LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rock music spoof "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" marks two departures for dramatic actor John C. Reilly. The movie is a comedy, and it is his first leading role in a major Hollywood film.
Is Reilly feeling pressured? No, but he is feeling guilty.
"Like any good Catholic boy, I feel guilty somebody spent so much money on me," Reilly said in an interview. "I hope people enjoy it, and the studio makes its money back."
But at a cost of less than $35 million, Columbia Pictures has relatively little at risk in the movie, which debuts on Friday and lampoons real rock-star biopics like the Johnny Cash movie "Walk the Line" or director Oliver Stone's "The Doors."
"Walk Hard" tells the tale of Dewey Cox, a poor farm boy who breaks into the world of rock 'n' roll to find a life of big money, wild women, hard liquor and dangerous drugs. But every time he falls, Dewey picks himself up, reinvents his music for the time period and, of course, walks on.
In advance screenings around the United States, moviegoers are laughing out loud at "Walk Hard," so Reilly shouldn't worry. The film is winning early raves from critics, scoring a 94 percent "fresh" rating on the review aggregator Web site www.rottentomatoes.com.
"Walk Hard" was directed by Jake Kasdan ("Orange County") and produced by Judd Apatow, one of Hollywood's hottest filmmakers at the moment with a string of comedy hits under his belt including "Knocked Up" and "Superbad."
"He's not afraid of completely letting go and letting anarchy take over, and that's where you get the freshest and funniest stuff," Reilly said of Apatow.
Apatow also notices things other people miss, and in Reilly he saw a flair for making people laugh and the ability to sing and play guitar that set Reilly apart. He gave the actor a supporting role in the auto racing comedy "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," which eventually led to "Walk Hard."
Previously, Reilly has won acclaim for supporting roles in dramas such as "Boogie Nights" and in the musical "Chicago," which earned him an Oscar nomination. The Chicago native began acting as a child and pursued musical theater early.
Reilly said the key to Dewey Cox was to play him straight, as if the character really believes in himself and trusts his bandmates when they tell him to stay off drugs and keep away from loose women -- two things Cox rarely does throughout the rock-a-billy 1950s, psychedelic '60s, swinging '70s, and new wave '80s.
To keep the jokes fresh, Reilly said he improvised heavily with his castmates, including "The Office" star Jenna Fischer and former "Saturday Night Live" comedian Tim Meadows.
"You can write a great script, and execute it well, but after saying certain lines many times, you can get a little bored," Reilly said. "A lot of my favorite lines were improvs to make Jake (Kasdan) or the other cast members laugh."
Reilly said he did not try to mimic any one rock legend to create the cocky persona of Dewey Cox, but names several recording stars who helped inspire the character, among them Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Brian Wilson and Mac Davis.
Mac Davis? Yep, he's the 1970s country and soft-rock singer who had his own TV variety show and made women swoon with hits like "Baby, Don't Get Hooked on Me." In Reilly's mind -- or make that Cox's -- Davis rocked.
Editing by Sandra Maler