Last year, the notoriously insular actor John Cusack was offered the chance to preside over public screenings of some of his most popular films.
Cusack had done many press tours and had sat in on many festival panels in the past, of course, but this would be a chance for the actor to interact more directly with his fans.
“I thought, ‘Well, wait a minute. This is a little bit different,’” Cusack said in a phone interview. “‘If fans really want to see the movies on a big screen and kind of have a really fun Q&A after the event? Well, sure.’”
This explains why Cusack will appear on the Embassy Theatre stage after a Feb. 9 screening of the 2000 Stephen Frears film, High Fidelity.
Cusack admits he is generally a person who prefers to look forward rather than look back. But he said it would be foolish for him not to acknowledge how important these movies are to many people.
“I’m not going to be dumb enough not to be grateful,” he said. “Work I have done has some importance for people. I am smart enough to know that that is more of a blessing than a problem.
“That’s a pretty high-class problem to have,” Cusack said, laughing. “This crazy world we’ve got going… . If that’s your problem, you are a lucky, lucky guy.”
He said it might be different if he were repeatedly asked questions about a single film he did long ago.
“But that’s not the situation,” he said. “They like different films from different eras. They certainly like movies I did as a teenager. But they also like movies I did in my 30s and 40s.”
Wide variety of classics
Cusack seems to have participated in an unusually large number of movies that captured their cultural moments and became part of the way people reminisce about their lives: The Sure Thing, Better Off Dead..., One Crazy Summer, Stand by Me, Say Anything, The Grifters, Grosse Pointe Blank, Being John Malkovich, and High Fidelity among them.
Cusack is currently touring with Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity.
There’s been some talk of adding 1408, Cusack’s 2007 horror film based on a Stephen King short story, to the mix.
“I’m game for any of them,” he said. “The fun part for me is the Q&As. People can ask whatever they want and it gets pretty wild. People seem to have a lot of fun with that.”
I suggested that people may love many of these films because they feel like they are watching different versions of the same character, as though they grew up alongside that character.
“There is a (continuum) in the sense that they are all very personal expressions, me doing what I thought would be right,” Cusack said. “They are different masks. But I am always using the same source: Myself.
“Actors have a great sense of empathy,” he said. “We can empathize with different points of view. We think, ‘Wow, I could be this guy,’ or ‘I could be that guy,’ or ‘I could make these moral choices.’ But I don’t see much connection between the characters.”
Almost three decades of film
Cusack’s first big splash was Rob Reiner’s The Sure Thing in 1985. He was 24 when the movie was released.
He is now 52 and has acted in more than 80 films to date.
Asked if his passion and his goals have changed over the course of the ensuing decades, Cusack said, “I don’t really know.”
“I think the business is changing,” he said. “The culture has changed a lot. Artists and actors come in and out of vogue. Every four or five years, you’re hot, you’re cold. You get rediscovered again.”
Cusack said he is currently interested in “different ways of telling stories rather than in big corporate films.” But he said he can’t predict what his career will look like in the coming years.
He said he might pen a follow-up to the 2016 book of essays he wrote with Arundhati Roy: Things That Can and Cannot Be Said. He might get involved in a television project, although he is a little wary about that due to a previous, dissatisfying experience.
“The climate is still super, super corporate,” Cusack said. “William Friedkin called me up and said he wanted to do something. I thought, ‘My god. William Friedkin. The French Connection. The Exorcist. One of the geniuses of modern cinema. I said, ‘Whatever this guy wants to do for 10 hours, it’s going to be unbelievable.’”
But Friedkin couldn’t generate much interest in the project.
“He went around and met with a bunch of producers, 27-year-old producers who are looking at their iPhones, and they were like, ‘Who?’ That’s when I knew that the climate had really, really changed,” Cusack said.
Weathering the changes
Cusack has weathered all the changes and downswings with aplomb and there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to do so.
“I usually figure something out,” he said.
Asked what he is proudest of, Cusack said, “The ones that work.”
“It’s so hard to make a movie work,” he said. “The writing, the casting, the production. And then you guard the film very jealously in post-production. Anytime all three of those phases happen and the movie comes out relatively unmolested by financiers or studios or marketers, that’s a great achievement.”
Cusack said there are a number of films out there that he knows wouldn’t have gotten made without his “commitment, willpower, and stubbornness.”
“So, to whatever extent they still exist and live out there, I can honestly say I gave everything I had to them,” he said.
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