The stars of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story recently made their way to the offices of Columbia Pictures in Manhattan and did some roundtable interviews about the film. The highlight of the day was probably John C. Reilly comparing the film's money -- Willie the Chimp -- to Elvis's pet chimp Scatter and pointing out that Scatter ended up freezing to death in an outdoor cage while the Dewey Cox monkey was given a good home in Northern California after his usefulness came to an end. Other than that, it was pretty much what you might expect -- lots of questions about the life and times of Dewey Cox, the occasional question about the strike and how it's affecting actors, and assorted other tidbits. Here are some samples from the roundtables of John C. Reilly and Jenna Fischer.
John C. Reilly
You have to navigate a lot of different musical styles in this film.
Yeah, it really suited me well, I thought. As an actor I kind of think of myself as a chameleon, you know? Not really someone who plays my own personality. I'm not even really sure what my own personality is. I'm sort of a collection of the characters I've played. So playing all these different musical styles was great for me because rather than having to pick one thing that I was gonna specialize in, I could just go with the times like Dewey does. That was one of the things, as we kind of discover the character -- we recorded the music six months before we made the movie and we recorded something like 40 original songs. After we did a couple of songs we were trying to figure out, as we go from the 50s to the 60s, how is this guy gonna change with the times? Who is he? And I said to Jake that we should just decide what the guy's nickname is, because once we have the nickname then it gives us a guide to where to go with the music. So we kept recording music and it became apparent, the guy's nickname is The Chameleon or The Changeling or The Shape-Shifter. Dewey's almost like this Forrest Gump-like character -- he transforms with the times
How did you decide on what music to include?
Well, it was a few different things. The songs needed to be funny but they also needed to be really listenable, because there's so much music in the movie. We didn't want it to be just silly joke songs that would be tough to listen to, you know? Also, the musicians involved had a lot of pride on the line. They weren't going to just make some thing that sounds stupid. So yeah, we were trying to make stuff sound good and be funny but also be specific to the character, and that's why it was really helpful to have Jake Kasdan, the director, there in the recording studio every day when we were making this music. Sometimes we'd be trying to evoke a certain artist and other times and other times we were just trying to make the song fit into a time period and other times we were just trying to have the song reflect what the character was going through at a different point in the movie.
Can you talk about some of the ethnic stereotypes that the movie tries to poke fun at?
Well, it was funny -- I've done over 40 movies so I've been involved in the filmmaking world a long time and a lot of people working on the movie all thought 'man, there are just so many things that we see over and over in these kind of movies, and wouldn't it be fun to point that out?' You know, just have a little bit of fun with it. So yeah, definitely, although, that said, I had to stand up there on that stage in Leroy's blues club and all of a sudden start talking in this African-American idiom and it took a little explaining before. I had to say 'folks, you know me, you know what we're trying to do here' and I had to point out that this is kind of ridiculous, it's how people are portrayed often times in movies, especially minorities. But everyone was great sports, as you can see, the people involved in all those dances were just incredible. It was a lot of fun -- all the musical scenes were really fun. It was a little nerve-wracking for me to have to stand up there and perform. In most cases I'm singing to a track I recorded earlier, but I'm still singing out and performing and moving around and dancing and playing instruments. There was a lot of pressure there with those crowds in front of us, but it was a really supportive, cool group of people, each time I had a new audience and I had many new audiences.
How about the scene with the naked roadie, where we actually see his penis?
That was allright, you know, it's nothing I haven't seen before. You're talking about the post-orgy scene in the motel room when I've tried marijuana for the first time recently and I become completely debauched, in that reefer madness kind of way. I'm just surrounded by naked people and it doesn't even phase me, I've become so decadent. It doesn't even phase me that I'm surrounded by naked men and women. That was the joke, that it was no big deal to me. I wasn't freaked out by it and Tyler, who was the nude guy in the scene, he wasn't freaked out about it. He wasn't ashamed of his body, he was a great sport about it. It all felt pretty normal when we were doing it. It felt a little absurd, you know, but we got used to it. You don't realize how crazy something is until you show it to people who don't know what's gonna happen next. So that's been one of the great joys of this film, watching that get unveiled in the movie and watching people just freak out and laugh. We had to experiment with the amount of time you could show that particular shot you're talking about. Judd Apatow's first inclination was 'have it stay there forever -- for like a minute and a half.' But we started to lose some people, or it became too distracting.
Did you get along well with the chimpanzee?
Yeah, yeah we did. We had this great chimp, his name is Willie. In the movie, his name is Miles but his real name is Willie. They got him from this great chimp rescue place up in Northern California, where they take in chimps from zoos and different places. Yeah, we hit it off. It's one of those things where as a kid I always wanted a chimpanzee. For some reason, I had this idea in my head that my parents would let me have one and I would turn my room into a habitat for the chimp. Of course, that never happened. Then I was reading a book about Elvis when I was preparing for the movie and I saw that Elvis had a chimp named Scatter, who they used to like, give alcohol to. He was a whole member of the entourage. But he actually had kind of a sad end, old Scatter. But yeah, I hit it off big-time with Willie the chimp and yeah, then we had to do the scene where I get upset with him and yell at him. He didn't quite know what to make of that. He would look at me like, the first time I did it, like 'What's wrong?' This look in his eyes, and when you look into a chimp's eyes it's crazy how human their expressions can be. But I made it up to him. I explained it to him and by the end of it we left on very good terms.
So what actually happened to Elvis's chimp?
Scatter? I read in a book that he died outside in a cage. He got aggressive as he got older and the housekeepers didn't know how to deal with him and I think he got left outside in a cage and he perished in the frost one night. That's what I read in this one book, I'm not sure if it's true or not. But luckily our chimp is very well taken care of and lives with some really loving people up there in Northern California.
How was this experience different from Blades of Glory?
Blades of Glory was a little more structured and there were a lot of special effects in Blades of Glory so it was very different kind of shoot. You know, the ice skating sequences and everything, it was very different. This movie felt more like something me and a bunch of my pals were making in my garage. Blades of Glory felt like a big, $100 million movie.
What did you do to prepare for your role as Darlene?
What I did was I read the book Elvis & Me by Priscilla Presley, cause I felt like my character was sort of like ... she was kind of in her own way, in charge of the Dewey Cox empire and I wanted her to have that attitude. And Priscilla wrote this really great -- I love how I called her Priscilla, like she and I are old friends, my friend Priscilla, I read her book, never met her -- but Priscilla Presley wrote this book and it was a very candid account of what it was like to be married to Elvis Presley and sort of her evolution from being a very young girl when they met to everything that happened when he was on the road to his death, and she runs Graceland. That was my real inspiration for the role more than anything else. We didn't want to watch too much of the stuff that we were sending up because we didn't want to copy anything directly. We wanted it to be fresh and just sort of like make a joke of the whole genre and not any one thing in particular.
What's going on with The Office, as far as the writer's strike goes?
I'm contractually obligated to the show, so I'm in a holding pattern. I can't work on anything besides The Office right now and The Office has shut down production. We don't have any scripts. We have to wait for the strike to end. Unfortunately, all of Hollywood is kind of in a holding pattern. Everyone is really hesitant to greenlight films and I think it's a little bit of a scary time right now.
Do you have anything in common with Darlene?
Gosh, I think I can be feisty in an argument. I think I'm one to stand my ground. I think the scene where she's telling Dewey that he needs to get off drugs and she lays down the law and says 'this is a deal breaker,' you know, I'm that kind of woman. I have my things that are a deal breaker and I'll really take a stand for them. In that moment, she really takes a stand but in other ways she completely submits her life to Dewey's life and I'm not sure that I have that in common with her.
What do you think makes Dewey Cox so popular?
He has the charisma of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash and Brian Williams and Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan and The Beatles, all wrapped up into one guy. He's the most charismatic person to ever walk the Earth. And the most talented. And the sexiest. I think that's the secret to his success. He's a God, walking on Earth. Other than that, he's a good dresser.
Are you writing anything for Judd Apatow? Do you want to write or direct stuff?
I'll never write or direct another film again, I just want to do the acting, but I am developing a movie with a writer, but again, it's kind of like we just have to wait for the strike to be over, but it's a great little script called The Giant Mechanical Man. It's an ensemble comedy. Yeah, maybe I should hand it over to my new friend Judd and see what he thinks.
What was your favorite look, out of all of Darlene's looks?
My favorite was the protest era. I loved all the dresses, the flowy dresses and the hair. It's such a short bit but I loved being up on stage and playing the tambourine. I loved sitting next to him during the press conference and sort of knowingly nod as he tells his silly jokes. I love all that kind of 'stand by your' man scenes, I love all the outfits that came with that protest era. And I really liked the outfit that I wore when we go to India to see The Beatles.