A few days ago I had the pleasure of sharing a phone call with Mr. John C. Reilly, the consistently funny star of Cyrus, which I loved and Devin favorably reviewed at Sundance. While the call was a rather crowded group phoner (with more than a few truly stupid questions asked), John kept his charm and energy up, giving us plenty of interesting insight into the unique process that is a Duplass Brothers shoot. The two lead questions are my own, and I’ve included his answers to all but the most insipid of the other questions.

I also participated in a similar conversation with the directors of Cyrus, Jay and Mark Duplass, so expect that to run soon.

Enjoy, and do your best to catch Cyrus as it platforms it’s way to more and more theaters right now. If it hasn’t reached your town yet, amuse yourself in the meantime with the rather clever viral promotion site.

——————————

On how the filming was structured to allow for improving while still meeting the goals of the script…

Well, the directors put that in our hands and we all have the script that was the kind of blueprint to what were doing. The story didn’t change all that much from the script, but they left it up to us to find our way, however that scene was going to happen. In the back of all of our minds we know what the script said, you know, and then we’d start shooting and improvising, and somehow it worked out. We’d always end up pretty much where we needed to be by the end of the day.

On the enormous amount of extra footage resulting from the multiple-take improv, and if there were any particularly interesting deviations…  

Well, it’s not going to make it in the movie at this point, but maybe it’ll make it on the DVD. You know the truth is, when I improvise, most of the time I don’t even remember right afterwards what I said. A lot of times a director will come up to me and say “Oh that was so funny when you said such and such,” and I just look at them like “I don’t… remember at all…” You go to this strange place, opening up your stream of consciousness and stuff just comes tumbling out and some of it you remember and some of it just goes by. I think any of the stuff that’s in the movie is stuff that worked best, so any of the improv’s where the scene went another way you probably won’t ever see- it doesn’t tell the story these guys wanted to tell. I don’t know, I’d be curious to see myself just to remember what happened…



On the chemistry between he and Jonah Hill…

Well actually Jonah and I had worked on a movie together called Walk Hard, and so we basically improvised almost entirely in that movie –he played the ghost of my dead brother– so we knew each other socially a little bit through some other people and we were pretty friendly. But, it’s not something we really worked on it was just something we we both have fun doing, improvising, messing with each other and goofing around.

The dating advice he’d give to someone…

It’s been about 20 years since I’ve been in the dating world, I don’t know. I’m a big fan of manners, being polite. Mostly the most important thing is, even guys, is what they used to tell women– “don’t talk about yourself, just listen.” I think thats true for both sexes actually, really listen to what the person’s saying. I wish I had a real secret weapon, Don Juan technique but listening is the most important thing.

On if he finds improvisation liberating or constricting…

Well it’s both. It’s definitely both. It’s a challenge because you don’t have anything to hide behind, you have to really be honest and try to be there in the moment. I don’t know whether I prefer… I’m happy that I’m able to do it when a director asks me to, but it’s awfully nice to have a well-written script to work with too. Not that this script wasn’t well written, these guys just didn’t want to use it. They were more interested in us putting it in our own words. It’s also very liberating to do because you’re not trying to take someone else’s words and make them work you know, you’re able to kind of freestyle and if you’re really being honest it sounds like dialogue written for you because it is. It’s written by you.

On developing chemistry with the cast…

I think the way you usually work is to get to know people a little bit without actually talking about the script or going over the lines. Just spending a little bit of time with people, especially when your characters are supposed to know each other really well, it’s important to have a little bit of comfort level there. Luckily for me on this movie, Catherine Keener is an old friend of mine so her playing my ex-wife, who’s my best friend in the movie, worked really well because she and I already have a long friendship together and it comes across in the movie. And Marissa and I barely knew each other, I think we met once like two days before we started shooting, and even then it was very brief like “Hi, how are you? See you in a couple days…” but that works too because then as we got to know each other better you see it happen on camera. We didn’t really have to fake those awkward initial moments, it was really Marissa and I getting to know each other.

On deciding to take the role…

I had heard of these guys through film festivals –my wife is an independent film producer and met them, and saw The Puffy Chair. She came back to me and said “Oh you have to meet these guys, they’re really cool. You’ll love this movie.” And she brought me a copy of the movie, and you can tell from watching The Puffy Chair they like to work in a really loose style. And they were fans of mine and I sent word back to them “Yeah, let’s find something to do” and then they went off and wrote this script and when we met they said “Well here it is, you said you wanted to work together. Here’s the script we wrote with you in mind.” It just kinda fell into place. Basically I wanted to work with Mark and Jay because of the way they like to work, and then when I read the script I thought it was a really cool, funny, charming story.

On working with Marissa Tomei, and anything he found surprising about her…

I knew that she was a great actress and, you know, that she was really pretty… but she’s really down to earth, I’ll say that. I didn’t know she was a Brooklyn girl and, she surprised me in how easily she hung with all the improv stuff. She didn’t have much experience doing that in the past, but she was right in there with me and Jonah.

His favorite scene to film…

My favorite scene was probably the first scene at the dinner table, when I kind of invite myself over to their house and we all sit down to get to know each other. It was really the first time that Jonah and Marissa and I were all in the same room together with cameras rolling, and all the characters kind of state their point of view in a way. That was a lot of fun improvising, and when Jonah says the legendary line “Did you fuck my Mom?” and my response is also pretty hardcore which is “…not gonna lie to you, your Mom and I did have sex…” That was just a really uncomfortable and funny and revealing kind of scene.

On the surprises of working with the Duplass Brothers…

The most surprising thing was how brave they were about not knowing what they were doing everyday. They wrote a great a script and put a lot of care into the pre-production of the movie, and finding locations and stuff, and then we got there a lot of days and they’d be like, “Lets just find it. You guys the plot of the movie could even change today…” We were shooting in order. I was also surprised with how close Mark and Jar work I’ve worked with duos before and usually one does one aspect of the directing, and the other person picks up the rest, but these guys- they’re both really involved in every aspect of the directing of the movie, which was really cool. I don’t think I had a single conversation with either of them alone during the making of the movie.

On the future of The Duplass Brothers style, and if it will take over the mainstream…

If the film’s successful there will be [more films like it]. I definitely think people are looking for more truthful stories. Theres a lot of bigger than life, artificial… I mean, I love a good popcorn movie, a special effects movie, but there’s a place for really honest storytelling and I think these guys are the next in a long line of people… I don’t think this style ever really went away. There’s been a lot of different films along the years with a similar philosophy to them. So hopefully it has a future.

On any rehearsal process they went through…

No, we didn’t rehearse at all on this movie. Even if there was.. Some of the scenes, usually what you might do would be a blocking rehearsal to get a sense of where the camera’s going on, but even in those situations they’d be like, “lets shoot the rehearsal.” They didn’t want to miss those first moments of honesty when you’re reacting to what you’re seeing and hearing… those were the moments these guys were after, so not only did we not rehearse, we didn’t even really talk about the scenes amongst ourselves- the actors. I might talk about the scene with the directors one-on-one, but we didn’t have any big conversations with everybody. They really wanted to see what would happen when the cameras came on.

On his methods of preparation…

I think every actor prepares in a different way, and everyone defines their own way to a character and how to be connected to a character. I just, if theres something about the character that I don’t know, a special skill or some aspect of their life that i’m unfamiliar with, then I’ll try to study up on that. But in this case I didn’t really have to do that. I’ve been in a lot of editing rooms over the years, so I knew what an editors life was like, the guy was close to my age…

On where he drew from for the character…

A lot of the inspiration for the character came from my own life experience. A lot of my reactions to things in the movie are similar to the way I might react in life. Working in this way, the only way to be prepared was to be ready to be unprepared. They’d go in and just be like, “It’s alright if you don’t know what you’re gonna do today.” Thats what they want. A lot of days it’s an unsettling feeling showing up to work, it’s like one of those dreams where you show up in your underwear. That’s what it felt like somedays, but I’m really glad that they forced us all to work in that way, because it makes for an original movie.

On working with Jonah Hill and (retardedly asked) how he ranked against Will Ferell and Jack Black…

Rank it? Like a numerical ranking? I think Jonah’s brilliant. Jonah’s younger than those guys you mentioned, but definitely really really smart and a great actor. I think even more than Will or Jack –they’re comfort zone is in comedy– and Jonah has been allowed to do comedic things so far, but as you can see in this movie, he’s very comfortable doing dramatic scenes as well. So if he wanted to continue in that direction, he could do it. He’s also really smart in the sense of developing things and taking ownership of his career in a way thats really going to serve him well.

On any Cyrus-type people he’s encountered in his life…

I never really dated someone with a kid. I’ve watched friends who have children and are divorced go through the process of dating, and watched their kids just destroy… in some ways working with a 21-year-old is easier because you can kind of negotiate with the person, but dealing with a 10-year-old… That can be a lot tougher because they’re coming from an instinctual place, dealing with a parental threat, so they just go for the jugular. Yeah, I guess I’ve met people that are manipulative in the way he is, but I’ve got a pretty good bullshit detector and can kind of sense when someones not being genuine with me, so I tend to stay away from people like that, if I can.

Cyrus vs. Twilight..?

Well you know, I think the truth is every film has its audience, and I haven’t seen the new Twilight movie, but if that’s your cup of tea by all means go. I’m not gonna say to someone who’s a big fan of Twilight you should see Cyrus instead. They’re two different kind of movies. If you’re looking for something thats a little more.. I think I’m just going to get in trouble comparing the two movies. I’m just gonna say, luckily there’s a choice out there this weekend. A lot of time you go to theater and you’re like “monsters from space” or some kind of phony romance thing, and this is for people who are looking for something a little close to their own lives than a movie about supernatural creatures or whatever. So if you’re into escaping this weekend then I’d say Twilight would be a great movie to see, but if you’re looking to see something that might be more related to your own life, then maybe Cyrus is the choice.

On how he would personally handle a Cyrus-like conflict…

I would try to do it in the way I do in the movie- just be really upfront and honest, and try to negotiate with the person. I think whenever you get yourself into a situation where you’re pulling dirty tricks on somebody, or stabbing people in the back, all it does is make you really paranoid and unable to really be genuine yourself. So I think the best way to deal with people that have a problem with you is to be as upfront and honest as you can be and call it out, which is what my guy does. Unfortunately Jonah’s characters is not in a place of being ready to be honest and wants to get rid of me, but he comes around, kind of…

On what he took away from the experience of filming Cyrus

I took away from this movie that being totally honest on camera can pay off, I guess. The truth is, a lot of days on this movie were very uncomfortable –not knowing what was going on, trying to figure out things on the fly, writing dialogue on your feet– so there were a lot of days where I was despairing over if we were getting a good movie in the can or not. So the biggest lesson I took away from the movie was that it was okay- just because you’re uncomfortable doesn’t mean things aren’t going well. You have to hang with it and keep the faith and keep trying and try to continue to do your best, even if you feel like you’re not delivering on some days.



DISCUSS this on the CHUD Message Board