Q&A: John C. Reilly on the set of ‘Cirque due Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant’

08.18.09 8 years ago

Vampires are pretty in vogue these days, but very few of either the bloodsucking TV shows such as “True Blood” or the upcoming “The Vampire Diaries” or that little movie franchise called “Twilight” seem aimed at men.  Well, that’s about to change with “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.”

This writer had an opportunity to visit the set of the new Paul Weitz flick in the spring of 2008 and you can read that report on MSN Movies.  In the meantime, check out brand new stills from the movie and this Q&A with John C. Reilly who plays his first vampire in the iconic role of Crepsley.   He took a break from shooting a scene with Willem Dafoe (also suiting up as vampire once again) to talk about the new fantasy flick.

Q: This is your first day working with Willem Dafoe working?  What’s it like acting opposite him? Have you worked with him before?

I’ve never worked with him before, but we know each other just seeing each other around New York City.  That’s one of the great pleasures of playing this part, all of the people who have come through. Ken Watanabe and Selma Hayek and Ray Stevenson and Willem. It’s been a lot of fun.

Q: Can I see your fingertips?  Nice.  I was just curious because in the book [Crepsley’s] finger tips they had to cut them or something so I wasn’t sure..

Oh, he has scars on the tips of his fingers, but you only put them on when you’re going to see them on camera.

Q: The scene takes place this morning after a battle. Have you shot that yet?

Yes, we’ve shot almost everything. The only things I have left are a couple of scenes with Willem and some things we didn’t get to shoot.

Q: What’s your approach to being a vampire?  Especially with so many people coming before you?  Bela Lugosi, Tom Cruise, Willem Dafoe…

Yeah, there’s some competition right here. Y’know, it’s not a traditional vampire movie because it’s so dictated by the rules of the world in the book. So, I may have taken a different take if I had total creative license, but since I felt we should try to honor what Darren Chan created in the books, I sort of have the parameters of the character already sketched out for me. 

Q: Any favorite vampire movies?

Yeah, yeah. I actually really like the one Willem did. It’s not actually a vampire movie, well I guess it is kind of a vampire movie because he is a vampire in it, but there was a funny twist to it that nobody realizes he’s really a vampire. I thought he did a great job as the original Nosferatu. 

Q: Can you talk about coming up with the look for the character?

Again a lot of it was dictated by the book.  It says he has a scar on his face and red orange hair.  He has pointy nails.  I guess the most collaboration I had on the character was the costume.  [When Paul,] the different designers and I were talking was all based on this idea that if you were 220-years-old, what would your world view be?  What would you wear? Would you be wearing totally contemporary clothes or would you find a few favorites and just stuck with that. And then if you had been around that long what matters to you at that point? And what point of human existence do you just find amusing? How much are you still involved in? That’s really why I took this character and why I took this part in this movie.  As soon as I started thinking about the character’s point of view like how much stuff he’s gone through and what that would do to you, how cynical it would make you and how wise it would make you and how self-destructive it would make you — or not — these were all really interesting things to play with in the back of the character’s mind.

Q: What’s your source material?  Do you just go with the script or did you read the book too?

Y’know, I’ve worked in movies in the past that are based on books and I usually the later way where I go, ‘We’re shooting the script, not the book.’  But, I felt like I was a big Tolkien fan when I was a kid and I played Dungeons & Dragons, so I know how important the screen adaptation of those were when I was a kid. I’m starting book 12 right now.  The movie is only based on the first four books, but I wanted to read all of them so I had a sense of what readers of these books were going to be bringing when they come to see it. Their expectations are less a concern about that because Paul’s job was to emphasize those books, but I found them a great resource and I really found myself getting into them.  A lot of my favorites — of course, there are a lot of different directions he goes in the books, but yeah, I’m really enjoying it. And in terms of discovering the character and determining aspects of the character I have my own personal things I’d like to bring to it and Paul has his own ideas that he would like to see.  But there is this great bridge we have in the books. We’re very far apart in our ideas because ‘the book says this, so you move slightly this way and I’ll move slightly this way and then we’ll be close to what’s true in the books.  So, anyway, the books were a strong influence, but by no means are we going by the letter of the book.  That’s something of all the people involved creatively in the movie, I would say I was the most attentive too, because Paul went through this process a long time ago as he was writing the script, but for me, each moment, each decision that we made I was the one going, ‘Well, y’know, in the books they say this character does it this way. So, if we’re going to change it, let’s change it consciously.  Let’s not make mistakes.’   If we are gonna change what’s written in the books let’s do it wit ha full understanding o what we’ve originally written.  But I think these kids are really going to like it a lot. I know there has been a lot of speculation on the Internet from a lot of sources and kids worry ‘Oh, no, are they going to ruin the books’ and they go, ‘Oh no!’ But I think they are going to be really happy. Paul has gone to great lengths to make the movie very realistic in terms of what young people are going through in these years of their life.  And he didn’t shy away from darkness.  Even though it’s not R-rated, he didn’t shy away from the darker aspects of what the kids in the story are attracted too. I mean, that’s what brings them to the Cirque in the first place.  They do something to disobey their parents and sneak out and go to this place and meet these sort of morally ambiguous people and, y’know, that’s been one of the great thrills to me, to play somebody’s mentor.  My best friend is much older than me and I’ve had a really rich relationship with him over the years. And I recognized a lot of that in this character. That mentor-pupil sort of relationship.  And that was something Paul really thought was important in the film too in that a mentor will let you do things and make mistakes that a parent would never let you do. A parent is just always concerned for your safety and would never want to let you do anything to get hurt, but a mentor is a little more, ‘Yeah, you can try it if you want. It’s gonna hurt, but go ahead.’ (Laughs.)  That’s one of the really cool things that teenagers especially love about the books. I mean, some of it is very transparent, very kind of obvious metaphors for coming of age and stuff like that.  I thought Darren Chow had been very astute about realizing socially what’s important to young adults. Things they really notice in their relationships about loyalty and betrayal and it’s blown up on this bigger than life scenario in this movie, but in a life of a teenager going through school, it might be ‘You took something from my locker and I know you did it!’  It’s a smaller matter, but feels the same.  I think it’s really cool how even though he’s creating this bigger than life fantasy world, it’s just still feels really real. And I was going to say, one of the coolest things that I think Paul kept in terms of the tone of the movie, was this great thing in the books and I think it’s in the first book, Steve gets bit by a spider and might die and the family is very worried what’s going on with Steve, he’s in a coma and Darren says to his father, ‘Is Steve gonna die?’  And then Darren Chow rights ‘My dad told me he was very sick and he could die which I really appreciated because grown ups are always telling me things are going to be OK, but I really liked that my dad told me he could die even though it scared the hell out of me and was sad. I really appreciated him telling me the truth.’ That’s another through line in the story; bad things happen to characters.  It’s not just all like ‘You’ve become Superman, hooray!  You have no problems!’ (Laughs.) Every action in the movie has a consequence and that’s why I really like this conception of the vampire character.  He’s not immortal.  He won’t live forever.  He just ages more slowly. Somehow, it’s fantastic enough to be interesting, but it’s real enough to be relatable. 

Q: Were you involved much in the casting of the role of Darren? That seems like such a key to your own character.

No, not at all. That was something Paul had been [working on].  It takes a long time to find kids at least that’s what people say.  It’s always a little harder, because by definition they haven’t done much work yet. Yeah, I had already met Chris and Josh .  He hadn’t offered it to them yet, but he had a good feeling.

Q: What kind of action did you get to do in the battle?

Again, it’s that kind of thing with these fantastical elements.  We’re super strong and we can leap from the floor of a theater on to a balcony.  We are very strong and we have these razor sharp nails, but if we get hit and we fall on the ground it hurts.  [This other character and I,] we have this fight and it’s almost like two birds battling in mid air and all the things that are unique about us are the things we highlight in the fight.  We stab each other with our hands.  We start out with knives, but we start using our hands literally like blades.  Yeah, the action in this movie is gonna be really cool. That’s one thing you see here is the friendly fantasy vibe of the camp, but the violence in the movie is really — you’ll be shocked to see how [intense it is].

“Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” opens Oct. 23.

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