He May Not Want You To Notice Him, But This Season John C. Reilly Is Everywhere.

By Steve Daly
Updated November 15, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST
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Cellophane, Mister cellophane/shoulda been my name…/’Cause you can look right through me/Walk right by me/And never know I’m there. — John C. Reilly as Amos Hart in Chicago

When people stop John C. Reilly on the street, they often strain to remember where they’ve seen his mug before. They might recall he was the big, bearded guy yanked overboard by a fishing hook in The Perfect Storm. And just this year, as the stoner husband in The Good Girl, he squeezed Jennifer Aniston’s breasts for sperm-sample inspiration.

But without an assist from Reilly, most passersby go blank trying to conjure any of the two dozen movie roles he’s inhabited over the past 13 years. This does not cause him to phone his agent or his publicist in a rage. This causes him to think, Mission accomplished.

”I treasure my anonymity,” the 6-foot-1, 37-year-old actor says, rubbing his Karl Maldenesque nose and stroking the back of his neck in a sort of unconscious camouflage dance while scrunched into a Beacon Hill banquette for dinner. He’s deep into rehearsals for the Boston run of a potentially Broadway-bound musical version of Marty, the 1955 slob-in-love Oscar winner. Reilly’s eyes, deep-set beneath his expansive brow, narrow as he talks — the opposite of the way they pop wide open on screen to suggest the guileless souls of the good-natured people he tends to play.

”The more known I become as a name, the less I kinda like it,” he says. ”I like to have interactions with people. If everything is ‘Hey, you’re that guy,’ that’s the same interaction over and over again.”

Sorry, John, but you’re about to face more of the same. In a profile-raising pileup of memorable characters that makes him this year’s Jim Broadbent, Reilly will bow in three Oscar-pedigree movies at the end of December. He’ll appear as a World War II vet oblivious to the desperation of his wife (Julianne Moore) in The Hours. He’ll play a fallen lawman in Martin Scorsese’s long-anticipated Gangs of New York. And, most showstoppingly, he’ll sing and dance as the nebbishy husband of a murderess (Renee Zellweger) in Chicago. ”Funny how [the movies] stacked up,” he says. ”It wasn’t meant to be that way.”

In fact, Reilly nearly appeared in yet another film this fall. His good pal, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson — for whom he played a Reno drifter in 1997’s Hard Eight, a doofus porn star in 1997’s Boogie Nights, and a foursquare cop in 1999’s Magnolia — had him in mind as one of the thugs who terrorize Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love. ”But he has this process of narrowing down the story,” says Reilly. ”And at some point, I said, ‘Paul, it’s a love story. I might be distracting in this movie.”’

Besides, he was otherwise engaged in Rome on the very long shoot of Gangs of New York — a picture that Anderson, of all people, had talked him into doing. ”It was this massive script, but there didn’t seem to be a lot to my part. So I was a little torn…. Am I really gonna go to Italy for all these months? I called Paul and he was like, ‘Are you f — -ing crazy?… It doesn’t matter about the role. If he says to come, you just go.”’

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