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Stan & Ollie opens in the U.S. on Dec. 28, but audiences at the Rome Film Festival were treated to a sneak peek just days after the movie’s world premiere in London. The new film from Jon S. Baird stars John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy and Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel, one of the the world’s most famous comedy duos.
In the pic, the two comedians tour post-war Britain in an effort to reanimate their fledging film career. But the taxing journey turns out to be their swan song.
To play the prolific American comedian Hardy, who made over 250 films during his life, Reilly said he was able to tap into the comic’s romantic view of the world.
“Oliver in his heart was an Italian,” said Reilly to the Roman press. “Oliver in his heart was a romantic. He was someone who loved poetry and women and good food. He almost amplified those aspects of his personality to create his stage persona. He’s so in love with beauty and he aspires to be this romantic gentleman all the time. And he has this person all the time, [Stan], trying to mess it up.”
More complicated for Reilly, however, was the physical transformation. When he first sat down with the director to discuss portraying the 280-pound comedian, he made it clear that he wasn’t going to gain weight for the role. “I said, ‘No, that’s a lot of weight!’ I had just lost 30 pounds and it took me all this time to lose 30. I’m not going to gain 200 more,” said Reilly.
But for Reilly, it was important to embody the actor exactly as he was. “It was really like a sacred mission. These people were not just actors and not just comedians,” he said. “They were people who tapped into some truth about humanity, and I think that is the universality of their films. These guys were eternal when they first appeared.”
Reilly described getting into such extreme makeup and prosthetics everyday as an extremely painful ordeal. “I actually am very impatient in the makeup room,” he said. “I usually give people about 10 minutes, and then I say, ‘I gotta go.’ But I knew this would require much more patience and it would require almost a kind of stamina to get through the makeup. Because it was such a holy mission, because I was trying to embody Oliver, I did it every day.
“It was not easy, but it doesn’t matter,” said Reilly. “You’re doing this to bring Ollie back to life. You have to do this. And so I sort of meditated and I got through it.”
In addition to wearing a fat suit, Reilly wore prosthetics all around his face and even on his hands, an experience he said that made people treat him differently when he took breaks on set. “What it felt like was acting inside of a mask, but your whole body is in a mask,” he said. “It was almost like looking outside of this thing. You could see other people having this other reaction to you.”
As wearing the suit was incredibly hot, Reilly would often take breaks off set. “I would go outside as often as I could to get some air and some sun and I would often just sit in my t-shirt with this fat suit and the makeup on, and people would be walking by in England who didn’t know we were making a film,” he said. “And many of them did not recognize me as Oliver Hardy or as John Reilly. They just saw a sad, fat man sitting on the ground outside.”
Reilly said the experience opened his eyes. “I have to tell you, it gives you a very interesting insight in what it feels like to be a big, fat man. It didn’t feel good, I must say. Someone walking by, typically [they would look away] as if they didn’t want to see you,” said Reilly. “Like, ‘Oh, it’s quite sad. I’ll embarrass him if I look at him too much.’
“So you end up feeling like, ‘Hey, I’m a human being! I’m here, you know!’ That also gave me insight into what it must have felt like to be Oliver all the time,” said Reilly. “He performed as a fat man and he traded on his fatness as part of his life, and yet he had to live with that body when he went home. I had the luxury of taking off that costume, but Oliver lived in that costume,” he said. “That gave me a lot of sympathy for his journey in life.”
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