Catching Up With... Jake Kasdan and John C. Reilly
Interview by Jesse Jarnow
Taking a break from their tender post-Farrelly brothers comedies, the members of the Apatow Cartel aim even broader with Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. John C. Reilly stars as the parodying, pun-inducing Cox, who traipses from cliché to cliché, with an occasional bout of full-frontal dudeage. With a soundtrack of trope-perfect homages that range from Bob Dylan to Brian Wilson, the film itself plays for slapstick.
Helming is Jake Kasdan, who co-wrote the film with Judd Apatow, whom he worked with on the short-lived (and much beloved) series Freaks & Geeks. Although he's the son of screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Big Chill) and director of the paranoid comedy Zero Effect (1998), his latest owes more to Airplane and the late night conversations of two thirtysomething music dorks.
Paste: I hear you wrote the film on the phone.
Jake Kasdan: We did, we did. It probably just arose out of the fact that we're both busy doing other things during the day, and we're both kind of night owls who talk on the phone late at night anyway, so it was partly just our natural rhythm. Also, we are lazy and live way across town from each other. We started bouncing ideas back and forth and making notes about various kinds of joke sequences. We started that way for a couple of months, cataloguing jokes and ideas, and eventually sat down and figured out an outline that would contain a lot of them. Then we tried out different parts and passed it back and forth for rewrites.
Paste: How tight was the script? Was there a lot of improv?
Kasdan: The stylistic demands of the piece, just the fact that everybody talks in that weird biopic-y talk, limited it a touch. And also the fact that we were within a fairly rigid structure—dovetailing in and out of songs in so many scenes, and so much of it is musical, or a montage, or intended to be a montage—necessitated that it wasn't constant improv, exactly, but there was consistently a good deal of it. Whenever the scene lends itself to it, there's a lot of it. We tried to do as much as we could.
Paste: How did you start working with Judd Apatow?
Kasdan: We had met socially before Freaks & Geeks. I was a huge fan of his from The Ben Stiller Show, which I loved, which is how I became acquainted with Ben, who was the star of my first movie, Zero Effect. I knew Judd a little that way, but we didn't know each other really well. Then he called me out of the blue and asked me to do the Freaks pilot. The story he always tells is that, when he called, he'd never actually seen my movie. He knew nothing about my work. It was a recommendation from someone that seemed like an instinct that he should follow. Then he saw my movie and realized it had nothing to do with Freaks & Geeks. No relationship at all. It's been a big, major connection. We've continued to work together, and we've become very close in the process of that. For whatever reason, we really got along well and complemented each other well. His process is so different from mine, and from the process that I'd grown up around. He comes from a real comedy background, very clearly: working for stand-ups at joke-writing. He thinks primarily in terms of jokes and everything else follows, and that's not how I really think about writing. And I come from more story, character. So that was a cool thing. He hadn't really directed at that time. I think I demystified that for him a little bit.
Paste: Was there a breaking point in seeing other biopics that made you want to make this?
Kasdan: It was more cumulative. There'd been so many in such a short time. Not just music biopics, but someone's-entire-life kind of movies. For a few years there, it seemed like every November/December, there'd be five of them. And they were always packaged the same way: a very important story of a significant person whose story tells us something about ourselves and America. Like, "Once in a lifetime, there is a story..." Always with a central performance that is legitimately brilliant. That thing, of playing the entire human experience, it just started to seem that we were seeing a lot of it. By the nature of the problems you get while doing that, we'd get a lot...everybody's extraordinary life started to seem sort of similar.
Paste: What was it like having Jack White play Elvis?
Kasdan: The world's funniest, strangest Elvis imitation. An impressionistic Elvis impression. He was in the movie 'cause John called him and said, "Do you wanna do this?" We knew we wanted to get some actual rock stars in the movie, and that one needed to be funny. We sort of suspected that Jack White had a real sense of humor, and indeed he's hilarious. He showed up and was improvising for hours, no problem. That was very impressive. He was going hours and takes and takes and hitting all kinds of insane veins and just riffing for hours with John. He was pretty unbelievable. There are 20 ways that scene could've played out. We went with something that made us laugh. There's a longer version on the DVD. With that scene, we came up with the funny idea that maybe he should just be speaking in an incomprehensible gibberish. And as soon as someone threw that out there, it became obvious that he could do it for hours and not sound like he was repeating himself.
Paste: In Knocked Up, there's a crowning shot. Here, there is male full-frontal. What can possibly come next?
Kasdan: Believe me, Judd is actually sitting somewhere right now trying to figure out what you show after a penis. You should call him and ask him; I'm sure he has some thoughts of that. In Forgetting Sarah Marshall [coming 5/08], which is one of our other movies, which our friend Jason Segel from Freaks wrote and stars in, you actually get Jason's penis, so I guess the lead actor's penis is the next frontier. I don't know what follows after that.
Continue to the next page to read Paste's conversation with John C. Reilly
John C. Reilly
Interview by Pamela Chelin
Dewey Cox is real. Or rather, it would be hard to fault those in attendance at the handful of tour dates John C. Reilly performed in December for thinking so. Reilly remained in character throughout each performance, owning the stage as legitimately as any real-life rock star. He flirted with women in the audience, stripped off clothes and claimed that Robert Dylan stole songs from him.
When Paste spoke with Reilly while on tour in Cleveland, he was about to perform at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Paste: What was your initial reaction to the Walk Hard screenplay?
John C. Reilly: Jake and Judd, who wrote it, called me before they had written it. They had the idea that, before they put energy into writing a script for someone, they wanted to make sure that I wanted to do it. Their whole thing when they started was, "We want to write this for you so that it's not just you trying to do some idea that we have. We want it to fit you perfectly." We had a lot of fun. Jake Kasdan has a lot of funny stuff in there already, but those guys solicited my ideas and I participated in the writing of the script. I quickly realized it's like a dream job to be able to do all this music and get to do a biopic with all the production value and cool time periods and to be as irreverent as we wanted to be and not have to worry about offending someone or someone's family. That's what makes the movie really special and nuts. It is almost like we descended on a set of a real biopic and transplanted all the actors with really funny comedians.
Paste: What was the best part about playing Dewey Cox?
Reilly: The undiluted confidence that he has. I am a pretty modest guy. I generally don't think of myself as a rock star, but to be able to play one is really fun. It is amazing to be able to flirt with every woman you come in contact with and to live the rock 'n' roll lifestyle at least on camera.
Paste:Then it's back to reality and your wife and children.
Reilly: Yeah. They remind me that I'm Dad and not Dewey.
Paste: How would Dewey describe Dewey?
Reilly: He would describe himself as the greatest music legend that ever lived. He'd say that he was twice as famous as Elvis and 10,000 times as poetic as Bon Jovi. I don't know (laughs). Dewey has a very high opinion of himself. He would say words cannot describe Dewey Cox. It can only be done through music.
Paste: If you had to choose between being an actor or a rock star, which would it be?
Reilly: I'm gonna have to stick with actor because, as an actor, you eventually get to do everything. There's more variety. A rock star's a rock star and then hopefully you have a graceful retirement and hopefully your manager doesn't screw you out of your royalties and you have some money before your body goes. I know actors who were acting to their last day. They died onstage.
Paste: Do you have a favorite rock star?
Reilly: Right now, my favorite rock star is Jack White from the White Stripes. We met at one of his shows and talked a couple of times on the phone. I got his phone number from a friend and I would call him and tell him how much I loved the record and we'd talk about this and that. That is what is great about being an actor. I have Jack White's phone number!
Paste: What is your favorite biopic?
Reilly: Coal Miner's Daughter. That is the gold standard in my opinion. It was one of the first ones before these movies kind of became clichés.
Paste: Did you at all envision This Is Spinal Tap when you were you making this film?
Reilly: Spinal Tap is amazing. It's like Christopher Guest invented a type of movie in order to do the mockumentary. We knew, going into this, that we'd never get close to a Spinal Tap thing. But it also wasn't what we were going after. We were trying to do a polished, finished looking movie.
Paste:Did you ever think you'd be playing the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame?
Reilly: No, that's crazy when you consider the people who are exhibited there. It's a pretty overwhelming feeling. I think people here in Cleveland are happy that we came. And, it's a cold day in Cleveland, so hopefully we'll get revved up and warm everybody up.