It's not unkind to say that after a look and a listen to John C. Reilly, most folks would think he's not your typical Hollywood leading man. His voice is a little too-high-pitched, and his face is ... well, how about unique. But Reilly, 53, has found regular work as an actor — in amateur productions since he was 8, during a stint at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, and through myriad small parts in films starting in the early-1990s — showing an incredible range whether in comedies, dramas, and musicals. He nabbed a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination as Amos in "Chicago," and has had lead or co-lead roles in "Walk Hard" and "Step Brothers."
He's got another co-lead in the offbeat, moody, violent, and often funny Western "The Sisters Brothers," as Eli Sisters, opposite Joaquin Phoenix as his younger brother Charlie Sisters, two guns for hire, killing their way across the Old West. The film, by French director Jacques Audiard ("Rust and Bone"), based on the 2011 Patrick DeWitt novel, traces their murderous travels, and examines their brotherly relationship. It also marks Reilly's first production credit. He spoke about the film at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Q: You've been connected to this movie well before it was a movie. You're even mentioned in the "Thank You" section of the novel. What's that all about?A: My wife, Alison Dickey, who's a producer on "The Sisters Brothers," and I were working on a film called "Terri" when we met Patrick DeWitt, who wrote the screenplay for it. I got to know him pretty well through the course of making that film. At that time, he had a manuscript that wasn't a book yet. This was even before it went to a publisher, and he very bravely gave it to Alison at the end of that project. So, without Pat's book, there would be no film, and without Alison getting that manuscript and then getting me to read it — and getting me to read a book is very hard to do ... I guess you can say that before it was published, we were in business with Pat.
Q: Why, after acting in films for almost three decades, did you decide to be a producer, too?A: I have to give credit where credit is due. I am technically a producer on the film, but it was my wife's idea to get it made in the first place. She was the initial momentum for the project. Besides, there are lots of producers of the film, and each of us has our own strengths, so I did my bit where I could.
Q: The script was adapted by the director, Jacques Audiard, and his writing partner Thomas Bidegain. Was it important to try to stay true to the book?A: It was a brilliant book and we wanted to maintain the tone of it. The book was our guiding start all along. As we acted, I kept going back to it as a bible. Because it's been a long road to get here and when we finally shot the movie, it was a great thing to have that original idea.
Q: The brothers are certainly interesting characters. Even though they're bloodthirsty killers, the more you find out about them, the more you kind of like them. How did you and Joaquin get to the more sensitive side of these guys?A: One of the more interesting things about them is that even though they look like filthy brutes who are murderers for a living, they're actually pretty well educated and they have these somewhat intellectual conversations with each other all the time. So, I think they use that judging-a-book-by-its-cover thing to their advantage. They always have a jump on people because people assume that they're less intelligent than they really are.
Q: Did you and Joaquin develop a method for playing off of each other?A: Well, these guys have spent their entire lives together since the time they left home, it's been only the two of them, every night, every ride, every meal. So, Joaquin and I had a lot of catching up to do (to play them), and we spent as much time together as possible.
Q: It's kind of a low key, yet sprawling Western. As a producer and an actor, does any one part of it stand out as the most challenging?A: It was a very demanding film to make. Every day was kind of a challenge. There were many complicated things, many dangerous things. I mean, those horses are very unpredictable!
Q: Please pardon this personal question, but you are more of an unconventional rather than a standard sort of leading man in movies. Was it difficult to break in?A: You should never assume that there isn't a place for you in this world, because there is. But you have to make your place. I come from a background in Chicago where I looked at the movies like they were some foreign country and I thought there was no place for me there. But through staying optimistic and trying to grow as an artist, an actor, and a human being, I made a place for myself at the table.
"The Sisters Brothers" opens initially on Sept. 28, and gets a national release on Oct. 5.— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at email@example.com.