From a porn star to a cop to Dewey Cox, John. C. Reilly has played some wildly different and interesting roles. He has emerged as a fine character actor and ensemble player with the ability to diversify when it comes to the roles he’s landed and the films he’s starred in. His filmography is full of unlikely turns and surprises. With his homely looks, lanky gait and curly hair, he might first appear fittest for quirky roles and silly comedies, but he’s proven with some unlikely roles that he’s capable of so much more.
Early on I often associated him with Will Ferrell. It doesn’t seem like such a ridiculous association, right? Just look at the poster for the film Step Brothers – the resemblance is uncanny. The two have also starred in a few movies together, done some writing collaborations, and have both become part of the Judd Apatow repertory. Where I think Reilly sets himself apart, though, is in his range as an actor and with his powerful onscreen presence.
Consider his performances in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Chicago, for which he received an Academy Award nomination. He played very different characters and performed his own vocals. I think his roles in those two films are a testament to Reilly’s acting chops, and divergent performances like those have helped him avoid type-casting. He’s not just a comedic actor who’s tapped to play one outrageously funny character after another; he mixes it up and he doesn’t ever appear out of place in films that aren’t comedies. Reilly masterfully handles both emotional realism and absurd hilarity in serious dramas and in gross-out comedies.
One common denominator in Reilly’s repertoire of films is Paul Thomas Anderson. Reilly has starred in three of the director’s films, and two are among my favourite John C. Reilly performances. Boogie Nights was a vehicle that made every actor look good. It allowed Mark Wahlberg to shed the Marky Mark persona; it earned Burt Reynolds an Academy Award nomination; and it helped make Don Cheadle and William H. Macy household names. For Reilly, it helped him emerge as a formidable stand-out in an ensemble cast and sprung him from the supporting role cavern he had been in up to that point with roles in such films as Days of Thunder, The River Wild and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
Reilly made another indelible impression in P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia, in which he portrayed Officer Jim Kurring, a character born out of improv sessions Reilly did with Anderson. Reilly has said that he’s most proud of his collaborations with Anderson. I had seen Reilly in small parts in other films before Boogie Nights, but it wasn’t until, as Reed Rothchild, he proclaimed with conviction “People tell me I kinda look like Han Solo,” that I thought, he does look a little like Han Solo, and this guy is going places.
Reilly followed the ensemble gem, Magnolia, with another ensemble film, but of a very different sort. Reilly appeared in The Perfect Storm, a film based on a true story about a group of swordfisherman who vanish after their boat is caught in a violent storm. He also stole scenes in Gangs of New York and The Hours; once again playing two very different roles in films very dissimilar from each other. Reilly assumed darker personas as a corrupt city constable and an abusive husband, respectively, proving with those performances that he could shine in any role, and also that he was being tapped to play many different characters. His ability to diversify beyond comedy had been established.
He’s currently appearing alongside three Oscar winners – Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz – in Roman Polanski’s Carnage. The controversial director specifically requested Reilly for the role. Next, he’ll switch it up again by co-starring opposite Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator, a comedy that is sure to be as outrageous and over-the-top as Borat. Reilly’s willingness to switch it up and his ability to do it successfully will undoubtedly help to fortify his longevity as an actor because he’s figured out what it takes to get noticed, to get parts and to stick around.What are your favourite John C. Reilly films? Let us know in the comments section.