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There he was on stage, the unstoppable, larger than life Dewey Cox- doing his thing for a packed house at Nashville’s popular Mercy Lounge. Dewey (also sometimes known as actor John C. Reilly) was on a 7 city tour promoting his new biopic Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which will be opening in theatres December 21. The film follows Dewey Cox’ career, from a childhood accident in which he kills his brother, to his first brush with the blues, to his final redemption as the winner of a lifetime achievement award at an awards show closely resembling the Grammy’s.

Actor John C. Reilly introduced the show, saying “Be sure and watch this movie if you’d like some more ‘Cox’, an obvious pun on the word ‘Cocks’. Double entendres set the tone, both in the movie, and during his musical performance with his band, “The Hard Walkers”.

At age 14, Dewey’s music career begins when he’s kicked out of the house by his disapproving father, “The Wrong Kid Died!” he says repeatedly. Leaving with him is his 12 year old girlfriend Edith (Kristin Wiig), who swears she’ll support him through thick and thin, though 5 or 6 babies later, it seems she changed her mind. “You’re never gonna make it”, she says again and again, adding, “Do you know what your music does? It kills people.” Still, Dewey has one booster, his dead brother Nate, who appears to him in moments of crisis, insisting, “Be double great for both of us!”

Determined to be successful, Dewey moves up the musical ladder, getting his big break when the leader of the band at an erotic dance club breaks his hands. Dewey, working there as a janitor, has learned the act perfectly, and steps in to save the day. The crowd goes crazy, and Dewey catches the eye of two music moguls, Mr. L’Chaim and Mr. Mazel Tov, Hassidic jews who happen to own a record label. All goes well, and his first single, the self-penned “Walk Hard”, races up the Billboard charts to #1 in a matter of minutes. Dewey Cox is a star!

According to Director Jake Kasdan, “It was just sort of a thought one night, to make a fake biopic. I called up Judd after a day or two of having that thought in my head and said, "Does this seem funny?" We then started writing it together. Just kind of coming up with rock biopic jokes. We are both big music fans. And we enjoy crazy stories about rock lore. Added writer Judd Apatow, “We started watching every single biopic we could get our hands on. We even watched the Marilyn Monroe HBO biography. Just any kind of biopic. And also rock documentaries. I was watching people's actual life stories.”

He continues, “Very early on, we thought, ‘If we can convince John C. Reilly to do this, this would be incredible." So we started talking to him during the writing process.”

When the call came, Reilly was ready. “I grew up doing musicals as a kid, and I had a lot of music in my family. So, yeah. Though, this movie made me feel like I'd been working my whole life for this moment. I didn't know it was coming. I didn't know it would be like this. But everything that I've learned before this has come into play in this movie.”

Dewey’s successful career endures for 5 decades, and like Bob Dylan, he constantly reinvents himself. Reilly explains, “The cool thing about the music in the movie is that I didn't really have to pick one person. As the time periods move on, the guy is such a chameleon, that he goes with the times. So, when he hits the Sixties, I was looking at people like Elvis and Roy Orbison. Even a little early Johnny Cash. When it started to move out of the Sixties, I looked at Brian Wilson. As it went along, there was a new person to emulate. I have very eclectic music tastes myself. So, yeah, like they say ‘Every rock star wants to be an actor, and every actor wants to be a rock star.’”

Ironically, casting the supporting roles for musicians through all these decades turned out to be a daunting challenge for the filmmakers. Says Reilly, ““For some reasons, people were afraid of some of these bigger, more famous cameos. We went to some really big-name actors and musicians that for one reason or another backed off.” The movie’s creative team was struggling because it had only six days to find Elvis. Reilly recalls, “I was driving home and I just put the question to myself. ‘Elvis Presley was the biggest rock star in the world at the time. Who in your mind is the biggest rock star in the world right now?’ I just immediately thought of Jack White.” John called Jack and spent about 20 minutes telling him about the movie. “He said, ‘Is this the older, kind of sad Elvis or the young, crazy Elvis?’ I said, ‘It’s the young one,’ and he said, ‘All right, I’m in.’” Five days later, Jack was in Los Angeles.

Casting The Beatles proved a casting challenge to the team as well. Says Reilly, “Seriously, where are you going to find someone who looks at least vaguely like them, or seems like them in spirit? And they had to be funny. They couldn't be afraid of this daunting challenge of playing Paul McCartney or John Lennon. Then to get four of them that are available on the same day. It was an on going game every day. ‘Who else do we have for the Beatles? We need someone to play the Beatles. It shoots in a week.’ And then Justin Long shows up and he has a George Harrison impression? He's just got that in his back pocket, waiting for the call. And Jason Schwartzman is obsessed with Ringo. He has been making the Ringo face his whole life. Once they all got there, we were like, ‘Of course! This is the perfect team of people.’"

Reilly continues, “I was really in awe when all of these people showed up to support our little movie. Like Jackson Brown, and Ghostface Killer, and Frank Black, and Lyle Lovett. And Eddie Vedder came. Dewey gets his lifetime achievement award, and Eddie does the over-the-top induction speech.”

In the film, Dewey does what any self-respecting rock superstar star would do. He goes over the deep end. On his rock 'n roll spiral, Cox sleeps with 411 women, marries three times, has 22 kids and 14 stepkids, stars in his own 70’s TV show, collects friends ranging from Elvis to the Beatles to a chimp, and gets addicted to every drug known to man.

In one hysterical scene, he’s in a hotel bedroom, sitting on the floor in his underwear, talking to Edith on the phone, as all around him naked men and women are doing this and that. Things go South from there, until eventually a crazed Dewey goes out in public in his underwear and ends up being arrested by the police. Not too surprisingly, Edith says goodbye.

Enter Darlene. First Dewey’s back-up singer, then his girlfriend, and later his new wife. No wait, he marries Darlene while he’s still married to Edith, but he’s Dewey Cox, so-so what? Says Jenna Fischer, who plays the part of sexy, funny and outrageous Darlene, “I play the wife as a blend of Priscilla Presley and June Carter Cash. More June, but with Priscilla’s sexy fashion sense.”

The part wasn’t really up the “The Office” star’s alley in the beginning. “I had to work out five days a week, and I had to worry about, like, manicures and pedicures, and hair and makeup and all that. And so, yeah. That part was, like, terrifying, because it's just not a thing that I spend a lot of time worrying about normally. But this is a woman who does. And so I had to get into that. And then I would say, like, it got kind of fun. Like, it got kind of cool to just flaunt it and not care, and be in the spotlight, and - I definitely - it was definitely liberating. I mean, by the end of the movie those guys couldn't stop me. Like, I was on a roll. I was like, "When's the next - push the boobs up higher. I can't see them enough, you guys."

Not too surprisingly, we discover that Dewey has kids- and not just the 5 or 6 he had with Edith. More like 22, or even more. Who knows? In a complete turn-about, what Dewey does about this comes as a complete surprise (which I won’t reveal here).

Needless to say, there will be a Soundtrack Album to look forward to, which according to Reilly, will be called the “Box of Cox”. "We recorded 40 original songs”. That's more songs than most musicians do in their entire careers," Reilly says, adding that he wouldn't mind if his character won a real-life Grammy.

As Dewey, Reilly experienced what it might be like to be really famous. At the show at the Mercy Lounge, the audience went crazy, calling out “Dewey” again and again, trying to touch him onstage, and crash the back stage party. Is that kind of fame something he’d like to achieve for himself? He replied, “I fear that if you're too well known, you lose the ability to surprise your audience and that's what I like my characters to do. I can still get away with it, I think. I mean, those kids in the lobby didn't know my name and I did an interview yesterday where they looked very confused when I walked in. Turns out they were expecting Philip Seymour Hoffman, though they didn't really know his name either - they just sort of said to me, 'Have you lost weight and dyed your hair?’

"I don't know what it's like to be somebody like O.J. Simpson," the actor continues. "But to be famous for making people laugh or for causing people to experience emotion -- that's a good thing. Frequently, people see me and they go, 'I love you!' I mean, how can you argue with that? 'You love me? Great! Nice to meet you!' "

Selected quotes are from DarkHorizon.com, Nashville Tennessean, USAWeekend.com, NPR, RollingStone.com, and MovieWeb.com. Check them out for more information on “Walk Hard”!

“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” opens December 21, 2007

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 77 - September 7196
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