From comedy to country, in the key of John C Reilly
The Hollywood star is one of the most dependable film actors around, but after performing songs on screen he decided to keep the musical show on the road
'I'm in support of people expressing themselves artistically, regardless of their background, of what their day job is. I think singers should be able to sculpt, actors should be able to sing, and politicians should to be able to knit if they want to. What's wrong with that?"
Nothing at all, John Christopher Reilly, nothing at all. It's just that, occasionally, the part-timers aren't very good at their hobbies. Reilly, however, happens to be quite the dab hand at fusing a certain level of the here and now with Americana, bluegrass, old-time, countrypolitan, bare-boned folk, sea shanties and the Everly Brothers. Is it because he's part-Irish?
"Well, that's definitely an influence," says the Chicago-born actor, who arrives in Ireland this weekend to play a gig in Dublin with his self-styled (and C-minus) John Reilly & Friends unit.
"I grew up listening to a lot of traditional Irish music, for one thing; that's what my dad was really into, and then my mom, whose heritage is Lithuanian, was into listening to older music - the kind you could hear on those old piano rolls. As I got older I taught myself to play the guitar, became interested in bluegrass and American roots music. And, of course, as many people know, the deeper you go into that, the sooner you end up back in Ireland. That's full circle and quite unavoidable, but that's just the way it is."
Music is something Reilly has always loved; he grew up listening to musicals, performing in them and going to see them. Then, as his film career took off, he was increasingly asked to engage with music in a public way. As naive Amos, husband to floozie Roxie in Rob Marshall's 2002 movie version of the musical Chicago, Reilly performed one song (Mr Cellophane), but it wasn't until Robert Altman's 2006 A Prairie Home Companion, the director's final work, that Reilly sang to a great extent on camera (as Lefty, the singing cowboy). Then came Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow's 2007 music biopic parody Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story, which featured Reilly singing all the soundtrack songs. He also toured as Cox in the lead-up to the film's release in the US. "One day I woke up," Reilly says, "and thought it seemed a shame to stop playing music just because any given movie was over."
It's important to Reilly that people understand he is doing music not so much as a stopgap between film roles (the latest of which is the hugely successful Disney animation feature Wreck-It Ralph) but as a creative necessity.
"It's all storytelling, isn't it?" he says. "All my favourite songs have beginnings, middles and conclusions, and that's true with the movies and theatre work I do. If you're doing a play or a movie with a very dramatic scene, in order to get to the heart of the audience you first gotta go through their brain. If there's something in common with what you do and what the audience feel, then you've hit it, and the result is moving in an emotional way.
"With music, it's more of a direct line into people's hearts; I've heard a lot of songs over the years that I don't understand what a lot of the words mean, but I'll hear the melody and it gets me each and every time. It stays with me."