John C Reilly instantly knew that he could work wonders in The Sisters Brothers.
This was even before it was a movie script, too, as Reilly was originally handed Patrick deWitt’s manuscript for his book back in 2010 when he was working on the New York indie “Terri.”
“It just really jumped off the page. Eli was an amazing character. I recognized it right away. It was like he was reading my mind,” Reilly recently explained to me over the phone.
Reilly was so attracted to the character of Eli, who alongside his younger brother Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) forms the most feared hitmen partnership in the Wild West of 1850s America, that he jumped on board the project as a producer.
Clearly Reilly has a great eye. Because 8-years later he has been able to give the quintessential performance of his career as Eli, who in “The Sisters Brothers” tracks the trail of Warm (Riz Ahmed), a chemist that has calculated a complicated formula for prospecting gold that is destined to make him a millionaire.
But what did Reilly originally see in Eli? “There’s a loyalty that he has. And a protective quality that he has. For someone who knows how to use a gun he still definitely has as bad a temper as his brother. He just does it in service of his brother.”
“In his mind anyway. This is one of the things that the characters talk about in the story. ‘You think you are better than me because you think you are protecting me. But in fact we are both doing this together. We are a team.’ It is one of the issues we talk about in the film.”
“And also why we are doing it. Because they come from this really traumatic start in their life, where their father was an abusive alcoholic, and their lives started at first with trauma and it is almost as if they have become soldiers from that point on.”
“So you end up having sympathy for these guys in the end. Because it feels like they were thrust into their lives. They are kind of like lost kids.”
At the same time, “The Sisters Brothers” once again proves that Reilly is able to mix comedy and drama in a way that no other actor of his generation can.
Which makes it all the more bizarre that Reilly didn’t originally notice the humor in the story.
“It never struck me so much as a comedy so much when I read the book. It was more when we were doing it. It was more circumstantially.”
“Like the first time someone brushes their teeth or something. There was a charm and a humor to it in the book, because it just seems so odd that this is the first time he is trying to do it.”
“It is a different kind of comedy. It is not so much joke based. Anyway I was drawn to how vulnerable the characters were in the story. That was really what drew me in.”
“More than it being a western and shooting guns and riding horses. All of that stuff is sort of what they do.”
“But what was really compelling to me was seeing the intense bond that the two brothers have and moving through the world, and having the world see you one way but you feeling a different reality inside of yourself. Which is pretty universal with people.”
As humble as you’d expect, Reilly is quick to take the praise away from himself for making “The Sisters Brothers” quirky yet profound, and instead looks to heap it on Joaquin Phoenix and director Jacques Audiard.
“Joaquin is just a fearless actor. He is probably the best person doing it in the world right now. Jacques is one of the greatest directors in the world.”
“It was really up to Jacques to cast Joaquin. I felt very strongly about him being in the film, as I felt I had this connection to him as an actor.”
“But it was up to Jacques to balance all of these parts. Including Jack Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed, and Jacques really masterfully balanced these four characters. Because you really feel as if you know them all by the endow the movie. And that is a real credit to Jacques.”
You can see what John C Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix and Jacques Audiard have achieved with “The Sisters Brothers” now, as the film is finally in select cinemas, while it will extend across the country over the next few weeks.