilly's 'Talladega Nights'

Actor John C. Reilly is probably best known for his association with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, who cast Reilly in the films such as Hard 8, Boogie Nights and Magnolia. He also earned an Oscar nomination for his performance in Chicago. Reilly steps into a comedic role along Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.


Other segments from the episode on August 7, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 7, 2006: Interview with John C. Reilly; Commentary on Arthur Lee.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Actor John C. Reilly talks about his life and career
including his current movie "Talladega Nights"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in this week for Terry Gross.

My guest, actor John C. Reilly has had roles in 40 films, including "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. His co-star in "Gangs of New York," Daniel Day-Lewis said
Reilly is so good, he has a habit of making those around them look like
they're acting. Reilly has also done stage work appearing last year on
Broadway in a "Streetcar Named Desire." John C. Reilly's most recent films
are "A Prairie Home Companion," in which he plays Lefty the singing cowboy and
"Talladega Nights," a new comedy starring Will Ferrell and directed by Adam
McKay. Reilly and Ferrell play best friends who are both NASCAR drivers and
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, played by Leslie Bibb, to Cal.

(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) 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
right now?

Mr. REILLY: (As Cal) What's implication mean?

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: 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 wondered if you could compare the experience--I
mean, is this like hanging around with 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 themselves
in, and in a comedy, those circumstances are often ridiculous. So, I actually
bring the same honesty and commitment to either drama or comedy. So, yeah,
but, you know, that said, 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?' I said, `Well, yeah. Of course, I'm interested in working with
you guys. I feel like I play the best friend a lot before, so I wondered if
you could hear some of my ideas about this,' and they said, `Absolutely.' So
that was one of the great pluses of doing this movie. These guys, Will and
Adam, really took me on as a partner on the movie and allowed me to
collaborate in a way that I really haven't been able to do with anyone else in
the past. They asked me, you know, what my ideas were for the character. I
said, `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: You know, I know that you come from a working-class background in

Mr. REILLY: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: And a lot of the humor here, spoofs, working people of the South,
people who have, you know, 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.

Mr. REILLY: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: 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. There'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
is to make fun of the world, you know.

DAVIES: Right. It's so over the top.

Mr. REILLY: And this world is the NASCAR world, so we make fun of it, but I
think at the end of the day, people who enjoy stock car racing are going--I
feel an affection for the whole world of NASCAR and when I watch the movie,
and I think, you know, Will is a really good-hearted, very ethical, decent
guy. And Adam is also. 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'd never play a character like I'm looking down on the character.
That--I think that's death for an actor when you start to feel like you're
superior to your character.

DAVIES: Mm-hmm.

Mr. REILLY: So when I embrace, you know, this crazy, red-neck guy named Cal
Naughton Jr., I do it with a lot of affection and love, and I just 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 film, 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.

Mr. REILLY: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: And if I believe, you guys had to get acquainted with it by actually
getting in a race car, is that right?

Mr. REILLY: Yeah.

DAVIES: What was that experience like?

Mr. REILLY: We didn't have to, but we did. You know, the truth is these
insurance companies that underwrite movies get really nervous when actors even
like ride a bike. You know, they want you to sign a lot of paperwork that
says, `I won't jet-ski, I won't twirl a pool cue dangerously, I won't'--you
know, like, all these dangerous restrictions.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. REILLY: So they weren't too hot on the idea of us driving at all, but we
wanted to for research and just to even for a moment have that feeling of what
it's like to go that fast and be in a race car. So we went to this driving
school in Charlotte, which 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. Because it's only about a 20-minute orientation,
and next thing you know, I'm going 150 miles an hour by myself in a car. It's
preposterous, like, how do 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 car sick in cars when I'm not driving, period. No
matter who's driving, I get car sick. So I don't know what I was thinking,
but I thought it would be fun. I get in with this professional NASCAR driver,
and you know, he took us up to about 180 miles an hour, and I'm in the
passenger seat, which is, you know, as you're going around the turns, on the
outside of the car, so it felt like my organs were shifting in my body. And
like, my brain was being sucked out of my ear as we were 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?' Giving me the big thumbs-up like,
`Wasn't that awesome? Wasn't that exciting?' 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 the car? John Reilly, let's go! Hop in!' Next
thing you know, I was starting up 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 I've read that you weren't the
most well-behaved youth. I mean--you said you had a, you know, scrapes with
juvenile delinquency, but got into acting, I guess, in high school, right?
And then really, seriously at DePaul University.

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 or something about what I did as a kid. `I don't
remember that.' `Yeah, mom, I got arrested for shooting a BB gun from the
railroad tracks 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, you--I can't
believe you did that.' I'm like, `Well, maybe you blocked it out of your
memory.' But the truth is it was all very harmless stuff.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. REILLY: It wasn't like--you know, it's not to make light of juvenile
delinquency. I know there's a 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. 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 or whatever. You know, there's
all kinds of stuff going on in that neighborhood. 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 these theater games.'
You know, so I went there and I realized, `Wow! These are my people. This is
it.' Because I've always kind of moved around from the burnouts to the jocks,
to the, you know, the academic kind of people. And I finally found my people,
the play people.

DAVIES: My guest is actor John C. Reilly.

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: My guest is actor John C. Reilly. He's appearing with Will Ferrell
in the new comedy, "Talladega Nights." When we left off, we were talking about
his early days as an actor.

You did a lot of work in Chicago. Musicals, everything.

Mr. REILLY: Yeah.

DAVIES: And then, 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. 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
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'm just like completely throw
myself into it like it's, you know, Tennessee Williams or something, reading
the nonsensical lines of these Vietnamese guys. 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 there would 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 odd audition where you didn't
know you were auditioning. Right, it wasn't like you were just doing that.

Mr. REILLY: Yeah, yeah. 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--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
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? Cause 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 know.

DAVIES: Did he give you the other take?

Mr. REILLY: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. No, it 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 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 cameraman 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 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 Man #1: No. You don't get them until you pay.

Mr. MARK WAHLBERG: (As Eddie Adams) In our situation, that doesn't make any
(censored) sense.

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.

Man #1: 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
half-hour ago.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: That's my guest John C. Reilly from the film "Boogie Nights." 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 come. They must have been thinking of that when they
wrote this script of "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," 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 dim-wittedness.

DAVIES: Right.

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 Scorcese on "Gangs of New York."
Tell us about that, what was that like, this movie 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 realized 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 Scorcese 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 Scorcese film, you think, `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 from the film "Boogie

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)


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. He's
now starring as a NASCAR driver with Will Ferrell in the new film, "Talladega

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
where 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"
from 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, what it's about.' I think Rob was hoping to
bring to that character a realism rather than a 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 you go
into these fantastic fantasy sequences, but when you're in the real world part
of that movie, it feels very real, 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 that time.

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's appearing in the new film,
"Talladega Nights."

We'll talk more after a break, this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: If you're just joining me, my guest is actor John C. Reilly. He is
now appearing with Will Ferrell in the new film, "Talladega Nights."

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?

DAVIES: Right.

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--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, 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 of 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 Man #3: 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 Man #4: Excuse me, is there a problem here?

Man #3: Yes. This gentleman says that he paid.

Mr. REILLY: (As Richard) No, no, no. I did pay you.

Man #4: 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?

Man #4: 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.' 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, `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, 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.

DAVIES: Right.

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,
dark soul.

DAVIES: Huh, interesting.

Mr. REILLY: Kind of hapless as well. 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...

Mr. REILLY: It's fun to get the--as I think about it, it's fun as an actor
to go into a place, and I'll think, `Well,' you know, `if I told this
person--if I told this woman at this rental car counter that the car was, you
know--I got hijacked 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, 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 pulling.

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. You did "Streetcar Named Desire" on Broadway.

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.

DAVIES: Right.

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 from 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. 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 play off 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...

DAVIES: Right.

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 is 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 have
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's now starring as a NASCAR driver with Will Ferrell in the new film,
"Talladega Nights."


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Rock historian Ed Ward gives a tribute to Arthur Lee,
leader of rock group Love, who died last week, age 61

Arthur Lee, leader of the rock group Love, died last week in Memphis, where he
was born 61 years ago. Our rock historian, Ed Ward, has this tribute.

(Soundbite from Arthur Lee's song)

Mr. ARTHUR LEE: (Singing) "Can't explain, nothing seems to go right. Can't
explain, nothing seems to go right. Well, now you wake up in the morning...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. ED WARD: Arthur Lee was born in Memphis on March 7, 1945 to a
schoolteacher named Agnes Taylor and a coronet player named Chester Taylor,
who wasn't around a whole lot. Young Arthur was babysat by his aunt, a music
fan, who exposed him to blues and Nat King Cole. When he was six, he and his
mother moved to Los Angeles, where five years later, she married a man named
Clinton Lee. At this point, Arthur was already taking accordion lessons, and
soon he was playing keyboards in Los Angeles clubs, sometimes with his good
friend, Johnny Echols on guitar. The two had several bands which recorded,
most notably, the American Four and Arthur Lee and the LAGs. The latter band
in the style of Booker T and the MGs. When the hippie era hit Los Angeles,
Arthur and Johnny decided to start a band and call it Love. They approached
Bryan MacLean, former roadie for The Byrds, who also played guitar, and he
helped them recruit a bassist and a drummer. With both Arthur and Brian
writing songs, the band had plenty of material and started playing Sunset
Strip clubs where they soon became second only to The Byrds in popularity.
Before long, they also had a record deal. Jac Holtzman of Elektra Records was
determined to start signing rock bands and decided LA was the place to do it.
He saw Love playing at Bido Lito's, a Sunset Strip club, and signed them. For
their first single, he picked a song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David from the
soundtrack of the film "What's New, Pussycat"

(Soundbite from "What's New, Pussycat" soundtrack)

Mr. LEE: (Singing) "I just got out my little red book the minute that you
said goodbye. I thumbed right through my little red book, I wasn't going to
sit and cry, and I went from A to Z. I took out every pretty girl in town.
They danced with me, and as I held them, all I did was talk about you. Hear
your name and I start to cry. There's just no getting over you. Oh, no.
There ain't no..."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: It was a regional hit when it, along with their first album, came
out in April 1966, although it only got to 52 on the national charts. Still,
it gave the band visibility and they started making the commute to San
Francisco to play the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms. Up there, Love was
probably the only LA band not subjected to the scorn San Francisco hippies
felt for that city. Could it have been because Lee and Echols were black?
That fact alone separated them from virtually every other band on the scene.
By the end of 1966, they were ready to do another album and they teased the
fans with a single which many now consider the first punk rock record.

(Soundbite from "7 & 7 Is")

Mr. LEE: (Singing) "When I was a boy, I thought about the time I would be a
man. I'd sit inside and write a letter and pretend that I was in a jam. In
my own room I'd slip my mind in and out of holes. You can thrill me if you
want to, but before I know oop-bip-bip-uh oop-bip-bip-uh. If I don't start

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: "7 & 7 Is" has a break-necking tempo, silly words, and it's
unforgettable oop-bip-bip-uh. It did a bit better, getting a 33 on the charts
in December of 1966, but there was already trouble with the album. They had
about half of it finished, including the song I've always wondered if The
Rolling Stones semi-stole.

(Soundbite from Arthur Lee's song)

Mr. LEE: (Singing) "I thought in my head I think of something to do.
Expressions tell everything, I see one on you. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, my
love, she comes in colors. You can tell her from the clothes she wears. When
I was invisible, I needed no light. You saw right through me, you said. Was
I out of sight? Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, my love..."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Side two of the album which eventually resulted, "Da Capo," is one
long unlistenable jam called "Revelation." And the rumor at the time was that
producer Paul Rothchild let the band take LSD and play for about half an hour
in order to get enough material to finish the record. It sounds like it,
anyway. Drugs were definitely part of Love's problem. Whether they lay
behind the band's sudden refusal to tour, even to San Francisco, is hard to
say. But certainly Arthur was filled with dread about something. And the
resultant paranoia saw him writing eerie songs all through the 1967 summer of
love. The result was the band's masterpiece, "Forever Changes."

(Soundbite from "Forever Changes")

Mr. LEE: (Singing) "What is happening and how have you been? Got a
girlfriend, I'll see you again. And though the music is so loud and then I
fade into the crowds of people standing everywhere. Cross the street down at
the slot affair, and here they always play my songs. And me, I wonder if it's
from the..."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: With a Tijuana Brass like horn section, songs invoking nuclear war
and genocide and titles like "A House Is Not a Motel," "The Good Humor Man, He
Sees Everything Like This," and the song we just heard, "Maybe the People
Would Be the Times Or Between Clark and Hillsdale," "Forever Changes" fit the
gathering dark clouds over hippie culture. Lee's paranoia increased. Early
in their relationship, he'd sent Jac Holtzman to see a band he liked and
although Holtzman didn't like them, he kept going back because Arthur insisted
The Doors were great. Now, Lee was afraid Elektra was ignoring his band in
favor of them, and they might have been. Heroin had found its way into Love's
musicians, and one by one they dropped out. Lee formed another group and
released one more album for Elektra, "For Sale," but it bombed. After that,
there were a couple of solo albums and a long period of silence, broken in
1993 when he hooked up with an LA band called Baby Lemonade. They started
playing his old classics again. Unfortunately in 1996, already on probation
from one offense, he was caught with a gun and sentenced to five years in
prison. This seems to have sobered him up some, and he and Baby Lemonade
undertook a long tour when he got out playing "Forever Changes," often with a
large horn section.

Earlier this year, Lee was diagnosed with leukemia. And although an all-star
benefit in New York raised $50,000 for his treatment, he didn't get better.
He moved back to Memphis where he died. He left behind a body of work so
surpassingly strange that no one's really dared to copy it. And we can still
listen to it and wonder.

DAVIES: Ed Ward lives in Berlin. Arthur Lee died last week from leukemia.
He was 61.


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.

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