The Lobster is set in a dystopian near future where single people are taken to The Hotel and are obliged to find true love in 45 days, or be transformed into the animal of their choice and released into the woods. Part satire and part romantic fable, it is a strange and surreal world that puts you in competition with your friends and keeps you questioning whether your partner truly loves you or just wants to keep from being turned into an animal. From filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, the film stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Lea Seydoux and Olivia Colman.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor John C. Reilly, who plays Lisping Man, talked about how The Lobster came his way, understanding the rules of this unusual world, finding his character’s lisp, and how much fun he had with co-stars Colin Farrell and Ben Whishaw. He also talked about making another Wreck-It Ralph movie, playing Oliver Hardy in Stan and Ollie, and the appeal of Kong: Skull Island.
Collider: Thank you so much for talking to me! The last time we spoke was for Wreck-It Ralph, which I was and am a huge fan of.
JOHN C. REILLY: Well, we’re making another one!
Are you already doing that?
REILLY: We’re working on it.
I hope we get to see a sequel, sooner rather than later.
REILLY: Yeah, me too. [Animated features] take a long time to make, though, so be prepared.
How did The Lobster come your way?
REILLY: I was familiar with the director (Yorgos Lanthimos) before I got the script. I saw his movie Dogtooth, which is an amazing movie, if you haven’t seen it, so I already knew he was a real force to be reckoned with and a really brilliant director. I was thrilled when this came around and I saw that he was going to do a movie in English ‘cause I don’t speak Greek. And then, I read it and it was just so dark and funny and truthful. I was delighted. And then, I found out that we would be shooting in Ireland, and that was even more exciting.
On paper, did you get the vision that the director had for this, or did you need to have a conversation with him about it?
REILLY: Yes. Once you understand what the rules of the world are, it’s not so foreign to the way things are now. Once I understood what the set-up was, it was just about playing it as truthfully as possible. You’ve seen the movie for the first time, so it seems very odd to you, from watching it one time. But if you had read the script, and then met with the director, and then worked on it for two months, you get used to it and it doesn’t feel so odd.
Is what we see now what you originally read? Was the script fully developed when you got it, or did these characters take on more of a life, once all of the actors were embodying them?
REILLY: I think that’s always the case. When a script becomes a movie, the actors are always going to bring some kind of quality to it. But the one thing that I noticed most about shooting it, as opposed to reading it, was that it was a lot funnier. When you read things on a page, it can be kind of dry and intellectual. And then, when you see someone actually doing it, it gets pretty funny, especially when you’re playing it really seriously. Sometimes, with some situations, the more absurd they are and the more seriously the actors are laying it, the more absurd it gets.
How did you go about finding your character’s lisp?
REILLY: We talked about a few different ways to do a lisp. I talked about that with the director, and we just agreed which one would be best. It was almost like doing an accent. It was this thing that I had to keep consistent. And then, I tried as best I could to just forget that I had a lisp because I didn’t want to be thinking about the lisp, all the time. I wanted to be thinking about what the character was thinking about.
This guy is so interesting because he seems as though he’s always thinking about more than he’s saying and that he might be capable of unexpected things, if it meant putting off the inevitable of being turned into an animal. How did you view this guy?
REILLY: The funny thing about all of these characters in the movie is that they’re almost like children. They’re grown people, but they’re not in charge of their own destiny, so they come off childlike. For the most part, with kids, it’s all fun and games, but sometimes, they’re put in a position where they can be dangerous. My character is definitely like that, and all of the people in the hotel are like that. These people are all co-habitating, and yet, they’re fighting for survival and in competition with each other. There is a sinister quality to that. Depending on how much you want to succeed, you might do things that are not nice.
You might never know who your friends actually are, or if the person who claims to be in love with you is actually in love with you or just doesn’t want to be an animal.
REILLY: Yeah, exactly. I think you might have stumbled onto the essential truth of the movie.
These guys most likely wouldn’t have been friends, if they weren’t in this situation, so it’s an odd friendship between them. What did you most enjoy about working with Colin Farrell and Ben Whishaw?
REILLY: It’s like any army movie, prison movie or school movie where people are thrown together without having chosen to be together. I think there’s inherent comedy in that. They’re bitchy and kind of picking on each other, too. That was another thing that felt childlike. When you’re in those three-way friendships, one person is always getting turned on by the other two. Our three characters are sharing this bizarre reality of having to live in this hotel together, and then the three of us actors were sharing the experience of being in this weird movie, all of us supporting each other and saying, “I can’t believe I have to say this now.” It ended up drawing us closer together. I felt really lucky to be with Colin and Ben ‘cause they’re two very nice guys. It was good fun.
Tale of Tales was so original, grotesque and surreal.
REILLY: I loved that movie. Any movie that can make you laugh and cry has got something going for it. I laughed and cried at that movie, and I’m in it.
How did you get involved with that film?
REILLY: I don’t even remember. I think it was a random phone call. I’m really interested in that kind of material. I’ve always been into that kind of fantasy stuff, since I was a kid. It was really cool. Just the king’s outfits, alone, were cool.
And if you’re going to have a queen, Salma Hayek is not a bad choice.
REILLY: Beyond her beauty, Salma is a really, really great person to hang out with. She’s super down-to-earth, and very funny and feisty. She’s a very intelligent, kind person.
You’re going to be taking on Oliver Hardy in Stan and Ollie, which seems like an incredibly intimidating task. Obviously, the chemistry and relationship between Laurel and Hardy is what made them so great. Are you working to find that with Steve Coogan?
REILLY: I hope to. The movie depends on that. Well, you’ll see. The movie has an interesting take on it that I think relieves us of some of the literal impressions of these guys. It gives us a little more poetic license, in terms of the way we’re going to do it.
Is that the next film you’ll be doing?
REILLY: It could be. There are a couple of things on the stove. We’ll see which is ready first. Right now, I’m just hanging out in L.A. I’ve been traveling a lot. I did this movie, King Kong, recently, so I’ve been all over the world for a long time. It’s good to be back home and settled for a little bit again.
What made you want to be a part of telling King Kong’s original story, with Kong: Skull Island, and would you say that King Kong is the most famous co-star you’ve ever had?
REILLY: That’s a good point. I’ll talk about that at the King Kong junket. I personally don’t think we need to see another exact replica of the King Kong story, but I thought this was a really great, fresh take on it. It’s a totally new approach.
The Lobster is now playing in limited release.