Improvising with John C. Reilly – The raw and awkward truth from his movie Cyrus

john reily

Comfort Zone Alert!

On set of his latest movie, Cyrus, John C. Reilly found that a lot of days were very uncomfortable.

Whoa! That sounds like an atypical admission from an actor, yet John has a very good reason to feel like those dreams where you just show up with your underwear on.

You see, the brilliant Duplass brothers (Jay and Mark Duplass) wrote and directed Cyrus and that means a smart script, which actors use mainly as a blueprint – because the Duplass brothers encourage their actors to fully improvise and make each scene totally real to the moment.

They put it in our hands, says John C. Reilly, We all have the script and that was the blueprint to what we were doing. The story did not change that much from the script, but, they left it up to us to find out how the script was going to happen.

In Cyrus, John C. Reilly plays a man, named John, who has no luck on the social scene until he meets the woman of his dreams… a gal named Molly played by NY’s own Marisa Tomei.

John finds his dream gal but with one BIG twist… Molly’s son, Cyrus (played by Jonah Hill), happens to be his Mom’s best friend and he isn’t jiving with this new love thing.

With this unconventional love triangle set up as the movie’s diving board, it makes sense that John C. Reilly found himself belly flopping into an uncomfortable zone, as he improvised each day and put his heart on the line.

Of course, NYCastings wanted to find out more about the awkward moments!

Here’s what else John C. Reilly had to say about the honest flick, when NYCastings got personal with him…

Q&A with John C. Reilly

Q: What drew you to the movie?

I heard about these guys, (Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass), through film festivals and my wife saw Puffy Chair. She brought me a copy of the movie and you can tell from watching Puffy Chair that they like to work with a loose style.

I wanted to work with Mark and Jay and they were fans of mine so they went off and wrote something with me in mind and it fell in place. When I read the script, it was a cool, funny, charming story.

Q: How did you prepare for this improvised script?

Working with these filmmakers, on this movie, the only way to be prepared was to be unprepared; to think it was alright if you didn’t know what you were going to do. It can be unsettling if you just show up to work and some days it felt like those dreams where you just show up with your underwear on.

Q: How did you create your character?

The truth is that every actor prepares in a different way, finds their own way to a character, and how to be connected to a character. If there is something about the character that I don’t know, a special skill or an aspect of their life I am not familiar with, I will study up. But in this case I did not have to do that. I have been in a lot of editing rooms over the years so I know what an editor’s life is like and the guy was close to my age.

Q: Did you rehearse the improv?

No, we didn’t rehearse at all on this movie. For some of the scenes we usually did a blocking rehearsal but even in those situations the Duplass Brothers were like, let’s just shoot the rehearsal because those first moments of honesty, when you are reacting to something you are first seeing or hearing, is the most honest and that is what they were after. They wanted to see what happed when the cameras came on.

Q: As an actor, do you find improvising challenging or liberating?

Both. Definitely both. It is a challenge because you don’t have anything to hide behind. You have to be honest and in the moment. I do not know if I prefer it. I am happy to do it when asked. But I also like to have a well written script. These guys had a well written script yet were interested in the quality that they get when we put it in our own words. We didn’t have to make someone else’s words work. We were able to re-style and it sounds like dialogue written for you, because it is.

Q: When John meets Molly, their chemistry is immediate – how does chemistry play a role for you as an actor / how important is it?

It is really important. The way I work on it (creating chemistry) is to know people a little without talking about the script or gong over the lines. Especially when your characters are supposed to know each other well, it is important to have a comfort zone. Luckily for me, Catherine Keener and I have a long friendship together so that came across in the movie. And Marisa Tomei and I met two days before we stared shooting, briefly. But that worked, too, because we got to know each other better and you see that happen on camera. We didn’t have to fake the awkward moments on camera, it was really just us getting to know each other.

Q: How did you like improvising with Jonah?

Jonah and I worked together on another movie and we basically improvised it, so we knew each other and were pretty friendly. We were both having fun improvising and messing with each other.

I think Jonah is brilliant, really smart and just a great actor. Even more then Will and Jack. Those guys comfort zone is in comedy but I think Jonah is also comfortable doing dramatic things and he is really suited to it. He is smart and he takes ownership on his business in a way that will really serve him well.

Q: Anything that surprised you about Marisa?

I knew she was a great actress and she is really down to earth. But she surprised me in how easily she hung with all the improv. She didn’t have that much experience in the past, but she hung in there with Jonah and me.

Q: What inspired you the most about working with Duplass Brothers

How brave they were about not knowing what they were doing everyday. They wrote a great script and put a lot of care into the location. But when we filmed, they were like, let’s just find it. The plot of the movie could change even, because we shot it in order.

And, I’ve worked with duos before and usually one does the directing and one does everything else. But they were both very involved in every aspect of the movie.

Q: Your character deals with conflict in a specific way, how do you deal with conflict in your real life?

I escape conflict by being really upfront, honest and I try to negotiate with someone. Whenever you get into a situation where you are pulling dirty tricks, it just makes you paranoid and unable to be genuine to yourself. If you have a problem with someone, just call it out.

Q: Why should audiences go see Cyrus?

This movie is for people looking for something a little closer to their own lives, people looking for a more truthful story. There are a lot of bigger than life stories and I love a good popcorn movie, but there is a place for really honest story telling. It has an emotional honesty.

Q: What have you learned from this film experience?

Being totally honest on camera, not knowing what was going on, and trying to write the dialogue on your feet – there were days I was disparaging whether or not we got a good movie in the can. And I learned… that just because you are uncomfortable, does not mean it is not going well. Just do your best.

Thanks to John C. Reilly for getting out of your comfort zone with us!

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