From Porn Star to Vampire: The Quixotic Roles of John C. Reilly

Soldier, porn star, prohibition-era patsy, bawdy radio cowboy, Nascar racer, and now circus freak, or more specifically, its vampire ringmaster? Actor John C. Reilly has played them all memorably well -- even singing and songwriting when given the opportunity. He's nothing if not versatile.

In director/writer Paul Weitz's darkly amusing adventure The Vampire's Assistant (out October '09) JCR continues to drift from roles on the dramatic sidelines to a more comic center stage. In this Something Wicked This Way Comes-meets-Karate Kid fantasy, based on author Darren Shan's children's book series Cirque Du Freak, Reilly transforms himself into genteel bloodsucker Larten Crepsley. (He sedates his victims before partaking of a polite "sip.") Larten invites teen Darren, a visitor to his traveling freak show, to become his apprentice. Hayek and Dafoe top off the quirky yet compelling film's cast.



As quixotic as they might have seemed as of late, theater-trained veteran JCR's choices have more often than not been rewarding -- unique parts that both demonstrate and challenge his considerable thespian chops. Still, the recent shift from the Oscar-nominated talent's meatier supporting roles a la Chicago, Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Gangs of New York, etc. to lighter fare main courses the likes of Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and Walk Hard makes a moviegoer wonder:

Where is John C. Reilly headed, cinematically speaking?

Reviewing his admirable resume one might have wagered, up until Talladega Nights, that he was only a few years away from an Oscar win, or at least an award-worthy dramatic lead. Yet hot on the heels of Prairie Home Companion's cowpoke jester Lefty, Reilly took on a trio of high-profile half-wits -- Ricky Bobby's pal Cal, Ferrell's overgrown bunk buddy Dale, and chimp-lovin' legend Dewey Cox.

In a 2007 interview about the latter spoof, JCR addressed his departure from more straightforward to silly characters, commenting, "I like working. I wish I could say I made a deliberate choice to comedy, but it's just what came my way. It's what the studios wanted to make. Some of my friends were doing it, like Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, and they offered me Talladega Nights."

It's a shame if such a solid actor truly has to sit and wait for friend or a studio to toss him a bone, though he wouldn't be alone in the club of accomplished actors waiting in the wings to be acknowledged and appreciated by the Academy or mainstream audiences. (I'm still faintly hoping Moon rockets Rockwell to the Oscar A-list...)

Still, JCR's certainly hasn't sworn off drama. And though Step Brothers wasn't side-splitting, neither it nor Walk Hard did that bad at the box office, and the Vampire's Assistant looks rather promising. Like every other genre he tackles, Reilly scores well, at least with audiences, in comedies. And hasn't there always been at least a hint of humor in many of his more substantial personas?

Ideally his future holds a place for both profound leads as well as goofier endeavors. Or even better, a combination of both, which may be what 2010's The Extra Man delivers. It's a Jonathan Ames adaptation that chronicles the relationship between an aged escort for elderly rich women and his young "tranny-chasing" roommate (also starring Kevin Kline). But not too goofy. Apparently Academy voters don't go for goofy.