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John C. Reilly talks about “Terri”

John C. Reilly talks about “Terri” (photo)

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My fantasy football team is named The Catalina Wine Mixer. Last year my annual New Year’s Eve party was “Step Brothers”-themed. In other words, I’m a pretty big fan of actor John C. Reilly‘s work, particularly when he gets to flex his comedic muscles. So I was pretty excited to talk to Reilly about his new movie “Terri,” directed by “Momma’s Man” filmmaker Azazel Jacobs. The movie, which opens this Friday, is a low-key story about a troubled teenager (Jacob Wysocki) and the relationship he forms with the kind high school vice principal (Reilly) who takes an interest in his case. “Terri”‘s warts-and-all depiction of the insanity of adolescence (and of life in general) is both funny and shocking, a refreshing change-of-pace for the coming-of-age genre, which produces so many boring, blandly nostalgic movies.

As an admirer of his work, I’ve spent a lot of time ruminating on Reilly’s comedic charms. His secret weapon, I think, is his unique mixture of casualness and sincerity. On screen, Reilly never looks like he’s trying to be funny, and he always looks like he means it, even if he’s playing a guy who needs the concept of marijuana explained to him. During our conversation, I asked Reilly about his own high school career, his recent string of excellent work, and his experiences on the set of “Fight For Your Right (Revisited),” the amazing short film by the Beastie Boys (Reilly plays the Mike D of the future). Oh, and for the gushy, fanboy portion of the interview where I bugged Reilly about the possibility of a “Step Brothers 2,” go here. Can you blame me for my excitement? It’s the effin’ Catalina Wine Mixer.

What sort of student were you in high school?

I was a solid C student because I was doing so many plays. I was a drama nerd, but I was also kind of a Zelig-like character; I would shift between different groups of people. But the people I spent most of my time with were either chorus or swing choir or the drama nerds.

So for this film, your wife [Alison Dickey, one of “Terri”‘s producers] actually gave you the screenplay?

Well first she gave me the manuscript, because this was going to be a book by Patrick Dewitt. And then he skipped the book and went from manuscript to script. But yeah, my wife has really good taste.

It’s a good thing you liked it.

Yeah, it is. I mean, I could have said no. It wouldn’t have been an issue. But we bounce a lot of stuff off each other anyway. And, yeah, she gave me the manuscript and that was really cool because you get a lot more detail in a manuscript than you get in a script. So we already knew the world and the layers of these characters through that. And then they wrote a script, and we did a reading, and it went great. And here we are.

I’ve seen a few movies lately with similar subject matter, but I thought the approach and also the tone of “Terri” was very different. I don’t want to say it’s dark but more… I’ve been searching for the word, but maybe “mature?” It’s not quite so wistful and nostalgic.

No, I don’t think it’s nostalgic. I don’t think Aza [Jacobs] really pushes any kind of agenda, either, as to what he thinks those years are about. There’s a lot of stereotypes and myths about outsider stories and a lot of times they’re told from the point-of-view of an adult. This movie really feels more immersive, like this is what it’s really like, for this kid anyway. And that’s really Aza. I think in the hands of another director it could have been very run of the mill, or it would have felt very much like other coming-of-age high school stories. But Aza’s the real deal. He made this a personal movie even though he didn’t write it, unlike his last film, “Momma’s Man,” which is very personal.

It just seems like so many teen movies are a little soft. This one has a a little bit of a harder edge to it, particularly that ending.

Yeah, well it’s got that hair-raising shed scene. I think everyone’s got at least one of those moments in their past.

Oh absolutely.

Where suddenly you’re hormonally in the right place and you’ve been left unsupervised and start to do risky things. That’s another example of how honest the movie is. It would have been a lot easier to get the movie made if we’d toned some of those things down. But it didn’t feel truthful to turn it down. These things happen. And worse.

Aza is a guy I’ve seen grouped in with that whole mumblecore group of filmmakers. You’ve worked with him now and you also worked with the Duplass Brothers on “Cyrus.” I’m wondering if you can compare their directorial styles for me.

To me, anyone that embraces the term “mumblecore” — I think it’s a diminutive way of encapsulating a group of people. What I’ve noticed from these people is that they’re all of a certain age, say in their late 20s to early 30s, they make films that are tired of cliched stories. [They] have come up through popular culture in their youth, being fed a lot of prepackaged stereotypical stories where you can guess the ending. So there’s a sophistication to what they want out of storytelling, and there’s a drive to be honest with their audience about what life is really like. Joe Swanberg and Mark and Jay Duplass and Aza do share that.

But with any group of artists, it’s never the artists themselves that group themselves together. Especially directors; they operate in this kind of vacuum of their own design. I guess the only similarity I can think of between Aza and Mark and Jay would have to be a real rigorous commitment to honesty from moment to moment. Like, “Does that feel true? Are we just trying to sell a bill of goods here? Is that really how I would react if I was in that situation?” And there’s patience; they also have the patience it takes to get that done.

You’ve done a lot of great little movies, all in a row. You’ve got “Terri” and “Cyrus,” you were terrific in “Cedar Rapids,” and you’ve got the movie that just played at Cannes [“We Need to Talk About Kevin”] coming out soon. Is it a conscious decision to, in basketball terms, go small?

[laughs] Yeah, so I did the triangle offense for a while.

I’m sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of the NBA playoffs.

I’ve just been posted up so many times that I decided to go small and try to collapse the defense. No I just try to do good movies. To me, it doesn’t make any sense to pick your work based on the size of the budget of the movie. I think that’s why a lot of people get well-known for something and they feel like “Well, now I’m a big movie star. So now I can only work on big productions with a lot of money.” Sometimes there’s good scripts that come along that have big budgets that you can do good work in but if you limit yourself to that scale eventually there’s going to be nothing great coming along. So you end up in mediocre things. So yeah I’m just looking for inspired people and good writing and whatever package that comes in, I’m open to.

You were also in what I’ve already decided is the best film of 2011, which is “Fight For Your Right (Revisited).”

Really?

Yes. That is a powerful piece of cinematic art. I’m just wondering what that shoot was like and whether there was a script at all or you guys just completely improvised your part.

No, there was a script. And then we goofed around with it a little.

[laughs] Just a little.

But it was mostly scripted what we did, yeah. I mean the pee fight was in the script —

Carefully choreographed, shot-by-shot, and storyboarded?

Well you’d have to ask Nathanial Hörnblowér that.

[laughs]



It was pretty exciting. It was like the “Cannonball Run” of the 2000s. I mean how many people? 70 well-known actors in 30 minutes? That’s like more than two actors per minute.

Yeah. And you sparked the pee fight too. You were the instigator. You will always have that on your resume.

Well Mike D is known for being someone who takes it to the next level. I’m actually really close friends with Mike and it was a true honor and pretty hilarious to get to…

…to pee on Elijah Wood?

It’s amazing how easy it is to make yourself look like Mike D, too. Seth doesn’t look anything like Mike, I don’t look anything like Mike, but you put that necklace on and the hat and the sunglasses and all of a sudden you’re like: “I kinda look like Mike D!”

It was pretty intimidating though, having those guys around. Cause even though we’re kind of goofing on them and stuff, part of you wanted to…

You had to be cool, too.

Yeah, you wanted them to feel like “Yeah, that’s right, you got it.” Which is preposterous. I mean what Will was doing as Ad-Rock, it was like “What?”

[As Will Ferrell, doing Ad-Rock] “We bring a super fresh dance contest from the future!”

[As Will Ferrell, doing Ad-Rock] “Old school, beat box shit!”

Will can make swearing so funny. I swear and it comes off a little angry, no matter how funny I’m trying to do it. If I use certain words with a certain intensity, it’s like ‘Whoa whoa whoa, buddy buddy!” Will does it and it’s almost like the more intense and more angry he gets the funnier it is somehow.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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