I listened to a new Variety Playback podcast with John C. Reilly, the acclaimed American character actor, in advance of the release of his new film The Sisters Brothers. Produced alongside his wife Alison Dickey, the Oregonian Western is helmed by the legendary Jacques Audiard, the French auteur who brought A Prophet to life, one of the best prison films I’ve ever seen.
I’ve been a big fan of Reilly since I was a pock-marked youngster, his long list of films offering a who’s who of some of the best storytellers to grace the screen. My love for him magnified after seeing him bring the iconic oddball Dr. Steve Brule to life on Tim & Eric’s Awesome Show. Holy Guacamole was that character memorable!
Reilly landed his first screen role in Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War, one of the biggest Hollywood films of 1989. He attributes his early success to Sean Penn who took a shine to the twenty-two year old and vouched for him after his initial audition for the Vietnam War drama.
“I think I impressed Sean early on with my willingness to let go of my ego and do whatever it was that needed to be done to tell the story that day.”
I love Reilly’s modus operandi, the kind of operator that never let his ego tell him which way the wind was blowing. He threw himself into his work with great passion and always strove to put his best foot forward no matter the role.
As such he threw off Hollywood’s attempts to pigeon-hole his talents, moving from dramatic roles to comedy with a sense of effortlessness. His collaborations with Will Ferrell in the past couple decades have produced some memorable antics with their latest project Holmes & Watson due to premiere later this year.
I love his humility, of not getting on his high horse when Terrence Malick reduced his meaty role in The Thin Red Line to a few minutes of screen time. He intrinsically understands his role in the larger narrative of storytelling, grateful to have been invited along for the ride.
I’ll always remember his iconic role as Jim Kurring in P.T. Anderson’s sprawling Magnolia, where he plays a lonely LAPD officer looking for love. There’s a pivotal scene of Kurring taking fire after responding to a domestic call-out and and losing his firearm in the commotion.
The scene is tinged with such painful honesty that you can’t help feeling grief-stricken at Reilly’s plight. As he searches in vain for his sidepiece, Reilly made me see the bigger picture. Like it or not, we’re all searching for the things that get away from us.
Some of us are just better at inuring ourselves to the facts of life.