John Cusack Interview, Grace is Gone

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline recently caught up with John Cusack at the Los Angeles press day for his new movie, "Grace Is Gone,” written and directed by James Strouse ("Lonesome Jim”) in his feature debut. The film is produced by Cusack under his New Crime Productions banner and premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival where it was recognized with the "Audience Award.”

There was a time when Stanley Phillips (John Cusack) could see his entire life clearly. He dreamed of patriotic service and was destined for a military career. He came close to that dream until it was cut short simply because of his poor eyesight. Now he’s serving customers at a home supply store while his Sergeant wife is fighting in Iraq.

Equally as awkward at home as he is at work, he’s raising Heidi (Shélan O’Keefe), their twelve-year-old daughter and her 8-year-old sister Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk). Although a loving father, Stanley is unable to conform to a more affectionate role and the girls miss their mother deeply.

While tolerating his job and stumbling through parenting he is abruptly awakened when tragedy strikes. Ill prepared to deal with it himself, he is at a complete loss contemplating how to tell his children. Desperate to delay telling the children they embark on a spontaneous road trip. Grasping to give them their last moments of innocence, Stanley reveals a softer side as they travel to Dawn’s chosen destination – Enchanted Gardens Theme Park.

The farther they drive the closer they become yet Stanley knows he must face the inevitable task of changing their lives forever.

With an impressive body of work spanning the course of two decades, John Cusack has evolved into one of Hollywood’s most accomplished and respected actors of his generation. He has garnered both critical acclaim as well as prestigious accolades for his dramatic as well as comedic roles. Most recently, Cusack starred opposite Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt and Joan Cusack as a writer who, crushed by the death of his fiancée, adopts a six-year-old boy who is convinced he is from Mars in the romantic comedy "Martian Child.”

This past summer, Cusack starred in the box office hit "1408” for Dimension Films in which he played a supernatural phenomena specialist who sets out to prove that a haunted New York hotel is just an urban legend. Most recently he finished production on "War, Inc.” with Joan Cusack, Marissa Tomei, Hillary Duff and Sir Ben Kingsley which he also produced under New Crime Productions. The film was shot in Sofia, Bulgaria and is directed by Joshua Seftel. Cusack wrote the screenplay with Jeremy Pikser and Mark Leyner.

Here’s what John Cusack had to tell us about his new movie:

Q: Did you get to meet husbands who have lost wives?

JOHN CUSACK: Yeah.

Q: What was that like?

JOHN CUSACK: Sad. Very sad. I met somebody who was in the exact position Stanley was in except he had three daughters, not two. He’d gotten that knock and his life was changed forever from a knock.

Q: Did you base your character in anyway on him after meeting and talking with him?

JOHN CUSACK: Yeah. Mostly getting the music of it or the tone of it and just asking physical questions which are consistent with what you know about grief which is you don’t have any equilibrium. There’s something happening to you and it has its own time clock and it doesn’t really matter what you do. It’s going to have its own life and you’re just the last person on earth who’s in control of it.

Q: You seemed older at the beginning of the film and younger by the end of the film. Was that anything that you wrote into your characterization?

JOHN CUSACK: No, I think maybe when you release all of that tension and emotion, you’re probably letting go of some of the tautness and tightness. That’s the only thing I can think of.

Q: That was a great performance. I didn’t even recognize you in that first scene.

JOHN CUSACK: Thank you. He’s wound pretty tight.

Q: Do you stay in character the whole time? Was it hard to snap out of it and then back into it?

JOHN CUSACK: No. By the end of the day, when I take my makeup off, I may need a little bit of a chiropractor because I was so hunched over but besides that I was okay.

Q: You said in another interview that doing a movie about grief is a way to connect. Can you elaborate on that?

JOHN CUSACK: Well the climate of the United States seems to me to be about denying pain or putting pain off on a macro and a micro level. I would never suggest for a moment that the military families are part of that equation. But you know when you’re in Hollywood or Chicago or New York or wherever you are, people are getting on with their lives and the war is this abstraction that they see on television. There’s a lot of pundits doing their usual partisan bickering where they are putting each other in boxes and calling each other names and talking down to each other. I think the whole thing has been fought on a credit card. When I wanted to do the movie, they had banned photos of the flag-draped coffins of the dead coming home. They said we control that too. So in case we haven’t controlled enough, you don’t even get to see the soldiers who are paying the ultimate price for this. And they have all their reasons and they’re all bullshit. It’s just how cowardly a political act. So, in that climate to make this movie, nobody wants to see grief. They can use it in their own photo ops and they can wax poetic behind it and like all people I’m sure they have very mixed motivations and a lot of them feel that what they’re doing is true and all of that. On another level, I think there’s a great denial of any sense of reality about this.

Q: What problems in the world worry you the most?

JOHN CUSACK: Right now?

Q: Yes.

JOHN CUSACK: Personally probably the privatization of war and this movement to take what Eisenhower warned about, the military industrial complex. We’ve gone far beyond that. It’s far more dangerous than that now. The very essence of security and disaster relief and prisons and war is now a for profit business. I think that has some sort of apocalyptic ramifications. [Laughs] You asked.

Q: Speaking about film, on a lighter side, you’ve had great success in the romantic comedy genre. Do you feel that movies with children might be the next phase in your career?

JOHN CUSACK: No. I really don’t think like that. I just think of trying to… You get offered stuff from a studio that you gotta do to try and stay in successful movies that are good and you try to do the best you can. And then you have projects that you love. It just happens to be that I’ve played fathers but I didn’t go out thinking ‘I gotta play a father now.’

Q: Well it seems like you’re good with kids and have a good rapport.

JOHN CUSACK: Yeah, yeah, I wouldn’t be against it but I don’t have any uber plan.

Q: Was it hard to capture this character considering that your political beliefs are the opposite of his?

JOHN CUSACK: No. I loved that because then I had to put my money where my mouth is in a sense where I had to really not judge or look down on that character but try to really get inside his shoes and really try to understand his point of view and limit and it was great because it made me… I had much more compassion towards people who ideologically I disagree with.

Q: Did it make you change any of your opinions?

JOHN CUSACK: It didn’t really change it but I just approach the whole thing with much more compassion. I mean because I have compassion for the Stanleys of the world doesn’t mean I would support an ultra authoritarian administration that wants to open up new markets using the U.S. military and Blackwater. I mean that ain’t gonna happen ever but you can be pro-military and anti-war and anti-war profiteering. I hope that in 2007 you don’t want to have to say that but I guess given the state we’re in I guess you do.

Q: So what would you have done if the acting hadn’t worked out?

JOHN CUSACK: I don’t know. I don’t think I could hold a real job.

Q: What attracted you to this project?

JOHN CUSACK: A lot of this stuff. I don’t know. Something captures your imagination. I thought that I had a sense of the character. I thought it was in that gray zone where he was cowardly and heroic and I thought it felt like wow, this would be a great thing to do right now, to just do the first three days of grief. And as I said, the impetus to do it came out of outrage, but then I hoped that we would transcend the outrage and my own personal opinions and get to something more transcendent. I thought if we can do that, that’s really going to be interesting.

Q: I’m pretty sure they’ll market the movie in Europe as an anti-war movie.

JOHN CUSACK: Proudly I hope.

Q: How’s it going to be marketed in America?

JOHN CUSACK: They’ll probably try to hedge their bet but the movie is what it is. But I think what’s different about it is it doesn’t get lost in the usual…because in America everything gets into that polemic and that partisan stuff. They just want to put you in a box and it’s like a gang war. Now you’re with us. No, now you’re with us. And they send hits on the other guys and everybody has attack dogs and there’s no kind of intellectual honesty to it anyway. But art is supposed to do something else, isn’t it? It’s supposed to transcend. That’s what we tried to do. Whether we did it, I don’t know, but that’s what we tried to do. I don’t know how you can be pro-human and not anti-war. That’s the only dialectic it seems to me.

Q: What’s more challenging as an actor:  a fantasy movie like "1408” or a more reality based movie like this?

JOHN CUSACK: They’re real different but those were both demanding ones.

Q: Have you started work on "Stopping Power” yet?

JOHN CUSACK: No, no. That one fell apart. I’m not doing that one.

Q: You’ve been in so many movies with Joan, why has that happened?

JOHN CUSACK: Well I figure sooner or later someone’s going to tell us we can’t but…

Q: What do you think of her as an actress and comedian?

JOHN CUSACK: I love her. She’s fantastic. Some of the studios just offer them to us and we go, okay, if they’re going to let us. And then as a producer, I always offer her something because I know how great she is. I figure sooner or later they’re going to get tired of it but as long as we can get away with it, it’s fun. I can see her for 12 hours a day. I love it.

Q: Do you have any projects lined up before any impending strike happens?

JOHN CUSACK: Yeah, actually I have two.

Q: What are they going to be?

JOHN CUSACK: One is called "The Factory” and the other one is "Shanghai,” a film set in China. I’m not sure what I’m going to do but hopefully that’ll work out.

Q: Have you been lending any support to the striking writers?

JOHN CUSACK: I haven’t crossed the picket line. As a writer myself, I know I haven’t gotten paid for any of my stuff on the internet either.

Q:  But have you been called to march yet?

JOHN CUSACK: Yeah, but I don’t want to do that.

Q: How long do you see this going on for?

JOHN CUSACK: I think for awhile, I think so, because I think the studios would love to just bust the union anyway. It gives them a chance to clean house, and then cry force majeure. Right? They can say it’s an act of God. They can just cancel contracts and do all that stuff. But I don’t know enough about it really.

Q: So do you expect it to go until the actors and directors join in too?

JOHN CUSACK: Yeah. I don’t know, because I’m not really up on it as far as the negotiations, but I know that they had the game so rigged for so long and then they sort of mismanaged it and kind of got blindsided by the internet and then they made all their money on DVDs. They have like an 85% profit margin on every DVD, so the movies in the theatres now are just basically promotional platforms for the DVD releases. But now the DVDs are being traded online and soon it’s going to happen where it’s going to be easier and easier to do that, so the whole thing is crumbling and the TV Guide, they don’t know how to make money anymore because they can’t get the advertisers, and everybody can just – you can go and buy a TV show or….. So it’s all changing and I think it’s just in that chaos that nobody knows how to monetize it, and they don’t want to promise to share profits, but they’ve already said they make billions of dollars off the internet, and they ain’t sharing it with us.

Q: You’ve done so many movies and performances, is there anything that sticks out for you that changed your life more drastically than the others?

JOHN CUSACK: No, not that I can think of.

Q: How do you feel about the critical reception of this movie and all the Oscar buzz that surrounds it?

JOHN CUSACK: Alright, I’ll take it, right?

Q: I think it was the first film bought at Sundance?

JOHN CUSACK: Yeah, yeah. That’s nice. That stuff is so – I don’t know how that really works, I know that it’s really political and faddy, and so I don’t know how it will work. I know Harvey’s (Harvey Weinstein) got me going to lots of parties. You’ve got to go to Q & A’s and stuff. But I really don’t know.

Q: How was it working with a first time director?

JOHN CUSACK: It was good. It was such a contained story, and we had a great DP and were surrounded by great people, and he knew the script, so stylistically it’s a pretty contained film. It’s just more about the performances. He was a good collaborator.

Q: As the producer, I’m sure you had the say of who the two children would be – what was it about these two that really caught your eye?

JOHN CUSACK: They were the two faces and spirits that you would least want to lie to on the face of the earth. You try to imagine that final scene, and then you just imagine the most painful moments and you met those two girls and you thought, ‘That’s the last thing on earth I’d ever want to do would be to take away their mother, take away their innocence.’ So they’re very, very soulful and talented, very different.

Q: They don’t look like Hollywood kids.

JOHN CUSACK: No, no, very soulful, great, terrific, talented people, so they were just the answers.

Q: How did you bond with them?

JOHN CUSACK: That’s just casting, like you either have a feel for somebody or you don’t, and then we went and did some training and stuff together, but you either have a feel and you have the chemistry with people or you don’t. It’s a very ineffable thing. It’s hard to put your finger on why. It’s not even worth trying to figure out why. But I’m smart enough now to recognize that’s one of the most important things about making a movie. So it was like, those two.

Q: What keeps you grounded?

JOHN CUSACK: I don’t know, probably nothing. I’m probably not grounded.

Q: How have you managed to keep such a private life? Most celebrities are seen in magazines, but we don’t see you anywhere apart from your work.

JOHN CUSACK: That’s because I don’t go to all these parties that Harvey is taking me to.

Q: Is it also living in Chicago and away from Los Angeles?

JOHN CUSACK: That, but I think it’s also I kind of don’t stay on the scene that much, which has got its pluses and drawbacks. Politically it might be better to be on the scene a little more.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

JOHN CUSACK: Just the normal stuff.

Q: Like write blogs?

JOHN CUSACK: I write a few of those and then see friends, have dinner, watch movies, see music, travel.

Q: Do you have any holiday traditions you’re looking forward to celebrating this Christmas?

JOHN CUSACK: No, the same old ones will do.

Q: Can you share what they are?

JOHN CUSACK: We usually have a pre-Christmas Eve dinner. We usually get sushi or Japanese food, I don’t know why.

Q: Because Catholics are supposed to have a fish dinner before Christmas?

JOHN CUSACK: That’s right, that’s it.

Q: Do you get sushi from the Great Lakes?

JOHN CUSACK: Nope.

Q: Do you remember the best Christmas gift you ever got?

JOHN CUSACK: No, I’ve never been a big gift person. I never cared too much about gifts.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to step behind the camera and direct?

JOHN CUSACK: Sure, I don’t know what though.

Q: But you see yourself doing that at some point?

JOHN CUSACK: Yeah, yeah, but it just takes so long. I mean, these movies, it takes – even being one of the filmmakers if you’re writer/producer and you’re acting in front of it, you’re one of the filmmakers, and it take two to three years to get them made. It’s okay to have collaborators.

Q: How do you deal with getting older when you watch your old movies?

JOHN CUSACK: I don’t know, sometimes I just don’t watch them.

Q: Is there a movie that changed your life when you were growing up?

JOHN CUSACK: I remember "Apocalypse Now” being pretty outrageous. I think my parents had gone out of town, and we had some friends staying with us. It was a school night, and I think I was in eighth grade. It was playing at the revival movie house. It came out in ’75, right? So this was probably ’78 or ’79 or something, and I remember being a sophomore in high school, we’d walk in one way and then you’d just have the back of your head blown off, and then you stumble out. I couldn’t talk afterwards, and you want to go home and make coffee and just stay up and talk about it. I remember being – but I’ve always thought film had a great power.

Q: Is that when you decided that you wanted to be an actor?

JOHN CUSACK: Yeah, I was always sort of in love with the movies.

Q: Who are your idols when it comes to acting?

JOHN CUSACK: Strangely a lot of people that I’ve had a chance to work with. I’ve had a very interesting career that way. Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, who else? Woody Allen. I’ve gotten to work with a lot of people that I grew up watching, who inspired me to want to make films. So I was really lucky.

Q: Any person dead or alive that you’re dying to meet?

JOHN CUSACK: [Laughs] I’d ask Jesus when he’s coming back to straighten this shit out.

"Grace Is Gone” opens in theaters on December 7th.

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