In the dark comedy “Cyrus,” John (John C. Reilly) and Cyrus (Jonah Hill) vie for the attention of the same woman – John’s new girlfriend and Cyrus’s mother (Marissa Tomei).
During an interview with me at the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival in March, Reilly and Hill sat down to talk about Reilly’s singing talents, how Hill was able to make his character funny without getting to creepy, and whether they’ve ever had any luck when it comes to hitting on women.
John, you’ve had to show off you singing abilities in past movies like “Walk Hard,” “Chicago,” and even a bit in “Magnolia.” What was it like to have to forget all that and sing as badly as you possible could in “Cyrus?”
John C. Reilly: I don’t sing in this movie. I don’t think I sing. Do I?
Jonah Hill: Yeah you do. (Singing) Don’t…don’t you want me.
JCR: Oh yeah, that. I forgot that. What movie is this? “Cyrus,” oh yeah.
JH: Great singing scene.
JCR: Well, I tried to sing as best I could without sounding like a professional singer, which my character is not. That was actually a very difficult scene to shoot because it was really embarrassing. All these extras are standing around not reacting and me trying to get people involved in the song. It was like excruciatingly embarrassing, actually.
JH: Yeah, as it is to watch.
JCR: Yeah. You know like the full body sweat? You’re so embarrassed your whole body starts sweating at once. It’s like, “Whew, OK!”
JH: I was so impressed though because John, he’s a professional singer. He’s got like a beautiful voice. So, to me, it’s always impressive when people have good voices, when they attempt to sing badly, you can usually still hear that they have a great voice in it. I thought he was amazing because I’ve heard him sing and he’s incredible. To hear him pull that off and actually sound like he has a bad voice was a really great acting coo on his part.
Jonah, how did you confront this role that could have easily turned more awkward than it already was? I mean, there’s a distinct line between Cyrus and his mom, but how did you manage not to cross the line into total weirdness?
JH: I just kept on thinking, “What would happen if someone tried to take away the thing that was most important to you in the entire world?” What would you do to stop that from happening? Whoever it is, whether it’s your mom or your girlfriend, or your best friend, I just treated Marissa’s character like the most important thing in the world to me and didn’t pay attention that she was my mom. I never let that enter my head. She was just the most important thing in the world to me. I didn’t think, “Oh, it’s my mom” and treat it like that. It just happens to be my mom, which makes it weird.
John, we see how socially awkward you can be during the party scene when you’re talking to girls. How good were you at flirting and making small talk in real life when you were single and trying to meet women?
JCR: I was not good. I was not good at it. I would always have to become friends with people first and kind of go at it that way. I was never somebody who could go in with the right line or talk to strangers very well. I got better at it since I had to do it more for work. But as a young person, I was concerned about seeming phony. I remember when I finished acting school a lot of people were like, “You gotta work it. You gotta like schmooze.” I was like, “Ugh, that sounds just so phony and terrible!” I think it’s just a journey that you take. You grow and you learn how to open up to people and be confident in yourself. I think it was more about my confidence when I was younger.
What about you Jonah?
JH: I always think about what you were saying, like if you had to “schmooze” or “schmoozing” or flirting or hitting on a girl. It’s one of those things, if you could ever see a video of yourself doing it you would blow your brains out because it would be so uncomfortable to watch yourself put yourself through that and lose all yourself respect.
JCR: And that’s…
JH: …what you watch in this movie. (Laughs) Thank God you have a lovely wife and a family. You don’t have to worry about that anymore.