John C. Reilly is many things to many moviegoers. In a memorable 2007 Oscar performance, he sang of his ability to star in “both Boogie and Talladega Nights,” playing off his rare ability to juggle dramatic and comedic roles with ease. Nevertheless, it’s the latter category for which he’s best known, in large part thanks to “Step Brothers,” which opened just a little over 10 years ago.
“That movie has somehow resonated in a really deep way,” the actor said in an interview, while promoting “The Sisters Brothers,” a new western — and not a comedy — in which he stars opposite Joaquin Phoenix.
It’s one of several upcoming 2018 releases that showcase Reilly’s range: By the end of the year, he’ll also star in the Laurel and Hardy biopic “Stan & Ollie,” the comedic riff on Arthur Conan Doyle’s mysteries “Holmes and Watson,” and the animated sequel “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” However, nothing in the prolific actor’s recent work has retained the popularity of “Step Brothers.” Might another entry come together?
Despite multiple reports of a sequel, Reilly said the plan never went anywhere. “We’ve been talking about it pretty much since the first one came out,” he said. “For most artists, sequels aren’t the most attractive thing. Fans, of course, are different. If you like pizza, you want more pizza. I understand people really getting into the idea, but in terms of having something on the table, no, there isn’t.”
Reilly has gotten used to answering this question. “If I go out on the street, pretty much every day that I’m out in public, somebody asks about a sequel,” he said. In 2017, Will Ferrell told the Daily News that he and writer-director Adam McKay had developed a story that follows the two men as they attempt to retire along with their parents, but the project never materialized. “We had some great ideas over the years,” Reilly said. “I hope I don’t age out of the possibility. It might be really sad if we’re like 60 years old and doing it.”
Reilly’s given a lot of thought to the original movie’s enduring appeal. “It’s so funny, it’s so broad, but at the core of it are these very real family issues, and I think that makes the movie really subversive in a way,” he said. “It has staying power. You know, we really meant it when we made that movie. We weren’t just trying to make people laugh. We really tried to commit to what it would be like to be 40 years old and living with your parents.”
McKay has migrated into a very different stage of his career: He won an Oscar for co-writing the screenplay to “The Big Short,” and his untitled Dick Cheney project with Christian Bale comes out later this year. Reilly said anyone who knows McKay has been unsurprised by the director’s evolution. “He’s one of the most intelligent and inventive people I’ve ever met,” Reilly said. “Comedy is a great way to tell the truth.”
As for Reilly’s own trajectory, he’s entering new territory with “The Sisters Brothers,” which he produced along with his wife Alison Dickey. The first English-language feature from veteran French director Jacques Audiard is a world away from the rowdy humor of “Step Brothers,” although it’s another sensitive portrait of brotherly aggression — and Reilly brings some surprising moments of levity to the material, which he said he tries to do no matter the nature of the project at hand.
As an example, he pointed to “Kong: Skull Island,” where he played a quirky WWII-era soldier marooned in the jungle where the giant ape lurks. “He’s sort of a funnier person in this really serious story,” Reilly said. “The one feature of my whole career has been a lot of variety. The audience has allowed me to do these things, to see me as things they haven’t seen me as before.”
Annapurna Pictures releases “The Sisters Brothers” on September 21.