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Wreck-It Ralph destroyed the competition at the US box office when it opened at No 1 last year with a massive $49.1million on its opening weekend. This made the Oscar-nominated film – which opens tomorrow in South Africa – the biggest Disney Animation opening of all time ahead of Tangled and all the Disney classics, including The Lion King.
An interview with… John C Reilly (voice of Wreck-It Ralph)
Acclaimed actor John C Reilly has made an impact with both comedic and dramatic roles in film and theatre.
His films include God of Carnage, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Cyrus, Stepbrothers, Walk Hard, Talladega Nights, The Aviator, Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Perfect Storm, Magnolia and Boogie Nights. His theatre appearances include True West and A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway.
He is a native of Chicago and a graduate of the Theatre School at DePaul University.
What made you want to be in Wreck-It Ralph?
Wreck-It Ralph is an amazing character. He has a huge heart, but he’s misguided. He has all the foibles of a real person even though he’s an arcade-game character.
Ralph is kind of stuck in his life; he’s been doing the same job for 30 years – he wrecks things better than anybody; he’s literally born to destroy things – but he’s a little burnt out. He sees the writing on the wall: “My life is never going to change. I’m always going to be the bad guy. I’m never going to have any friends.”
So he goes off to try to change it. He means well in the beginning, but just goes about it in all the wrong ways. But in the end, he realises what a hero really is.
How does Ralph react to Hero’s Duty?
It’s like playing war in your backyard and then suddenly being dropped in the middle of an actual war zone. It’s way more intense, way more dangerous and scarier than anything he’s ever experienced.
One of the great things about Ralph is that he’s childlike in that he has only experienced his own backyard. He sees the world through the lens of his limited experiences. So when he goes to Hero’s Duty and realises that there are Cy-Bugs that want to devour him, he is completely unprepared for it.
Why does Ralph want a medal?
Ralph thinks that if he wins a medal, everyone will suddenly look up to him. He thinks a medal can somehow change who he is – his place in the world. But ultimately, it’s not the medal that gives you power, it’s the experience that changes you.
So Ralph’s silly journey to get a medal to prove to everyone back home in his game that he is a hero actually gives him the experiences that really do make him a hero.
Who does Ralph meet in Sugar Rush?
When Ralph gets to this game Sugar Rush he meets this little girl named Vanellope, who annoys him. He’s like the carnival barker who says: “Get away from me kid, you bother me.” Of course, Vanellope ends up being a little more on top of it than Ralph – he doesn’t understand Sugar Rush and he begrudgingly relies on her. They form this love/hate, brother/ younger sister relationship and he gets roped into helping her win a race in her own game. At some point, he realises that she’s an outsider just like he is.
How much did it mean to you to have opportunities to record with your cast mates?
I was surprised to learn that in most animated movies, the actors record separately. I thought (recording together) was indispensable in terms of chemistry between us as actors, and being able to improvise and react very specifically to what the other person was giving.
It’s to (director) Rich Moore’s credit that we had as many sessions as we did together because I think the performances will come off on screen as very alive and happening in the moment.
We’d start with the scripted version, and then we figured we might as well do a couple variations. That’s where the improvisation came in.
The story people, the writers and the director, were in the room with the other actors, creating a collaborative process in real time. That just feeds what the animators do. The more raw material they have, the better, and we certainly gave them plenty to work with.
What led you to spend time with the animation team?
I still have an image in my head of the old days of painted cellophane paper and Walt Disney with a pipe, directing people.
I went in to meet with the animators because I was really curious about the process. I thought it would be helpful, as an actor, to go and engage with the animators so they could see what I was thinking when I was saying the lines.
I wondered if the physicality that I was imagining would match up with what they were thinking and how it would relate to the overall design of the character.
We actually did some motion studies – I went in and did impressions of football players. I did the classic postures. I feel Ralph is a larger-than-life character – he’s 290kg, and 2.7m tall – so there’s some real physicality there. It was a lot of fun.
Were you a videogame fan as a kid?
Playing videogames is where all my expendable income went when I was about 12 and 13 years old. Many quarters in the days when the only way to interact with this new exciting thing called videogames was in a convenience store or an arcade.
I was the test audience for the first arcade games after pinball, which were Space Invaders, Defender, Centipede, Pac-Man – all those games. I’m very familiar with the games that we pay homage to in the movie.
In those days, you could play that videogame as long as someone didn’t put another quarter on the machine.
How did everyone know which quarter was whose?
You knew. If it was your quarter you knew, you made it your job to know. You counted, all right, I’m four back, when those three people have gone through here that’s my quarter. Or you memorised the date on the quarter, that’s another way.
What’s been the best part about working on Wreck-It Ralph?
My work with Sarah Silverman was really, really fun. Sarah is very funny. I’ve been a big fan of hers for years for her comedy, but I saw her do some really great dramatic work.
There’s one scene where my character has to give some tough love to her character and it ended up being this really moving, dramatic scene – I don’t think either of us saw it coming really, we just started saying these lines, acting, and suddenly – wow, something heavy just happened. I think that was some of the best work I have ever done.
What makes Wreck-It Ralph special?
In this movie you’re presented with one version of the world through the eyes of a player. Then you go behind the glass of the videogame and you see what it’s like for those characters in that game – and when Ralph goes off on this vision quest and travels through the power cord into other games, you’re in a whole new universe. That’s what makes the movie a really special visual experience – you’re not trapped in one world. To the credit of the artists and everyone at Disney who made the movie – they made four movies for the price of one. That’s unique. – Walt Disney Animation Studios
Wreck-It Ralph features a few figures worth noting:
• 3: The number of dimensions – 3D – in which moviegoers can enjoy Wreck-It Ralph.
• 5: The number of distinct worlds featured in Wreck-It Ralph – Fix-It Felix, Hero’s Duty, Sugar Rush, Game Central Station, Litwak’s Family Fun Center.
• 8: The number of bits in Fix-It Felix jr. Actually, it represents the style of animation used in many video-games designed in the early 1980s.
• 25: The date in January (tomorrow) that Wreck-It Ralph hits theatres.
• 51: The number of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ full-length feature films that precede Wreck-It Ralph.
• 290: how much Ralph weighs in kilograms.
• 2.7m: how tall Ralph is.
• 39: The number of scripted characters in Wreck-It Ralph.
• 188: The number of unique characters featured in Wreck-It Ralph – which is three times the number of characters in a Disney animated release.
• 1 200: The number of commuting characters featured in Game Central Station.
• 17 000: The number of colourful candy spectators in Sugar Rush.
• 190 000: The peak number of menacing Cy-Bugs featured on screen at any one time in Wreck-It Ralph.
• 120 501: The high score on the Fix-It Felix arcade game within the film. It’s also not-so-coincidentally Walt Disney’s birthday.
• 1 337: This is Leetspeak for “elite”. A soldier can be seen in the foreground of a shot in Hero’s Duty who has an insignia of the numbers.