The Outsiders: John C. Reilly on Terri





A teen outsider meets a vice-principal with a heart of gold—it’s a formula that smacks of your average after-school special. But in the new film Terri, that formula is turned on its head thanks to John C. Reilly as the vice-principal. Reilly has always excelled at playing authority figures who can’t quite get the authority down. In Terri, Reilly takes an interest in helping the title character, played by Jacob Wysocki in his first feature film. Directed by Azazel Jacobs, the film is a somewhat bleak look at the life of an outcast in high school without the usual makeover and prom-redemption ending. As Mr. Fitzgerald, Reilly grounds the film with his weekly meeting with Terri and his subtle but comic attempts at mentoring. We caught up with Reilly to ask him about mentoring offscreen and how to get the girls in high school.

GILLIAN MOHNEY: What made you want to play a vice-principal?

JOHN C. REILLY: I really liked the part. I really liked this mentor kinda guy who in the beginning comes off as totally confident and very reassuring in his take on the world and his ability to help these kids, and at some point he just starts to crack. And you realize that he’s struggling himself with understanding life. Which I think is probably the case more often than not.

MOHNEY: The film was Jacob Wysocki’s first feature film. You’re playing a mentor to him onscreen; did you do any mentoring offscreen as well?

REILLY: A little bit. I mean, I try not to be that boring older guy who is like, “The thing about the world is this!” But that said, you spend a lot of time together, waiting for one thing or another. You eventually get to talking, and I was just curious about what their lives were like, and what they were into and stuff. Some days the kids would come in and you could tell they were down about something, and it’d be like “What’s going on?” [They would say] “Oh, this girl. She said she was coming over, and if you got this text, what would you think? What do you think she’s thinking?” I was like, “Let me see.”

Basically it was me telling them to stand up for themselves and to have more confidence and more self-esteem. Stuff that I wish someone had told to me when I was their age. I think I would have—not to be crass—I would have had a lot more sex as a younger person if I had just gone for it. If I could give any advice to young people out there, it’s, “Okay, make that move.” It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t work out.

MOHNEY: Did you relate to the character of Terri and being an outcast at school?

REILLY: Well I was kind of an outcast, I guess, in high school. I went to a boys’ Catholic high school in Chicago. I did feel like “I don’t fit in here,” in some way. Because it was a sports-centered school, you know? A college prep organization, and I was into plays. But even though I felt like an outcast, I was in a group of outcasts. We were the play people. That, and I also went to a lot of girls’ Catholic high schools to do plays, because they were always looking for boys for their shows. That was pretty good for my social life.

MOHNEY: Do you have a preference between doing plays or films?

REILLY: Not really. I would hate to have to stop doing either one—maybe plays, just because that’s what I grew up doing. When I think of “actor,” I think of someone onstage acting. Movies are this thing that came into my life, and it still feels pretend in some way. I kind of do this thing, and I never really accepted this idea that I’m a film actor. That’s what I do. I feel like I’m a theater actor that started doing films. Most people have never seen me in a play. They’re fun, though.

MOHNEY: You’re one of the few people I can think of that gets away with doing both comedy and drama equally.

REILLY: The acting police let me get away with that… It’s like if you have Italian food one night, you’re not going to have it again the next night. You’re going to be like, “Let’s have Chinese.” You just try to mix it up a little bit. I actually envy actors who have a persona: “This is the way I am. This is the part I play.” And do it over and over and over. To me, that’s a lot easier than trying to reinvent yourself every six months.

MOHNEY: You’ve had a really interesting career, balancing indies with blockbusters and comedy with drama—are there people you still look up to in how they approach their career?

REILLY: I like people who are able to keep pushing themselves and challenging themselves even after great success. Someone I recently I’ve gotten to know quite well is Jack White, and I think he’s a great example of that. He could have done White Stripes records over and over and over, until everyone got tired and moved on. Instead, he moved on before they did.

MOHNEY: You read all these different versions of the script prior to making it. Was the finished project how you imagined it to be?

REILLY: Well, I didn’t see any of the kids’ scenes. It’s always a surprise when you play a supporting part in a film and get like, “Oh, this is what this movie is about.” I wasn’t surprised, but I was happy to see that the movie had as much feeling as it does. It had an earnestness and a sincerity. My character is kind of over-the-top a little bit—especially in the early scenes. He’s a little bit comic in the way he acts. But I was glad to see that it wasn’t presented that way in the movie. You really feel this is a real guy, that’s just how he decided to talk… I think this movie is brave in that way, in that it just tries to tell the truth of what those moments are like without goosing it so that it’s amped up so that it becomes this high contrast, extreme, jokey version of high school.