He is Johnny Cash meets Ray Charles meets Forrest Gump.
In "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," fictional rocker-turned-cultural icon Dewey Cox springs to life in a little more than 90 minutes, spanning seven decades of history and a wide range of musical genres.
For co-writer and director Jake Kasdan and for lead actor Academy Award nominee John C. Reilly, the film "Walk Hard" was an opportunity to craft an original comedy couched in the framework of rock epic biopics. Speaking to Peter Travers for ABC News Now's "Popcorn," Kasdan described the film's hero, Dewey Cox, as "an amalgamation of every great rock star you've ever loved. And with that comes all of his highs and lows."
While biopics documenting icons like Cash and Charles won big both at awards shows and at the box office, the creators of "Walk Hard" take these conventions and walk hard in a new direction.
Reilly, whose mug graces the big screen as Dewey Cox, explained: "The cool thing about this movie is that we got all the production design and all the great things that are in biopics, the span of time, the look at a different era — but at the same time be able to laugh at ourselves."
Reilly added, "I think that a lot of biopics are missing that aspect, where they are so busy creating the mythology of this 'great man.' It's also reverent and trying to get it right. That stuff is great, but the great luxury we had and that the audiences will have when they see this movie is that you have a laugh too."
Writing alongside Kasdan was longtime friend and fellow funnyman Judd Apatow, the man behind two of this summer's biggest comedy hits "Knocked Up" and "Superbad." Kasdan explains the creative process of writing comedy alongside Apatow, saying that "the script arose from him and I passing it back and forth, writing and rewriting each other."
But Reilly weighs in on perhaps the single most important perk of working with Apatow: "The studio listens to him, and gives you room to do crazy things … so he's a very important person to have on your team."
For Peter Travers' Rolling Stone review of "Walk Hard," please click here.
The cast also collaborated on the mock rock epic. Reilly notes that the film has "so many people coming through — we have an enormous cast in this movie." According to the star, this not only kept things interesting on set, but also provided an internal editing process.
"We had all kinds of bullsh-- detectors coming through, great actors and very funny people who we would always be able to bounce our ideas off of them, so hopefully there's something funny for everyone in this movie humor-wise."
In this cast are the three members of Dewey's band, which Kasdan and Apatow filled with an assortment of comedians known for their improvisational skill. Kasdan admitted: "We had a relatively simple, maybe lazy idea, to load up Dewey's band, which were all sort of underwritten roles, with a bunch of brilliantly funny improv comics. So we got Tim Meadows, Chris Parnell and Matt Besser to come and play those roles." How dedicated were they to the roles? "They were hilarious and all learned to play their instruments."
To star opposite Dewey as one of the many love interests, Kasdan and Reilly tapped "The Office's" Jenna Fischer. "She was just incredibly funny and she and John had great comic chemistry, and were really funny together, so that was sort of a no-brainer. So we were sort of writing it to her."
For Reilly, whose previous roles include supporting characters like "Chicago's" Mr. Cellophane and the dopy sidekick to Will Ferrell in "Talladega Nights," "Walk Hard" presented a unique opportunity.
"I'm sort of pathologically modest. So whenever people try to say like 'Oh you're the big star, the lead, your face is everywhere!' I just go 'Oh I haven't seen the poster, I don't know.' I just think that's better."
Biopics are hardly light experiences, but "Walk Hard" treads the line between comedy and a heavier side. Kasdan refers to the film as a "combination of this very rigid thing and this loose ridiculous thing. That tension is kind of what the movie is like." He reflects that "the most satisfying moments are when we get people to care for a moment and then we take these left turns back into laughter."
This balance puts them into a rarely occupied filmmaking niche, and it is that tension that Reilly and Kasdan hope will hit the jackpot with moviegoers.
"There are a lot of great movies out this year in this holiday season that deal with very serious subjects. Stuff that I think people ought to be thinking about or looking at," Reilly said. Kasdan jumped in: "Not when they come to see 'Walk Hard'!"
Reilly agreed, explaining: "We offer the palette cleanser. Between your war drama or your horrible tragedy, come and enjoy yourselves for a few minutes. We promise you will laugh at something."