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John C. Reilly Talks Wreck-It Ralph

Disney's upcoming animated film Wreck-It Ralph looks to appease gaming fans of all ages. We sat down with star John C. Reilly to talk about his role in the film and his history with games.

[Check out our interview with Wreck-It Ralph director Rich Moore in issue 233 of Game Informer Magazine.]

I'm curious about your history with games, for one. Did you play games when you were a kid?
When I was a kid, yeah. My parents would never go for spending the big money on the good games. I played a lot of games in arcades…I remember when Space Invaders first came out – it was like, this radical thing after a childhood of pinball, suddenly this crazy game called Space Invaders. And then all the games – Pac-Man, Defender, and all those kinds of arcade games. And then my parents finally – after I begged them to get me a home console – they got me this thing called Odyssey. It had a keyboard and some of the games on it were okay, but I was, like, “mom, I didn't say Odyssey, I said Atari!” And then, of course, the rest is history in terms of games. The whole world became video games.

Yeah, now it's huge. Did you go back and play any of those old games for training for the movie? Did you feel like you had to brush up on video game knowledge?
No, my character doesn't play the games in the movie, he's in the game. 

Maybe just go watch Tron or something then?
The closest thing to the game I'm in in the movie is Donkey Kong, actually. The guy's gonna smash the building, and someone else is trying to avoid it. Avoid being smashed.

There's a game they put online, Wreck It Ralph, it was actually pretty fun.
Yeah, not bad, right? For a little one-off thing. It was more about a guy's journey as a character. The guy's journey as a character is more about my own life. I'm in my late 40s and it's the classic time for a mid-life crisis or a reevaluation about what life's all about. You've accomplished certain things with work and your life, and then you can start to see the other end of the life span, and you start thinking, “is this all there is?” And that's what my character goes through. He realizes, “wait a minute? I've been smashing buildings for 30 years and everyone hates me in this game, and, is that really all I'm going to ever do?” So he decides to leave the game and go out down the power cord and go into some other video game, which is forbidden in the world of video game characters.

So it's like a video game character going through a mid-life crisis?
Yeah, he's like, “I want to be a good guy. I want to be a hero. I want people to like me.” So he goes into all these different games – and that's one really cool thing about the movie. The different looks. It's almost like four movies in one. Most animated movies, they set up the world, the universe you're in, and the basic rules of it, and then that's kind of the look. This one, he goes to some crazy different places that are very different than the game he starts in. So there's a lot of bang for the buck.

How did you get involved with the movie?
The director, Rich Moore, decided he wanted me to be this guy. He was a fan of my work. I haven't done a lot of animated stuff. I did a movie called 9 a few years ago – that was a darker movie, more for older audiences. I actually did a speck recording of an animated movie with Jack Black one time that never got turned into a movie about these two robots. It was really funny, but it never happened. Anyway, Rich just asked me to do this film. I held off doing an animated movie for whatever reason. I thought, when it comes time to do it, I really want it to be something I can be really invested in, rather than just coming in and reading a character. I wanted to really be part of the collaborative process of making the character and the story. So at first, I said, “no. Surely there's someone else.” But Rick just stuck by it.

Video game movies generally have a reputation for not being very good, whereas this one looks like it has a lot of promise. It looks like it has a little bit more heart. Is there something you feel that this movie has that those other ones maybe have lacked?
Rather than trying to take an existing video game and turn it into a compelling story – which is difficult because video games themselves are not linear. The way you experience those stories, you have your own unique experience each time you play the game. But instead of that, what makes this movie cool is that, it's more like, what you've always wondered when you play a video game. What's it like for that character? If that character had an off-screen life, what would it be like? I think that's a really interesting way to go about it. It's kind of a fun version of the universe of video games where, the video game characters know about each other, and they meet in the surge protector – that's the kind of central station. So my character is aware of Q*bert and Frogger and Zangief, and these other characters from other games. It's a fun way to go about it, rather than trying to force a story onto an existing game. 

Was there something in particular you added to the character of Wreck It Ralph? What was that process like?
I added something to almost every scene. Everything I did. We have a great writer, named Phil Johnson, who wrote a really funny, great script, along with – he collaborated a lot with John Lasseter and other people at Pixar and Disney. But there's a script, which is like a theoretical way of how it could go, and then you get in there, and you have to actually say the words, and…pretty much every movie I've ever done, there's always a little bit of tailor-making when you get into the moment. You're like, “okay, we did the scripted version, now let's play with it a little bit and see if we can invent something right now in the moment.”

Do you think you feel inspired to go play a game or two once this is all done?
I've already played the Fix-it Felix Jr. game. Pretty fun. We'll see.

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