John Cusack may be one of Hollywood’s most respected actors, but is also one of its most guarded. Refusing to ever discuss his private life, he remains ferociously shy and almost unwilling to talk much about anything, even his latest film Identity, a clever thriller in which Cusack is one of 10 stranded strangers being bumped off one dark night by a killer. Paul Fischer spoke to the very reticent Mr Cusack.
Question: When I was seeing the movie, I was thinking to myself as I was looking at the first act, I said why would John Cusack want to be in a kind of a slasher film until you see what the film’s about. When you started reading the script did you ask yourself why would they want me to be in a slasher movie until you realized what the film was about or was it more than that?
Answer: Well they sent the script to me and offered it to me and they wanted me to do it and I started reading and I thought alright well, we’ll see how this thing goes, then on page 30 I thought I had it pegged and I didn’t. And, then on page 50 I thought I had figured it out, but I didn’t and then I kept going this way and then by the end of it I really hadn’t seen any of those things coming so I was kind of I thought man that’s pretty seamless because you know I should have figured this out.
Question: Where do you find a character like this?
Answer: It’s pretty much on the page and then by the end of the movie you kind of see why these characters are kind of archetypes so it makes sense. There was an economy to it that I thought that was pretty good and I thought it was this guy having the worst and you know everybody can sort of relate to that kind of mythological figure that people try to keep their past like kind of holding on to their past. Every Springsteen song talks about that.
Question: But in your case you got to just play the moment.
Answer: Yes and that was really well put together you were never asked to do things that seems undoable I mean it all sort of made sense. It made sense for people to do this and think this. We made a few minor alterations to the script, but basically structurally it was really sound. I thought it would be like a good great Saturday night popcorn like I’d like to see it in New York at a ten o’clock show.
Question: The breadcrumbs though were fun too. You know there’s the line about the blackouts, we don’t see you have blackouts that’s great because just hearing it and later on we get that piece of the puzzle it suddenly makes even more sense.
Answer: Yeah, Yeah.
Question: I thought that it worked.
Answer: I thought that was pretty clever. And then it got weird and metaphysical.
Question: But looking at a similar situation like that, do you find yourself like kind of the leader of the pack kind of stepping forward to take charge?
Answer: I’m okay in a crisis. I’m pretty good at crisis. To know what to do that’s the hardest part.
Question: How about on the set? If you’re the star of the movie isn’t that a similar thing? It’s got to be.
Answer: Yeah being on a movie set is like one long financial crisis. That’s true.
Question: I mean as the star of the movie aren’t you expected to kind of set the tone?
Answer: Yeah you’re in kind of a leadership thing.. But I just think when there’s a crisis you sort of know what to do and kind of the horrifying thing is the day-to-day decisions. But when things are bad I say okay you got to go fix that. I definitely know what to do.
Question: What challenges you the most as an actor? I mean do you find it easy to be challenged as you get older?
Answer: I thought Max was pretty great. This is challenging in it’s own way because it’s so different than something I’ve done you know where the plot was so intricate you know you had to be here and it was kind of phone to do.
Question: Did you feel that Max was appropriately handled by its US distributor?
Answer: I thought Lions Gate kind of iced it in my view.
Question: Well it was very sad.
Answer: The film will have a life again it has too much oxygen; you can’t kill it.
Question: The director said that he wanted each character to have his or her own secret. Did you create that for yourself?
Answer: Yeah we all did that.
Question: How involved was Michael Cooney in eliciting some of the more finer details?
Answer: He wrote the script and I know that Mangold did a lot of re-writes with him. It was a pretty well written script. It was a pretty well put together piece.
Question: What were your feelings about shooting on a studio lot for a few weeks?
Answer: It’s great for actors because you are on one location with one costume change.
Question: Was there more of a romance between your character and Amanda’s? It seemed to be hinted at.
Answer: It was all just hinted at.
Question: Amanda [Peet] has been saying that she’s has a big crush on you since she was 14. Did she ever tell you about that? A lot of your leading ladies tell me about that.
Answer: A lot of girls always tell you that and then they have a boyfriend. Bastard.
Question: But do you get a lot of that having been in the business for a long time?
Answer: Yean but then they always seem unavailable.
Question: What was it like to shoot inside with rain? Is it a different feeling to rain outside?
Answer: It’s a little less cold. It was all built on the same soundstage that housed Emerald Forest, the old MGM stage, it was incredible as they built the entire motel and land all around it.
Question: Is it true that you and Liotta played baseball in between shots?
Answer: Yeah and that was pretty good and a lot of fun.
Question: Do you scare easily?
Answer: I do actually.
Question: What kinds of things?
Answer: If I’m at home and I hear something and feel like there’s something in the house.
Question: Any scary movies?
Answer: The Exorcist and The Shining would be in my top 10.
Question: Are you generally a fan of the genre?
Answer: You know I like the George Romero films which were really great, social satire movies; really twisted.
Question: Does Mangold rehearse?
Answer: He does a bit.
Question: Can you talk about him as a director and working with him?
Answer: Well he had a real clear vision of what he wanted to do and really had a grasp of the material. He’s a gentleman, very smart, likes actors which a lot of directors tend not to, and he’s enthusiastic. That’s very infectious.
Question: What did you learn as a producer working on Max?
Answer: I learned a lot about the subject matter of the movie.
Question: Are you producing a lot of stuff at the moment?
Answer: Yean, sure.
Question: As complicated as Max?
Answer: I don’t think anything’s as complicated as that one.
Question: Because of the financing?
Answer: Because you dare to humanise evil and one of the biggest mass murderers of the 20th century.
Question: What is the status of the Grosse Point sequel?
Answer: I have to write it.
Question: But you want it to happen some time in the next 40 years?
Answer: I hope so.
Question: What about aspirations for directing a feature?
Answer: I don’t think that’ll ever happen. I just don’t feel I want to do it. I feel like I’m a filmmaker; I don’t feel I need to yell ‘action’ and ‘cut’.
Question: But you’ve directed for the stage. Have you enjoyed it?
Answer: Yean I did.
Question: Do you want to return to the theatre?
Answer: I’d like to. I just haven’t figured out who to do a play with.
Question: You’ve got a couple of films coming out like Runaway Jury which is a very mainstream Hollywood film for you to be doing. Why that one?
Answer: Actually the script is pretty interesting and strange.
Question: It’s one of Grisham’s most interesting novels.
Answer: Yeah, it’s not your idealistic young lawyer story. It’s a little intricate, all about jury tampering. In the book it was tobacco companies and in the film, it’s the gun lobby, so it’s a bit ballsy I think.
Question: How is the war affecting the role of the artist in Hollywood?
Answer: It’s business as usual. We’re getting a lot of pot-shots from the conservative branch of the White House regarding free speech trying to intimidate certain people from exercising their God-given right to be individuals, so there’s that kind of thuggery going on.
Question: What did you think of the Baseball Hall of Fame controversy with Tim Robbins?
Answer: Where can you begin? What part of that do you wanna start with? The free speech issue? It’s pretty bad. So there’s that climate. It’s interesting, because if there’s a Democratic President in office, there doesn’t seem to be a problem with attacking him. It’s just an interesting time.
Question: Did you make any comment about that Us Weekly item or not? The one linking you and Meg.
Answer: I never talk about that.