Interview: John C Reilly on Carnage and Terri

John C Reilly, star of Carnage and Terri - interview

The actor discusses his prolific rate of appearances in both higher and lower profile movies

‘I have been a busy boy, haven’t I?’ grins John C Reilly. And it’s true. Last seen as the luckless father in We Need To Talk About Kevin, the Chicago-born actor now stars in Roman Polanski’s Carnage and US indie Terri. Factor in two major upcoming summer comedies – Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator and Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie – and Reilly really has been gainfully employed of late.

His philosophy is simple. ‘You do like my character in We Need To Talk About Kevin does – hope for the best, ignore the worst, and get on with it.’ He plays another parent in Carnage, a four-hander co-starring Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster and Christoph Waltz. Based on Yasmina Reza’s play, and set in one apartment in ninety-minutes of real time, it sees two Manhattan couples try and settle a playground scrap between their respective offspring.

Wickedly funny, the joy of Carnage is watching the respectable veneer of these adults slip away to reveal baser instincts. ‘These people are saying one thing and then they are behaving in another way,’ says Reilly. ‘It’s the hypocrisy of their behaviour that makes it funny.’ Rehearsing the movie like a play, Reilly, admits it was a challenge. ‘You really feel under to pressure to perform when you’re working with a director that’s so great. You don’t want to let him down. But he was very happy, apparently.’

While he’s worked with such legends as Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma, Reilly ‘never dreamed’ he would meet Polanski. ‘That was just one of those phone calls – like “What?” I literally was thinking in the days before that phone call, “That’s it! I’m dead in the water. There’s nothing going on. The world has finally figured out that I’m not good. I better find something else to do!”’

It’s bizarre to think that Reilly – 25 years in the business, over 50 films on his CV – still has moments of self-doubt. ‘Of course,’ he cries. ‘Maybe I should see a shrink!’ Underneath the bonhomie, this former member of Chicago’s Steppenwolf theatre clearly makes huge demands of himself. ‘The thing I tried to remember when I was younger was “Do something that’s at least as good, if not better, than the last thing you did.” So I started with Brian De Palma and Sean Penn. I had a pretty high bar to start with.’

Hardly leading man material, with his bulbous nose and curly mop of hair, it took Paul Thomas Anderson to truly ‘discover’ him, casting Reilly in 1996’s gambling story Hard 8. ‘That was a huge turning point,’ he admits. Despite since gaining an Oscar nod for Chicago – yes, he really can sing – Reilly is still happy to pay his indie dues. Take the darkly comic Terri, in which he plays a headmaster who becomes a ‘flawed mentor’ to an overweight, unpopular pupil.

Produced by his wife Alison Dickey, it’s a perfectly engineered turn by Reilly. ‘He starts off very confident, formal, and as this voice of authority, but then you realise he has troubles inside of him halfway through the movie.’ Put next to his broad comedies like Step Brothers, and it shows just how supremely versatile Reilly is: ‘Really if you look at my filmography,’ he laughs, ‘there’s something for everyone!’

Carnage, general release from Fri 3 Feb; Terri, GFT, Thu 9 Feb, 8.30pm, screening as part of Glasgow Youth Film Festival.

Terri - Trailer

Carnage Official Trailer 2011


  • 4 stars
  • 2011
  • France / Germany / Poland / Spain
  • 1h 19min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Roman Polanski
  • Cast: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C Reilly
  • UK release: 3 February 2012

A playground spat between two boys causes their parents to try to settle their differences. There's little attempt to disguise the film's theatrical origins, but it plays out at such a blistering pace and boasts such exuberant performances that it's hard not to give in to it. Fast, funny and filthy.


  • 2011
  • USA
  • 1h 45min
  • Directed by: Azazel Jacobs
  • Written by: Patrick Dewitt
  • Cast: John C Reilly, Jacob Wysocki, Creed Bratton

When quiet student Terri is teased for his pudgy frame he responds by wearing pyjamas to class. His odd behaviour attracts the attention of Vice-Principal Mr Fitzgerald (John C Reilly) whose inept efforts to motivate Terri only make matters worse. High school movies about awkward misfits are common and Terri could have…

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