Interview: John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman (Wreck-It Ralph)

Interview: John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman (Wreck-It Ralph). By Simon Miraudo.

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If you’ve ever wondered if Disney was truly in the business of making dreams come true, you need only look to the voice cast of their latest animated adventure, Wreck-It Ralph, for confirmation. At the wonderful world of Disney, adorable character actor John C. Reilly, crude comic genius Sarah Silverman, 30 Rock’s grinning every-rube Jack McBrayer, and Christopher Guest‘s go-to gal Jane Lynch are all above-the-title movie stars. What fantasy paradise is this? Are cars also made out of marshmallows, and can video games come to life too? Why, yes!

Check out Simon Miraudo’s review of Wreck-It Ralph here.

Reilly stars as the title character, a disgruntled video game baddie who dreams of escaping his two-dimensional arcade universe and securing a hero’s medal from another game. His quest takes him to the syrupy sweet Sugar Rush, where a tempestuous tweenage ‘glitch’ named Vanellope Von Schweetz (Silverman) similarly dreams of one day claiming victory herself. I spoke with Reilly and Silverman over the phone at the end of a long promo junket for the flick. They entertained themselves with a private joke (only occasionally at my expense), discussed working within the Disney machine, and warned against the alienating dangers of video games.

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SM: The both of you have done some voice work – not just on speakerphones – in animated movies and shows before. But I understand that for Wreck-It Ralph, the cast was allowed to interact a little more than is usually done. Can you tell me how the experience was different?

JCR: Yeah, when I met with Rich Moore, the director, I said, “I heard that most animated films were made in isolation. That the actors were kept apart from each other and the voices are just edited together,” which I was shocked to hear. I said, “Well, that would be a terrible way to work, especially if you’re working with someone as great an improviser and have such a nimble comedic mind like Sarah Silverman.”

SS: Right?!

JCR: “So, if we’re gonna have scenes together, we should be in the same room together.” He agreed, so the whole movie was made in that way; in that spirit. We’d do a scripted version, but then we’d also mess around and see what we could come up with in the room.

SM: John, you’re credited with Additional Story Material on the film. How early into the process did you get involved?

JCR: Well, the movie had been developed for a couple years before I was even approached. Once it settled into what it was going to be, or at least close to what it was going to be, I started meeting with Rich, the director, and the story people, and the writer, Phil Johnston, about what my personal viewpoint about the character was and what I thought the strengths or weaknesses of the current drafts were as we went along. But, you know, let’s not go crazy here.

SS: [Laughs]

JCR: Let’s not overestimate the influence someone like me has.

SM: You can take as much credit as you like.

JCR: It was a huge team of people that are making these decisions. They were very kind to give me that credit, but all it did was reflect the fact that I think I improvised a lot and that I tried to be as much a part of the creation of the movie as I could be. Yeah, it was a mitzvah.

SS: [Laughs]

SM: Sarah, can you tell me a little bit about how you scored the part of Vanellope?

SS: They offered it to me. I couldn’t believe it. I’m such a big fan of Disney movies and I know that they don’t mess around. They don’t make them willy-nilly, and they give so much care and detail to them. I was so excited to be asked and get to be a part of it, and then on top of it, for this part to develop into such a… I love her, you know? And I just love the story. It was cool.

SM: She’s a great character, and I like that she’s not all wise and knowing like a lot of kids in the movies. She’s sort of exasperatingly enthusiastic, in the best way. Was your performance based on any kids you know in particular?

SS: Just, kind of, me as a kid. Maybe a little Punky Brewster? [Laughs]

SM: Sure.

SS: A bit of Soleil Moon Frye.

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SM: Perfect. That comeback needs to happen. John, over the years you’ve worked with directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, and even guys like the Duplass brothers, and Tim and Eric. I figure a lot of these filmmakers have a lot of creative freedom. Did you have any apprehension, in those early stages, about being part of a big animated tentpole Disney film, not knowing how the process worked inside that machine?

JCR: Yeah. You know, I didn’t want to be part of some big ferkakta community of people that were going to be making group decisions all the time. I’m used to working with directors who are at the top of the pyramid in terms of the vision of a story. Like, that’s the person who leads it. I wasn’t sure. As an actor, you really depend on the leadership of one person, to kind of lead you out of the desert.

SS: [Laughs]

JCR: Like, “This is the person we’re following. This is our Moses. This is the guy.” The animated process is a much more, you know… it takes a village to make an animated movie. The way people all come together from the different departments.

SS: They really just let their people go.

SM: I’m sensing a specific tone to a private joke that might be going on over there.

SS: He’s giving a lot of Jewish references, because his friend Sarah is a big Jew!

SM: I’m glad you guys are still able to have fun on what has been surely a very long press junket.

JCR: I wasn’t just goofing. I was answering the question, okay?

SM: No, no, no, of course. Saying that, the film has been a massive hit in the U.S., so you are doing this junket in Australia almost as a victory lap. You must have plenty of very young, very little fans, which is surely new. How has that experience been?

JCR: Yeah we do. Boychiks. But we also have a big section of the audience, the alter kockers.

SS: [Laughs]

JCR: The story of Ralph is kind of like a mid-life crisis story. The fact he’s been doing the same thing for thirty years and then he starts to struggle. Is this all there is to life? Is there any meaning beyond that? I’m not just goofing here, I really mean it.

SS: They’re real answers, they just have Jewiness in them.

JCR: The movie has been appealing to… the whole mishpucka could come to this movie and enjoy some part of it.

SM: There is this great story about the origin of Toy Story, and how the character of Woody, in the original cut, seemed like a real jerk, even though he was voiced by Tom Hanks. John, you’re playing a video game villain, but he’s a nice guy, and Vanellope’s a firecracker too. Was it a struggle to get the tone right and to make these characters likable?

JCR: For me, it was a little bit of a struggle, because knowing someone has a heart of gold, knowing that the story is going to end up that the guy finds his way, it was a little difficult from the beginning to play the wrongheaded path he starts out on. Someone who believes that getting a medal is going to prove “I’m good!” It’s such a wrongheaded way to think; eventually the journey goes internal, as he goes on, and he realises what it really takes to be a good person or a hero. So yeah, it was difficult in that way, in the beginning, but one of the main people who kept pushing me to be, like, a blundering, wrongheaded fool in the beginning of the story was Jim Reardon, the main story guy for Disney. “You gotta have somewhere to go! You can’t just be likable from the beginning! Then it makes no sense that everyone’s mean to him in his game. He’s gotta be kind of a jerk, a little bit! Don’t be afraid of that.” It gives us somewhere to move to.

SM: And how about for you Sarah? Was it a struggle to get that tone right, to not make the character seem unlikable?

SS: For me, I really leaned on the arc of the script, and just playing the dialogue real, you know? I could be as obnoxious as I wanted, and the changes and the things seemed pretty clear; the places where it changed over. It’s like when they start caring about things other than themselves, there’s like this turning point. It came pretty naturally, I think, once I started.

JCR: If you don’t start off as a jerk, it’s hard to end up being a mensch by the end of it.

SM: Absolutely.

JCR: And that’s the dynamic between my character and Sarah. An older brother/younger sister.

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SM: Nice one. Well, it’s a cliché to ask, but as someone who was inspired by Wreck-It Ralph to go and buy a games console for the first time in a decade…

SS: Oh wow.

SM: Do either of you have a favourite game that you play now? That you played in your youth?

SS: I recently, well, maybe a year ago, tracked down a Nintendo 64 console to play Goldeneye, and I hadn’t played it since it came out. It’s hard to even find it now. A friend of mine who we used to play together got their hands on one and we played for many hours, and then never again.

SM: Goldeneye is amazing. A fantastic game. John?

JCR: You’re considering buying a console and you’re wondering which one you should get?

SM: I’ve already done it. The movie inspired me in such a way. Did you have a favourite game?

JCR: Well, back in the day I liked Space Invaders and that kind of stuff. It’s been a while since I put anytime into it. I would recommend that you get rid of your games console, especially if you have a family. It’s only going to alienate all of you. Get outside and enjoy the world.

SM: I’m a 24-year-old film critic; I don’t have much of a life.

SS: [Laughs]

JCR: You don’t have a family?

SM: I have a girlfriend. No family yet. She likes it. She can play The Sims.

JCR: Okay. We’ll see how long that lasts.

SM: Dating advice from John C. Reilly, thank you.

JCR: When you’re getting up in the middle of the night, see how happy she is that you’ve been playing video games for eight hours.

SM: It’s all downhill from here, I’m sure. Sarah, I actually really enjoyed your work in Take This Waltz this year.

SS: Thank you.

SM: That’s okay. Would you like to take on more dramatic roles?

SS: Yeah, I would love that. As a comedian, you feel so totally in control of your life. In terms of this, I would love to. I feel like so much inside me, but it just takes someone like a Sarah Polley who can visualize me in that way, to get those parts.

SM: Excellent. Well, I’m glad Sarah Polley did take the initiative there.

SS: Thank you.

SM: And John, I’m a big, big fan of Walk Hard, and I’m always glad to see you reunite with the Judd Apatow/Adam McKay crowd. Will you be making an appearance in Anchorman 2?

JCR: You know, it’s funny, because I was supposed to be in Anchorman 1, but I was off making another movie. I think that ship’s sailed when I wasn’t able to make that one. Who knows? If I’m asked, I will certainly be of service, but I think they’ve got everyone they need. That movie is such a classic; I’m so excited to see the sequel. I don’t have any expectations in that way.

SM: Okay, no worries. Can I ask what’s coming up next for the both of you?

JCR: Well, I’ve been just playing music and looking for the next great thing to do. I don’t really have anything . I mean, I’m developing a book that we’re trying to turn into a film, but other than that I’m just waiting for the next cool thing. Sarah?

SS: I have so many projects. I mean, there aren’t enough fingers to count, really, how much I have going on. I really want it to just be a surprise.

SM: Fair enough.

SS: I’m joking, I have nothing.

SM: I was looking forward to your potential show with Harris Wittels and Tig Notaro. Is there any future to that?

SS: Oh! That was so fun, yeah. It was probably for the best though. I don’t think I belong in network. You have to go through fifteen hoops for every s**t you take. But it was really fun. We had a good time, and those remain some of my closest friends, of course, because we all worked together on my other show, The Sarah Silverman Program.

Wreck-It Ralph arrives in Australian cinemas December 26, 2012.

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