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Clashing With The Leading Man Stereotype | John Cusack
an emily blunt interview
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John Cusack is so familiar - like a cousin or something. Why? Well I grew up with him. No not literally but with his films; Say Anything, Better Off Dead. All those classic youth-angst films starring this adorable guy. We were all smitten. I was not alone. He also shares an undying love for Joe Strummer formerly of The Clash. It's like a religion to those who know the guy. I tell you if John weren't famous we'd hang out and drink brewskis together, blast tunes and cause extreme mayhem to be sure.

We both matured. Him at least... I became a comedy writer and film reviewer, he started a theater company and film company called New Crime with some friends (like underrated Jeremy Piven) and brought us the dark and hysterical Gross Pointe Blank and immensely relatable High Fidelity (adapted from Nick Hornby's best selling novel).

With his own film company thriving he still dabbles in other people's projects. He starred in the wickedly clever Being John Malkovich, mesmerizing Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (girly-girl mansteak bonus': Spacey and Law in the manstew), that oh-so-close-to-adorable Serendipity and some other big Hollywood bits like America's Sweethearts, Thin Red Line (tiny part) and Con Air. Long forgotten is the short Elvis Stories where Johnnie drools over an Elvis shaped hamburger, which I share as a background video at my soirees to this day. Hehehe.

I admit I'm into his offbeat shindigs immeasurably more. And his latest dabbling in the artistical indie delight Max is just brilliant! I remember reading once he'd love to be involved in a work of real art - and he's done it with Max. I love this film. He stars along side Noah Taylor (you know him you just don't know you know him) and gives, I feel, his most compelling performance to date. John's a German Jew art dealer who returns back from Germany's great war and "befriends" a young angry bloke named... Adolf Hitler. Eek.

Apparently John adored the work so completely he worked on the project without pay AND helped get financing. That's just classy.

Enough purring praise here's our chat.

EMILY: This film is wonderful!

JOHN: Wow thank you…cool.

EMILY: What would you like to see happen with MAX?

JOHN: Just pulling it off ya know? It was pretty amazing…actually getting it done. A real tight wire act. It's like a classic epic play and I hope I can live up to it. Pretty intense. Trying to transfer the modernism and the examination of the most profound politics. So it wasn't like we went on set and said this is a slam-dunk!

EMILY: It wasn't America's Sweethearts.

JOHN: [laughter] NO! No it wasn't.

EMILY: How did you prepare for this role? It's pretty art intensive.

JOHN: I have a history with art - of loving it; especially that period, German Impressionism. I did a play with my theater company New Crime in Chicago called Madugal [I think that's what he whispered - this guy talks LOW - his PR People haven't got my answer yet] written by Ivan Gall. The play was written in 1919 about modernism. He probably would have produced a play in one of Max's galleries. Not literally. I did the play when I was like twenty something. I always loved that look. Metropolis and things of modernism.

EMILY: How did you find this script?

JOHN: I came in one day and the package came by. [How cute- he answered literally - he's on his bestest behavior- drat]

EMILY: I mean it's not something you think -"that has to have John Cusack in it."

JOHN: I guess I'm just lucky. I mean when I read it I was just…I grabbed on to it and said. I got to do this. Menno for some reason said I need a one-armed Jewish-German art dealer and he thought of me. I have an Irish background so go figure. I grew up where the Irish, the Jews and the Italians we all hung out together. So I grew up with screaming Irish, Jewish and Italian intellectuals debating politics and doing all that stuff so it was familiar.

EMILY: Max Rothman has only one arm. How hard was it to concentrate on acting with your arm bound back?

JOHN: The hard part…the geometry was such that if you were of kilter a little bit the shot died. Since we didn't have a whole lot of money it put you in a constant state of paranoia. You're like "can you see the arm…. can you see the arm!?" It was real hard. Back to preparing. Ya know I felt like Max and I kind of represented that same unified thing. I did a lot of research on German Jews and read a book by a scholar professor who did an exhausting study on it. And like everyone else there were different levels of connection to the Judaism. Many of them just saw themselves as Germans, who happen to be Jewish. The same way that I'm American and happened to be catholic; or raised catholic. It's not like I run around each day going, "I'm catholic! I'm Catholic!" They were just German and had patriotism.

EMILY: Many people are worried that the film will over simplify Hitler.

JOHN: I think we did the opposite. A lot of other films on the subject… others over simplify. He becomes this kind of power hungry demonic hideous monster, which is certainly true. But, this kind of talks about something other than the obvious. I think this is kind of examines rather than over simplifies.

EMILY: What's your opinion about the motivating factors that lead Hitler to become the behemoth monster?

JOHN: Well, Repressed emotion? The inability to display emotion. Cowardness. The inability to consummate and express himself through his art caused him to give up art and try politics. Then mesh those two things together. He was ahead of the curb in his style - but to a horrible end. No doubt he had a sophisticated eye …he saw the power of modern art. He hated the concept that [modernism] was ultimately anti-war. But he saw the power. He took everything of the design…architecture, color, commercialism in terms of putting it into propaganda; that with performance art. With all the poverty around him he manipulated the art. The situation of the people…they can either feel hopeless and frustrated living in a room full of twenty people or they were having these sort of upwardly mobile things described to them. They could either be losers or God's warriors - what are they going to chose? So there's also the social and class issues. He made a choice. A cruel choice - to hate.

EMILY: You worried about the backlash when the film opens? I mean you think at first people will think you're trying to glorify Hitler by making him human? I must ask.

JOHN: I think it's a deeply moral film. I think it's a very responsible film. If they say, " How dare you portray people evil with a human side!" I say if they want to have that argument intellectually bring them on! [laughter] Bring it on.

EMILY: I thought the film made him look like a jerk right from the first frame.

JOHN: He's a total complete coward- but you can't help the reaction. To most it's very comforting to think this guy came down in red vapors arrived on Earth supernaturally in a cloud of fire.

EMILY: But that's what makes this film so great. It shows a disturbed man coming back from the war...

JOHN: Yeah! It shows how his humanity gets poisoned and he makes choices. The fact that he's human makes him culpable…it makes him more culpable. If he's not human then he's beyond human reckoning! Then you don't have to worry about it happening. You just pass him off, "he wasn't human." Then you don't have to think about any of the factors that lead to his rise right? We're all clean! If he was human then we have to deal with it. The only people that have attacked the film - haven't seen the film! Literally! I like to debate - I get off on that.

EMILY: How long did it take to make the film?

JOHN: About two and half three months.

EMILY: Wow that's quick man! This is a far cry from all your "romantic" comedies.

JOHN: [laughter]

EMILY: So what does John Cusack find romantic? What would you do to get the girl? [ Thought not spoken: Like say a blonde vixen that already has a big old crush on ya??!!]

JOHN: It's different for each person. But I know I would probably be capable of anything [laughter]. I don't think there's anything beneath me. Nothing would be to low. No stunt too humiliating.

EMILY: [ Thought not spoken: Wrap this one up- I'll take him…] You and I share a love of Joe Strummer…do you like The Mescaleros?

JOHN: Yeah, I love the Mescaleros! I saw them play at the House of Blues.

EMILY: Me too!

JOHN: Then I saw them at The Troubadour.

EMILY: Me too- I was backstage - I didn't see you. [him I would have noticed! Hmm, they played three nights...I knew I shoud have gone -even with the flu that third night!]

JOHN: I was there and back at both. You ever see him when he played with the Poges?

EMILY: Flew out for that one baby!

JOHN: He's just the best! He's just pure desire.

EMILY: And you sound great when you sing along to him.

JOHN: Yeah! He just wills himself to sing. [laughter]

EMILY: I went on tour with him when I was eighteen - as a friend - not groupie- a friend. It's a long story.

JOHN: With The Mescaleros? [How cute he thinks I'm wicked young….purr]

EMILY: No, I wasn't clear - The Clash.

JOHN: Cool!

EMILY: Four glorious days…I learned how to order Indian food, they gave me a mohawk and Joe told me I should, "Do something with my honesty and passion" and here I am! He was a huge influence on me.

JOHN: Wow.

EMILY: When you were doing say, Elvis Stories, did you ever see yourself in this position of Hollywood player?

JOHN: Never! [laughter] Not in my wildest of dreams. It just sort of happened. I was born into it and found a way of making a living.

EMILY: You're whole family is into the work?

JOHN: Yeah.

EMILY: You still have your theater company New Crime?

JOHN: No. Mostly I've just been trying to make films with my film company also called New Crime. It's hard to have a theater group and make a living…buy a couch and things ya know? As we get older people decide they want a nice house [laughter].

EMILY: New Crime was a passion. Was Jeremy Piven's father group an influence on you?

JOHN: Yeah. I grew up training with him.

EMILY: What's Joan up to? No offense but I adore her.

JOHN: None taken. She's great isn't she? The BEST. She's back in Chicago looking at scripts. She'll be in something real soon. [ then looking at the card he smiles…] I have to check this out. "Grand Poobah," huh?

EMILY: I always wanted that on a card - so there it is.

JOHN: So you do these blunt reviews and stuff right?

EMILY: Yeah, I think you'll dig the style.

JOHN: I'll check it out more thoroughly later. [Thought not spoken: And notice my HOME phone number emblazoned on the card…hmm..hmm?]

EMILY: Good luck with this phenomenal film.

JOHN: Thank you so much!


And off he went to more groveling interviewers. See this film. It doesn't glorify Hitler at all- it shows a small evil man growing into a large evil man. The actors shine and the script is incredible. John always brings his abilities to his screen - even if I don't always dig the films - I dig him. He has the career actors dream of; he's able to do big studio gigs and small independent gems. He's smart, sweet - extremely soft-spoken in an interview - and as handsome as one suspects. Just a class act squared.

MAX is reviewed here

The Emilyism©


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