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5 Questions for the cast of the new film Cyrus

I had an opportunity to sit down with the directors and cast of the new film Cyrus which brings to the screen a somewhat revolutionary style of filmmaking paired with a stellar Oscar nominated ensemble cast that results in a very different brand of film.  The dialogue was heavily improvised, the story was filmed in sequence (a rarity), and the resulting film is an honest and darkly comedic look at the codependent relationships of the four main characters.  Below are five questions and answers from some of the cast: John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, and Marisa Tomei and the directors: brothers Mark and Jay Duplass.  The final question was directed towards everyone.  The film is currently playing in theaters throughout New York.

As an actor who’s played so many different types of roles in your career from character roles to leading roles, what can you say is the difference from an actor’s point of view?

John C. Reilly: Well, l always say that every character that I’ve played is the main character in their life story.  Whether it’s a tiny little part or not, I mean, in some ways I prefer to play leading parts because it’s just as much work for me to play a smaller part- you still really have to have a back story for the character and you have to really bring a new person to life, it’s just as much work and you have less time to get it done.  You know the great thing about playing the main role in a film is that you can build up momentum, you can start slow and kinda feel your way through a character and then it just starts to snowball and then all of a sudden by the end of the movie you know exactly what to do.  When you are coming in for a supporting part, and like I did it a lot, like I used to say I’m like ‘the special forces of character actors’ and in those situations you’ve never met anybody, you’re there for 10 days, [you] usually have some important scenes to do, and you gotta just deliver.  You don’t have time to get to know everybody and get a vibe going with the director, you have to just come in and in some ways it’s a lot harder.

You seem to be booked for the next five years solid between writing and acting, as a young guy how do you deal with the pressure, especially you know, you are writing and producing some of your own material for feature films now, how do you balance it out?

Jonah Hill: Honestly, that all comes from my mom and dad.  I could not be more appreciative of the situation I’m in, if I ever, for a second, start to complain about anything or think about complaining I immediately realize what I feel, which is that making movies and working in movies is a complete privilege and not a right, and that’s for anybody, no matter who you are.  You know this is the coolest job ever, I’m so lucky to have it and I appreciate it.  I’m also young, you know I have the energy.  I mean, I will work every day if I have to, seven days a week, you know, put your head down and work and make good product and that’s all that matters.  The fame element doesn’t matter and the nice stuff you buy, it’s all secondary.

For your recent Oscar nominated role in The Wrestler, you had some crazy nude scenes. As an actress, how hard is it approaching that kind of performance and sort of putting that out there?

Marisa Tomei: Well, I had already kinda broken the ice in Before the Devil Knows Your Dead [and] that was harder.  With this one it was just like well, I’ll just concentrate on the dancing- haha- I really hope that I get that spin down.

Directors Mark and Jay Duplass:

You guys have a really lean film here which is not what you would think when you are talking about so much improv, I mean you essentially threw away the script when you began filming and 80% of the film is adlibbed, what kind of insane editing process do you guys have?

Mark Duplass (Director): Thank you, it is a completely arduous and insane editing process is what it is.

Jay Duplass (Director): Yeah.

Mark: We have three editors, our main editor is our friend Jay Deuby who is our third unofficial brother and he runs the show and we have two quote end quote assistants that are really great editors and filmmakers in their own right and then we have me and Jay, five of us on this thing constantly.  Each scene gets stripped down to its essential core, we probably, not exaggerating, edit each scene 15 to 20 times.  [We also shoot] as many takes so each scene can go lots of different ways and it’s great to have those options, it means when you test your movie you’ve got a lot of ways to fix your problems but you are also swimming in the sea of infinite possibility which is saddening at times and tiring.

Jay: It’s so wonderful and freeing! (laughing)

Mark: Ha-ha, yeah, but we try to find the subtlest version of a scene that is still communicating what we want to say to the audience and what that means is we usually get that wrong 3 to 5 times before it gets right so [we] test it with audiences and see “did that read?” – “oh that read way too much, it was obvious and broad- lets reel it in” and we reel it in [then] “oops! They missed it, lets go back.”  [There’s] constant dialogue between us and the audience that we test with, they help us a lot.

I teach film and screenwriting in high school and wanted to ask on behalf of my students what advice do you have for people who want to succeed in the business?

Jay Duplass: Make tons and tons of movies and expect them to fail and expect them to be terrible and do them cheaply and get out of this mindset you’re just gonna make a feature and it’ll be good cause it’s impossible, it’s almost impossible, actually I think it is impossible to just make a feature and it’s good all of a sudden.  I mean, people have this misconception that Linklater and Soderbergh showed up and made this feature- if you ask them and really dig in you’ll realize they made tons and tons of films growing up in their teens and early twenties.  It’s a really complex form, making movies and you have to afford yourself the opportunity to make movies, fuck’em up, and get back on your horse and do it again. I mean, writers and painters make thousands of works of art before they even show it to anyone much less expect it to be something great and transcendent [but] for some reason our pop culture mentality has created this like myth “you either have it or you don’t” and for Mark and me, we made terrible movies all throughout our twenties, we were trying to be the Cohen brothers, we were trying to be all these other people and it took us a decade of failure to figure out what we have uniquely to offer and to find a method of artistry and storytelling that we felt was unique and special and what we were really good at doing.

Jonah Hill: My advice would be writing is everything.  You know being an actor and not being able to write is one of the scariest things in the entire world, I know this from friends of mine who are actors and don’t write because a lot of time as an actor, especially starting out you spend 99.9 to 100% of the time unemployed so if you can focus on writing everyday and getting better at writing- you should spend every day getting better at what you are trying to do.  If you’re an actor and you want to act there’s not going to be movie parts for years unless you are one in a billion so find some friends who are into writing, write a play with them, and then you guys put it up where ever you can: in someone’s house or at a party or something  or whatever, borrow a family members camera make a short film, read plays out loud with your friends… every day should just be spent moving forward at getting better at what you are trying to do.  That’s my advice and that’s what I did, I just didn’t waste any day when I wasn’t writing or acting even in the few years of unemployment, you know, you just have to fill that time with things that are positive towards your goal.

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About Tim Needles

Tim Needles is an artist, photographer, humorist, and writer from Long Island, NY. His writing and art work has been seen in multiple exhibitions and publications around New York as well as the Photographer’s Forum, French Photo, the New York Times, and LI Pulse magazine. He is also an educator and currently teaches art and film at Smithtown, NY and as an Education Leader for Adobe. He was recently the recipient of the Robert Rauschenberg Award in Washington DC and serves as the director of Strictly Students, a non-for-profit group for media and education. His work can be seen on his website: www.timneedles.com
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