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Interview: Actor John C. Reilly on Going Beyond the Arcade for ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’

November 21, 2018Ben MK

Whether you know him as a member of the Nova Corps or as Will Ferrell's step brother, there's no denying that John C. Reilly has forged quite an eclectic career for himself.

Now, Reilly is returning to one of his most beloved roles, in the follow up to Disney's 2012 animated hit, Wreck-It Ralph. With Ralph Breaks the Internet, Reilly reprises his role as the lovable and well-intentioned Ralph, as he and his pal Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) leave the familiarity of Mr. Litwack's arcade behind for new adventures in the big, wide world that is the Internet. Encountering a slew of new characters along the way, the pair find their friendship put to the test, as they set out in search of a valuable item that could prevent Vanellope's home — the arcade game Sugar Rush — from meeting an untimely end.

In the second of our two-part interview series for Ralph Breaks the Internet, I sat down with John C. Reilly to talk about the sequel, his diverse career, and the impact that the Internet has had on his own life.

This being a sequel, you had the benefit of going into it already having a clear vision of the characters and the world that you probably had to largely imagine when doing the first one. Did that change how you approached the role this time around? What was it like coming back to the character of Ralph six years later?

Reilly: Well, it made it a little bit easier. We had to discover who the guy was and what his tendencies were, and what the rules of that universe in the arcade were — we had to figure all that out the first time. So it was easier, starting from a place of familiarity with Ralph and their relationship.

It also allowed us to jump in right away with this emotional stuff. Sarah [Silverman] and I know each other a lot more than we did when we started the first movie, and their relationship has also aged since the last movie — so it felt really good to go back to these characters. It felt very familiar and Ralph's a very funny character to play. Anytime you're the guy that gets everything wrong, [laughs] that's always a really funny character to play.

How did the real-life dynamic like between you and your co-star, Sarah Silverman, translate to Ralph and Vanellope's on-screen friendship?

Reilly: I suppose it just translated in the bond that you feel us having in the movie. It also translated in the comfort of us working together. Anytime you go through something with somebody, you come out the other side, if it's a good experience, a little more trusting of them. You make yourself vulnerable in front of them, and then you end up trusting them after doing something like that. So, yeah, I think that's how it translated itself — with just us being in a more mature place in our friendship than we were when we started the first time.

There are also a few new characters — including Gal Gadot's Shank, Alan Tudyk's KnowsMore and Taraji P. Henson's Yesss. Out of all of them, do you have a favorite character, and did you get a chance to record with Gal, Alan or Taraji?

Reilly: Yeah, I worked with everybody, except Gal Gadot. And, I have to say, that is my favorite new character. [laughs] Shank, her character in Slaughter Race, is such a great mentor for Sarah's character. And I love the fact that Shank is Vanellope's new friend, but Shank doesn't say to her, "Don't hang out with Ralph, he's boring," or "He's not a good friend, hang out with me." She just says to Vanellope, "What do you wanna do? You're entitled to your feelings, and you should be allowed to do whatever you want. You should be able to be friends with who you want. And your friends certainly shouldn't hold you back."

So I think that's a really cool thing that they made her this positive character, as opposed to someone who was a negative influence or someone who was a challenge to Ralph.

Since voice acting is somewhat different from being on camera, do you have a different routine than normal for getting into character before a take?

Reilly: It's a pretty internal process. And then you also have Phil [Johnston] and Rich [Moore] there, directing you. They're in the room with me when I'm doing it. Actually, the first thing we do when I go to record is I'll sit with Rich, he'll take the storyboards of the scene — which are these tiny little drawings of every single frame change in the scene — and he'll say, "Then you go here, then you go here, then you open this big, heavy door and you go here." And so all those little details is what prepares me.

Cuz it's often not written in the script exactly the physical environment that you're in. So it gives me a chance to go like, "Oh, ok, so when I go to that big, heavy door I'll go arrrgghhhhh!" It clues you in to the soundscape that you should be creating in order to reflect that physical world.

Of course, right before this film you also starred in The Sisters Brothers, which was quite a demanding role, drama-wise. But you're an actor who can easily bounce between dramatic and comedic roles. What's your secret to maintaining such a diverse career?

Reilly: Hmm, the word no is my secret. [laughs] Whenever something comes my way, when it just seems like someone trying to capitalize on a character that I've played before — trying to get me to do the same thing again, because it worked before — that's when you have to go, "Nah." You have to do things for the right reason, you have to do stuff that you really believe, and you have to work with people that really inspire you.

That said, the truth is the audience is the reason that I'm able to do different things. Some actors get stereotyped by the audience, cuz the audience wants to see you be a certain way, and they like you in that role. But for whatever reason, audiences have been really wonderful to me. They allow me to try all kinds of different things. It's somewhat of a unique career as an actor, the range of stuff that I've been able to do. So I'm very grateful to the audience for that.

Since the Internet has such a huge impact on Ralph and the other characters in the film, I have to ask — how has the Internet impacted you and your life?

Reilly: Well, I mean, I live in the world. The Internet has completely transformed our entire world. In the usual ways, it's transformed my life. I talk on the phone a lot less. I tend to write people now, rather than talking so much. But it has made me appreciate actual human contact — being with someone. And it's made me realize that you have to really cultivate those kind of relationships — that you have to make the effort to go out and see people, and go to lunch and whatever it is.

If you're not gonna have that contact that you had on the phone before, to keep it from being just a total virtual relationship, you have to go out and see people. So it revolutionized me in that way — it made me appreciate the richness of life off of computers.

What are some of your favorite time-wasters on the Internet?

Reilly: I look at a lot of clown paintings on eBay. [laughs] I collect clown paintings, so that's kind of a time-waster, trolling through eBay looking for the next cool clown painting. And I read a lot of news, probably more than is healthy for me right now, the way things are going in the world. But I do think it's important to what's going on in the world.

Do you have a most memorable moment from making the movie?

Reilly: My most memorable moments were those emotional scenes with Sarah. Cuz after all the time that I've known her now, you build up this place of vulnerability. You get to a place where you can be that vulnerable with each other. I mean, it's really fun to be funny. Those are always very joyful days when you get to be funny and make fart sounds and whatever. But the deeply satisfying days are when you walk away like, "Wow, we did something really real and emotional there." So those are the days I remember. There were a few of those, too.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is now in theatres.

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