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— by Joshua Horowitz

How do you select one actor to thank for his or her work in the past year? Do you look to the scene stealer, the leading man or the rising star? Do you give thanks for the actor who made you laugh or the one who made you cry? It was a tough choice, but it had to happen this way: John C. Reilly is the actor we are most thankful for in 2006.

He didn't come out of nowhere, exactly. Any fan of Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights" or "Magnolia" would sing his praises. And it's not like he hasn't gotten critical praise before (he nabbed a 2003 Oscar nomination for "Chicago"), but something about the way John C. Reilly took over the screen in "Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" — not just anyone can steal a scene from Will Ferrell — and told us that one plus one equals 11 has us giggling to this day. No, you can't shake and bake without Cal Naughton Jr. And you can't call anyone the actor to be thankful for but John C. Reilly.

MTV recently spoke with Reilly about the honor, as well as working with Paul Thomas Anderson and how 2007 might shape up.

MTV: On behalf of MTV Movies, I would like to bestow upon you, John C. Reilly, the high honor of being the actor we are most thankful for in 2006.

John C. Reilly: I'm honored. Thank you, MTV.com. Does that make me the turkey?

MTV: We were thinking about giving you a turkey, but we thought that would send the wrong message. So, did 2006 feel like a particularly special year in your career?

Reilly: Yeah, I guess so. Getting into the big comedy world in an official way was a pretty exciting thing. This summer was crazy [with "Talladega Nights"]. Working with Will [Ferrell] — I've been wanting to do that for seven years, ever since I met [him].

Will Ferrell, Brittany Murphy, Jeremy Piven, More At "Talladega Nights" Premiere
"Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby" Photos
Actors We're Thankful For
MTV: How did you meet him?

Reilly: By way of Molly Shannon. She and I did a movie together and I got to know a lot of people on "SNL" at that time. Will and I just hit it off right away. It seemed like we must have been drinking the same water as kids or something, because we seemed to have a lot in common in terms of the way we like to work, the way that we improvise and what we think is funny. I have a real strong bond with him. We're working on something else together right now.

MTV: That's "Step Brothers," right? And you're helping out with the writing on that one?

Reilly: Yeah, me and Will and ["Talladega Nights" director] Adam McKay. I think Adam will be the guy that sits down and actually types out the script, but we've been meeting and throwing a million ideas around.

MTV: Do you guys just get in a room and riff?

Reilly: Yeah. We just try to make each other laugh. On this one, because it involves a family kind of scenario, we've been drawing on a lot of family stories from each other. In "Step Brothers," the characters quickly fall in love. They start out competing, but then they enjoy becoming stepbrothers.

MTV: It's sort of the reverse of the arc for Ricky and Cal in "Talladega."

Reilly: Well, from Cal Naughton's point of view, they never stopped being friends. His devotion to Ricky never wavered.

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MTV: I'm guessing you're getting a lot of people coming up to you saying "shake and bake" now?

Reilly: A lot of young men enjoy saying "shake and bake." I'm really proud of the movie. I feel like, for a big commercial comedy, we got some really crazy, subversive things in there. It was a joy to make that movie so I'm glad people are enjoying it.
MTV: Do people make the mistake of assuming you're less than bright from the characters you've played?

Reilly: Well, if they make that assumption, hopefully it gets dispelled pretty quickly. I don't really think of the people I've played as unintelligent, though I guess Cal was dumb as a post. It's more about their commitment to absurd ideas. In "Boogie Nights," that guy wasn't the brightest bulb, but that wasn't the main thing about him. If there's a through-line to the characters I've played, it's that they're committed dreamers.

MTV: Was the amount of improv you got to do for "Talladega" refreshing?

Reilly: Well, actually, we did quite a bit of freestyle improv on "Boogie Nights."

MTV: So P.T. Anderson works that way as well?

Reilly: Yeah, especially with me. He'll just write in the stage directions, "And now there's a scene where John Reilly talks about ka-rah-tay" or whatever. He won't even bother to write it. He'll just put it in there that we're going to come up with something. But yeah, "Talladega Nights" was an extremely concentrated version of improvisation because you do the scripted version once or twice, and then you really just go crazy after that.

Sure, John C. Reilly is known for mixing it up onscreen with comic bigwigs like Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen. But many of the star's roles have been far more dramatic (and in films featuring Leonardo DiCaprio). Just check out a sampling of his past work:
MTV: Was your confession about posing in Playgirl in the script?

Reilly: No, that wasn't. Right before we shot it, Adam McKay was like, "So we were thinking you posed for Playgirl as Mike Honcho." That was all he gave me. So I went and filled in all the other graphic details involved in that shoot.

MTV: On the other end of the spectrum, in 2006 you were in Robert Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion." How did you and Woody Harrelson get along?

Reilly: We got along great. He and I were already friends. We did "The Thin Red Line" together years ago so we became friends on that. Our own relationship is really similar to the one we had as the cowboys, where we were kind of teasing each other all the time.

MTV: What are you thankful for this year?

Reilly: "Borat" and my good friend Sacha Baron Cohen. I'm thankful for the invasion of Borat. The naked fight — that made my head explode the first time I saw it. And I'm thankful that the Democrats took our government back.

MTV: Will you and Sacha work together again after "Talladega"?

Reilly: We're talking about it. He and I became pretty close friends on "Talladega Nights." We spent a lot of time together, going out to dinner and stuff. I told him he was my location husband. We had a locationship. Oh, you know what else I've seen which is going to be amazing, which is going to blow your mind — Paul Thomas Anderson's next movie ["There Will Be Blood"].

MTV: You've seen it?

Reilly: Well, I haven't seen the whole thing. I've seen like an hour and 20 minutes, and it is just incredible. If you're a fan of his movies, it's really going to blow your mind. It's such a departure from everything he's done before, but it's so good and there's no one in it that he's worked with before.

MTV: So, after such a stellar 2006, where do you go from here? Is it all going to be downhill for you in 2007?

Reilly: Yeah, I'm gonna crash and burn. No, I've got a lot of exciting stuff in the pipeline. I'm continuing my foray into the big commercial comedy thing, but then I got a lot of cool independent stuff crackling along at the same time. So, I'm waiting for the anvil to fall out of the sky and hit me on the head, but right now, things are going pretty good.

MTV: Before I let you go, was there anyone else you needed to acknowledge in your acceptance of our lofty honor for you?

Reilly: You want me to give a speech of thanks for you being thankful of me? I thank you for being thankful of me. My parents, all the people along the way who've given me all these amazing opportunities. I'm thankful that I'm still alive and I'm healthy and I'm able to do work that I believe in. I really am flattered that you guys noticed. You know I'm down with the kids. I wants my MTVs.

Check out everything we've got on "John C. Reilly."

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