“I did exhaustive Dewey Cox research. I met with his family and his estate and went through his archives, got to wear some of his clothes in the movie,” Reilly, tongue firmly planted in cheek, told reporters in New York recently. “He was there on the set. He caused a lot of trouble on the set. He was not the easiest guy to get along with.”
So, did Cox offer him any pointers on how to portray him on-screen?
Reilly doesn’t miss a beat.
“He just said, ‘Tell it like it is, kid.’ And then he said, ‘What’s your name again?’ And I said: ‘John Reilly. I’m playing you.’ And he said, ‘Oh, OK. Well, you’re not as good-looking as me, but good luck to you,'” the actor “recalled.”
Mining recent big-screen biographies like “Ray” and “Walk the Line” for comic gold, “Walk Hard” follows Dewey Cox, the greatest performer who never lived, through his turbulent personal life and career. “Saturday Night Live” player Kristen Wiig plays Edith, the put-upon first Mrs. Cox, while “The Office” receptionist Jenna Fischer plays Darlene, Dewey Cox’s backup singer and second wife.
“John is a classically trained actor, so doing comedy with him was really cool; it was very different than any of the other people I’ve ever worked with,” Fischer explained. “He approached the role really seriously, but he also has a great sense of humor, so it was a lot of fun. He is probably my favorite co-star. I enjoyed working with him and this is the second movie I’ve done with him (after ‘Quebec’) and I hope there will be a third movie I do with him.”
To promote “Walk Hard” during a Hollywood writers’ strike that has shut down most major American TV talk shows, the 42-year-old actor performed in character at post-screening gigs in several cities, ending with a stop at New York’s famed Knitting Factory Dec. 19.
“It’s a lot of fun. It beats just your basic Q&A in terms of getting to interact with the fans of a movie,” he said. “It’s one thing to introduce a screening and say, ‘Hey, thanks for coming.’ And then it’s another thing to take the entire audience from the screening, bring them to a music club and perform all the music from the movie. It’s like ridiculous fun.”
Reilly said there is a possibility he might be going to Ireland to publicize the movie, as well.
“They’re trying to get me to go to Dublin with the movie and it would be my first time in Ireland, so I’m looking forward to that if it happens. Like most Irish-Americans, I’m very proud of that part of my heritage,” he told the Irish Echo. “I was raised Irish-Catholic in Chicago.”
Reilly said he is a fan of “every single kind of music” referenced in “Walk Hard” and emphasized that the filmmakers’ intention was not to mock specific musicians’ actual lives.
“What we’re trying to do is make fun of the way that ordinary or sometimes extraordinary people are mythologized by movies and by audiences,” he said. “I was not trying to do an impression of Johnny Cash or Elvis or Buddy Holly or Bob Dylan. In Dewey’s mind, he is the fountainhead of all of them. Dewey? He was Elvis before Elvis was Elvis.”
“Walk Hard” is the latest hilarious offering from Judd Apatow, the man who gave us “Knocked Up,” “Superbad” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Apatow co-wrote and co-produced “Walk Hard” with his former “Freaks and Geeks” collaborator Jake Kasdan, who directed the film.
“The secret to Judd’s success and the reason why actors, as well as audiences really like him, is that he’s so honest,” Reilly noted. “When he finally got the chance to really tell his stories, he made the bold choice of telling the truth. Just saying: ‘I don’t care if it’s a taboo subject. I don’t care or if it makes me look stupid or is embarrassing to me personally from my personal life, if I admit to thinking a certain way about certain things.’ He just laid it all on the line.”
Reilly, who previously starred in “Gangs of New York,” “The Hours,” “The Good Girl” and “Talladega Nights,” said he also liked working with Apatow because the filmmaker encourages creativity and collaboration.
“It’s not like, ‘It’s Judd’s idea, so we have to do it.’ It’s whatever makes everybody laugh. It’s ‘best joke wins.’ It doesn’t matter who said it,” Reilly revealed.
The actor, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in “Walk Hard,” confided he is looking forward to attending the awards show because it is something of a convention for actors.
“If I was selling plumbing supplies, it would be like getting salesman of the year,” he related. “That’s what it feels like to me, that my peers and the people who really know my industry have said, ‘Hey, man, you really stood out of the pack this year and congratulations.’ I hope I never win one of these things because the pressure of what to do once you’re the crowned one? I don’t know what I would do with that pressure! I think it’s just better to be in the club. Like, ‘You’re doing good work and we noticed you.’ It’s almost like the nomination is better than the win.”
After earning an Oscar nod a few of years back for his work “Chicago,” Reilly is something of an expert on awards shows.
“The Academy Awards, it’s almost all film people you see there and you have to sit in this little seat in the auditorium and if you run into them at parties, it’s nice to see them, but the Golden Globes, every actor working is there – everyone from TV, everyone from cable, everyone from movies and they’re sitting at these tables, so you actually get to walk around and mingle,” he offered, adding he hopes to hang out with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson and actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on the awards show circuit this winter. The three made the films “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” together in the late 1990s and all were nominated for Golden Globes for different 2007 movies.
Reilly also said he is rooting for his “Gangs of New York” co-star Daniel Day-Lewis to win for his work in Anderson’s new big-screen drama “There Will Be Blood.”
“I’m very close friends with Paul Thomas Anderson and I’ve gotten to know Daniel Day-Lewis over the years. I really hope that those guys get some attention because I think that movie is a real achievement and such a departure from [Anderson’s] other work and I was just staggered by it. I have really high hopes for that one,” Reilly said.
“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” is in theaters now.