John C. Reilly has had an eclectic 2011. This past summer he starred in the indie comedy 'Terri' -- which hits DVD on Tuesday -- as Mr. Fitzgerald, the well-meaning guidance counselor of an obese, awkward 15-year-old. Then coming up in December, he stars in 'Carnage,' the adaptation of Yasmina Reza's Broadway hit from director Roman Polanski, opposite Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet as two sets of bickering parents. Before long he'll also appear in the big-screen debut of Adult Swim cult comedians Tim and Eric. Just a few things.
Despite the differing subject matter, each movie was made outside the Hollywood system. For an Oscar-nominated star who has worked with everyone from Martin Scorsese to Will Ferrell, Reilly could rest on his laurels making studio tentpoles, but he still ventures into the world of indie cinema to find exciting projects.
Moviefone spoke with Reilly about all three productions, the indie movie landmarks that inspired him as a teenager and why indie young audiences still need movies not made by Hollywood.
What was your perspective on the first day of 'Carnage,' with that cast and Polanski?
It was pretty nerve-wracking. We rehearsed for two weeks before we started shooting. The first couple of days were like, "Oh my god, I'm sitting across from Roman Polanski! Jodi Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz," it's as surreal as it gets. Think of your first day of school at a school you've never been before times a million, you know?
That's one of the difficult things of being an actor that I'm still not used to. You have to go, you have to show up at these places where you know nobody, and sometimes with really impressive, high stakes people like Roman Polanski. You just have to be confident enough in yourself, "I belong here! I belong in this room, little John Reilly from the southside of Chicago belongs in a room with Jodi Foster and Kate Winslet and Roman Polanski." A friend of mine in acting school said, "Fake it 'til you make it."
Oh, I've heard that expression.
It's great advice; just pretend like you belong there and maybe you'll rise to the occasion. Everyone had great senses of humor and were really flexible and adaptable to the situation. It would've been really hard to make that movie if there was one diva in the bunch. [Laughs] It would've been really hard between the translation from French, we're in Paris shooting the movie, Kate's English, Christoph is German, Jodi and I are American and Roman's Polish. There had to be a lot of discussion how to tell an American story and have it be accurate. It was a model of cooperation.
Now what is happening with the Tim and Eric movie?
It's already done. It's called 'Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie' and it takes place in an abandoned mall, a dead mall. Tim and Eric need to make a billion dollars. My character's called Taquito. I've been deliberately vague about it.
What do you find easier, comedy or drama?
Well, in some ways, comedy is easier in that it's just a more joyful day at work. The whole point is to just have fun, but that said, it's pretty demanding. It's either funny or it's not, and when it's not funny there's no getting around that.
As an actor, do you remember the movie or a moment in indie film that caught your attention and made you realize this is a really powerful, different route?
In high school and in college, the world of indie film as we know it now came into being. I think before that it was just "commercial movies" and "not-as-commercial movies." Studios used to make movies in the 70s, that we would think are "arthouse". And then it got really commercial in the 80s and there was room for another voice.
I remember seeing a movie called 'Diva.' I remember seeing a movie called 'Purple Sky,' and then the big one was 'Stranger Than Paradise.' When Jim Jarmusch's films started coming out, I was like, "Whoah!" Even 'Rocky Horror Picture Show,' in it's own way, even though it was a campy event thing. You started to get the sense like "oh, there's more than just the mainstream stuff that Hollywood is feeding us." But 'Stranger Than Paradise' and 'Down by Law,' Jarmusch's films -- he was really standing alone at that point.
I think 'Terri' is a movie for teens.
Well, it is rated R.
But it's nothing teens haven't heard. Looking at that indie versus commercial dichotomy, how do you see 'Terri' -- which is a very personal look into young life -- surviving against these very big, loud popcorn movies that are just trying to grab teenagers' attention?
Hopefully it'll find people that are looking for an alternative to that. In the summer of 1984 when 'Stranger Than Paradise' came out, I was looking for something that didn't have some agenda. I think there's a lot of pressure among more corporate-made movies to push a certain socially acceptable agenda, for a lack of a better word.
I think one of the greatest assets this movie has is the patience and empathy to really take it's time to show these people as they really are, not as what we would like them to be or not held up to be ideals of what they want one another to be. It's just an honest look at their lives. As sad as it may sound, that's somewhat of a radical thing to do right now. It's difficult to get movies like that made, but I think that's just an eternal need for audiences and people to see accurate depictions of what it feels like to be alive. That whole thing.
What was your teenage experience like?
I come from a pretty working class Irish-American neighborhood in Chicago. I went to a public school, for grammar school and got involved in plays pretty early on at the local park by my house, which was an odd thing. Not many people did that. But for whatever reason I was drawn to this world of make-believe. A friend of mine told me about it and we went over there together and I was like, "This is my people! This is what I like doing."
I was a mischievous kid and had a very active imagination so having that place where it was encouraged was really great for me. Then I went to a boy's Catholic high school and that was a big shock. It's almost like being thrown into the army all of a sudden. All these guys and ties and dress clothes and brothers -- it was taught by the Christian brothers. But I kept doing plays throughout high school. Not only did I do them at my school but I did them at the Girls Catholic High Schools, so I was pretty busy. I was a solid C student, maybe C+? I was good at English and Creative Writing, but the stuff I had no interest in I would just barely pass, like Algebra. I was a founding member of the Dungeons and Dragons club at my high school. [Laughs] I was in chorus, I was in swing choir. I was an outcast but I was an outcast among a group of outcasts.
Did you have Mr. Fitzgerald-like influences growing up?
I had a guidance counselor in high school; I didn't talk to him that often but it was very comforting I remember, knowing he was there in case things ever got really bad. I could go and talk to this person who wasn't my parent, it was some third category. I had different mentors along the way, like all those people who were involved in all of those things, whether it was community theater or chorus... or even the Dungeons and Dragons club. Each one of them had some kind of adult, who was showing us it was okay to be into those things.
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