John Cusack: The Movieline Interview
When you think "Roland Emmerich disaster-film leading man," the image of John Cusack probably isn't the one that leaps straight to mind. But that's who Emmerich specifically sought for this week's epic 2012, which, for all of its floods, volcanoes and California-collapsing temblors, is something of a classically Cusackian tale of underdog romance and wry grace under pressure. The actor plays Jackson Curtis, a failed writer, husband and father who accidentally encounters word of a world-ending series of natural disasters. Jackson manages to land squarely in the middle of all of them with his estranged family, resulting in the slow correction of perhaps 2012's biggest disaster -- himself.
Cusack spoke to Movieline last week about his unlikely-ish collaboration with Hollywood's modern cataclysm kingpin, the public's love of disaster, and his own favorite classics of the genre.
What was your initial response to this script?
They offered it to me, and, well, I read it and really liked it, so there you go.
Was there ever a moment when you said, "Wow, I can't believe Roland's actually going to do this -- I've got to be a part of it"?
You always try to envision yourself in a role, but at first I just thought, "How can he film that?" That's a pretty good thing when you're reading a script. You feel like, "I can kind of barely imagine this, but I don't know how anyone could shoot it." Whether it was the water coming over the Himalayas, or he'd have things like, "And Rome fell." Or, "California falls into the ocean."
Yeah! So you're thinking, "What would that look like?" As far as epic, crazy, world-changing action, it was kind of a wild read.
This film has an unusual light-to-dark-and-back again tone for a Roland Emmerich movie. What do you think his approaching you says about the dynamics he had in mind?
I remember Independence Day kind of winking at the camera a lot more -- not kitschy, but jokey. Like it was really played for laughs a lot. This one Roland played more like a melodrama. And I don't mean that in a bad way. He was playing it sincerely. But that was all in the tone of the script.
How did you two develop the right tone together, especially with everything happening around Jackson's family?
We talked about it for sure. How do we keep the tension, but not get so serious that we lose [people]. It's still entertainment, obviously. It's not really a chronicle of horrible world disasters. Otherwise there'd be no entertainment at all. So you've got a thrill-ride roller coaster, but we just talked about ways to keep the tension real.
How is Roland as a director of actors?
Great. He's got a great reputation with actors, and deservedly so. Some tough customers have given him rave reviews, and I would join in. He's very, very collaborative, and he really listens to actors. He follows them, and if they want to go somewhere instinctively, he'll go with you. And he's a gentleman and an honest guy. I'd work with him again in a second.
Why do think audiences are entertained by these kinds of cataclysmic disaster epics? Billions of people are dying!
I think probably because they give voice to everybody's collective fears, for sure. Movies about these myths -- or stories about the apocalypse -- imagine a time when there's a kind of an event that makes everything equal and all people equal and wipes out all of the divisions between people -- and the illusions of all those divisions. There are still rich and poor until the very end, but there's no Chinese and Americans and Russians and Christians and Jews and Muslims. Everybody's in the same boat, and all the countries are in the same boat. I think people really want a world like that, and it takes something cataclysmic to imagine how it could ever happen.
Those kinds of elements are a big part of it. In the religious tradition, at least, there's utopia after the apocalypse. There's heaven. I think we play out these apocalyptic things all the time. You see it in government; there are purges. It always takes some horrible manifestation of that drama, but when horrible things happen, you can generally see the best in people. Or you hope that's what will happen.
That definitely is a constant theme in the disaster genre. Did you have favorites that influenced you or excited you for this film?
Yeah, I mean, I loved The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure... all those films from the '70s. I was always a big fan. And I like the post-apocalyptic movies, too -- the really obscure ones, like A Boy and His Dog. And that one was sort of a precursor to Mad Max and The Road Warrior; I'm sure it influenced George Miller. And even the metaphysical mindbenders, stuff like The Exorcist. Really, those are all dealing with the end -- an apocalypse of some sort.