Dramedies about love triangles are somewhat commonplace. Dramedies about an unconventional love triangle with stalker-like behavior attached to one of the three characters is much more rare. That smaller sub-genre becomes almost non-existent when the perpetrator is also the son of one of the other two involved. Cyrus, which begins a national rollout today in New York and Los Angeles, pulls it off, due in large part to its stars: John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill. The latest film from writers/co-directors Jay and Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair and Baghead) follows John (Reilly), a man in dire straits whose life turns around when he meets his dream woman Molly (Tomei) at a party. Her son Cyrus (Jonah Hill) stains the picture with a severe failure to launch syndrome, compounded by Oedipal overtones.
Reilly and Tomei recently did a press day in New York and we got to attend. Hit the jump for the full audio of each roundtable interview, along with highlights, including: Reilly on whether masturbation got him to say yes to Cyrus, both on what it was like to improvise their way through a film, Reilly on Paul Thomas Anderson and whether he’ll be in PTA’s new film and why Tomei thinks Jonah Hill makes his real-life mother proud.
Here are the highlights:
– Reilly joked the main reason he agreed to star in Cyrus was “the masturbating (scene) in the beginning? … Gotta do that.” Actually, his wife, Alison Dickey, is an independent film producer who knew the Duplass Brothers from the film festival circuit after seeing The Puffy Chair early on. Reilly agreed, “We should find something to do.” The Duplass brothers told him “we wrote this script (Cyrus) with you in mind. We really hope you want to do it, because if you don’t want to do it, we’re not gonna make this movie … ‘Cause you’re the only person we thought of the whole time we were writing.”
– The Duplass Brothers got a lot of credit from Reilly who admires their dedication to their artistic process, despite the added budget and immense pressures on their 1st studio film (Fox Searchlight). “To their credit,” Reilly raved, “they really stuck with the way that they like to work, which is, basically, to kind of throw the script out, first of all. I mean, you get to the set and they’re like, ‘Yeah, this is a great scene. We’re not gonna do that. Like, just go with your instincts and if what happens in the scene ends up happening, that’s great … But if something else happens, that’s fine, too.’” Reilly admitted it was scary, “If I’m not even memorizing the lines, all I could do is be like, prepare to be unprepared and that’s sometimes really hard to do.” He added, “The whole story could change” because they were so open.
– Reilly & Tomei were very grateful to the Duplass Brothers for shooting in sequence. “It’s a real blessing to be able to do that, because then the story literally builds on itself,” Reilly noted. “You can really find an organic way through the story and the characters build.” Tomei said the Duplass Brothers fought to shoot in chronological order and that “there are so many emotionally, mini-catharses and crisis points and hurdles to get through that if we didn’t do it in order, it would’ve been really hard to improv it.”
-Reilly only met Tomei a day before the eight-week shoot began because the Duplass brothers don’t rehearse, for fear that it would compromise the film’s realism. He said, “When you see us meeting at that party, it’s like the second day that I’d been, known her. You know? And as we got to know each other better, it went on, like that was what was really happening between me and Marisa.” He’d also known Catherine Keener, who plays his ex-wife in Cyrus for years, having worked with her in the 1996 film Boys and it fed their portrayal of ex-spouses in Cyrus.
-Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill deftly handle a very complex on-screen maternal relationship, but aside from a mutual friend, they barely knew each other. When asked how they built the convincing, complicated relationship without rehearsal or prior relationship, she laughed, “I don’t know!” Tomei added that it was just about “jumping in … We’re talking about that it was improv, but the script was excellent and they had written really good, full characters.”
-The Oscar nominated actor says he improvised 80% of his lines, including his trailer moment with Tomei saying, “I’m like Shrek … What are you doing in the forest with Shrek?” Reilly admitted, “That was just me, like, having a low self-esteem moment (in) front of Marisa Tomei.” They both say Jonah ad-libbed the line now emblazoned on the film’s promotional t-shirts, “Seriously, don’t f—k my mom.”
-Given the Duplass Brothers’ lack of rehearsal, Reilly and Tomei said they barely blocked out any scenes. Reilly said, “They would just light the whole room and have cameras that can move around and so a lot of what you see is the first take of what we’re doing. The majority of the movie is the first or second take.” Reilly said it helped you get “that sense of, like, the characters discovering what’s going on.” He added that he’s “really happy with the movie” and “shocked at how well it all is tied together.”
– Reilly credits the film’s editor Jay Deuby (aka “the third Duplass brother”), who also edited Baghead and The Puffy Chair, with a big portion of the final product. He says, “They do their screenwriting in the editing room almost. You know, they, they gather all this material and they try to guide it and they give a lot over to the actors and then they sit in this room for six months and re-construct what they have.”
– Reilly has worked with a host of truly great directors, including: Robert Altman (Prairie Home Companion), Woody Allen (Shadows And Fog), Martin Scorsese (Gangs Of New York), Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia). Reilly said each of them “want you to improvise in one way or another.” He continued, “A script is like a theory of a movie” and given circumstances that may vary on a day of shooting, actors may have to “custom-fit a script to the actual situation and all, all the great directors that I’ve worked with, always want you to improvise a little bit.” Additionally, he doesn’t “mind not improvising. It’s, it’s a big weight off my shoulders” and laughed that he likes it “if someone’s written a great script.”
-Speaking of improvisation, Reilly mentioned that Paul Thomas Anderson goes back and forth on the technique. He said there are scenes that “I’ve done with him that are like, fully improvised and then there are other scenes in the same movie where he was like, ‘No, no. Make sure you say that contraction in the middle of the line.’ … It tends to be people that write their own scripts that have really put a lot of thought in it … A director who’s just got a writer, like, usually they’re kind of eager to change it a little bit.”
-Collider asked Reilly whether he would be in Anderson’s next film about religion (reportedly titled The Master) but he replied, “I don’t know. I haven’t heard much about it. So, I don’t know, we’ll see.”
-Reilly, a 2003 Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor in Chicago, reiterated his desire to do the film version of Guys And Dolls, saying it’s “like the holy grail for me.” In the meantime, he’s been quenching his musical appetite with regular performances at Largo in Los Angeles.
-Reilly, a 2000 Tony nominee for True West opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman, also said he has “a lot of irons in the fire” to do more theater in New York, but securing a theater has been difficult. He has been offered a job onstage in the fall, but declined to give details because it “would require too much explaining if it doesn’t happen.”
-Reilly often moves between comedies and dramas, but said, “I don’t really see a huge difference in what I do. You know, there is a thing where, in comedy, where you gotta put a little bit of carbonation in it … You can’t really let things go to a really dark place or it’s just, it’s tough to pull out of that” and then be funny. He added that some of Cyrus’ biggest laughs came when he wasn’t trying to be amusing. “To me, you just try to be as honest and as truthful and in the moment as you can. You really try to inhabit the character and then if the situation and the circumstance is ridiculous in the scene, then you’re in a comedy.” He added, “If you’re pretending that you just stole your friend’s wife in two hours while he was out of the house and you’ve adopted all his children in two hours, (then) you’re in Talladega Nights (in which he co-starred) and it’s a comedy and- But I try to do it for real … A lot of the humor of like, Will (Ferrell’s) movies and Judd (Apatow’s) movies is (characters) taking preposterous situations really seriously.”
-Tomei’s process for choosing projects has always been the same, and though she’s drawn to the indie film aesthetic, it’s “not to the exclusion of (other) kinds of films.” Some of it is “this is what I get offered” while others cover subject matters that interest her. To illustrate the point, she mentioned that she’s doing two “bigger” films (with Steve Carell and then Matthew McConaughey) and a “smaller” one (with Greg Kinnear) this summer. The untitled Steve Carell film is “about his marriage kind of hitting a rut and him, kind of, getting groovy … I play a ‘groove factor.’”
-Tomei’s friendship with Milk’s producer Bruce Cohen and the film’s real-life subject Cleve Jones (played by Emile Hirsch in the film) landed her in a reenactment of the controversial Prop 8 testimony (http://www.equalityontrial.org ). Cameras weren’t allowed in the courtroom so Jones created the celebrity-driven project to show “how it went down and so people can hear it in a more accessible way, instead of sitting and reading transcripts of Prop 8. That’s kind of dry.” She added that it was “fun” but she feels “everyone has a right to live how they want to live and not be told that they can’t.”
-So how do the Duplass Brothers handle division of labor onset? Tomei explained, Jay is a camera operator and cinematographer, “so Jay’s on the floor with us, basically. He’s in the ring” while Mark will often watch “a small monitor and be able to communicate to” Jay through an earpiece and then “they confer.” However, she said they both talked with her “equally and separately about what was going on.” Sometimes, they would decide which actor to counsel by whoever was physically closer to them at the moment. While they don’t agree on everything, Tomei insisted the Duplass brothers have the same vision so they can work out any differences.
-While Tomei remains clothed throughout Cyrus, a reporter felt compelled to ask about her recent nudity onscreen. She had already “broken the ice” on Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, so “that was harder.” For The Wrestler, it was “well, I’ll just concentrate on the dancing. I really hope that I get that spin down!”
-Asked whether she would like to have Jonah Hill for a son in real-life, Tomei replied, “His mother should definitely be proud. He’s pretty, pretty bright and extraordinary and a great person.”
-Tomei said she wasn’t that familiar with the “mumblecore” genre and thinks “that moniker kind of gives it a disservice … I mean, what I was attracted to wasn’t that what’s they stand for. It was the way they wanted to work.” The intimate setting excited her and the fact that Jay Duplass would shoot it, so he would “be right there with us.” She also liked that they’d break down scenes, on set and “it feels more like a collective and that very much appeals to me.”
-The Oscar-winning actress said she “doesn’t usually watch anything that I’ve been in,” though “I’m sure my mother has” DVDs of her films. “I’d like to keep it for a record, like I did do something.” She later adamantly clarified, “I’m telling you I don’t watch them.” However, she did see Cyrus twice because she admired the filmmaking so much.