When I visited the New Orleans set of Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, I wasn’t too sure about the whole endeavor. My trepidations were backed up when John C Reilly showed up for his interview with the assembled press with puffy orange hair and scars on his cheeks. What the hell was up with this movie?

Having now seen the film at Fantastic Fest I can say that my fears were misplaced. Director Paul Weitz has delivered a really nice teen-oriented film that manages to be edgy and funny and dark, and a lot of that comes from Reilly playing Crepsley, a vampire who takes on young Darren Shan as his assistant (thus the title). Reilly’s incredibly acerbic and dry, giving a performance that really brings the film to another level for the adults in the audience.

So now I look back at this interview (where Reilly acted out some of his vampire karate moves and looked like Chest Rockwell from Boogie Nights) and realize I misjudged this one from the start.

A bit of background: The day we arrived on set was also Willem Dafoe’s first day on set. He plays a vampire associate of Crepsley.

This is your first day working with Willem Dafoe working? 
What’s it like acting opposite him? Have you worked with him before?


I’ve
never worked with him before, but we know each other just seeing each
other around New York City.  That’s one of the great pleasures of
playing this part, all of the people who have come through. Ken
Watanabe and Selma Hayek and Ray Stevenson and Willem. It’s been a lot
of fun.



What’s your approach to being a vampire?  Especially with so many
people coming before you?  Bela Lugosi, Tom Cruise, Willem Dafoe…


Yeah,
there’s some competition right here. Y’know, it’s not a traditional
vampire movie because it’s so dictated by the rules of the world in the
book. So, I may have taken a different take if I had total creative
license, but since I felt we should try to honor what Darren Shan
created in the books, I sort of have the parameters of the character
already sketched out for me. 


Any favorite vampire movies?

Yeah,
yeah. I actually really like the one Willem did [
Shadow of the Vampire]. It’s not actually a
vampire movie, well I guess it is kind of a vampire movie because he is
a vampire in it, but there was a funny twist to it that nobody realizes
he’s really a vampire. I thought he did a great job as the original
Nosferatu. 


Can you talk about coming up with the look for the character?

Again
a lot of it was dictated by the book.  It says he has a scar on his
face and red orange hair.  He has pointy nails.  I guess the most
collaboration I had on the character was the costume.  The
different designers and I were talking [and it] was all based on this idea that
if you were 220-years-old, what would your world view be?  What would
you wear? Would you be wearing totally contemporary clothes or would
you find a few favorites and just stuck with that. And then if you had
been around that long what matters to you at that point? And what point
of human existence do you just find amusing? How much are you still
involved in? That’s really why I took this character and why I took
this part in this movie.  As soon as I started thinking about the
character’s point of view like how much stuff he’s gone through and
what that would do to you, how cynical it would make you and how wise
it would make you and how self-destructive it would make you – or not – these were all really interesting things to play with in the back of
the character’s mind.


What’s your source material?  Do you just go with the script or did you read the book too?

You know,
I’ve worked in movies in the past that are based on books and I usually
the later way where I go, ‘We’re shooting the script, not the book.’ 
But I was a big Tolkien fan when I was a kid and I played
Dungeons & Dragons, so I know how important the screen adaptation
of those were when I was a kid. I’m starting book 12 right now.  The
movie is only based on the first four books, but I wanted to read all
of them so I had a sense of what readers of these books were going to
be bringing when they come to see it. Their expectations are less a
concern about that because Paul’s job was to emphasize those books, but
I found them a great resource and I really found myself getting into
them.  There are a lot of different
directions he goes in the books, but yeah, I’m really enjoying it.


And
in terms of discovering the character and determining aspects of the
character I have my own personal things I’d like to bring to it and
Paul has his own ideas that he would like to see.  But there is this
great bridge we have in the books. We’re very far apart in our ideas
because the book says this, so you move slightly this way and I’ll
move slightly this way and then we’ll be close to what’s true in the
books.  So anyway, the books were a strong influence, but by no means
are we going by the letter of the book.  That’s something of all the
people involved creatively in the movie, I would say I was the most
attentive too, because Paul went through this process a long time ago
as he was writing the script, but for me, each moment, each decision
that we made I was the one going, ‘Well, you know, in the books they say
this character does it this way. So, if we’re going to change it, let’s
change it consciously.  Let’s not make mistakes.’   If we are gonna
change what’s written in the books let’s do it with a full
understanding o what we’ve originally written. 


But I think these kids
are really going to like it a lot. I know there has been a lot of
speculation on the internet from a lot of sources and kids worry ‘Oh,
no, are they going to ruin the books’ and they go, ‘Oh no!’ But I think
they are going to be really happy. Paul has gone to great lengths to
make the movie very realistic in terms of what young people are going
through in these years of their life.  And he didn’t shy away from
darkness.  Even though it’s not R-rated, he didn’t shy away from the
darker aspects of what the kids in the story are attracted too. I mean,
that’s what brings them to the Cirque in the first place.  They do
something to disobey their parents and sneak out and go to this place
and meet these sort of morally ambiguous people and that’s
been one of the great thrills to me, to play somebody’s mentor. 


My
best friend is much older than me and I’ve had a really rich
relationship with him over the years. And I recognized a lot of that in
this character. That mentor-pupil sort of relationship.  And that was
something Paul really thought was important in the film too in that a
mentor will let you do things and make mistakes that a parent would
never let you do. A parent is just always concerned for your safety and
would never want to let you do anything to get hurt, but a mentor is a
little more, ‘Yeah, you can try it if you want. It’s gonna hurt, but go
ahead.’ [laughs]  That’s one of the really cool things that teenagers
especially love about the books. I mean, some of it is very
transparent, very kind of obvious metaphors for coming of age and stuff
like that.  I thought Darren Chow had been very astute about realizing
socially what’s important to young adults. Things they really notice in
their relationships about loyalty and betrayal and it’s blown up on
this bigger than life scenario in this movie, but in a life of a
teenager going through school, it might be ‘You took something from my
locker and I know you did it!’  It’s a smaller matter, but feels the
same. 


I think it’s really cool how even though he’s creating this
bigger than life fantasy world, it’s just still feels really real. And
I was going to say, one of the coolest things that I think Paul kept in
terms of the tone of the movie, was this great thing in the books and I
think it’s in the first book, Steve gets bit by a spider and might die
and the family is very worried what’s going on with Steve, he’s in a
coma and Darren says to his father, ‘Is Steve gonna die?’  And then
Darren Shan writes ‘My dad told me he was very sick and he could die
which I really appreciated because grown ups are always telling me
things are going to be OK, but I really liked that my dad told me he
could die even though it scared the hell out of me and was sad. I
really appreciated him telling me the truth.’ That’s another through
line in the story; bad things happen to characters.  It’s not just all
like ‘You’ve become Superman, hooray!  You have no problems!’ [laughs]
Every action in the movie has a consequence and that’s why I really
like this conception of the vampire character.  He’s not immortal.  He
won’t live forever.  He just ages more slowly. Somehow, it’s fantastic
enough to be interesting, but it’s real enough to be relateable. 


Were you involved much in the casting of the role of Darren? That seems like such a key to your own character.

No,
not at all. That was something Paul had been [working on].  It takes a
long time to find kids at least that’s what people say.  It’s always a
little harder, because by definition they haven’t done much work yet.
Yeah, I had already met Chris and Josh .  He hadn’t offered it to them
yet, but he had a good feeling.


What kind of action did you get to do in the battle?

Again,
it’s that kind of thing with these fantastical elements.  We’re super
strong and we can leap from the floor of a theater on to a balcony.  We
are very strong and we have these razor sharp nails, but if we get hit
and we fall on the ground it hurts.  [This other character and I,] we
have this fight and it’s almost like two birds battling in mid air and
all the things that are unique about us are the things we highlight in
the fight.  We stab each other with our hands.  We start out with
knives, but we start using our hands literally like blades.  Yeah, the
action in this movie is gonna be really cool. That’s one thing you see
here is the friendly fantasy vibe of the camp, but the violence in the
movie is really [intense]. You’ll be shocked.