Conversing with “Cyrus” Star John C. Reilly and Writers/Directors Jay & Mark Duplass
Truth be told I moved out to LA some years ago to pursue a screenwriting career “on the side”. That’s all I said senior year of college- “I’m moving to LA to work in the entertainment industry and screenwrite on the side.” I said it to my friends, I said it to my favorite bar owner, I said it to girls going through my sorority’s recruitment. I don’t know why I hid behind that caveat because if I could, I’d screenwrite on my side all day long every day for the rest of my life. Movies fascinate me- especially the ones that amplify human emotion and explore circumstance- the ones that make me look within my being. The ones that make me and you feel. And the ones that make me feel you. The film, Cyrus, is one of the ones.
So more truth be told, I was elated when I had the opportunity to conference call with Cyrus writers and directors, Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass last week, followed by a chat the next day with the film’s star, John C. Reilly. Cyrus is a story about two kinds of love- the one you stumble upon when you least expect it/think that you’ll never have it again and the familial love that is like none other. It’s the drama that ensues when the two loves collide and it’s the humor of Reilly and Jonah Hill that treads this story to the surface of our own lives. John (Reilly) and Molly (Marisa Tomei) prove that you can meet a potential long-term somebody at a random party and they show what happens when circumstance becomes the post-party pooper- ala Molly’s son, Cyrus (Hill). Cyrus’ unwillingness to share his mom/roommate with another man opens up this intimate conversation about fighting for those who are worth it and at the same time letting go of those who are worth setting free.
As pictured above, John hears the song, “Don’t You Want Me” at the party and temporarily ditches Molly to karaoke/dance party it up for an entertaining/look at the drunk fool moment. I asked Reilly, “What song makes you want to have a dance party?”. Reilly shared that he listens to a lot of old school hip hop, including De La Soul and early LL Cool J and that there’s no particular song that would warrant him to dance since he said “it’s pretty easy to get me on the dance floor”.
Watching Cyrus, Molly, and John felt like watching my neighbors from across the street. The dialogue was effortless and realistic, which proves the success of the film’s improvised scenes. Reilly said, “You’re able to kind of free-style. If you’re being honest, it sounds like dialogue written by you because it is- it’s dialogue written by you for you.”
I had asked Reilly what his favorite scene to film was and he responded that it was the dinner table scene when he had invited himself over to Molly and Cyrus’ home. “It was really the first time Marisa, Jonah, and I were in the same room together with the cameras rolling,” he said, which lent itself to some bold improvising and an infamous line that Hill curve-balled at Reilly (you’ll just have to see the film catch the double play).
The actors hadn’t rehearsed at all and Reilly hadn’t met Tomei until one or two days before filming. This proved to be a beneficial time frame because we were able to see the two getting to know each other on camera, provoking a highly authentic quality in their affections.
When I asked Reilly what he had taken away from this filming experience, he said that “sometimes being totally honest on camera can really pay off”. He added that “a lot of days on the film were uncomfortable writing dialogue on your feet and despairing” if it was good, but he learned that “just because you’re uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean things aren’t going well…keep the faith”.
I was intrigued to learn more about the indie-filmmaking Duplass team and the creativity and inspiration behind their first studio film, backed by Fox Searchlight. I asked, “How did you come up with the character’s name, Cyrus? I saw the funny notmileycyrus site– was the name influenced at all by Miley or was it just a name coincidence?”. It turns out it’s a naming coincidence as the team “won’t even see bands in concerts we like because we’re tired.” (I chuckled because at times, I feel the same way.) They went on to say that the Cyrus name is “magnanimous and biblical, regal, powerful and the name goes in line with everything we were thinking about this boy… we didn’t want him being a mama’s boy”. They wanted Cyrus to be a “strong a force as can be while being funny”.
Mark said, “We needed a kid that funny and that dark and Jonah was that kid.” For the other leading man, the duo first had Reilly in mind as they “wanted to write a love story with an unconventional lead”.
Interestingly, at screenings, they’ve had an “inordinate amount of kids in their late 20s/early 30s” come up to them and say “I didn’t realize I was Cyrus until now”. The Duplasses hadn’t imagined that kind of feedback coming from the Cyrus perspective- they thought it would have come from the John or Molly perspective on finding love.
The brothers are three years apart and “tell each other everything”, explained Jay. The brothers’ close relationship actually mirrors that of Cyrus and Molly- in that it can be challenging for outsiders to enter because of their tight-knit bond. I had stopped taking notes when he described their relationship and the basis for this film because Jay had characterized my twin sister, Bec’s and my alliance. On the call, I relayed the parallel to them and instantaneously found inspiration in them and their story.
Maybe one day Bec and I will write the film we’ve been brainstorming all this while and maybe- hopefully soon- I’ll find my very own John.
Photos: Fox Searchlight