When I met John C. Reilly here at the Toronto International Film Festival, the first thing I thought to myself was, Man, this guy can rock a cool hat. He really can. It’s pretty remarkable. I met Reilly on a chilly September morning in Toronto; in person, he is simultaneously imposing and sweet, which serves him well in his new film, The Sisters Brothers, which is already having a pretty dazzling festival run. Reilly plays Eli Sisters, one half of the brother team (Charlie Sisters is played by Joaquin Phoenix) chasing down a chemist (Riz Ahmad) who has discovered a new way to strike it rich during the California gold rush.
Reilly started his career as a dramatic actor. His first film was Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War, which kicked off a string of successes that includes Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Then came the mid-2000s, where films like Talladega Nights and Step Brothers turned him into a comedy star. When Step Brothers is brought up, it’s weird, because it’s obvious that Reilly still adores that movie, but it’s also pretty apparent that he doesn’t want to be remembered for just that. He’s an actor with a pretty eclectic filmography and The Sisters Brothers goes a long way to cement that eclecticism.
John C. Reilly: My wife, who is one of the producers, wanted me to tell you that she really enjoyed what you said about the movie. You wrote that review about (how it makes one go) “huh.” She was like, “That’s exactly right, that is the effect of the movie.” It takes a second afterward — what did I just see?
It really does. And the trailer leans into the comedy and that’s not the movie.
Well, like you know, marketing is a whole other animal.
First of all, this is unrelated, but you have the best hats. Do you have a hat guy?
Well, I’ve been collecting them for a while.
Not everyone can pull that off, they’re great.
When I was a little kid and I couldn’t have them for whatever reason.
Who didn’t let you have a hat?
Well, it’s like a fedora hat for a little kid is an expense most parents are not going to do, at least not in the 1970s. So when I could afford it… Humphrey Bogart was pretty cool to me.
And then in the ’80s Indiana Jones made them cool again.
Almost like his own style of hat, the Indy hat.
You also produced The Sisters Brothers. I can tell when that’s not just a throwaway producer title when someone’s involved because they’re actually out there stumping their ass off for the movie.
I do that for everything I do though. I do see that as my responsibility regardless of how I feel about the movie. My agreement was that I would do it and I would try to get people to see it and I take that responsibility pretty seriously. But yeah, this one took a little over seven years, that’s the longest job I’ve ever held in my whole life for any reason.
That’s how long this took?
Yeah, we’re going on seven years now since we got the rights to the book. All those pieces that are put together to make it what it is now took a long time to get put together. (Director/screenwriter) Jacques Audiard was doing other things. That’s the main thing, a director’s usually booked out a year or two at least in advance and Jacques already had some things on the stove when we offered him this.
That’s an inspired choice for director, by the way.
We didn’t want the director to feel like an employee. And I think Jacques really appreciated that too because that allowed him the full freedom and license that he’s used to as a director to make a film exactly in his comfort zone. That said, it’s kind of out of his comfort zone, some of the aspects of the film. But in terms of the actual physical production of the film with his crew and shooting in Europe, all that kind of thing, it allowed him to make a movie the way he knows how to make a movie.
This is a crazy comparison, but it’s kind of like hiring Irvin Kershner to direct The Empire Strikes Back — he was not a sci-fi person.
Yeah, that’s actually kind of a good example. I certainly love that movie. It might be my favorite Star Wars movie of all. It’s an appropriate example because you’re taking something that is a certain genre and then the person’s like, well, I don’t really care about the genre. I tell stories and the background is the genre and the story is the thing. That was definitely Jacques’s point of view on this.