John Cusack has played a lot of different roles in his twenty-five year acting career, but for his latest movie, New Line’s Martian Child, based on David Gerrold’s short story, he takes on something different, playing a sci-fi writer who tries to get over the death of his fiancée by adopting a strange young boy named Dennis (Bobby Coleman) who claims that he’s from Mars. Although it reteams Cusack with Menno Meyjes, the director of the eclectic biopic Max, this is more of a family friendly movie that isn’t necessarily just for kids.
ComingSoon.net joined a group of other journalists to talk to the popular and always charming actor about the movie.
ComingSoon.net: What drew you to this movie?
Cusack: Well, New Line was doing it and I thought it was a character-driven kind of family-adult movie, but it was very sweet. They told me they wanted to get great actors, and it was nice to be wanted. It’s not like you have eight fantastic things that are always waiting for you at any time to pick, so this was sort of there and they said they’d do it with a director that I liked. Menno had worked on the script, and I like Menno a lot, so it was kind of a nice fit, and then they talked about Amanda, so it looked like a pretty good package. I thought I’d never really done a family movie before.
CS: What interested you about this character in particular?
Cusack: I liked that he was somebody, who was kind of an artist and somewhat accomplished, but he was a little bit isolated. You can relate to that a little bit, and the idea of wanting a little bit more in your life and wanting to find a deeper purpose, I think I can relate to and everybody can relate to. I thought the relationship with the kid, of trying to reach out and find this other soul was sweet and true, and the idea that he could relate to a kid who didn’t feel like it was easy to fit in, I thought that was pretty interesting, too. The question of what’s normal, how much should you try to fit in and be like other people or how much should you be like yourself, even if you are considered eccentric and all those things. Would you want to give Einstein Ritalin? I don’t know. Not that everybody is going to grow up to be a genius, but the idea of people’s individuality versus conformity is a big issue in life, so I thought that was interesting stuff, too.
CS: Was it appealing that it was based on the novel by David Jerrold and that you got to play a science-fiction writer?
Cusack: Yeah, I think the idea that people who live in their imagination feel apart from the rest of the world, that kind of life in the imagination gives you a kind of uniqueness but it also isolates you a little bit; I thought that was interesting and true.
CS: Did you have any thoughts on your character not being gay like he is in the book and would it have been more interesting to you if they kept that aspect of the book?
Cusack: I don’t know because I didn’t develop the project and I wasn’t there. The only thing I saw was something that wasn’t that way. There was always a relationship with the wife who passed away, and then there was the budding thing with Harlee, Amanda’s character, so I never saw any version of it that way. It would have been a totally different film, and then it would all be about the politics of gay rights, which I just don’t know if it would have been as interesting. Maybe, if I’d read a script and it was great, yeah, that would have been fun.
CS: Is doing a family drama something you’ve wanted to do for a long time or playing a father?
Cusack: Not really. It’s just coincidence. Stuff I develop is one thing or my company does and then stuff I can get from studios, but no, it’s just coincidence.
CS: Did you work with Menno to try to cast Bobby Coleman as the young boy, Dennis?
Cusack: Yeah, we met with a bunch of people and went through the process, and Bobby was the one.
CS: What kind of audition did you do with him?
Cusack: We just did the scenes. We read the scenes and talked. He’s very eerily evolved and professional. He knew that “Dennis wouldn’t do that. Dennis would do this.” He had a very specific point of view. He was so good and so professional. You forget that he hadn’t been doing it that long. He’d only been around for eight or nine years. That’s pretty wild. We tried to say, “Hey, there’s no right or wrong way to do these things. You’re just exploring.” Just tried to let him know.
CS: Did you know that Bobby was the right kid as soon as you saw him or did it take some time?
Cusack: I think we knew sort of right away, but it’s such an important decision, the whole film rests on it, so we just worked with him a bit.
CS: Were you like that as a kid growing up?
Cusack: I wasn’t that eccentric, but I definitely wasn’t in the popular crowds and all that stuff.
CS: Was it always planned to have both you and Joan appear in this?
Cusack: I think that was presented as part of the appeal of it, and it certainly was for me. I’ll do it as long as people keep letting me. It’s great for me.
CS: You seem to be amused whenever you have scenes with her. Is that just the natural chemistry you have as brother and sister?
Cusack: Yeah, she just makes me laugh. We’re both pretty stubborn people, so that’s pretty funny sometimes. She’s definitely got her way of seeing things and I have mine, so it’s pretty funny when they clash.
CS: Is it naturally you guys working together so that the director doesn’t really need to tell you to express emotion as a brother and sister?
Cusack: No, not really, because when you’re playing brother and sister, what does the director know about that? That’s just about casting. It’s just so easy and that’s the fun of it.
CS: Did Joan give you any advice about working with children?
Cusack: No, she’s just thoughtful about everything, so she’ll give you insights into everything because that’s why she’s so good when she does that thing.
CS: Do you have a similar sibling relationship with Amanda?
Cusack: Absolutely, yeah. Amanda and I worked on “Identity” and we became friends, so yeah, that was great.
CS: Can you talk about your production company and what you’re currently working on?
Cusack: Well, we have “Grace is Gone” is one that’s coming out that we did. Then we have another one called “War, Inc.,” with Sir Ben Kingsley and Hilary Duff and Marisa Tomei. My sister is in it again, and Dan Aykroyd. That’s a very kind of provocative black comedy, not a comedy-comedy, but it’s a pretty wild film. It’s like absurdist satire, but it’s very dark.
CS: Are you doing that the same way as “Grace is Gone,” completely independently and then take it to the festivals?
Cusack: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
CS: Did you feel the need to do it yourself to have freedom and control over it?
Cusack: No, I would love for New Line to have said, “Here’s the money. We’ll guarantee distribution.” If you know anybody, have them call me.
CS: Can you talk about why “Grace is Gone” was moved?
Cusack: Oh, they moved it to December 7. I think they’re getting more and more excited about the awards stuff for the movie because it’s got that swirl around it.
CS: Have you heard Clint Eastwood’s score for “Grace is Gone” yet?
Cusack: Have I heard it? I produced it. I produced the movie and then Clint came in and Harvey asked him to do the score and I worked with him and he saw the film and liked me and liked the movie and wanted to score it. I called him up and said, “Do you really want to do this?” and he went, “I dunno. I’m thinking about it. Yeah.”
CS: I thought they moved it so he could produce the new score.
Cusack: I think it’s got more to do with that other stuff, like they put it in different things and show it to different groups and they’re trying to build more momentum, and I think they wanted to separate it from because it seems to be getting a different track than the Iraq War movies that have more polemics in them, I guess. It seems to be having a different track than that, so I think it has to do with that and Clint’s score.
CS: Did that come about from you appearing in Clint’s movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”?
Cusack: Yeah, I always hoped I was going to be… if you work with him once, you’re lucky and blessed and I’ve worked with a lot of people who are my heroes growing up, so I’m probably the luckiest person sitting in one of these stations that you can ever be. I thought I already had my shot, but if he ever offers me something else, I’d do it in a second, and so I thought that I hope I get another, a second or third shot with him. I got two with Woody Allen, that was pretty fun, and then this came along and it was out of the blue, and I thought I’m so blessed to work with him again.
CS: It must be strange for a director to have a finished movie that was loved at Sundance, and then suddenly you’re working on a new score. So will the original scored version be on the DVD?
Cusack: No, I think this is it. This is the score. I think it was done at Sundance, but there’s still some tweaks we wanted to do, the director and I, just a couple minutes here and there, and then we all felt that the music could be better. And then when a company buys a film, they have a say. They buy it, they start to invest in the film.
CS: Where does the name of your production company come from?
Cusack: Do you remember… its very Bravo Channel, the answer, do you want it? Alright. Don’t make me sound like an ***hole. I’ll remember that the next time I come to this roundtable. “I’m not answering sh*t!” (laughter) Do you remember when Ronald Reagan was giving the speech and then somebody, either Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagen, I don’t remember when, but somebody hacked the feed and Max Headroom started spanking somebody, and these guys saw themselves as being activists against centralized information, they were like these wild pranksters, but they tried to bust them but there was no telecommunications lawthere was no satellite break-in feed lawso they’d invented a new crime, so they couldn’t be busted. So I thought…
CS: That’s so Bravo.
Cusack: It’s so Bravo. Well, I was 13, what am I going to say? (laughter) But I liked it. I still like the name of it, and I like the idea of throwing bricks through windows.
CS: It sounds like you’re really enjoying the role of producer these days.
Cusack: I’ve been doing that since I was 28, putting people together. It’s more my creative environment. You think you can do something good in a film, and I hate to blow the auteur theory, but films are a very collaborative medium. There’s three or four people who are making a film together, but I like getting the thing together and creating an environment where actors can do really well.
CS: Do you like being able to control a project from beginning to end?
Cusack: Yeah, you can’t really control anything but you can create an environment where you can do good things. I’ve been in situations that work and don’t work so you create an environment for actors. It’s not rocket science but you gotta do it. You have to actually make it so that they can get momentum and they can concentrate and that there’s not a bunch of people by monitors 50 yards away playing the Home Shopping Network on the screen and the energy is in front of the camera, and that the actors feel like what they’re doing is like someone’s paying attention and it’s important. If you’re going to do all this stuff, like all these trucks and cameras and walkie-talkies and people and schedules, it’s all there so you can do something. You’ve gotta create kind of a sacred space for the actors in front of the lens and that’s very Bravo Channel, too, but it’s true. So like when I know when it works well and all those other guys, Clint Eastwood, they all provide an amazing atmosphere for actors to work. I’ve done it with people where it works great. I’m not totally stupid so I’ve learned, “Okay, this works. Remember this.” So I try to do that for the other actors and for myself and I love other actors, too, so I love working. I worked with Marisa and Sir Ben Kingsley and Hillary Duff in “War Inc.” and like Hillary Duff is a fantastic young actress. I think she’s great. She’s an amazing comedian. I mean, I have no idea, but you’re sitting there and working with them and Sir Ben Kingley… But each person is very special, an individual, and if you just give them some space and a good environment to work, it’s amazing to watch them. I love that part of it, so yeah, the producer can actually tell people “You can’t do that here. You gotta go away ’cause they’re working.” I like being able to…
CS: At one point, were you going to do a sequel to “Grosse Point Blank”?
Cusack: Well, it’s not a sequel as much… it’s not a sequel at all, but I mined the same kind of political tone in “War, Inc.” I’m done. I just have to find a distributor for a New Crime movie. I’m trying to invent a new crime, so let’s see. I know Fox News ain’t going to pick it up. (laughter) Fox (the movie studio) ain’t going to pick it up. I don’t think anybody connected to Fox is going to pick that movie up. It’s a tough movie but it isn’t a “Grosse Point” sequel but it’s a black comedy and it’s about mercenaries and war profiteers.
CS: Are there any characters in your past that you’d like to revisit?
Cusack: Um, yeah, I would have loved to have done a sequel to that. Sequels seem to fun. I just never got a chance to do it.
CS: “Better Off Dead”?
Cusack: Nah, I don’t want to do a sequel to anything… I don’t want to think about anything I did under 20 ever again. (laughter)
CS: Would you ever considering doing a sequel to “Say Anything…” with Cameron Crowe if he handles it like “The Barbarian Invasions” or “Before Sunset” revisiting the characters 20 years later?
Cusack: Yeah, it would be fun to work with Cameron again. We talk and Email and he goes, “I’m thinking about something” and I go, “Yeah, bullsh*t” (laughter) You’re just going to do another movie with Tom Cruise, c’mon. We talk about doing something, but we haven’t found it yet, but I’d love to work with him. I’ve worked with a couple twice… I worked with Menno (“Martian Child” director) twice and I love working with people again if they can survive me once, they deserve a badge.
CS: Have you and Amanda Peet ever compared notes about working with Woody Allen?
Cusack: Uh, yeah, I think all actors do when they work with Woody because he’s so cool and eccentric.
CS: What kind of stories?
Cusack: More like impersonations. (laughter) (goes into impersonation, talking fast) “What you’re doing is very good, it’s a drunk and it’s a good drunk, but if you could just do it a little quicker, there’s a Knicks game” (laughter)
CS: Who’s still out there that you want to work with yet?
Cusack: There’s a lot of great folks.
CS: Such as? Throw a couple out.
Cusack: Name some folks.
CS: Francis Ford Coppola?
Cusack: Yeah, there’s one. Lasse Hallstrom, Scorsese, there’s just too many.
CS: And you’re doing an animated movie called “Igor”?
Cusack: Yeah, I did a little voice for the Weinsteins. I actually did one of those things before (with “Anastasia”). It’s really easy. You go in there and you read the script with the actors. It’s the easiest job in the world. It’s fun. No trucks. No makeup. You just go in there with a microphone and play for a couple hours.
CS: And Igor is a what?
Cusack: An Igor. (laughter)
Martian Child opens everywhere on Friday, November 2.