Interview with John C. Reilly for Wreck-It Ralph
Walt Disney Animation Studios and Emmy®-winning director Rich Moore take audiences on a hilarious, arcade-game-hopping journey in Wreck-It Ralph.
Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) is tired of being overshadowed by Fix-It Felix, Jr. (voice of Jack McBrayer), the ‘good guy’ star of their game who always gets to save the day. But after decades spent doing the same thing and seeing all the glory go to Felix, Ralph decides he’s tired of playing the role of a bad guy. He takes matters into his own massive hands and sets off on a game-hopping journey across the arcade through every generation of video games to prove he’s got what it takes to be a hero.
With the Blu-ray and DVD about to be released, we chat to John C. Reilly – who provides the voice of Ralph in the movie – to find out more…
What attracted you to the role of Ralph?
I had just finished a movie called Cedar Rapids with [Wreck-It Ralph writer] Phil Johnston when I heard about this project. Phil is a great writer and I thought to myself, ‘I bet this is going to be a funny movie.’ Then I met with [Wreck-It Ralph director] Rich Moore and he’s such a sweetheart. He said to me, “Look, I really see you as Ralph and I want you to bring whatever you bring as an actor in a live-action movie to this character.” That was really attractive to me because the rap on animated movies is that they’re not that much fun for actors.
Have you been offered many animated projects before?
I’d been offered other animated projects, but I didn’t feel like I could put my heart into a project where you’re just reading a script on your own in a sound booth. But Rich [Moore] said to me, “We can make this movie however we want, so let’s have the actors in the room together. I want you to be able to improvise in the same way that you would improvise in a movie with Will Ferrell. And if you have any ideas about the story, then I want to hear them. I want you to come in for the story meetings and pitch us how you see this character on his journey.” After hearing that, it was a no brainer.
How much input did you have into Ralph?
I got to pour my heart into the guy. He became me and I became him. In fact, so many of my gestures and facial expressions ended up being stolen by the animators and put into the character! No, they weren’t stolen – but you know what I mean.
What were the studio recording sessions like?
The beautiful thing about doing voice work is that you always have more time than you need. When you work on live-action movies, the sun is always going down and everyone’s always panicked. The film costs money and there’s always a producer checking their watch. There’s always this pressure to get scenes finished and move on to the next location. It’s not like that with animation. Animated projects move along slowly, so you can really take your time and experiment. Audio recording is cheap compared to filmmaking, so I got to improvise a lot, which was great.
How would you describe the recording process?
After messing around for a while, and eating and drinking tea, Rich Moore would take out the storyboards and he would go through them with me. We’d get visual images in our head about what was happening in the scenes and then – nine times out of ten – one of the other actors was there and we would square off across the room. We’d record the scripted version a bunch of times until we felt like we had all of the different things that Rich wanted, and then it was playtime. That’s when we were allowed to say whatever we wanted to say.
What was it like to work with Sarah Silverman in the sound booth?
Sarah is a super-nimble improviser and she’s pretty quick-witted. Any time she came in, I would think, ‘I’ve got to drink some coffee and I’ve got to be on my A-game with this one.’ It was a joy to work with her.
What surprised you the most about working with Sarah Silverman?
The big, surprising thing for me about working with Sarah was how good she was at the dramatic scenes. A lot of comedians are comedians because they are afraid to go to a more emotional place, or they just don’t like to go to an emotional place. Sarah was amazing. That character sprang right out of her.
Would you work on another animated movie after your experience on Wreck-It Ralph?
Yes, I loved it. I said to Rich, “If I could make a living doing animation, this would be great.” You don’t have to worry about what your hair looks like, you don’t have to change your clothes when you get to work and nobody pokes you in the face with a makeup brush. You just go in, have fun and be creative. It really suited me.
What surprised you the most about the finished movie?
The things that were the most surprising to me were the scenes I wasn’t in. The scenes between Jack McBrayer and Jane Lynch were great, especially the quicksand scene. It was a very real, sweet and romantic scene.
What pleased you most about the story of the movie?
I liked that the heart of my character ended up staying intact. I’m also really proud of the fact that the scenes in the movie that have the most stillness and heart are scenes that I’m in.
Did you always want to be an actor, John?
I’ve been doing plays and musicals ever since I was a little kid. Then in high school, I wanted to do everything I could possibly do in that way, so I was in chorus, as well as the swing choir. Where I grew up in Chicago, they weren’t doing a lot Ibsen plays or Shakespeare. It was Hello Dolly, Brigadoon and Bye-Bye Birdie. I did all those plays and then it became a job. Actually, at that point I kept thinking, ‘I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do for a living. This is really fun, but what am I going to do for a job?’ But then it became my job. I was lucky that way.
What advice would you give to people who want to get into the entertainment industry?
I would say, “Just keep doing what you love to do.” A lot of people think there’s some secret to getting into the industry. They think, ‘If I get the right headshot and I talk to the right person then I’ll make it big in Hollywood.’ That wasn’t my journey. They say if you want to be an actor then you’d better not be better at something else. Right now, there’s a lot of pressure on younger people to get famous or to get their face out there by winning a competition on TV. That’s one way to do it, but another way to do it is just keep doing what you love to do and finding your own path in life. I think the cream rises to the top. People will notice you if you really love what you do and you do it well. You just have to keep trying to do it, as opposed to looking for ways to get famous.