John C Reilly was instantly attracted to The Sisters Brothers, buying the rights to the novel from author Patrick deWitt before it had even hit shelves.
But while the beloved actor immediately knew that he was perfectly suited to the character of Eli Sisters, who alongside his brother Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) works as a feared hitman on the trail of a chemist with a sure fire formula for prospecting gold, he also knew that the film would have to be different to the book.
“A lot of the novel is told through the internal monologue of Eli. He is kind of the internal narrator of the book,” Reilly recently explained to me over the phone.
“That’s always a challenge, taking those things from voiceover and putting it into action and making them visual.”
“Plus, there are two very interesting characters in the story that you don’t really get to hear from until the last 2/3rds of the book.”
The characters in question were Riz Ahmed’s Hermann Kermit Warm, the chemist who is sure that his formula will make him rich in 1850s San Francisco, and Jake Gyllenhaal’s John Morris, the detective assigned to bringing Warm to the Sisters brothers.
“Jacques brought them further up into the story so you got to hear from them early on.”
Ultimately, though, Reilly believes that “The Sisters Brothers” “is really close to the spirit of the book. Certain things had to be compressed or left out, just in terms of telling the story, though.”
One part of the story that Reilly really wanted to make sure made it to screen was its depiction of the Gold Rush, which in other movies is predominantly made up of white people when that clearly wasn’t the case.
“The truth of the history of the west coast, especially the Gold Rush, America is a melting pot in general. But San Francisco in 1851 was a real melting pot.”
“There were people from all over the world. The bay was just full of empty ships where people had just arrived there, abandoned their boats, and gone running up the hills to look for gold. It was an incredibly multi-culture time.”
“That’s one of the myths of the Western. People think it was just a bunch of white guys on horses chasing Indians around. In fact there was quite a wide variety of people from the world there.”
But Reilly insists that everyone involved in the film, from Joaquin Phoenix to director Jacques Audiard, was attracted to the story and the characters from the book rather than trying to subvert or play with the Western genre.
“None of us were particularly drawn to the genre, it was more the story of the book. The western just happened to be the palate on which the story is drawn.”
“It is really about the brothers and their past and their family’s past and this compelling story of them looking for gold. It was all there.”
“A lot of what Patrick wrote is based on what was actually there in opposed the more mythic westerns. His book is based on what was really going on at the time. Any unique qualities that the book has were inspired by the novel.”
“The Sisters Brothers” is now in cinemas.