Terri - Jacob Wysocki and John C Reilly
Terri (Jacob Wysocki) and Mr Fitzgerald (John C Reilly) © 2011 Team Terri / ATO Pictures


Academy Award nominee, John C Reilly, has had a career spanning 24 years, with such memorable movies as Days of Thunder, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Chicago, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, The Aviator and Gangs of New York.

Jacob Wysocki is making his feature film debut in the title role of Terri. He landed his first professional acting job with TV’s ABC Family series Huge. He performs weekly at the National Comedy Theatre in Hollywood as a member of the improvisational group ComedySportz: The College Team. Oh, and June 20th was his 21st birthday which he told us he was going to celebrate in Las Vegas!

A recent hit at the Sundance Film Festival, Terri tells the story of the relationship between an oversized teen misfit and the garrulous but well-meaning vice principal of his school, Mr. Fitzgerald (Reilly).

The seasoned actor and the newcomer did their interview together, and their respect for each other was obvious.

How much do you love your wife Alison (Dicky, the movie’s producer) for bringing this script to you?

Terri - Bridger Zadina, Jacob Wysocki and John C Reilly
Chad (Bridger Zadina), Terri (Jacob Wysocki) and Mr Fitzgerald (John C Reilly) © 2011 Team Terri / ATO Pictures

John C Reilly: I love her to begin with. I also love her for having great taste. I bounce a lot of things off her, not just the things we work on together, but most of the stuff I’m considering doing, especially if it has an impact on our family.

She’s very supportive, and she brought this to me as a manuscript actually, it was going to be published as a book, and then they decided it would make a great movie and they skipped the book stage and went from manuscript to script.

What is it that both you and Alison saw in Fitzgerald that resonated with you?

John: It was more what I saw in Fitzgerald, because my wife knows me so well she could see me playing the part as well. I’ve always related to younger people throughout my life, even when I was younger myself.

I’ve always related to people younger than me, and been a big brother or weird uncle kind of person.

I think younger people really appreciate it when you treat them like human beings and not just kids. That, and the journey of the character was very interesting to me.

The fact that he starts off as this official, very formal, person and then you basically watch him crumble before your eyes so that at the end of the movie you realize, this guy’s a little bit of a mess, but at least he’s honest.

Were you given the manuscript also?

Terri - Jacob Wysocki
Terri (Jacob Wysocki) © 2011 Team Terri / ATO Pictures

Jacob Wysocki: I was not. I was given a finished script. I knew these characters were meant to be in a book and Terri was one of them, but I didn’t see anything from it.

How did you create the role of Terri?

Jacob: Well, I think Terri was created in the script, he was alive in the words and it was my job to just portray that person as honestly as possible.

It was just really about working with Azazel (Jacobs, the director) and finding the tones and taking my time and really figuring out who this person is, what is he thinking before he speaks to give purpose to why he’s speaking?

Those were the things that I worked on. I didn’t sit down and write Terri’s life story and his favorite colors, it wasn’t like that. It was a sense of being and doing.

What kind of back story did you do for the character, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t know more about Mr Fitzgerald?

Terri - Bridger Zadina and Jacob Wysocki
Chad (Bridger Zadina) and Terri (Jacob Wysocki) © 2011 Team Terri / ATO Pictures

John: The movie is called Terri for a reason. I think a lot of times when you’re a student  in school, it’s very rare if not [unheard of] that you interact with the adults in a personal way.

I never saw a teacher of my own outside of my school, or got a glimpse into what their life was really like, so I think that was one of the reasons that Patrick (deWitt) wrote it in that way, that the adults in this movie are somewhat mysterious to the kids.

Jacob: You never see it because Terri doesn’t know it. I think that’s the easiest way to say it,

Did you improvise any of the scenes, as Jacob is a standup comedian?

John: It did give us a common ground, the fact that Jacob has a background in improvisation, and I do too. We didn’t really improvise dialogue-wise in the movie, but I think it gave us –

Jacob: – an availability with each other.

Terri - Olivia Crocicchia and Jacob Wysocki
Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) and Terri (Jacob Wysocki) © 2011 Team Terri / ATO Pictures

John: Yeah, a sense of play, a sense of give and take.

Jacob: For me, everything that I use in acting is the [same] fundamentals and philosophy that makes good improv in my opinion, and it’s all just about listening and, as John says, give and take.

I really wanted to stick with the script, and there are small moments where [improvisation] worked, but I think staying true to the script was the right way to go.

What message do you want the audience to take away from this movie?

Jacob: Ultimately I just want the people watching the movie to smile and have a good time.

There are definitely things one could take away from the movie and that’s self-acceptance, and that life is about finding who you are and coming to terms with the things that are hard to come to terms with.

John: I hope that people are up for seeing people that are a little more real. I think there’s a place in the world for storytelling that’s patient enough to take in the smaller more subtle details of the human experience.

Hopefully people will just recognize themselves and their own lives in the movie, as opposed to some kind of mythic idea we have of misfits or teenagers.

Judy Sloane

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