Wreck-It Ralph may have a reputation for tearing things apart, but John C. Reilly - who voices the misunderstood video game villain - got involved with actually building his character.
Reilly reveals how he was invited into the creative process of the Disney animation team to bring the pixel protagonist of “Wreck-It Ralph” to life, remembers growing up as a first generation arcade gamer, and how he doesn’t want you to think of him as a funny guy – really.
It was interesting to learn – because we don't usually hear this with actors and animated films – how you got brought into the process creatively, on a story level.
Well, I kind of wanted to make sure that it was something that I could really believe in. And because there’s so many moving parts in animation, I was really kind of scared by the idea that I'd sign on to do something, and then it would change a hundred percent by the time we went to do it. That’s why I made it kind of a prerequisite with Rich Moore, the director. I said, ‘Listen, I really want to make sure that this is something that I can believe in.’ And he said, ‘We want you to feel like you can give as much to this as you want to give, and we want you to be able to have this character come from your heart, in the same way that you would in a live action film.’
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When did you decide to go with your own voice, as if it was another character you were doing in a live action film?
I kind of figured out early on that the most important thing about this character was not so much doing a funny voice or transforming myself into some other creature or something. The real story of this guy was he was on a quest to be honest with himself. He's really kind of an emotional character in a lot of ways. His feelings get hurt in the beginning. He's kind of wrong‑headed and somewhat self-pitying, actually, in the beginning of the story, but I just decided the main thing I would try to do was to be honest and to really give an emotional truth to what I was doing.
Did you ever go through a video game period where you had an addiction?
Yeah. I was the test audience for Space Invaders. I was of the age when those games came out. My quarters were the ones they wanted. I will never forget when Space Invaders landed in the bowling alley where I used to hang out. I went from pinball machines to that. ‘What? You can manipulate the TV!’ We’re so used to computers and being able to interact with media in the way that we do now. People forget at that time that was outrageous to be able to and even to control that sound effect – ping, ping – it was like getting to be in 'Star Wars,' which also came out around the same time.
When did you figure out in your career you had that improvisational spirit?
I had been doing that in acting school, even when I was in college before I started doing movies at all. So it was something that I always had in my back pocket, and then when I started working with Paul Thomas Anderson on those films, he just let me go crazy because he saw that I was good at improvising from following me around with a video camera. We used to do these kind of just goofing around things in our spare time before he had the money put together for ‘Boogie Nights’ or whatever it was. So when I first started doing it really was with Paul, and then the cat was out of the bag when I started working with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay because they heavily rely on doing improv stuff.
Did it change your career or change the way people looked at you when you went from people knowing you can be funny to people realizing you are funny?
If anything, honestly, to tell you the truth, that's just kind of baggage to me: people see me coming and think, ‘Oh, he's funny.’ That's almost as hard to deal with as, ‘Oh, he's not a funny actor. He can only do dramatic parts.’ I really try to avoid people thinking anything about me. I just like to come in and surprise people and make a director feel like I'm going to be able to be the thing that you need in your movie. And then, hopefully, an audience is able to accept me in whatever new thing I throw at them. In this case, a 643-pound, 9-foot tall, mass of destruction.
You have so many films in your resume that people are probably always going to want to talk about, from ‘Boogie Nights’ to ‘Chicago’ to ‘Stepbrothers.’ This one's going to be different. Are you prepared for being like that integral part of somebody's childhood memories?
Well, yeah. If it was just like some kind of hyper, violent, crazy, just dumb movie, I might feel some misgivings about that, but in fact, I think this movie has some great lessons told in a not clichéd way. I think it has some real, emotional, honest truth to it. I think it ends up being a really touching, older brother/younger sister relationship that we portray in the movie. So, yeah, I think they're in good hands to tell you the truth. They're big hands, but they're good hands.