For millions of this reporter’s contemporaries, John Cusack will always be the snarky youthful outsider.
He’ll always be Lloyd Dobler, who declared “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”
So for some viewers, there’s something unsettling about seeing John Cusack racing through a crumbling Los Angeles in a limo or dodging fireballs in a small plane. I mean, what would Lloyd Dobler think? But that’s what Cusack finds himself doing starting this Friday in Roland Emmerich’s “2012.” And no matter how many big studio movies Cusack signs on for — think “Con/Air” or “America’s Sweethearts” — the career choice seems surprising.
It’s not so surprising for Cusack.
“”It was nice to be wanted…I got the call, and they told me, ‘Roland Emmerich’s movie, they want you to do it, and we’ll send you the script.’ I said, ‘Great!’ Then I read the script and it was a real page-turner. I thought it was very surprising,” Cusack explained to reporters last month at the “2012” press junket in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
He continued, “By the end of the film, I actually got quite emotional and very tense. I just thought it was a really good, big, epic movie all the way around. As you read it, interesting things would happen because they have this scene where Rome burned and Paris fell and you think ‘Well how do you shoot that?’ California falls into the ocean and you’d have no idea how anyone would begin to shoot that. Then the story got bigger and bigger. The catastrophes got bigger and the geography, of the characters and the places where they were safe, got smaller and smaller, the movie actually got more intimate as it went along… I haven’t seen that with most action films. Usually once the explosions start, the characters stop. They were reverse engineered so it got more intimate as it got chaotic. I thought that was really clever, so it was a terrific script and I was happy to do it.”
Cusack has been on a streak of darker or more emotional movies in recent years, rarely cracking a smile in projects like the sleeper hit “1408” and smaller films like “Martian Child,” “Grace Is Gone” and the little-seen angry dark comedy “War, Inc.” So who can blame him for wanting to have this kind of moviemaking experience every once in a while?
In “2012,” Cusack plays a struggling novelist making ends meet as a limo driver. He’s just trying to spend time with his children when the Earth begins to buckle at his feet, forcing him to try to save the things and people most important to him.
“I thought it was pretty fun actually,” Cusack said. “It was a great group of people, the story was great, and the studio was great. Roland has done this so many times before. What would be a crushing technical process for other directors, he seems to do very effortlessly, so he just focuses on the characters. I got to work with Amanda [Peet] again. It was a great part. It was kind of a good gig all the way around.”
Even though he’s worked on a Jerry Bruckheimer production in the past, “2012” represents a new level of spectacle for Cusack.
“This was pretty action packed for sure,” he noted. “It wasn’t any different than a lot of other films, in a way, because of the production design. Usually, you have the entire set built, and then in back of the set would be a green screen. There was a massive production design team working on the set. When we were on the mountain at the end, there would be a huge glacier field… and there would be blue screens in the background, so we were always acting with regular sets. it was the backgrounds that were being digitally enhanced. Roland’s got the whole army working so effortlessly that you can just come in and do your acting job. But a lot of running, jumping, and tumbling. You got to stay stretched out or you could pull a hamstring, for sure.”
And, of course, the “High Fidelity” and “Say Anything” veteran was able to find the human side of the storytelling.
“The whole film is filled with characters who are trying to reconcile their relationships and get some sort of redemption because they know that time is running out,” he noted. “It really gets your imagination going about who you want to get straight with, who you want to be right with, what would you do if you only have 10 more hours. It’s set up well to do that and then, of course, Roland was totally game to go for anything that expressed the characters.”
Like co-stars Peet and Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cusack had nothing but praise for Emmerich, a director hardly known for intimate parlor dramas.
“I’ve worked on some movies of big scopes, nothing this big. Usually there’re people who can do the scale and scope of things and then there’s directors who can work with actors. It’s very rare to do get somebody who can do both and he’s sort of earned the right to work the way he wants. It’s very much a family environment with him and other people, so it feels like you’re making a film with four or five people. It’s a really big crew, but it doesn’t feel like you’re making a film-by-committee. It’s very personal,” Cusack observed.
“2012” opens everywhere on Friday, Nov. 13.