John C. Reilly

John C. Reilly in Talladega Nights

John C. Reilly in “Talladega Nights”

The landmark year for John C. Reilly was 2002. The longtime character actor had roles –in three Best Picture nominees of the year: “Chicago,” “The Hours,” and “Gangs of New York.” Suddenly to many, John C. Reilly was an undiscovered talent. Like Philip Seymour Hoffman, he had spent years blending into his roles, servicing the projects rather than taking control of them. And then rounding 40 in 2005, Reilly made a new name for himself as a broad comic actor, earning a spot in Will Ferrell’s good graces beginning with “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

John Christopher Reilly was born in Chicago in 1965. His first attraction was to the stage, and it was theatre that he studied at DePaul’s Goodman School of Drama (now renamed The Theatre School at DePaul University). Although a lot of it had to do with good luck and timing as it did with John’s obvious acting and improvisation skills, John found movie work fairly quickly after school and has maintained that consistency for close to 20 years now. It was “Casualties of War,” John’s movie debut, in which he would establish himself as a strong character actor willing to try anything. Director Brian DePalma sensed John’s talent and bumped him up from what was to be a brief cameo role to a major supporting part.

But it was really Paul Thomas Anderson, the young director looking to get his first feature made, who saw in John C. Reilly someone with whom he had been looking to start a collaboration. Soon, he became an Anderson regular with bigger roles each time out, culminating with “Magnolia” in 1999. As the decade turned, John’s output remained stellar. By 2004, with John as Noah Dietrich in “The Aviator,” it was becoming customary for any serious American film to have John C. Reilly among the cast.

Interestingly, John had to back out of “Anchorman” in order to appear in the Scorsese epic, so Ferrell brought him around for “Talladega Nights,” and the result was that John C. Reilly can actually do comedy – really well. And it seems to be John’s new interest, with perhaps the biggest test of his career in “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” Not only is John, as the lead, asked to carry the movie, but it marks the first time in his entire career in which his character’s name is part of the film’s title. After 45 movies and an Oscar nomination, no one deserves it more.

John on the Screen

John started his career off as part of Sean Penn’s squad in the 1989 Vietnam movie “Casualties of War.” John follows with another Penn vehicle, “We’re No Angels,” the same year. He’s Buck Bretherton in “Days of Thunder,” a cop in the black & white Woody Allen movie “Shadows and Fog,” Pete Connelly in “Hoffa” in 1992, Tucker Van Dyke in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?,” and Terry in “The River Wild.” He’s worked for Paul Thomas Anderson three times: “Hard Eight,” as Mark Wahlberg’s buddy in “Boogie Nights,” and as Officer Jim Kurring in “Magnolia.” He’s a solider again (along with Sean Penn, again) in Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line,” Augustus Strauss in “Never Been Kissed,” the catcher in “For Love of the Game,” and Murph in “The Perfect Storm” (another teaming with Wahlberg). John plays Phil Last in the Jake Gyllenhaal / Jennifer Aniston indie flick “The Good Girl” in 2002, Happy Jack for Scorsese in “Gangs of New York,” and Richard Gaddis in “Criminal.” He’s Mr. Murray opposite Tim Roth and Jennifer Connelly in “Dark Water,” Lefty in Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” and Al in “Year of the Dog.”

Boogie Nights” (1997)
Reilly is hilarious as Reed Rothchild in this Paul Thomas Anderson classic about the adult film industry in the late 70s and early 80s, working with an all-star cast that included Burt Reynolds, Mark Wahlberg, Heather Graham and Julianne Moore.

John Says

On his rival:
“I view my strongest competition as myself. You’re always trying to top yourself, rather than worrying about what other people are doing.”

On acting:
“I’m a creative artist. I’m not a documentarian. I’m a chameleon. That’s my job. I’m supposed to adapt and change and transform.”