TODAY   |  April 11, 2014

John C. Reilly: ‘I robbed cereal boxes from a train’

The actor joins TODAY to chat about flexing his voiceover muscles in “Bears,” a new film that offers a look at the lives of brown bears in Alaska. He also reveals that as a kid, he once robbed a freight car with a friend.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> well, the aforementioned john c. reilly is one of those actors who can play just about any kind of role. you might remember him as one of the fishermen from "the perfect storm " with george clooney and mark wahlberg . a grown man forced to move in with will farrell in "stepbrothers." and this fun one, a corrupt police officer in " gangs of new york ." or playing renee zellweger 's husband in "chicago." mr. cellophane. that earned him an oscar nomination.

>> now he is lending his voice and humor to the new family movie " bears ." take a look.

>> after months of being on the constant hunt for salmon, it seems almost impossible that the bears can be too full to eat. but that's exactly what's happening here. so very full. and interested in -- i don't know what he's doing. this guy looks like my dad when he's watching tv . hey, who changed the channel? [ laughter ]

>> i love that. john c. reilly , my kids love this. and we really got to see a little bit of your improv and your humor there, because i know you helped the writers -- you actually said they were a little too british for their own good.

>> well, yeah. i mean, they're incredible film makers, these british guys are the ones that went up to alaska and filmed these bears at great peril, i think. so my job was to kind of just respond to what i was seeing. try to, like, think of what the bears might be thinking. in some cases, putting words in their mouths.

>> literally.

>> my son luke said, how does he know what they're thinking?

>> how does he know their names?

>> amazing.

>> there was a great quote i read from the director. i'm just going to read it here. he says of you, he's sort of a bear of a man himself with the strength and mischief and a voice that reflects that. what does it mean to be a bear of a man?

>> well, if you've ever seen me come out of hibernation, you'll know why people think i'm bear-like. i'm actually totally jet lagged right now, so it feels like the middle of the day . just came from ireland. so i'm not very bear-like this morning, luckily. i don't know. when we made "wreck it ralph ," the director of "wreck it ralph " is the one who recommended me for this job. i was thinking of this great voice actor phil harris , who was balu the bear in " jungle book ." i mentioned ralph is starting to feel a little bit like balu the bear. he said that's exactly where phil harris was standing when he recorded that part. so there was like bears in the air, i guess.

>> when you're doing something like this, not only does it bring us awareness to the plight of these bears , but the movie actually is helping the plight of the bears in this environment.

>> yeah, exactly. the opening week of the movie, we're hoping everyone comes out and sees the movie the opening week because disney is contributing a whole bunch of money to the national parks system which is where a lot of these bears live. the movie takes place in the alaska peninsula . there's a big national park up there. but the money that disney is going to donate towards these habitats is all over america. so unlike, say, the other great disney films where money is being donated to help animals in foreign countries, this is actually going to help, you know, our own -- american bears . good old american bears .

>> none of them foreign bears . american bears .

>> is it true you're going to play "two truths, one false -- "two truths and a lie." that's what i said.

>> yeah, if you want.

>> three things about yourself.

>> get people to see " bears ." but i'll do whatever i have to do to get people to see " bears ."

>> you're going to tell three things and we'll guess which is the truth and which is a lie.

>> i hate the word lie, but i'll say it.

>> go ahead.

>> you tell us.

>> okay.

>> i collect amateur clown paintings. after " talladega nights ," i became a licensed nascar driver. and what was the third one? i once robbed cereal boxes from a freight train .

>> which is the false?

>> i'm going to say the cereal thing is the false.

>> i don't think you robbed a freight train .

>> i'm going with the " talladega nights " just to vary it up.

>> you are correct. yes, i have robbed a freight train and i do collect amateur clown paintings.

>> wow.

>> you were so calm-like, too.

>> i used to be a clown when i was a kid.

>> oh, there you go.

>> could you briefly walk us through the train robbery ? how did that go down?

>> well, there's a train line that ran through my neighborhood when i was a kid. and we used to go up there where we weren't supposed to be. and one night they stopped the train on the tracks. my friend said let's go break open that boxcar. we were like, all right. we took a rock and smashed the padlock and opened it up. from floor to sooeceiling was surgar clumpies. we unloaded like 400 boxes. don't do this, kids. it's a felony to break into a freight train . but i didn't know.

>> don't ride the rails, kids.

>> what's the statute of limitations? you just confessed to a crime.

>> we were so young.

>> i bet you never look at corn pops the same.

>> i could use a bowl of them, actually.

>> so good to have you here. the film is just fantastic. " bears " hits theaters friday,