John Reynolds spoke with Solzy at the Movies over Zoom about Save Yourselves!, Chicago improv, the Sundance Film Festival, and more.
Save Yourselves! is opening in theaters this weekend. What was it that attracted you to the script?
John Reynolds: Well, I had a meeting first before I read it with Alex and Eleanor. As you found out, they’re very sweet, very kind people. We had mutual friends. I actually think John Early, who I’m in Search Party with, sent me a message first in the middle of the night once and was like, “You have to do my friend’s movie.” So then I met with them and then the script itself—obviously, I was drawn to it because sort of in scope, it’s a big alien movie but it’s really grounded by this stripped down intimate relationship story. The deck, which the head all visual style of the film was very sort of throwback 70s vibe, which was attractive to me. Lastly, I knew Sunita was going to be the lead opposite me and we were friends from the New York comedy scene. I was a huge fan of her comedy dance troupe, Cocoon Central Dance Team. I just thought she was such a funny physical comedian and a friend so I just knew it was gonna be fun. And it was.
How much room did you have to improvise on set?
John Reynolds: Credit to Alex and Eleanor, it was a very scripted movie. They had a very specific idea of what they wanted, a vision, and they stuck to it. That was fun to sort of relinquish my control because I do love to improvise a lot on set. They also gave us a lot of freedom to sort of change any dialogue that we felt more natural. There were certainly a lot of improvised takes that they didn’t use and I understand that. (Laughs).
What do you typically look for in a screenplay when deciding on a project?
John Reynolds: That’s hard. Because sometimes I actually find it hard when you’re given a script to fully grasp somebody’s vision or idea if you don’t know, if you’re not extremely familiar with their work or if not, honestly. I tend to look at specifically my character, and if I’m like, this seems like it would be fun for me in this moment to do, then I choose it. Jack seemed really fun. In a lot of my own work, I’m sort of trying to figure out how these deeply ingrained masculine ideals shape me as a person and a comedian. I felt like Jack was struggling with that a lot in the script so it just felt natural. That big monologue he has about how he doesn’t know how to be a man, I thought it was so funny so I was really looking forward to performing it.
Did your own technology habits change as a result of acting in Save Yourselves!?
John Reynolds: I was definitely more conscious of them but then the pandemic popped off and in New York, obviously, it was a nightmare. I spent so much time slaying my ass on the couch, watching three movies a day, and looking at my phone for the beginning, maybe month of the pandemic but I’m definitely conscious of it. It’s hard especially now to get away from your technology. We’re doing this interview over Zoom right now rather than in person and unfortunately, everything’s seeming to gravitate towards technology, which is kind of a bummer.
Yeah. In a perfect road, it would have been on the ground in March.
John Reynolds: Yeah.
What was going through your mindset heading into that Friday afternoon, press conference back in March, when they were making the decision on SXSW?
John Reynolds: Oh, man. Yeah, that was interesting because obviously no one—we still don’t really know that much about the virus but back then no one knew anything. And even—you were at Sundance. I could feel it there. Everyone was sort of talking about a virus but not naming it and were being very health conscious and trying to drink their juice and stuff like that. I think flying back from Sundance, maybe I saw the first person with the mask and sanitizing their seats. That seemed so crazy to me and then here we are in just every day, that’s so normal and it was so seamless. Talking about SXSW, I was happy they shut it down because that was the safer option but obviously from a selfish standpoint, I’m bummed I couldn’t go hang out with my friends and go swimming and stuff.
You go back to Sundance—that Sunday after Palm Springs, that was the first film that I missed just to sleep.
John Reynolds: Yeah.
I probably saw less films at Sundance this year because during that second half of the festival, I just wasn’t feeling well.
John Reynolds: Really? Yeah.
I tested for antibodies in April and tested negative so if I had the virus, the antibodies were gone by then. All I know is that it definitely felt bronchitis-like.
John Reynolds: Yeah, I wonder because I had sort of a strange chest thing at the end of February. I had been traveling and working on Search Party. And again, it was—at that point, I’m not sure if we had even had the first case in the US but it was like, no one was really talking about it. But even back then, I was scared. I was like, what is this? I don’t know, it was like in the air, so to speak but I don’t know.
Does it feel like January is a completely different month from the rest of the year?
John Reynolds: Yeah, it seems crazy. It seems so crazy to be—I don’t know—sitting next to your friend in the park, let alone at Sundance hugging and drinking and touching 1000 microphones and shaking hands. It’s truly wild. I don’t even know how to put it into perspective.
Is there an improv instructor that had the most meaningful impact on your career?
John Reynolds: I would say Noah Gregoropolous. He’s a teacher at the iO theater in Chicago. He was the last level of improv classes. I used to intern on Wednesday nights at iO so I would see his show, Carl and The Passions, and then sort of developed a relationship and then he taught me. He invited me to play with them. He definitely had the biggest impact on me and sort of threw me into the fire where I was improvising with people who were 1000 times better than me. I learned how to improvise by doing. A lot of people didn’t have that experience so I’m very thankful for him for that for sure. He’s a really good teacher and he’s brutally honest. I really appreciate that.
I miss those Wednesday night shows.
John Reynolds: Yeah. So many good people. Virgin Daiquiri had Aidy Bryant, Christine Tawfik, Dina Facklis, Kate James, Claire Mulaney—they were so good.
I remember back in 2009 going over for one of the Wednesday shows mainly because I wanted to stay after for T.J. and Dave. I see Andy St. Clair and I’m like, aren’t you supposed to be at Second City? I didn’t realize it but at that point, Second City wasn’t doing e.t.c. shows Tuesday through Sunday like they had during other times in the year.
John Reynolds: Oh, right. Yeah. So many good people played. T.J. Jagodowski, obviously. He was never a teacher of mine but obviously, he had a profound effect on me just because of getting to play with him. He’s so good at taking care of other people on stage. If you were spinning out in a scene, he would just walk on and fix it so fast. It was a big learning moment and you felt horrible because you’re like, Man, this guy’s so good. He had two sentences and the crowd is going crazy. I was just spouting nonsense and floundering so hard in that scene.
What do you miss the most about Chicago?
John Reynolds: It’s such a different place but, for me personally, I lived with some of my best friends who I still collaborate with, Gary Richardson and Carmen Christopher. The beauty of Chicago was there’s no real industry out there outside of the theaters. So you could just fail and put up really awful shows. I was performing every night of the week and new venues started to pop up. I was a part of this sketch collective called Kill All comedy. We ended up running big shows out of our apartment and we would just fuck our apartment up so much. It was so fun and we eventually got kicked out of the apartment because it was (Laughs) so broken and disgusting. Several people were not on the lease by the time the landlord finally came to visit after five years. That was pretty wild. But yeah, I guess I just miss being able to do shows with my friends. It was such an innocent time with nobody watching you. We were all just broke and making comedy that sometimes was good, but mostly sucked.
How has the pandemic been for you from a creative standpoint?
John Reynolds: Honestly, not to be so cliché, but I’ve been pretty productive. Thankfully, again, I’ve been developing a project with my friends, Gary Richardson, who writes at SNL, and Carmen Christopher, who has been on a bunch of shows. He’s on Shrill right now. They’re obviously my best friends but two of the funniest people I’ve ever met. We’re developing a show so that’s been really nice to have work during the pandemic and keep busy. My partner and I, Bianca, have been working on a children’s book because, obviously, we were isolated and she’s an illustrator. She makes children’s books so she let me help. And then to go fully cliché, I was also throwing pottery because I used to do it in high school but then I picked it back up and made some stuff. I made this cup (picks it up on screen) this summer. Look at that. That’s a nice cup, thin cup. I tried to learn piano and failed. I did some voiceover work. I don’t know. I was very lucky and so I’ve been trying to stay busy because you can’t go out and see shows and go to parties and hang out with friends and stuff so got to try to keep busy.
I think that’s more productive than me as far as creativity goes. In early quarantine, I was going through a lot of the biographies of the early studio moguls.
John Reynolds: Oh, really?
I started getting this idea of maybe doing like a fictional satire/oral history.
John Reynolds: Cool.
That only got as far as six pages.
John Reynolds: Yeah.
In late July or early August, I had an epiphany and decided to write a short film about how I cannot make a feature film in the form of a therapy session.
John Reynolds: Ha! That’s good.
I just put that on Vimeo about two weeks ago.
John Reynolds: Oh, nice. That’s awesome. Congratulations! That reminded me—I was doing one of those intensity workout tapes in my apartment called Insanity Max 30. I didn’t get very far with it and I end up getting a hernia from it. That was pretty wild. But then I wrote a whole fake 30 minute high intensity workout through the perspective of this insane man who lives in his nephew’s tree house. I was working with Whit Conway, who is a video director here and a fun friend, but we also fully just gave up on it. I feel like there’s so many projects that you start and just gave up on it.
That’s everything I have.
John Reynolds: Cool.
I’ll be watching Most Likely to Murder probably on Thanksgiving.
John Reynolds: Oh, nice! That’s where we met, right?
Yeah, at the press junket.
John Reynolds: At SXSW, right?
John Reynolds: Those were simpler times.