John C. Reilly has enjoyed one of the most fascinating career shifts of any actor working today. Once know for dramatic roles -- Reilly appeared in "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia," "Gangs of New York," "The Hours" and was Oscar-nominated for "Chicago" in 2002 -- things changed after he co-starred with Will Ferrell in 2006's "Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby." Or, as Reilly says, "the cat came out of the bag on that one." Not that Reilly doesn't star in dramas anymore -- for example, last year's disturbing, "We Need to Talk About Kevin" -- it's just that he's now a comedy fixture.
In keeping with that trend, Reilly stars in the new video-game-inspired animated film, "Wreck-It Ralph." The actor voices the title character in the film, the antagonist in a fictional arcade game called "Fix-It Felix Jr." Ralph decides that he no longer wants to be the villain, a career change that puts him and the game he deserted in jeopardy. Here, Reilly discusses the video games that he loved growing up -- "Centipede"! -- why he just turned down a seven-figure offer, and his thoughts on why "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" never found the audience it deserved.
I thought your movie was fun.
Oh, I'm glad. This would be a very uncomfortable conversation if you didn't.
You got to yell the phrase "gangway!" I have a fascination with that line because I think only cartoon characters get to say it.
Yeah! It's what you say when get off of a ship. "Gangway!" -- as you're coming down the plank.
There are not a lot of real world situations in which you can say that.
Oh, I don't know! You'd be surprised. Try it the next time that you walk into a party. It might just liven things up.
Watching "Wreck-It Ralph," it's hard not to get nostalgic. Do you like that aspect? Did you play "Q*Bert"? Or were you a "Berzerk" guy?
I was part of the first generation of video games with "Space Invaders" and "Pac-Man" and that stuff. I was actually the test audience for it, I guess. But, I never got into "Q*Bert" -- or "Berzerk," for that matter. The last one that I played a lot of was "Centipede." But, once I got into college I started having less time and less money for that kind of thing. But, yeah, I was obsessed with "Space Invaders." I think people forget, when that game came out, we went from like pinball machines to being able to manipulate a television screen. At that point, there weren't computers or cell phones or even VCRs. So, just the idea that you could manipulate something on a screen was pretty radical. And weirdly addictive. I don't know if you remember, but the first time you encounter those games as a kid, you just could not get enough of them.
A lot of quarters were spent in my household.
Yeah. You could just spend your expendable income. And then, when you ran out of that, you had to go home. But, now, people have the games at home and you get your parents to buy it -- the fun never stops!
You do realize that from this point forward, when little kids hear your voice, they're going to yell at you, "I'm going to wreck it!"
I guess so! It's already happening, actually, believe it or not. It's such a high level of awareness with this movie -- little kids especially. They hear my voice and they're like, "Say 'I'm going to wreck it'!" And I'm like, "I'm going to wreck it!" And they're like, "No, like you do in the movie!" And I say, "Wait, I'm trying to do it like I did in the movie." So they memorize exactly how it sounds in the trailer or something.
But I think you did just do it like it is in the movie.
Oh, well, there you go. You're easier to please than an 8-year-old.
Is it as satisfying to do voicework as it is to do a regular movie?
I found doing an animated film -- and I did one before, but it was a much smaller part with less time spent on it -- was just like doing a live-action film, except there was a "body department." I did all of the lines and the voice from the character's point of view, but then people were brought in to create the body. I don't know, I could really get used to that, actually. And this is also the longest job that I've ever had in my whole life.
Well, like almost two years. And that doesn't say much for me as a dependable employee, but, most jobs for me -- certainly acting jobs -- don't last more than five months or something. And I got kind of accustomed to it. I liked it -- going down to the animation studios there at Disney and getting to hang out with all of those creative people and going down to the cafeteria. I don't know, it felt like a really cool version of college or something.
Your career shift fascinates me. Before "Talladega Nights," you were known mainly for dramatic work. Now you are a go-to comedy guy.
Yeah, well, that was the first big comedy that I was in. I had done funny parts in more serious movies before that, but, yeah, the cat came out of the bag on that one.
I feel that's difficult to pull off -- when there are already preconceived notions. And you still do serious roles, too. You kind of have the best of both worlds.
I guess so. It's still not easy thing, switching back and forth. You have to kind of wait it out sometimes for things to die down for people to be able to see you in another way. Anytime in anything that is really popular, there's a period of time when people can only see you as that for a little bit. Yeah, I think part of the reason that I was able to make the shift into comedy in the first place is that I had done so many different kinds of parts. Even if they were more dramatic parts, I really wasn't pigeonholed into any kind of one type of character. And I'm hoping to continue that run [laughs].
Is it difficult to not get pigeonholed? I feel that happens to a lot of people.
Well, I think that if I had a more traditional look or something, I may be more easily stuck in a stereotype. I mean, I don't know. For better or worse, I look like I do and I'm able to shift between different types of characters. I've also been really lucky that audiences have accepted me doing different things. You know? It's not just the actor -- although that is an important part of not getting stereotyped: having the patience and the confidence to say "no" to things that will have you repeating yourself. It can be pretty scary, turning down ... especially if there is a lot of money involved.
Have you had to do that?
Oh, yeah. Lots of times. "If I had all of the money that I turned down...!" [laughs].
Is there an example?
Well, I was just offered a big pile of money to do an ad, a commercial, for something. And I just felt, I don't know, I've never really been a commercial person. And I just felt like in someways it would be disappointing to people that really believe in my work, so I had to turn it down. And it was very lucrative. Let's just say that: seven figures plus.
I feel that "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" should have done better.
Well, we ran into a perfect storm with that movie. Number one, it was a satire and because there was a writer's strike at the time, we couldn't go on talk shows and explain what kind of movie it was. So, we were relying on just the television ads for the movie itself. And I think that a lot of people thought, Wait, I've never heard of this musician. And it was just very ambitious. I think, sometimes, very simple storylines or very simple movies that people can easily understand in a soundbite are easier to sell. Yeah, I wouldn't change it. Honestly, I wouldn't change the way that it turned out -- it's like a cult movie now. The people that love that movie really love it. And especially musicians. It has become a traveling companion on pretty much every musician's tour bus all over the world.
I'm assuming they've told you that?
Oh, yeah -- many musicians. They almost talk about it in these reverent tones like it's a documentary or something. I think the true story of musicians lives is even more insane than what we do in that movie.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.