A fun, adoring crowd throwing a few sharp questions his way and a lot of that good old John Cusack charm made last night’s “An Evening with John Cusack” at The 32nd Florida Film Festival a real treat.
Like many in the audience, I hadn’t seen the Film That Made Him — “Say Anything” — in years and years. And that bad boy plays and plays hard. Still funny, still charming, the kind of smart teen rom-dramedy that Hollywood’s given up on and even Netflix has trouble replicating. His antic, “cool” and trenchcoated turn in that role set the tone for a career that’s had him turn up in the full gamut of screen “types” — romantic leads, creepy villains, soldiers, con artists, convicts, hitmen and born romantic music buffs.
J.C. had kind words about working with sister Joan, about the impacts Rob Reiner (“The Sure Thing”) and then Cameron Crowe’s (“Say Anything” was his first feature) had on his career. He recalled thinking the iconic “boombox” moment was “cheesy” and wouldn’t work.
I think he said Crowe had The Plasmatics playing out of the box when shooting the scene, but Peter Gabriel’s “Your Eyes” is what made the final cut…because the pulses on the VU meter of the boom box matched the earlier song.
He remembered arguing with producer James Brooks over his level of participation in the creation of the character and answered questions about his tastes in music (“The Replacements”) and his favorites among his films. “Grosse Pointe Blank” and the Brian Wilson biopic “Love & Mercy” topped that list.
Cusack remembered Wilson “showing up on set one day” at the “very record store” where he had his breakdown, and Cusack realizing that he had the character down when he noticed they were wearing “identical Hawaian shirts.”
He told his agents he’d fire them if “Being John Malkovich” ever got financing to be filmed and they didn’t get him in it, and Malkovich himself closed the deal with a call describing this movie as depicting him as “a total a–hole,” which J. Malk embraced, as did J. Cusack.
He tried to option the Jim Thompson novel “The Grifters” in his callow youth, and got lucky when Stephen Frears got hold of it and made the call that paired Cusack up with Anjelica Huston at her finest.
An observation — the men in the audience asked mostly questions about “Grosse Pointe” and music. The women? They all made sure to say their NAME first, gushy question or more serious one, it didn’t matter.
A couple of audience members were curious about his politics, something on ready display on Twitter, which has earned him a little extra notoriety over the years. I hadn’t known about the family connection to the Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip, whose Vietnam protests made them household names in the early ’70s.
Cusack has an interesting take on the “Hollywood that I knew” not existing anymore. Screenplays, which he writes and pitches, are put through “algorithms” to see if they’re worth Netflix or whoever’s trouble.
That doesn’t explain “Roma,” but I guess Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and other indulgent, big budget Netflix fare does tick off a lot of audience boxes. When you’re a leading man consigned to TV series support work and occasionally fun B and C movies that allow you to wear that trademark black baseball cap, they may be looking for other boxes to check.
I got him to talk about his Irish Western, “Never Grow Old,” which I enthused about when it was released. This being a savvy crowd of serious Cusiacs, a LOT of people there had seen that gem.
Cusack is doing a “Greatest Hits Tour” of evenings just like this. If you’re a fan, go online and find a stop near you. But remember, he’s the only one allowed in the theater in a black baseball cap.
Thanks to my friend and SERIOUS Cusack fan, studio publicist Linda George-Eure, for the photos. I’m the guy who left his black baseball cap in my black car.