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John C. Reilly collects clown paintings, is delightfully passionate about them

Photo: Francois G. Durand (Getty Images)

There are few actors in Hollywood who seem more genuine in their passions than John C. Reilly, a man who always feels equally committed to the part, whether he’s playing melancholy Paul Thomas Anderson side characters, exaggerated Will Ferrell-partnered buffoons, or the bizarre melding of the two that is Dr. Steve Brule. And so, if you were going to tell us that at least one well-known Hollywood actor collects clown paintings—like, a lot of them—Reilly would be a pretty safe guess.

And a correct one, as revealed in a recent, consistenly delightful GQ profile of the beloved Oscar winner. Reilly goes into a lot of very fun topics during the conversation—including the times when he, Anderson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman used to improvise and film their own episodes of COPS, and his deep love of roller-skating, which he apparently does every week—but he waxed most eloquently on the topic of his clown painting collection. Why clowns? Reilly is ready for that question:

Here’s what you get from an amateur clown painting, okay? You get, first of all, a folk expression of art, which is from a non-professional point of view. Someone who’s just putting their heart into it. It might not be the most technically proficient thing, but they’re trying to paint. The second thing you get is the graphic design of a clown. Finding your character and what your face is going to be is this deeply intimate thing. So there’s the expression that this folk artist made—I want to paint a clown—and then there’s the picture of the actual clown.”

And then there’s this other thing behind that, which is if the painting is done well enough, you see the person behind that. So there’s these three levels of expression that are really moving.


Reilly apparently owns more than a hundred clown paintings at this point. He’s picky, too: They have to come from before the 1970s, when, “acrylic paints became popular and ‘colors started to get really ugly.’”

“They are not allowed to hang in the house,” he added. “So I have to keep all my clown paintings in my office. All the walls are covered in clown paintings. I also use my office as our guest room, so depending on how you feel about clowns, you stay for a short stay, or…”

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