Interview: John C. Reilly On His Animated Anti-Hero 'Wreck-It Ralph'

John C. Reilly isn't the first guy you'd think of as an animated video game villain turned hero, but he nails it in Disney's upcoming "Wreck-It Ralph". In advance of the film's release, we chatted with Reilly about the movie, his career path, and why living in a video game would be a living nightmare:

MTV Geek: Why "Wreck-It Ralph"? What drew you to this project in particular?

John C. Reilly: I was doing a movie called "Cedar Rapids" that was written by Phil Johnston… He tipped me off kind of early on, he’s like, “I’m working on this Disney thing, I think they’re going to call you.” Phil and I really hit it off, he’s from the Midwest like me. Then Rich Moore and I sat down for a meeting and here we are! [Laughs] He just made me feel like I could put a lot into it creatively, that I could actually contribute something, improvise a little bit, have some fun working with the other actors.

Geek: I chatted with Jack McBrayer about that, he said you guys were able to improvise a bit at the beginning, but as you went on it got more and more set. Was that your experience, too?

Reilly: No, I was improvising up until the last day in there! We were always trying to find new spins on things, or if there was a joke, or a run of jokes, we’d try to find as many variations as possible. That’s one of the things I thought was cool about Rich Moore, the Director. Even late in the game, he was willing to take on new ideas, and try different stuff. Towards the very end, once the animation was set, when we no longer had time to animate anything else, I was redoing dialogue where they had spliced together four different takes for one sentence… I’d go in, and do it all as one, a last smoothing over phase.

Geek: How does this compare to your live action work? You’ve done so many different types of projects, but I imagine doing this sort of thing must be very different for you?

Reilly: It was similar in some ways to doing live action, but the pace was a lot better. You could really take your time, experiment, and goof around in the studio without the pressure of the sun going down, losing the location, or a producer checking their watch because you’re spending so much money. Because animation takes so long, we had a long time to think things through, and experiment with things. I put a lot of myself, and my heart into the character… But at the end it felt similar to doinga live action movie, except there was… A body department [laughs] that did the character’s actual body.

I have to say, I could get used to that. I kind of liked going into work and not having to change my clothes, or have anyone put a bunch of make-up on my face, or poke me with brushes and combs. I kind of liked just showing up, having a cup of tea, and goofing around.

Geek: Looking at the span of your career, you started off as a very serious actor – or at least in serious projects – before moving more and more into comedy, until you’re now an animated video game character. What’s that arc been like for you?

Reilly: Well… I don’t think that’s the arc actually. It’s much more erratic than that. In the last ten years, I’ve done "Talladega Nights", and "Step Brothers", but I’ve also done "Carnage", and "You Need To Talk About Kevin", an independent movie called "Terry", and now this animated thing… If anything, I’m zigging and zagging more than ever. And those early dramatic movies, I was often kind of like the funny character in a more serious movie. There’s certainly not a deliberate arc or direction towards anything. [Laughs] If anything, I’ve tried to change it up as much as possible, to keep myself from getting bored, and to surprise the audience as much as I can.

Geek: Were you into video games before you got on board this project?

Reilly: As a kid I was. I always felt really guilty if I spent too much time playing video games. It’s a colossal waste of time. And I can’t say it’s a very satisfying feeling at the end of the day, if you’ve spent eight hours playing a video game; you just end up feeling kind of spent, and used. [Laughs] But when I was a kid, I was into a lot of the newer games like Space Invaders, and Pac-Man, and all that stuff that’s retro now… It was ground breaking, amazing technology back then. This is before computers, and cell phones, and even VCRs. The idea that could manipulate something on a television screen was a pretty radical concept back then.

Geek: Is there a world in Wreck-It Ralph you’d most like to live in, if you could choose just one?

Reilly: Being a fan of candy, I would say the Sugar Rush game probably, because you could just eat your way through it. Honestly, to tell you the truth, being trapped in any video game sounds like a living nightmare to me. [Laughs] In most video games, the point is it’s a fight for survival, so I think it would be a terrifying place to live.

Wreck-It Ralph hits theaters November 2nd from Walt Disney Pictures!