With Terri opening in limited release this weekend, I recently had the chance to chat with the actors as well as director Azazel Jacobs (Momma’s Man). The story, crafted out of exchanges between short story writer Patrick Dewitt (Ablutions) and Jacobs, centers on high school misfit Terri, played with great candor by newcomer Jacob Wysocki, and his unlikely friendship with his Vice Principal (John C. Reilly). Actress Olivia Crocicchia (Rescue Me) stars as Terri’s only friend and crush, while The Office’s Creed Bratton plays the boy’s semi-lucid uncle.
The film has both a maturity and youthfulness to it, separating it from some of the other indies this summer. Jacobs’ thoughtful pace allows for uniquely honest moments to occur, oscillating from poignant to laugh-out-laud funny—not to mention, the director’s fascination with nature adds a rare documentary feel. During the interview, we discuss the development of the project, Wysocki’s relatability to Terri, and some of the actors’ own high school experiences. Hit the jump for the interview.
Jacob Wysocki: I guess my first initial reaction was “that’s weird” but that was like the first time I read it, before the first read. Then I did my first audition and I came back and it started to make sense that it’s just like about this person who’s just at this point where it’s like, “Well, it can’t get much worse, so I might as well be comfortable.”
John C. Reilly: (Laughs). If you get made fun for the way you look, then maybe wearing the same thing every day is the best way to protect yourself. But I don’t know, you used to have those dreams where you’d go to school with no pants on….kind of feels like that.
How many different sets of those same blue and white striped pajamas did you have to wear throughout the whole thing?
Jacob: There was only one pair of each pajama that I wore, because some of them were retro, from a warehouse somewhere so there was like one set of them.
Reilly: You know they give gifts in movies at the end of shoots and often they give t-shirts that say the movie on it. Everyone got a pair of pajamas on the movie that says “Terri” on the pocket. I wear ‘em.
Jacob: Oh they’re very comfortable.
What was your school policy on pajamas?
Reilly: I went to an all-boys Catholic school and not only were we not allowed to wear pajamas, we had to wear dress shirts, dress pants, a tie, dress shoes…they stopped making us wear blazers like two years before I started there, so pajamas…you wouldn’t even get in the front door wearing pajamas at my school.
Were you anything like him in high school?
Reilly: Anything like Terri? Mmm, no. I mean I was very shy but I was also very extroverted because I was doing plays. I’d been doing plays since I was a little kid. But, I did feel like an outsider because I went to like a ‘college-prep’ kind of high school that had a really big football team and was known for its program so I was like this weird boy that did plays. But I had my own little posse of people that all felt weird together so it wasn’t so lonely.
Reilly: No (laughs). We befriended people like Terri, we would have gotten you into the chorus of the play.
Jacob: Oh I’m sure he would have loved that.
Jacob, did you do any plays in high school or when did you get into acting?
Jacob: I started off doing improv in high school and I was pretty OK with that, I was like, “this is cool.” But the drama teachers were eventually like, “No, you gotta do more than just this,” and they sort of started to make me try out for the plays and they’d be like, “Why don’t you try out for a musical?!” or, “Take a dance class!” So by my junior year I was doing the plays and the musical and doing dance stuff because it was easy and the teachers were cool. So when I left high school it stopped—the theatrical-ness of it, and I just kept up with the improv, but that’s what I’ve learned what I liked to do was those plays.
Do you relate at all to your character Terri?
Jacob: I mean, at the core, the true person that I am, there are a lot of similarities because I’ve gone through similar things that Terri has, and I’ve thought “why am I being picked on for my size, why does that make me different..? I don’t really understand why this is a big deal.” But, at the same time, I was not ‘the outcast’ at the school, I had friends, my own niche, I liked doing what I was doing. I definitely was not in the same shoes as him, but I can definitely relate.
Jacob: There were some moments where it gets a little too familiar, and you’re reliving that same emotion, and when you come out of it it’s kind of weird, because you remember all this kind of stuff that you’ve repressed and put aside, and so, you get a little shaky and you’re like, “Woah, I need a second to take a deep breath.” But I didn’t go nuts or anything…It wasn’t like that. It was not traumatic at all! It was actually kind of cool and therapeutic to go to those places and figure it out and see that that is a possibility that you can do as a person.
Can you talk about your transition from high school to acting?
Jacob: After high school I was like “I’mmmmmm going to school and be boring” because it was practical and I didn’t want to take a chance. But now that I’m not in college I’m like, it was stupid that I went. I went to college for two years and dropped out before I transferred. But it was totally worth it and it’s my goal to never go back. I mean, I would like to finish. My dad is like “you should get a degree” because no one in my family has one and I’m the only hope. So, I’d like to finish it up but right now, I’ve very happy.
You’re in the movies, come on.
Jacob: Yeah exactly, I’m getting a different type of education.
Did it take you guys a while to get a rhythm going?
Reilly: We got to know each other a bit during the audition process. We didn’t have a lot of time to make the movie so we had to jump in right away.
John, at this point in your career, are you in danger of any stereotypes? Or can you still pretty much get into projects that can challenge you?
Reilly: Doesn’t seem like there’s any danger of being stereotyped. Unless you do the same thing, it’s tough for stereotypes to stick. That said, whatever you’ve done that’s most popular at a given moment is what people think “you do.” I get a lot of great support for the comedy that I’ve done, but the next few things that I’ve got coming out are widely varied. From this to Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, which is a big broad comedy, to a tense drama with Tilda Swinton called We Need to Talk About Kevin. I just made a film with Roman Polanski based on a play, called Carnage. So that’s kind of all over the map now.
Did you add anything to the character?
Reilly: I didn’t really add anything to the script, but I can tell you from the audition process—I was already committed to doing the movie—before they figured out who was going to play Terri, I read with a few people who were being considered for the part. And I can tell you that even without changing the lines, or trying to deliberately put your own stamp on something, characters on the page vary widely based on who inhabits that character. So Terri, as played by one of the other kids that read for it, would have been very different than what Jacob did, and I think the same is true of my character. So you define the role by the fact that it’s you trying to bring the role to life. So you’re trying to bring the role to life in a way that you see is honest, and sometimes that affects what your own personality is like. But to be honest, I don’t even know what my own personality is really like (laughs). I’ve been acting for so long.
Reilly: Not so much. As far as research on roles, I look at a script and if there’s something I feel I really don’t understand, then I’ll talk to people who are in that field so I get a sense of what I don’t understand, but having had a guidance counselor, a family of my own, and interacting with young kids being the age that I am, I felt like I understood where the guy was coming from. So I didn’t have to talk to a vice principal in order to, you know…It’s not every high school story you’re telling, or some other vice principals story. It’s this story and this story is in the script.
Jacob, there’s a great scene in the movie with a bird and the mice you catch in your attack… tell me about the mice.
Jacob: They were like frozen feeder mice for snakes, and they were painted because I think the feeder mice are all white I think, so they painted them… they were humanely treated.
And the owl ate them up…
Jacob: That was the coolest thing. Could have been my favorite thing to film because that reaction face is so genuine. Because I’m like really close to this giant, like, almost raptor creature—this like raptor bird—and I was just like “It’s eating this!” It was just being vicious and I was like “this is just so cool.”
How did they choreograph that?
Reilly: It was a high pressure day.
Jacob: Yeah, there was a lot going on.
Jacob: So they brought two birds.
Reilly: They rented the birds and once the bird’s hungry, hopefully it eats the thing on camera and so they got probably two takes right?
Jacob: We got two takes, one with one bird, one with the other and it was just kind of like “Let’s go….!”
Where was that filmed, that particular scene in the woods?
Jacob: That was up in Alta Dena I think.
In terms of that scene, what are your thoughts on the whiskey and pills?
Jacob: I think kids are going to get into whatever kids are going to get into. I mean, I was a kid.
Reilly: I would say whisky or pills. Not both because that can have disastrous consequences.
Jacob: Yeah, I mean, kids are going to do what they’re told not to do. Anytime someone tells me not to do something, my first gut inclination is to do the immediate opposite. Probably because I’m young and don’t like authoritative figures. I figure, go ahead, do what you want to do…don’t get caught I guess.
Reilly: Don’t die.
Jacob: Yeah, don’t die. Or get caught. Use a condom.