John Cu­sack’s lat­est chal­lenge

How the ac­tor pre­pared for his role as Brian Wil­son.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Randy Lewis randy.lewis@la­times.com Twit­ter: @RandyLewis2

John Cu­sack is be­ing widely lauded for his por­trayal of Beach Boys leader Brian Wil­son in the forth­com­ing biopic “Love & Mercy,” which opens na­tion­ally on Fri­day.

Cal­en­dar re­cently spoke to Cu­sack, a long­time pop mu­sic afi­cionado, about his ex­pe­ri­ence ex­plor­ing the har­row­ing af­ter­math of Wil­son’s ner­vous break­down, drug abuse and tur­bu­lent adult life, es­pe­cially the years he spent be­ing treated by psy­chol­o­gist Eu­gene Landy (played de­mon­i­cally in the film by Paul Gia­matti).

Cu­sack shares the duty of bring­ing Wil­son’s life to the big screen with Paul Dano, who plays Wil­son dur­ing his cre­ative peak when he im­mersed him­self in record­ing stu­dios, work­ing on what would be­come the Beach Boys’ mu­si­cal master­piece, the “Pet Sounds” al­bum in 1966 — the year Cu­sack was born, in Evanston, Ill. Wil­son him­self plays a home­town show on what will be his 73rd birth­day, June 20, at the Greek Theatre.

For starters, talk about your sense of Brian Wil­son and what he brought to popular mu­sic, and how did you delve into chan­nel­ing that into your per­for­mance?

The sounds we grew up with and that are in our DNA now — it’s easy to take it for granted that they were al­ways there. Great art feels like it al­ways was there. But when you re­ally think about it, no­body had ever done this be­fore. Louis Arm­strong used his voice like an in­stru­ment, but Brian did it on such an in­cred­i­ble level. For me, I got the [Beach Boys’] “Pet Sounds Ses­sions” and the “Smile Ses­sions” box sets and im­mersed my­self in those 24 hours a day to try to get his feel­ing.

A lot of ac­tors might have fo­cused on Wil­son’s per­sonal tics and idio­syn­cratic be­hav­iors — some­times awk­ward smiles and waves, the way he can abruptly change sub­jects or end con­ver­sa­tions when he loses in­ter­est. But peo­ple close to Wil­son are com­pli­ment­ing you for some­how chan­nel­ing the vul­ner­a­bil­ity and the sweet­ness be­neath the sur­face. How did you ap­proach that?

You can’t play some­one like Brian by mak­ing in­tel­lec­tual choices; it has to be all by feel. I was lucky enough to shoot the film in L.A., and Melinda [Wil­son’s wife] and Brian were very open to me work­ing with them. So I spent as much time with them as I could with­out be­com­ing the guest who wouldn’t leave. I was very thank­ful for that. Sec­on­dar­ily, the “Smile Ses­sions” was enor­mously help­ful. It’s an in­cred­i­ble his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment, when you can hear th­ese sounds that shaped pop cul­ture for the next 50 years and lis­ten to them be­ing cre­ated on the fly.

Wil­son en­dured a lot of psy­cho­log­i­cal, emo­tional and phys­i­cal dam­age over the years, go­ing back to the abuse he suf­fered from his fa­ther, Murry (played in the film by Bill Camp), from Dr. Landy and the re­sis­tance he en­coun­tered over new mu­si­cal di­rec­tions he wanted to ex­plore. What’s your sense of how he’s weath­ered all that?

I think it was just ter­ri­ble, unimag­in­able abuse and ma­nip­u­la­tion of this man. But there’s a part of him that’s a tough dude. He’s a sur­vivor. Think about all the peo­ple from the ’60s, think of peo­ple who would still be go­ing out to­day and tour­ing, and be happy, with a fam­ily? He’s still go­ing. There’s a sense of the Cheshire cat about him. In his hey­day, he was 26 years old and a ge­nius, and that was sort of cel­e­brated. But there’s also this play­ful­ness and mis­chievous­ness about him that a lot of peo­ple don’t know.

What drew you to the “Love & Mercy” project? Biopics — in par­tic­u­lar rock mu­sic biopics — of­ten strug­gle to tran­scend Hol­ly­wood clichés of early suc­cess fol­lowed by per­sonal and/or pro­fes­sional loss that leads even­tu­ally to tri­umphant re­demp­tion.

I was very ea­ger to do it. I’ve al­ways loved that pe­riod of pop cul­ture and Amer­i­can his­tory. Peo­ple who got out to Los An­ge­les at that time, they knew they had bet­ter make it there, be­cause they’d run out of United States. There’s al­most like a sense of money in the air un­der the sprawl­ing Eisen­hower sub­ur­ban im­age.

Brian is a great mes­sen­ger of that soul un­der­neath the Amer­i­can Dream. I thought he cap­tured some pure essence about that dream.

François Duhamel Road­side At­trac­tions

JOHN CU­SACK is fea­tured in “Love & Mercy” with El­iz­a­beth Banks. In the film ar­riv­ing Fri­day, Cu­sack shares the role of Brian Wil­son with Paul Dano, who por­trays the mu­sic ti­tan at his cre­ative peak.

Ri­cardo DeAratanha Los An­ge­les Times

BRIAN WIL­SON is to per­form on June 20, his 73rd birth­day, at the Greek Theatre in L.A.

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