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CEDAR RAPIDS

Cedar Rapid's Conventioneers
"You realize you just made it sound cool to be an insurance salesman?” -- Joan "O Fox” Ostrowski-Fox

The comedy of CEDAR RAPIDS lies in the hearts of its characters, who have each come to the annual ASMI insurance convention in Iowa with their own hopes, ambitions and desires for the weekend. No one is as shocked and awed by the behind-the-scenes life of the convention as Tim Lippe who, having never before left rural Wisconsin, knows absolutely nothing of the flirting, partying, back-stabbing, friend-making and moral dangers that seem to be so commonplace at such affairs.

For years, Tim's been living in a contented, if stunted, state, never venturing beyond Wisconsin's borders while working all his adult life at humble Brown Star Insurance. But now, in Cedar Rapids, he has to figure out how to operate in a world he's avoided all his life while trying to save his job, his company and his soul to boot.

Director Miguel Arteta was thrilled to watch Ed Helms transform himself into a man who is an enchantingly guileless innocent faced with a new world of casual sex, heavy drinking and shady dealings but also a guy ready to take his first real stand for all that he believes. "Ed had such an intuitive sense of this character,” says Arteta. "He was willing to just jump off the cliff and try anything. It was really beautiful to see someone so unafraid and who brought so much energy and a spirit of exploration to each scene.”

Arteta goes on, "There's a Jimmy Stewart quality to Ed's performance, in the way he brings out the nobility of a character who is kind and decent and can find the good side to almost anything. Ed also had tremendous chemistry with the rest of the cast and he really understood that was so important to the film. From the start he kept talking about how this group of insurance agents Tim meets has to become like a family that you adore.”

Helms says that, for Tim, "Cedar Rapids is an awakening. He starts as someone who hasn't been exposed to anything, who really doesn't know the drill, any drill. His lack of experience informs everything he does – it's goofy, it's charming but for me, the fun part is that as he discovers the world, he finds a way to hang on to the sweet, funny, optimistic way of looking at things that makes him Tim Lippe.” Guiding Tim Lippe on his journey through Cedar Rapids was a crack ensemble cast.

Tim's first meeting with his one of two roommates is the reliably straight-laced Ronald "the Ronimal” Wilkes, who nevertheless terrifies Tim when he first sees him in his room. Played by Isiah Whitlock, Jr., an acclaimed Broadway star, recently came to the fore in HBO's celebrated series "The Wire,” which becomes a hilarious a twist to "the Ronimal's” unexpected obsession with the HBO TV series. While known as the tough State Senator Clay Davis in "The Wire,” Whitlock himself hails from the middle of the country, having grown up in Indiana. When presented with the character of Ronald, Whitlock was excited to tackle the part unlike any he'd played before playing a man who keeps himself on a very tight leash but winds up doing things he never expected after meeting Tim Lippe.

"Ronald is a good guy, a little bit nerdy, quite conservative in his demeanor and the way he carries himself but I think we all know people like him,” says Whitlock, "and what's fun is that meeting Tim Lippe leads to a bit of a coming out for his character, as well.”

John C. Reilly joins the group as the third and most lively roommate. Reilly previously won an Independent Spirit Award working with Arteta on THE GOOD GIRL, shortly before garnering an Academy Award® nomination for his work in the movie musical CHICAGO. Reilly plays Dean "Deanzie” Ziegler, the infamously motor-mouthed insurance agent whom Tim Lippe's been warned to avoid . . . until he turns out to be his roommate.

Reilly dove into the character, improvising one-liners and wise-cracks aplenty, delivered with the twangy vowels of a Central Wisconsin accent, even as he also exposed Deanzie's secretly tender heart.

"John plays Dean so beautifully,” says Arteta. "You really can't tell in the beginning if you can trust this guy or whether, behind his potty mouth, there's a good guy there. A big part of the pleasure of the movie is watching the relationship between Dean and Tim develop.”

Reilly says of Deanzie, "Dean was a lot of fun to play. He's sort of this loud-mouthed, ‘Good Time Charlie' kind of guy who always says just the wrong thing, the crudest thing, the most inappropriate thing for any situation. It's great to play a character like that, who is the bull in the china shop, but who turns out to be a guy who buries his problems in humor and sarcasm. One of the big themes for me in the movie is that people aren't always what they seem and that's certainly true of Deanzie. In fact, a lot of the most supposedly immoral people that Tim Lippe comes into contact with at the convention turn out to be the best people he meets – and vice versa.”

Another Midwesterner, hailing from Chicago originally, Reilly was also drawn to the story's distinctly heartland quality. "I like that it's not about characters who are hip and slick but who are very real and down to earth,” he says. "The movie unfolds in a small world, full of innocence and decency, and I think that makes for the foundations of a great comedy.”

Working with Arteta for a second time was also an exhilarating experience for Reilly. "I've watched him grow a lot,” he says, "and I thought he was terrific for this movie. He has a big heart, a wonderful sense of humor and he's able to really see all the silliness and awkwardness that go on in everyday life.”

The final addition to this motley crew is Joan Ostrowski-Fox played by Anne Heche, most recently seen starring in HBO's irreverent comedy "Hung,” the red-headed siren of an insurance agent who has come to Cedar Rapids to sow some wild oats – and picks Tim Lippe as the object of her affection.

"I thought the idea behind the film was so funny,” says Heche, "that all these people come to try and have a good time at an ordinary, typical insurance convention in Cedar Rapids and then along comes this man for whom it's a huge, overwhelming, life-altering adventure. Joan is the old fox who has come to this convention hoping for a little bit of a wild weekend, ready to play, and at first she thinks she's going to play with Tim, but along the way they develop a real bond of friendship.”

Heche adds, "I had the most wonderful time working with Ed Helms because of the way he reveals his heart through this character. He makes Tim funny, but also heart wrenching. He makes it the journey of a man finding the confidence to be who he really is. I loved doing the scene where Tim explains to Joan why he wants to be an insurance salesman. He has such a sweet point of view and I think that's what grounds this movie. Alongside all these hilarious actors and humor is the story of a man who truly believes in being noble. And that's really beautiful.”

There was a natural rapport that developed between the actors comments Arteta, "The chemistry between Ed, Anne, John and Isiah was priceless. Ed was a big part of the casting process and our gut reactions were very similar about creating a constellation of four characters whose relationships are very surprising but really work.”

Much like Ronald, Whitlock found himself inspired by the camaraderie that developed. "We were like the four musketeers,” he says. "There was a lot of creativity and improvising and it allowed me to free myself up a bit. Everybody came in ready to leave nothin

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