John C. Reilly on Method Acting, Daniel Day-Lewis and John Malkovich

Actor John C Reilly

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Emma Stone's Advice to Actors
Emma Stone's Advice to Actors

“Every actor is different. I only do as much research as I have to, to feel like I understand what a character did.” – John C. Reilly

Academy Award-nominated actor John C. Reilly is not a method actor–in other words, he didn’t feel it necessary to move back in with his parents as a middle-aged man in order to learn how to play Dale in Step Brothers. With that said, Reilly does believe it’s his responsibility as an actor to get it right by staying true to the character his playing. Speaking to Vulture about his experience with method actors, Reilly shares two stories about how far he saw actors Daniel Day-Lewis and John Malkovich take their performances.

Reilly memorably acted opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Martin Scorsese‘s Gangs of New York, and off-screen he had a humorous encounter with Day-Lewis, who is known not to break character when on set. He remembers, “When you’re on set with Daniel, he is not there. When we were making Gangs of New York, he and I hung out a little on the weekends. I remember coming in on a Monday after having a playdate with our children — he’d been so lovely and gentle and he brought me a cup of tea — and I made the mistake of saying, ‘Hey, thanks for the great weekend.’ Then he said, in the dialect of his character, ‘Fuck off, Jack.’ He called me by my character’s name. I was like, Whoa, okay, message received. You’re not here right now. I get it.

Regarding that level of immersion in a role, Reilly says it’s not for him–though he does admire it when another actor is able to do it (he recalls one instance in which John Malkovich, when starring in Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class in Chicago, was able to urinate on stage every night):

“Every actor is different. I only do as much research as I have to, to feel like I understand what a character did. Like, I understood enough about longline fishing to play the guy from The Perfect Storm. I familiarize myself with the character’s skill set but try to stay loose and improvisational enough to embrace the moment as it comes, to be alive on-camera, because that’s what the camera wants. The audience wants you to surprise them, to look like you’re not just doing something you planned to do but doing something right in front of them for the first time. That’s what makes acting compelling. But everyone I know who heard that Malkovich was able to pee on command onstage thought that was an amazing technical ability.”

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