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'The Sisters Brothers' 'a great piece of Canadian literature,' says Reilly

Actors Joaquin Phoenix (left) and John C. Reilly are shown in a scene from the film "The Sisters Brothers."
September 09, 2018 - 7:00 AM

TORONTO - The big-screen adaptation of Canadian author of Patrick deWitt's acclaimed novel "The Sisters Brothers" began in Toronto.

Actor John C. Reilly, who stars in the comic western and is a producer on it, says he and French director Jacques Audiard first discussed the project at a restaurant in the city a few years ago.

"The Sisters Brothers" is screening at the Toronto International Film Festival after its premiere at the Venice film fest, where Audiard won the best director award on Sunday.

It stars Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as gunslinging brothers en route to California in the gold-rush era of the 1850s.

Co-stars include Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed.

Reilly calls deWitt's novel "a great piece of Canadian literature."

He says he first heard of the book from his wife, Allison Dickey, who is also a producer on the film. Together, they met Audiard for a "diplomatic detente" in Toronto.

"The French mafia came over, the American mafia came over," Reilly said jokingly Saturday at a TIFF press conference.

"We went to this restaurant, and it wasn't open during the day but we got them to open it, and so we sat in this empty restaurant together.


"It really was like a mafia summit or something, and despite Jacques's initial suspicions of these strangers bearing gifts, it was the beginning of a great thing."

DeWitt was born on Vancouver Island and won a Governor General's Literary Award and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize for "The Sisters Brothers" in 2011.

The book also won the 2012 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Reilly said he and Dickey became friends with deWitt, who now lives in lives in Portland, Ore., while working with him on the 2011 film "Terri." They assured him that they would try their "very hardest to make a great film out of" "The Sisters Brothers" and find the best cast they could.

"He's a very sensitive and intellectually curious guy, he chooses his words very carefully," Reilly said.

"In some ways the way the dialogue is in the book is similar to the way Pat speaks. He's very deliberate with his choice of words, like a great author would be, and I just feel an enormous debt of gratitude to him for coming up with this idea in the first place."

Reilly said deWitt and some of his family members visited them while they were shooting in Romania.

"He said to me, 'You know, John, it's a really gratifying moment as a father' — because his son was with him," Reilly recalled.

"For his son to be able to look on the ... set and say, 'Dad, all this happened because you came up with an idea' — that's kind of a humbling moment for anybody and it was a special thing to share with Pat."

Audiard won the Palme d'Or for 2015's "Dheepan." "The Sisters Brothers" is his first English-language film as a director. He co-wrote it with Thomas Bidegain and said he thought of it more as a fairy tale than a western.

In 2012, Audiard also did a big-screen adaptation of another book by a Canadian author — the acclaimed drama "Rust and Bone," based on Craig Davidson's short story collection.

Reilly said he and Phoenix tried to spend as much time together as possible in order to build a brotherly bond.

"Even though they look like these filthy brutes that are murderers for a living, which is what they are, they're actually pretty well-educated and they have these somewhat intellectual conversations all the time with each other," he said.

"So I think they use that thing of judging a book by its cover to their advantage, to always have the jump on people, because people assume like they're less intelligent than they are — kind of like me and Joaquin."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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