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CHICAGO - Q&A with John C Reilly

CHICAGO Q&A from the New York press junket with Renee Zellweger, John C Reilly, Queen Latifah and Rob Marshall

John C Reilly:

Have you thought about how you seem to be dominating the box office with a whole bunch of films being released?

It's been a great year for me. I can't say I'm dominating the box office, I'm supporting some great performances in all these movies, they are not really my movies. I'm really proud to have all this work out there, it's a great calling card for an actor. The three movies coming out CHICAGO, GANGS OF NEW YORK and THE HOURS couldn't be more different in tone. So it's great for me to show the range of what I can do.

With THE GOOD GIRL, CHICAGO and THE HOURS you are playing three unhappy husbands?

I have to say that I'm happily married, very happily married, in real life. Happy marriages don't get depicted in movies very often because they are not very dramatic. They say happy families are happy for the same reasons and unhappy families are unhappy for many different reasons. So that's what makes great drama conflict between people. I'm lucky to have these parts. I don't approach my roles with any kind of ego in mind. I don't have to play likeable people, the guy who gets the girl all the time, I just want to play someone who has an interesting human experience on film. In the movies I got all the characters who are very conflicted people. In THE GOOD GIRL the guy starts out frozen in his life from pot and everything else and he comes to life in the course of the movie and that's great for an actor to be able to have somewhere to go. In GANGS OF NEW YORK, despicable as that character is, he is a broken man, someone who had high ideals and is compromised and corroded by his choices.

So do you call yourself a character actor?

I'm friends of guys like Brad Pitt and George Clooney and they'll come up to me quite often and say they want the parts I play because I get the interesting stuff. Yeah but they get the girl. Let's switch for a day and see if they still want my parts. When people say that I'm a character actor that's a real honour. On bad days I think that's just a limitation and they are trying to keep me in my place and tell me I can't play larger roles. Most of the times I just think that character actor means a good actor someone, someone who is not playing themselves for a living. So character actor is a badge of honour?

Wouldn't you like to be Tom Cruise?

No. I have a lot of respect for Tom, He's an incredibly hard working guy, a very good actor. But having experienced first hand what their lives are really like it's tough. For all the fame, glory and money that they get they pay a big price. I worked with Tom a couple of times and I worked with George Clooney on A PERFECT STORM and watched what he went through every day with hundreds of people constantly after him. When he is not working he is fleeing. So no I don't want that. I cherish my anonymity; I have a really great family life and am very domestic when I am not working. That is fulfilling to me that is how you learn about life. It is a real danger for actors to be caught in the cycle of celebrity when you are shuttling from one limousine to another and never get a chance to interact with people. That said I would like to play larger parts because I am an actor and love acting, it's what I always wanted to do since I was eight years old. So the more I get to do it the happier I am. It's almost my whole life. If they want to let me tell more of the story I'll be happy not because it will make me famous or wealthy but because I get to do what I chose to do.

What was the more demanding, CHICAGO or GANGS OF NEW YORK?

It's tough to compare the two. All of the movies that are out this year couldn't be more different in tone. They both were very demanding. Martin Scorsese is someone I consider to be the greatest living filmmaker out there. So when I showed up for that movie it was an awesome responsibility to do well because that project was something he had been trying to get done for 30 years. So that movie meant a lot to him. I wanted him to realise it in the way he always dreamed. Working with Daniel Day Lewis was incredible, he's peerless as an actor, no one can touch him for intensity and focus and commitment to the craft of acting. He's a real artist not a celebrity. Then coming into CHICAGO was great. I grew up doing musicals, from the time I was about eight years old, right through high school. It was all there was to do where I grew up. No one was doing Ibsen or Shakespeare in my neighbourhood in Chicago. By the way I'm the only Chicago native in this movie. Born and raised there I didn't leave Chicago till I was 22 years old. I did a ton of musicals as a kid which was when I learned to be an actor. Anything I do now is based on what I learned then. Getting this part was daunting I thought I was good then but I was 16 years old so maybe I wasn't as good as I thought I was. I was going to be rusty. But I thought it would be a fun little job to play Amos Hart. Then I get there and I start to work on this movie and it was like going back to my childhood. It felt great to be among show people again. I had done a lot of theatre throughout my career but I had stopped doing musicals since I was 16 or 17 and it felt like this was an important art form, a way to communicate with audiences that cuts out the middleman. When music hits you the right way it goes straight into your heart. It was really exciting to get back into musicals. It ended up being a life changing experience for me. I told Rob I came into this thinking it would be a laugh but I walked away thinking it was a defining moment in my career. I have been doing about 30 movies in 15 years and you start to feel like what is going to surprise me? But I was really surprised by how I felt, particularly when I was doing Mr Cellophane. It was like this almost spiritual, cathartic experience for me. Not only because it is a great number and I felt Rob and I had created something special together, but the legacy of the show was a big responsibility to honour. And at the same time I was thinking of the legacy of this character beyond this show. The song is based on NOBODY, which was the signature song of Burt Williams, a black vaudeville performer, the biggest star of his day he is virtually unknown now who kept the Ziegfeld Follies afloat. These were big shoes to fill. I felt like the spirit of people like Stan Laurel, Burt Lahr, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton were in this character. Those are big mythic figures and I felt I had to try and honour the tradition of what these guys had done. So I worked hard to make the number as fluid as it could be so that it seemed like one of these old vaudeville routines. I felt lucky to be the conduit for this. It really is a classic character. I made a video tape to get the job. I couldn't come to New York so in Los Angeles I made a video of Mr Cellophane with my little bow tie. I did it at a white grand piano at my vocal coach's house. When you have a number as well written as this song it's great, you just have to surrender yourself to it.

You got your first film break by sending a video didn't you?

Yes to Brian De Palma for CASUALTIES OF WAR. I was 21 and I made this tape of some scenes from the movie. They cast me in a part for one day. Then they did some casting rearrangement. They didn't have all the cast there for some big scenes. Like there was a scene in a Vietnamese village where an 80 year-old guy was speaking to the soldiers who couldn't understand him. But the old guy wasn't there and they needed someone to read his lines and asked me to do it. I tried to be this 80 year-old and they were impressed by my commitment or whatever and I ended up getting one of the leads in the movie. It was a pretty exciting beginning of my film career. I still like to audition because it gives you a feel for the piece and a way to get to know the director a little bit.

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