John C. Reilly – the Academy Award-nominated actor, musician and one-time on-screen Step Brother of Will Ferrell – surely knows something about video games. He provides the voice of the main character in Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, a movie steeped heavily in arcade culture.
He was a teenage boy when the digital toys of the Atari era were first unleashed on the joystick-obsessed youth of America. Yes, he seems like the kind of guy who would do well on a retro-video-game-trivia quiz, which is why this writer attempted to give him one during a recent phone interview and the affable Reilly agreed to participate until he heard some of the questions.
Let’s skip the quiz, Reilly, 47, suggested after we got to quiz item No. 3. (Which famous journalist endorsed the home video game console Intellivision? Answer: George Plimpton. Yes, the questions might have been a little obscure.) All the gamers will be mad at me for not knowing the answers, he said.
No, it’s too hard to be mad at Reilly, especially when he compensates for the quiz mishap by confessing that he once was obsessed with Space Invaders and also enjoys a quality round of Touch Tanks on his iPad.
Q. Were you ever really into video games?
A. I was of the first generation of people that had video games come into their lives. I remember when Space Invaders arrived in the bowling alley where I used to hang out. Going from pinball machines to Space Invaders was such a quantum leap.
People forget now – we’re so used to computers and all of our ability to interact with media the way we do now.
When Space Invaders came out, there were no computers, no cellphones – I mean, I think VCRs were invented, but we didn’t have one in my house. So just the idea to be able to manipulate something on a screen was really groundbreaking. It was super-exciting. So needless to say, I spent a lot of money and time
Q. at the bowling alley.
A. At the bowling alley, and then at the convenience store on the corner. Wherever. Those games used to be everywhere. You could go into any kind of hot dog place and there would be a couple of machines in there.
Q. Do you play video games now?
A. Every once in a while, if I, like, have a cold or something and I’m laid up in bed for days. Recently I was, and there’s so much stuff on the iPad to waste time like that. I ended up playing this game called Touch Tanks, which is ... basically just moving a tank around a board and blowing up other tanks.
It doesn’t get any more complicated than that. In general, those are the sorts of things that I’m drawn to.
Q. My mind was blown when I realized that Jerry Buckner of Buckner & Garcia, the duo behind the ’80s hit Pac-Man Fever, contributed a song (Wreck-It, Wreck-It Ralph) to the Wreck-It Ralph soundtrack. Did you have any input into the song since it focuses on your character?
A. (The filmmakers) asked me to sing that song. And I was like, well, I have a band and I do music. I’ve worked so hard to be taken seriously as a musician. I don’t know that I want to be the guy to do the novelty song for the movie. I’m glad it worked out that way because you got the guys who do the Pac-Man song. I think they were better suited to it.
I brought a bunch of kids to the premiere of the movie the other night, and they were dancing in the aisles to that song. I think they were the right choice for it.