Actor John Cusack has forged a commendably wayward path, from 1980s pin-up via and to famous Huffington Post blogger. And he’s still as boyish as ever. He talks to Tara Brady
NEVER MIND death and taxes, if we can be certain of anything it’s that John Cusack will always be boyish. The height helps, of course. Standing at 193cm – or 6ft 4ins in queenspeak – he retains something of the air of a growth-spurt adolescent, though at 45, he’s too grown up to describe as gangly.
But he springs about the hotel room and keeps on going. Is this John Cusack on transatlantic jetlag? It’s sort of heartening that, in person, the older, wiser John Cusack still looks precisely like the teen idol John Cusack. Stick him on your wall with Peter Gabriel on the boom box and you’ll swear it’s 1989.
Age, evidently, shall not weary the guy who still wears black, smokes cigars, rides motorbikes, never gets hitched and holds a level-six black belt in Ukidokan kickboxing.
There have been famous girlfriends – Minnie Driver, Claire Forlani, Neve Campbell – but no woman has tamed him yet.
His boyishness may be a quirk of good genetics but it has come to define his screen career; the moment in Gross Pointe Blank when his baby-faced assassin and a baby behold one another intently; the moment when his womanising geek-boy plumps for commitment in High Fidelity; the moment in 2012 when his deadbeat sci-fi writer takes on a tsunami to save his family.
In any movie, with any actor, the guy who goes puppy-eyed and suddenly decides to put away childish things is having a John Cusack moment.
Boys, as we know, will have boyish enthusiasms and today Cusack is, in his softly spoken way, beating a drum for Edgar Allan Poe. He might easily be counting down a much-pondered top 10.
“You have to read King Pest. It has that Dickensian idea of cities as a new state of hell ravaged by different plagues. And one of them, like in The Masque of the Red Death, literally comes to dinner, to this last supper of crazed dead people and cannibals and lepers. Or Hop Frog about an alcoholic dwarf jester who for the amusement of the king must remain drunk so he can dance.”
He bemoans Poe’s surprisingly low standing in the official history of American letters. The collected works make for an extraordinary body of work, he says, and a nexus for all kinds of traditions: “But he’s been lumped in with a more Germanic tradition like the Brothers Grimm, written out of American literary history.”
Cusack has done his Poe homework for The Raven, a new historical murder mystery mash-up from V For Vendetta director James Mcteigue. In a movie named for Poe’s mostquoted work, Cusack’s Poe joins forces with a Baltimore police detective (Luke Evans) to hunt down a serial killer acting out choice moments from Poe’s fiction.
“It was a crazy, great adventure,” says Cusack. “I was grateful James wanted me and I figured he didn’t want me to do it and not bring something to it. We both agreed we had an obligation to approximate Poe’s command of the English language. You’re dealing with someone with a range of language to match Henry Miller’s. The dialogue needed to sound as textured and complex as he was.
“There are troves in his work. It was a question of adapting something he said about Wordsworth or one of his editors and put it into what he says to Brendan Gleeson or shouting it out during that bar brawl scene – when he walks in knowing that as an alcoholic he’s going to get stomped.” Did he warm to his historical equivalent? “Oh yeah. But I don’t think he would have liked me. In all the reading I did I came across maybe two male friends. He got on great with women, but he was too competitive with other men to stop himself from getting into fights with them. He was a total, brilliant lunatic.”
Born into a classic five-a-side Irish Catholic family in Evanston, Illinois, Cusack is the youngest in an unconventional film dynasty that includes dad, the civic-minded documentary-maker Dick Cusack, and thespian siblings Ann and Joan.
“They were that certain breed of progressive Irish Catholic, coming on the back of Vatican II and Dorothy Day and the anti-war movement, and all those kinds of influences,” explains the actor. “There was always an emphasis placed on social activism and consciousness.”
Growing up, Cusack joined the Piven Workshop Theatre, a troupe headed up by Byrne Piven, father of Entourage’s Jeremy. The two remain friends and, like sister Joan, have wandered in and out of one another’s movies ever since; all three appear in Say Anything and Grosse Pointe Blank and “sack pack” spots have formed the basis of a geeky drinking game since the days of VHS.
John had already found work in commercials before leaving high school, but he first came properly to prominence in the teen sector at its most 1980s-tastic. His first Holly-
Earnest but edgy: John Cusack in Con Air, Being John Malkovich, Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity and 2012