John C Reilly lends his highly recognizable voice to the part of a video game villain in Wreck-It Ralph from Walt Disney Pictures. In fact, Reilly's voice is so recognizable that he's already being approached by young fans simply based on the movie's trailer. "Lately, the most surprising thing is having little kids recognize me just by my voice. [In a kid’s voice] 'You're Ralph!,' and then they start quoting lines from the trailer. It's bizarre how aware kids are - and I’m talking even little kids. They have the trailer memorized. I open my mouth and they’re like. 'Ralph!! Say it like you do in the movie!' I go, 'I’m gonna wreck it!' ' No, no, no. Do it like you do in the movie.' 'I’m trying! Gimme a break!,'" laughed Reilly.
In the animated comedy set in the world of video games, Ralph is bad guy who tears down an apartment building every time a game player inserts a quarter. Jack McBrayer co-stars as the game's hero, Felix, who uses his magical hammer to fix all the damage done by Ralph during each and every game. But it's tough to be the villain and when he's not even invited to join his fellow Fix-It Felix characters for the game's 30th anniversary party, Ralph takes matters into his own hands and leaves his cohorts behind in order to try and become a hero in a different video game.
On the process of creating Ralph:
"I was surprised to learn the way these animation movies work a lot of times is it’s really fluid in the beginning. So I came in and [director] Rich [Moore] had the idea. There was a script that was slightly different from what the story ended up being, and actually was pretty different. And then, the animators make all these crazy sketches like stream of consciousness. At one point, I was like a monster with a single horn coming out of my head with orange skin. It just had to be a bad guy in a video game. At one point, it was that same horned monster with my hair photo-shopped on top of it. I’m like, 'Oh, that looks weird.' But the process of making the movie was really collaborative. Rich brought me in a lot of times for story meetings, which is unheard of for an actor. It was sort of a process of me becoming the character and the character becoming me. More and more of my own expressions seeped into the character, and then my own facial gestures because their filming you when you’re doing it. So it’s this kind of synthesis that happens over time."
On getting the tone right for a sweet guy who everyone thinks is a villain:
"Well, it was a challenge in the beginning for how wrong-headed he is. Because knowing and really feeling for the character and playing the character myself, I felt like, 'All right, he means well. He’s got a big heart.' So doing things like smashing the cake at the party, even though it’s an accident, I don’t know... He starts out in somewhat of a self-pitying, negative, 'the world owes me' kind of attitude and that was hard to play. But, to his credit, Jim Reardon, the story editor, was like, 'No, you’ve got to start out in a place that’s a little bit dysfunctional in order to find the path of the hero later on in the movie.' So yeah, that was a challenge.
And the other challenge when you’re doing animation, which you overcome quickly when you’re doing live action, is you don’t really have to memorize anything when you’re doing voiceover. There’s always the challenge of making it sound like you’re really speaking instead of reading. Then you do the live action movie and that just goes away once you memorize the dialogue. There were a couple of challenges there, but in general, it was like a dream job - and actually the longest job I’ve ever had of my whole life. Yeah, the longest term of employment I’ve ever had and I got really used to it. I was like, 'Can’t I have an office here? I’ll come and give acting advice to actors or something. You could study my movements.'"
On changing up the dialogue and improvising:
"We did a lot. We used the Will Ferrell model, let's say. It’s like the way Will and I worked together on Talladega Nights and Step Brothers which was sort of a comedy democracy. The funniest idea in the moment wins. You do the written material a few times until you feel like, 'All right, we did that. It’s starting to feel flat. Now we have some time left, let’s just throw everything out the window and see what happens.' Yeah, we did that. And then, how much of that ended up in the movie? I don’t know. A certain amount of it did, I know for a fact. When you do that, it also ends up giving you a sense of ownership about the material that you didn’t come up with. If you feel the freedom to change things however you want in the moment, you feel less constrained when you’re doing the material that was written for you."
On improvised dialogue that might have been a little too mature for the film:
"Yeah, but you’ll never hear it. Never, ever. It’s gone into the Disney vault deep underground. Yes, I mean, I would say for Sarah [Silverman], for sure. She’s pretty R-rated in her stand-up. Me? I don’t know. Am I known for R-rated? I don’t know. I feel like I’m a little more harmlessly goofy than that in the comedy stuff that I’ve done. Now I’m thinking of a few things...maybe you’re right. You know what’s funny? What surprised me about Sarah’s work in this was how sweet and sentimental she is really as a person. She’s into musical theater. She really channeled that little girl so easily, and then the dramatic scenes that we did, I was really impressed. I was like, 'Wow! You should do this more often, Sarah. It turns out you do have a heart.' Just a smart aleck."
On how his character is similar to actors put in the position of being typecast:
"I was definitely attracted to the part for that reason. This guy’s having a mid-life crisis. How awesome. So am I. Not that I have to do the same character over and over, but doing the same job. I’ve been in movies now for about 30 years. You just get to be a certain age, and I’m not going to reveal what that is, although a quick check on your phone will tell you. You get into your 40s and you just start to think, 'Is that it? Is that all there is to life?'
When you’re younger, you’re used to feeling like, 'Well the book of my life is unwritten. Here I am. Chapter 2.' And then you get into your 40s and you get deep into a career or whatever, like everyone has to do something for a living, and you get to be even a little further down the line and you start to think like, 'Is that all there is? Wait! The book of my life only has a couple more chapters. Is this it?! I thought maybe I had a shot at being an astronaut or a doctor. I guess there’s no way I’ll be able to remember all that information now.' So, yeah, that’s definitely something I think actors, and anyone who does a job for 30 years, goes through and I think that’s one of the reasons that not just young audiences but the movie is like a marketer’s dream because all different age groups are responding to the movie. And I think older people are responding to it for that reason. What does it feel like to have put in all this time and then just be staring down a short road in front of you?"
On his history with video games:
"I was the test audience for Space Invaders. I was of the age when those games came out. My quarters were the ones they wanted. I just will never forget when Space Invaders landed in the bowling alley where I used to hang out. I went from pinball machines to that. What?! You can manipulate the TV! We’re so used to computers and being able to interact with media in the way that we do now, people forget at that time that was outrageous to be able to. And even to control that sound effect – ping, ping – it was like getting to be in Star Wars which also came out around the same time. I went through all those games. I can’t say I played a lot of them now. There’s just not enough hours in the day."