Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant - John C Reilly
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant - Crepsley (John C Reilly) © Universal Pictures

Based on the popular series of books by Darren Shan, John C Reilly stars as Larten Crepsley, a vampire traveling with Cirque Du Freak, a touring sideshow filled with monstrous creatures, including a Snake Boy (Patrick Fugit), Madame Truska, a bearded lady (Salma Hayek) and an ominous fat man named Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris).

Into this mixture of freaks comes 16-year-old Darren (Chris Messoglia), who unknowingly breaks a 200-year-old truce between the two warring factions of vampires. After Crepsley turns him into a vampire, Darren joins the freak show, and flexing his newfound dark powers becomes a treasured pawn between the vampires and their deadlier counterparts, the vampaneze.

At the press junket for the movie Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, John C Reilly spoke about his role as Crepsley, and the fantastic world of Cirque Du Freak.

Were you familiar with the books and how cool was it being the head vampire?

I was not familiar with the books before I was offered the movie, but it was great. This whole vampire tidal wave that has happened lately wasn’t quite cresting at the time we made the movie. The first Twilight movie hadn’t come out. I became aware of the books through the script and eventually read all of them, and I was always the one on the set going, ‘You know, but the book says …’ so I came to really enjoy them.

Crepsley (John C Reilly) © Universal Pictures

How did you go about deciding how to play the character?

He just evolved in the way all my characters evolve. I read the script and research materials, and Crepsley started to come to life. I didn’t make any big changes in my mind from the book. It’s not often you get to play someone who is 220 years old. That go me really excited about the character … how cynical you’d be after living all those years.

What was your reaction when they offered you this?

I was thrilled because I’d been doing a lot of comedies in a row and I was getting known only for that, especially among younger audiences. I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve done almost 50 movies and these kids only know me from these two movies, and they think that’s all that I do.’ So I thought maybe it’s time to do something different, and I’d always wanted to do a fantasy movie.

This kind of movie is a movie I like to see, I’m a big fan of Harry Potter movies and the Lord of the Rings films, I like a good fantasy adventure story, so I was thrilled when it came along and then to have such a detailed, textured character, this guy has been alive so long and seen so much, and gets to be a mentor which has been an important relationship in my life at different points.

Of course in two years it will be, ‘John, why are you always playing vampires?’

What is Crepsley and Truska’s relationship like?

One of the recurring things in these vampires’ lives is, ‘Don’t mess with mortals because they get old a lot faster and they’re eventually going to die in front of you.’ If you’re in love with someone, then you have to watch them grow old and die while you age much more slowly. That’s the pain of their love.

What was like shooting in New Orleans?

It was a real special time to get to work in New Orleans. Some parts of the city were totally coming back and other parts were shockingly still neglected and seemingly forgotten. It was hard to see some of that. Once you got outside of the French Quarter it was tough to see how hard people were still struggling.

That theatre we shot in hadn’t really been touched since the storm, so it was filthy and you felt like it was dangerous just to be in there. But ironically that was exactly why they picked it, because it looked so atmospheric, it had so much decay going on. So it was a challenge to work in that place, but overall New Orleans was a pretty delightful place to be.

Crepsley (John C Reilly) and Darren Shan (Christ Massoglia) © Universal Pictures

Didn’t you consider joining the circus at one time?

Yeah, I almost became a clown. My plan was to go to clown college after I finished acting school, and then a clown talked me out of it. He said, ‘No, man, it’s a five year contract and you have to ride in the worst compartment of the train, and it’s a nightmare,’ so I reconsidered it, but I think I joined the circus when I started doing theatre when I was 8 years old, that’s when I found my fellow freaks.

Can you describe what flitting is, which the vampires do in this movie?

Flitting is how vampires travel when they need to get somewhere fast. It’s essentially like The Flash. You take a deep breath and start moving, and you quickly turn into a blur. The perspective you have while you’re doing it is that the world seems to slow down …even though you’re going fast.

The vampire Crepsley (John C Reilly) in his final resting place © Universal Pictures

How did that actually work?

That involved Chris getting on my back and me trying to run with him on my back. My knees used to be able to do that much better than they’re able to now. We only had to run a few feet and then the effects would kick in. It’s one of my favorite parts of the books actually, the fact that they can travel so quickly. I think it’s a really cool concept and it’s probably my favorite supernatural power we get to do in the film.

When the movie ends you’re waiting for the next chapter to start, are other films already planned?

We’ve been filming now for about three months, we’re almost done, it’s a big gamble on Universal’s part – no! If the movie does well, I assume there will be another one.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane