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Odd couple: Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly goof about their new comedy

The comic actors talk seriously about 'Cyrus' but not so seriously when they veer off topic

Chris Garcia

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon last March, actors John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill were plumping their comedy of discomfort 'Cyrus' in an Austin hotel suite. The movie, written and directed by one-time Austin brothers Mark and Jay Duplass and co-starring Marisa Tomei, had its local premiere the night before at the Paramount Theatre during the South by Southwest Film Festival.

The screening went over very well. Our interview went over, well, very bizarrely.

Chris Garcia: Jonah, a while ago you'd seen the Duplass brothers' 'The Puffy Chair' and immediately wanted to work with them.

Jonah Hill: That's exactly what happened. I saw their short film 'Intervention' first and followed everything from then on. I picked up on a unique voice they had, and it was clear that no one was doing it the way they were doing it. When you see that, you want to collaborate with those people.

What's so unique about what they do?

John C. Reilly: They don't know how to make a movie the way most people make movies. They're truly unique, because they just taught themselves how to do it with very little means, so their personal style just totally comes through. And they have a really strong b.s.-detector. They know when something seems fake and movie-ish and too manufactured. They're really in tune with honesty.

Hill: They stand by what they want to do and will never deviate from their intentions.

I know they give the actors a lot of freedom on the set. They don't block as much, shoot long takes and keep the camera rolling when scenes end, which a few other directors also do.

Hill: Judd Apatow does a lot of that.

Reilly: Robert Altman, Lars Von Trier.

Hill: I heard that whoever directed 'Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel' did that. I heard that the chipmunks had quite a bit of freedom on 'The Squeakquel' to riff and a lot of that stuff wasn't in the script.

Reilly: Squeak!

Hill: Yeah, to squeak. Honestly, I heard that it was a really open set.

Reilly: (Laughing) Don't do that.

Hill: (Laughing): Well, Theodore, the chipmunk that's Theodore, is a classically trained actor.

Reilly: No, Alvin is clearly the natural.

Hill: Alvin is the teen heartthrob, but Theodore - he was in the Steppenwolf Theatre with you, I believe.

Reilly: Oh, Jo-Jo.

How much improv do Mark and Jay allow? Did you rehearse first?

Reilly: We didn't rehearse. We'd all read the script and just showed up and had some discussions about the general tone of the movie before shooting. They didn't even want us to do one blocking rehearsal. They'd set up the scene so we could move around wherever we wanted to, and they warned the crew that was going to be happening. Most days they would tell us not to do what was written in the script but to say things the way we would say it. Even on days when I thought, 'Wow, do we even have a movie here? Is this going to jell together?,' I always knew it was at least going to sound original and fresh, because this is how people talk. It was just Jonah, Marisa and I trying to work it out.

Your love of Austin precedes you, Jonah. How many times have you been here?

Hill: Probably 10.

Reilly: Damn.

Hill: I come out for fun. I've come three or four times for my movies and come back with my friends to drink beer and go to the Alamo Drafthouse. Waterloo Video closed, which I just found out and is very sad for me.

John, I totally don't care, but you kind of lied to me last time I interviewed you when you were in town. You said you weren't playing Sasquatch in 'Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny,' but you did.

Reilly: I didn't lie to you. Sasquatch is real.

During that same interview I think I offended you by describing a lot of your characters as 'schlubby.' But now, in the 'Cyrus' press notes, that's exactly what they call you.

Reilly: This is becoming some sort of interview therapy session for you. Well, no one wants to hear themselves described as schlubby. You hear that four times in a day and it's like, enough with the (expletive) schlubby already. A schlub. It's kind of a lovable word.

It is a lovable word.

Reilly: It's better than schlemiel.

Hill: Schlimazel. I would refer to you as a schlimazel.

Reilly: What's the difference?

Hill: Schlemiel, schlimazel, hasen-something incorporated!

Reilly: Hasenpfeffer incorporated!

Can I just take your pictures and get out of here?

Hill: What? (Laughing) You have a strange interview style ...

cgarcia@statesman.com; 445-3649