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John C. Reilly: “We founded the West by murdering all the Indians and destroying all the buffalo”

Audiard, the big themes, Joaquin Phoenix: the actor opens up about The Sisters Brothers

John C. Reilly is Eli Sisters in The Sisters Brothers.
Freshly Popped

Brilliant character actor John C. Reilly was in Venice, looking very dapper, to talk about his latest project, The Sisters Brothers, directed by French auteur Jacques Audiard. Based on Peter De Witt’s eponymous novel, Reilly plays one of the assassin brothers alongside Joaquin Phoenix.

John C. Reilly during the press conference in Venice.

THE ROLE – “My wife and I received a manuscript of The Sisters Brothers before it was actually published and the character of Eli Sisters jumped off the page at me as someone that I related to a lot. The way I kind of move through life and a lot of the book is told through internal monologues of Eli so I felt very connected to that and then, you know, once we got Jacques and his team involved, it suddenly became a very compelling idea to try and make a film out of this book. And the challenges, well, riding horses is always a challenge. My horse had a digestive issue that caused flatulence every time Jacques said “Action”. That’s a gag reel that I’d like to see.”

Reilly with Joaquin Phoenix in The Sisters Brothers.

ME AND JOAQUIN – “The challenge was working with someone as amazing as Joaquin Phoenix who I hold to be the greatest actor working. I think he’s fearless. So the challenge immediately was meeting Joaquin at the place where he works, he’s a very instinctual actor and obsessed with truthfulness and honesty in performance, so that was a challenge.”

With Jacques Audiard in Venice.

TOWER OF BABEL – “The construction of this movie was like the Tower of Babel, except we actually got to heaven. Through the French and the Spanish, the Belgians, the Americans, the Romanians, the English, Italians with Milena Canonero, Luigi Rocchetti and everyone. So an initial challenge of the film was building bridges between all of these places culturally, of the language and it came together beautifully and I have to say in this time of terrible division in the world, our film community was one of great harmony.”

Reilly during the press conference of the movie.

ME AND AUDIARD – “Jacques has a great eye for the edit of the film, so he’s constantly talking about pace while you’re working. So it’s a luxury to have someone who’s that clear about what they need before we’re even finished. He also has the most sensitive bullshit detector I think I’ve ever worked with. It means you can tell when someone’s not telling the truth. So that was a very demanding thing to have behind the camera, someone who’s that good at detecting artificiality. Every day I felt that I was in the best hands.”

Reilly and Phoenix in The Sisters Brothers.

ME AND AUDIARD #2 – “My biggest problem was letting him down in my own mind, you know? Every day I wanted to give him everything that he needed. I do the actor’s job unlike many American film stars, I do the actor’s job as being a loyal soldier to the captain or the director’s the top of the pyramid and so my job is to provide raw materials for them to turn into something more valued later on, so it was a really gratifying experience.”

Audiard during the press conference.

ME AND AUDIARD #3 – “There was also this strange dynamic that happened. Although Jacques understands English perfectly well, he prefers when he’s discussing anything with any kind of subtlety to speak in French, so we had a translator on the set. So there was all this time for reflection when I would say something to him and while he was thinking about it or while it was being translated, I had time to think about what I said and then when he responded, while it was being translated back to me, I could think about, you know when you can tell what the intent of the sentence before I knew the meaning of the sentence, you know? So it made me very attuned to the unsaid things in life.”

Reilly with Audiard and the composer of the movie, Alexandre Desplat.

THAT’S AMERICA TO ME – “Jacques and I hadn’t actually spoken in an intellectual way about the film, we had work to do every day and what the intentions of each scene were. We weren’t talking about the broader themes. But now that I’ve had a chance to look at the film and have a distance from it, I do see a lot of the things. These larger themes of what it means to live in a civilisation. And I think in the 1850s in America we were at this crisis point, similar to the way we are now and I think the way we arrived to the place we are was through brutality and violence and genocide and the strongest prevailed over the weak. But that is not a sustainable plan for the future.”

Jake Gyllenhaal in The Sisters Brothers.

THE THEME – “One of the themes the film was poking at and honestly among many other things, I think that’s one thing that makes the film very relevant. Where do we go from here? We founded the West by murdering all the Indians and destroying all the buffalo and largely a lawless society was set up, then once everyone had a home and a homestead and the towns started to grow, they realised, ok, this is not going to work. The way we are behaving is no longer going to work. So I think there’s four different stages of this transformation appearing, from Charlie, to Eli, to Morris, to Warm. Each one of them is edging their way towards enlightenment, either begrudgingly or willingly. For what it’s worth.”

A still from The Sisters Brothers.

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