John C. Reilly Interview for Wreck-It Ralph
Finding His Inner Good Guy
November 2, 2012
Interview by: Dan Deevy
DanDeevy@thecinemasource.com

Written by: Rocco Passafuime
RoccoPassafuime@thecinemasource.com


John C. Reilly is equally adapt at comedies like Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox, and Step Brothers and dramas like Gangs Of New York, Chicago, which garnered him a Best Supporting Oscar nomination, and The Hours. Now Reilly takes his talents to the animated realm as the titular character in the Disney film Wreck-It Ralph.

It was mentioned that this wasn’t the first time John has done voiceover work.

“Not quite like this, not at the scale of this, but yeah, I was in a movie called Nine, that was kind of a post-apocalyptic story for like older audiences,” he recalls, “Actually, Jack Black and once recorded a whole animated movie on spec.”

“They were just trying to get the money together.” Reilly adds, “And all the characters were designed and everything, and the script was written, but yeah, and then it went nowhere. But it’s still recorded out there somewhere.”

Reilly talks about how he was involved with the film early on and work with the animation team.

“[Director] Rich Moore was really nice that way,” Reilly says, “He really included me in a collaborative way as a director, got me to come into story meetings and you know, solicited my ideas. Not that any of them are used, no, some of them, some of them were. And he really encouraged me to take a personal approach with the character and improvise a lot.”

“And I encouraged him to have the other actors in the recording studio, which I guess is not such a common thing with animated movie,” he continues, “Usually you record separately and then they splice it all together. But I thought, with someone like Sarah Silverman or Jack McBrayer or Jane Lynch, like those guys are really nimble improvisers and very witty people so we’d be able to throw some stuff back and forth, and yeah, definitely.”

Reilly was asked how he managed to maintain the balance of keeping the film engaging and funny for adults while appealing to children at the same time.

“It wasn’t really my balance to maintain,” he says, “But I don’t know, I think you’d be surprised at what kids understand. I mean, I brought a bunch of kids to the movie the other night and they saw that meeting, which I was concerned actually, when I saw that in the script, because it wasn’t in the original script, I thought, Oh, gosh, like, do we really want to go to this 12 Step place with kids? Isn’t that like a little bit, you know, adult for kids?”

“And they’re like, ‘No, no, it’ll work. It’ll be great.,’” John adds, “And the kids see that almost like counsel circle at school where we sit around and my wife pointed out something to me this morning, she’s like, “It’s so funny when Ralph goes to the party, he’s not invited, and then he comes in and then he makes a mess of it, like as soon as he walks in.’ And she said, like, “Little kids can really relate to that, because it’s like you’re trying hard not to break something and then you make a mistake, or you lose your temper and you’re just trying to…’ You know, it’s such a precarious balance as a kid, keeping yourself in control and being able to handle things or not mess stuff up, and then the regret of messing stuff up, and I don’t know, it seems to be working for all audiences, which I’m sure the marketing department is just over the moon about.”

Wreck-It Ralph tells the story of the title character, a villain of a 1982 video arcade game called Fix-It Felix Jr. who becomes bored with his job, so he escapes from his game world to become a hero in other ones, unintentionally causing chaos to the natural order of things. John talks about what made him want to do the film.

“The script?” Reilly replies, “I don’t know, it was just the chance – I mean, let’s face it, it’s not like every day someone’s coming to me, saying, ‘Oh, do you want to play the lead in a Disney animated film?’ You know? So just the pedigree of the studio and Rich’s work, he did The Simpsons and he worked on Futurama, like I knew he was a really talented guy. Phil Johnston, who wrote the script, he and I had just worked together on Cedar Rapids, and he’s another Midwestern guy like me, so I knew, like, we were going to be able to work together in a great way. It took me a little while to sign on. Even having said all that, it took me a little while to sign on, because I wanted to make sure I was going to really be able to believe in the project, and be able to really put my heart into it, instead of just kind of plugging in, like a hired hand kind of thing,. I’ve been offered a lot of animation in the past and it just seemed really kind of like a boring day at work, actually. You go in, a lot of times they don’t even give you the whole script, they’re like, ‘Yeah, just read this page. Don’t worry.’ Like ‘Faster,’ ‘Slower,’ ‘Okay, now a funny one.’ And then you go home and all the creative part is done without you there. And you don’t get to meet the other actors, and all this stuff, so I passed on a lot of stuff over the years.”

“I mean, this all began with just sitting down at lunch with Rich Moore,” he continues, “It wasn’t like, walk into the giant magician hat building or anything. It was like, just, no, go to some restaurant and sit down and meet this really sweet guy who seemed really generous and open and kind. And he said, ‘Look, yeah, there’s a way that people make these movies, but we can make this movie however we want to make it. And I want you to give as much as you want to give. And I want to make the situation work for you, because the reason I see you as this guy, because I love your work already and I want you to be able to work in the way you want to work.’ So I think at the end of the day, everyone really put a lot of their heart into the movie. Disney has this reputation for being this giant monolithic corporation that churns out, you know, market-driven entertainment, and I think what we’re seeing is like the beginning of a new age for the studio where, you know, with John Lasseter coming in and all the Pixar people, you could just get the sense, when you’re there, that yes, it’s still this big corporation and it still has this wide reach, but the actual creative people behind it are being given a lot of freedom and a lot of chances to really put their heart into their work.”

Reilly talked about his feelings about becoming an action figure and a talking doll.

“It’s all right,” he says, “There could be worse things than to be loved by children. If it was a movie that I wasn’t proud of or if it was a movie that I didn’t feel like a personal connection to, then that could be a nightmarish scenario, but I remember how much I loved my toys when I was a kid, and I think that’s actually kind of an honor to be in a kid’s heart like that.”

“That said, I’m not going to make any money if they sell a million or 400 million, but whatever,” John adds, “I guess that’s part of it that I’m going to have to deal with, but I’m not there right now.”

Brought up is the fact that because it’s a Disney movie, John will be immortalized through having played Wreck-It Ralph.

“Wow, that’s good news,” Reilly replies, “Honestly, that’s a little bit further down the line, that’s like a perspective I think I’ll have in a couple years or something. Right now, I’m like, Oh, my god! Like, I’m in this movie.”

“Like, I just saw it complete for the first time the other night, so I'm really still just like digesting what it's all about,” he continues, “And yeah, you know, I knew what I was getting into, I knew if it was successful it would be a big thing, but that's what you want as an actor. You want the things that you're proud of to be seen by people.”

Reilly talks about how he prepared for the role of Ralph.

“I just had to go in and be honest every day, and really try to make it seem like I was really meaning what I say,” John says, “And the having fun part was just, you know, a feature of being able to improvise in the studio. I mean, that is one of the great joys of doing voice over work, you often have more time than you need. You know, they’ll book four hours for a session and to do the scripted material well takes you probably an hour and a half, and so you have this extra time to just kind of fool around.”

“As a result, the pressure of getting it right is really not there,” he adds, “It just feels like this laboratory where you’re just trying to make each other laugh and surprise each other, and that’s different than on a live action movie where the sun’s going down, there’s people standing there, it costs money every second that you’re out there working, and there’s a lot more pressure in that situation.”

John was asked whether he questioned a lot of how Ralph would sound.

“No, I think if it was a more extremely different character than myself, physically, maybe I would try something like that,” he says, “But like I said, my main goal was to just try to make it sound as honest as possible.I mean, if you can do it well, like Alan Tudyk, who plays King Candy in the movie, doesn’t talk like that at all.”

“It’s like that was a layer that he put on as an actor,” Reilly adds, “But he does it so well he was able to be honest through that voice. But Ralph’s a different character than that. He’s someone who’s just more kind of straight-ahead, a simpler guy. I don’t know. That’s a temptation in animation a lot, put on a funny voice.”

Also pressed on was Reilly using his physicality in the role.

“Yeah, definitely,” he says, “I mean, you can’t make noise when you’re doing stuff like that, but you do a lot of physical stuff when you’re acting, to make it sound like your body is experiencing what the character’s body is experiencing. And then, I went in for a Q&A with all the animators, just because they were curious to meet me and they wanted to get some more insight as they headed into the heavy lifting of the animation part of the movie, about what my point of view was about the character.”

“And so I went in and did this Q&A,” John adds, “And then while I was there, I was like, ‘You know, why don’t I just do some movement for you guys to show you what I was thinking of, ’cause I have a lot of like, you know, I come from an Irish-Catholic family in Chicago, there’s a lot of ex-football player guys with big guts, you know, like, they carry themselves a lot like this guy might carry himself. And so they were like, ‘Oh, my god, that was so cool how you did that’ I was like, ‘I could do that for hours! I’ll come back.’ And they were like, ‘You would?’ Like, ‘Yeah.’ So I went in and did this like motion study where I actually acted out the scenes. I walked around, I showed them what it was like, like the eight step process of getting up out of a chair, and you know, like, all that stuff. So they really appreciated that. And so I think as a result, even more than usual, a lot of my physical characteristics ended up in the character.”

John was asked if he was a fan of going to arcades when he was younger and played and of the video games of the time there.

“Yeah. I mean, I was the test generation for all this stuff,” Reilly says, “I mean, you can blame me and my generation, I think, for the popularity of video games, because I mean, it was just undeniable. I went from pinball machines to Space Invaders. I remember the day that that machine suddenly appeared in the bowling alley where I used to hang out in Chicago, and it was like, ‘Oh my god!’ It was such a quantum leap from what we’d had for, you know, entertainment up to then. I mean, there weren’t even computers then.”

“People forget, like, no cell phones, no computers, like, it was just this crazy thing that suddenly you could manipulate what was on the TV,” he continues, “Like, you couldn’t even do that, there weren’t even really VCR’s yet, at least I didn’t have one. So just the idea that you could move a button that would move something on the screen was radical, you know? And it cost me a lot of money, a lot of quarters. For some reason, I don’t know why, I seemed to get worse the more I played. Like, I would be really good at first, like just my instincts would be great, and then the more I thought about it, like the worse I got.”

As previously mentioned, unlike most animated films made in Hollywood, the actors recorded together in the studio. Reilly talks about the experience of working with actors like co-star Sarah Silverman.
“I was just bowled over by how seamlessly Sarah channeled that character,” John says, “It’s like talk about inner child. It was kind of amazing. And Sarah’s a really good actress. I mean, there’s some scenes we have that are not funny scenes, that are just really heartbreaking, emotional scenes and those are some intense days. I was like, Wow, you should do this more often, Sarah! You’re good at this.”

John was asked if he and his co-stars went off script much.

“Yeah, we went off script a lot,” Reilly answers, “That was the whole point of having us in the same room, being able to improvise, especially the more smart aleck kind of stuff where we would trade insults or whatever, a lot of that we would just try to one-up each other, and some of it ended up in the movie.”

Reilly was asked if he had anything coming up.

“No. I’m available, so please put out the word,” John replies.

Asked was if there was a Stepbrothers 2 being made.

“Maybe, I don’t know,” Reilly replies.

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"I don't compromise my values and I don't compromise my work. I won't give in." -Michael Moore