John C. Reilly may have paid his dues as a character actor for years — he’s appeared in more than 50 movies and TV shows — with not so much as a single on-screen kiss. But that’s all changed with the upcoming biopic parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which proves the 42-year-old actor can hold his own.
And as for that kiss: “Within a 24-hour period, I made out with a chimp, Cheryl Tiegs, Cheryl Ladd, and two Playboy playmates,” laughs the jovial Reilly, mentioning not all “sessions” made it into the movie. Reilly also shared romantic moments with The Office’s Jenna Fischer, who plays his second wife and backup singer.
But that’s just all part of the job, says the happily married father of two, who, in fact, says he enjoys his “obscurity.”
The movie, which opens in theatres today, has all the trappings of music films like Ray and Walk The Line — the rise, the fall, the rise again — with the exception of such absurdity as exotic pet collecting, accidentally marrying two women at the same time and car-flipping temper tantrums.
“Despite the fact that you could say that biopics are cliché, that they just use the same things over and over, the truth is that stuff happens in these musicians’ lives, for some reason,” says Reilly.
Armed with a musical theatre background, Reilly prepared for Cox by playing in a rehearsal band on the weekends during shooting and performed all his own singing in the movie (as he did in his Oscar-nominated 2002 Chicago performance).
“Vocally, we had about six months to record music and we recorded 40 original songs — that’s more than some musicians’ entire careers!” teases Reilly. “I had a lot of help, of course, but that prepared me, that kind of toughened me up.”
This appreciation of music as well as biopics in general is what drew him to the fictional character he describes as having no limits.
“As opposed to a real biopic … we didn’t have (any) restrictions on this movie, so we could really show Dewey Cox at his worst and his craziest,” says Reilly. “(For instance), I don’t think the Johnny Cash family would allow a scene to be shot where he ran around in a sumo diaper.”
Yet, despite the movie’s outlandish moments, making Cox as real as possible was Reilly’s main goal — a quality he himself tries to emulate.
“I drove myself to work every day on this movie and got my own lunch,” he says. “All that (star) stuff, I think, is a corrupting influence and I try to stay away from it.”