John C. Reilly: The Life of Reilly

A conversation between Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson and his favorite actor John C. Reilly, reveals what it's like for Reilly to be starring in Anderson's new Magnolia, which features a supporting player named Tom Cruise.


John C. Reilly is an unsung hero of American movies. The appealingly grizzled, gruff-looking 34-ycar-old has given indelible performances in movies like What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Dolores Claiborne, Georgia, Boogie Nights, The Thin Red Line and For Love of the Game without attaining critical-darling status the way a showier actor might have, Reilly's cult following is made up of those who appreciate an absolute natural. It isn't so much that you don't catch him making a false move. It's more like you don't catch him acting. Reilly's biggest Hollywood fan is Paul Thomas Anderson, the writer/director who has used him most astutely to date, first in Hard Eight, then in Boogie Nights, and now in his new film, Magnolia. Anderson has such confidence in Reilly that, even though Tom Cruise is also in the movie, Reilly is the film's romantic lead. What better person to inter-view Reilly than the director who sees so much in him?

PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON: I first became aware of you when I saw your first movie Casualties of War. Then you worked with Sean Penn again in We're No Angels and State of Grace and I thought you were almost his sidekick, but also a really good actor.

JOHN C. REILLY: It was like, would you like an entree of Sean Pens with a side of John C. Reilly? Although I got along well with Scan as an actor, I purposely didn't spend a lot of personal time with him and I didn't want people to think that I was getting parts because I was his friend. By the time we did The Thin Red Line together, we were flicking sick and tired of each other and were like, "Oh, you old woman, just leave me alone."

Q: Your first branch-off from Penn was Days of Thunder, which was with Tom [Cruise], and now you're in Magnolia together.

A: I love Tom and think he's a great actor, but at the time it was all about working with Robert Duvall. That movie was a bizarre experience. I was coming off serious movies and suddenly there's Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer in their fucking heyday like Sodom and Gomorrah. It was a fall from grace for me as a young man to see the decadence of that movie and Hollywood at its most extreme--$100,000 parties and recruiting girls off the beach to come be extras. It was nuts.

Q: Actually, between Days of Thunder and Magnolia, you started in the short film Tom directed for Showtime's series Fallen Angels, "The Frightening Frammis." Tom told me he was concerned he wouldn't get you for his movie, and I was concerned I wouldn't get you for Hard Eight because you were too big a star to do it.

A: Which is so the opposite of my pathetic life. I was told Tom wanted to meet me, but it seemed like he didn't doubt at all I was gonna do it. He was like, "OK, we're starting on Wednesday, could you comb your hair down?"

Q: So, how does it feel now to be the star of a Tom Cruise movie?

A: It didn't cross my mind. I'm glad it didn't, because it would have been more pressure. I just felt like I was part of this huge jigsaw.

Q: Did you feel excited about being "the character actor who gets the girl" in the movie?

A: I'm a romantic. That's a side of me that often gets overlooked in the characters I play. Next, I think a musical is in order, personally.

Q: We have a small hint of that in Magnolia, but I won't give anything away.

A: The thing is, you seemed to be writing for me before we even knew each other. I felt like we were already on the same wavelength when we met.

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