John Cusack: interview

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Reagan, Aids and magical bathtime: John Cusack on heading back to the '80s in 'Hot Tub Time Machine'

Of course, John Cusack, who stars in ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’, is no longer lovesick Lloyd Dobler in Cameron Crowe’s ‘Say Anything…’ (1989). Now 43, he has since channelled Woody Allen’s whine in ‘Bullets Over Broadway’ (1994), soldiered through the Pacific in ‘The Thin Red Line’ (1998) and even survived apocalyptic mayhem in last year’s ‘2012’. In all of them, his boyish charm is a constant. But the actor’s latest comedy – a high concept romp set at a ‘Miami Vice’-era ski resort – returns him to the decade that saw his arrival on our screens.

So you and your buddies get in the hot tub and suddenly it’s 1986. Is this just wish fulfilment on your part?
‘Honestly, I don’t remember the ’80s being like this. I remember them being quite scary.’

You mean this is not a documentary?
‘Let me rephrase that. Me and the film’s director, Steve Pink, we went to high school together. And we were two of the four idiots here, the guys taking mushrooms and going to Vegas and stuff. That was totally us. But seriously, the ’80s? I thought they were a sign of the impending apocalypse.’

So you’re not really a fan of nostalgia?
‘It’s like those high-school yearbook photos that everyone would rather not see: Oh my God, look at that mullet hair. I have those photos too, but for me, they’re, like, entire movies. And they show them on cable.’

But come on. This is your ‘Being John Malkovich’. It had to be you, playing the romantic sad sack who falls for the cool writer chick.
‘It’s funny: when John Malkovich called me and told me he was going to do that film, he said, “Uh, Johnny? The movie is so mean. And it’s mean to me. But, you know, fuck it. I am an asshole.” [Laughs] There was a similar element here. This was not going to be funny unless it was mean to me.’

And it is. Endearingly.
‘That was the hope. We thought “Hot Tub” could be smart and postmodern that way, where I’m in on the joke and the audience is in on the joke. And then just really stupid too. Stupid was key. The script all came together violently, quickly and weirdly – but in a great way.’

What do you remember fondly about the ’80s? I love that your character says, ‘We had Reagan and Aids.’
‘It was a good time to become an artist, because there was a lot to rebel against – that sort of “Morning in America” bullshit. There was a much clearer division between who was awake and who was asleep. Now everybody seems to be pretending to be awake when they’re really asleep. Maybe it’s just a function of being 19.’

Even at 19, in films like John Hughes’s ‘Sixteen Candles’, you were the bruised optimist of US comedies.
‘I’ll take that! What’s interesting about Lloyd in “Say Anything…” is that he is optimistic but he’s not sentimental. So his optimism is sort of a revolutionary act – a heroic undertaking, not naive.’

Is it hard for you to look back on your early stuff?
‘It used to be. I never found much value in it. I always thought it best to figure out what’s in front of you right now.’

But I’m sensing lately, with ‘High Fidelity’ and now this, that you’re easing into it.
‘Yeah. I never wanted to come off as self-important. If I did, then I suck. But these days, I certainly make fun of myself a lot more. I’m willing to open up the yearbook and let go.’

Read our review of 'Hot Tub Time Machine'.

Author: Interview: Joshua Rothkopf



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