Many of us of a certain age grew up loving John Cusack, either in earlier films like Better Off Dead and Say Anything, or in his later classics, Grosse Point Blank and High Fidelity.
Belying those films, however, is a public perception of John Cusack that has not always been positive, especially in recent years (and notwithstanding the 10 movies he’s made in the last 2 years that you’ve NEVER heard of, or his lengthy and insane dating history). Most of the beef with Cusack has come with both his movie choices and tabloid reports suggesting that he’s something of an asshole with fans. His left-wing nuttery on Twitter hasn’t exactly helped, either, nor has his inability to punctuate or spell correctly.
However, in a recent Nerdist podcast, Cusack managed to put almost all of my reservations about him behind me, and see Cusack again for the guy many of us kind of idolized growing up. There’s not a lot of quotable material from the podcast — it was more of the tone and the self-awareness that turned me around on Cusack (and the fact that he acknowledged that he doesn’t always talk about politics — in fact, he didn’t talk about them at all in the podcast, despite efforts by Hardwick to get him to do so).
In fact, the first half of the Nerdist podcast was kind of boring. He mostly talked about his latest movie, the Brian Wilson biopic, Love and Mercy, and offered more thoughts on process, which is always death for a podcast. NO ONE CARES ABOUT PROCESS. He seemed wary of the format at first, and he was slow to open up, which is often the case with celebrities on the Nerdist podcast.
However, Hardwick managed to steer him toward more interesting topics, and once Cusack began riffing on favorite movies and television shows, he was a terrific guest. He and Hardwick geeked out about The Twilight Zone, The Shining and bad horror movies, and Cusack revealed that he was not only a huge fan of The Walking Dead, but he actually wants to be on the spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead.
At one point, in fact, Hardwick pressed Cusack on his self-professed strategy to take paycheck roles so that he can pay the bills and pursue his passion projects, like Love and Mercy. (“We all do our art, and then we pay the bills.”) Hardwick tried to needle him into talking shit about some of those paycheck roles like 2012 and Con Air, but Cusack seemed to pointedly turn the tables, asking Hardwick, “What’s your version of selling out, buying in?” adding, “I do love the zombie show [The Talking Dead].”
It seemed at first that Cusack was suggesting that The Talking Dead was a paycheck role for Hardwick, but then Cusack professed that he was legitimately a big fan of the show (and then geeked out about Romero’s zombie flicks).
Cusack also addressed that perception that he is an asshole in real life. Asked point blank if he thinks he’s an “asshole,” Cusack offered, “I think everyone is a bit of an asshole.”
“When you think about yourself, you don’t go, ‘Aw, I’m an asshole?” Hardwick asked with a follow-up quesiton.
“I’m sure if people saw me in a certain context or situation, they could assume it,” Cusack responded. “It’s a weird thing if you’re famous. Sometimes, you might be in your own head space or trying to think of something, and people come up to you, and they talk to you, and if you’re not pleasant, they go ‘Oh, he’s an asshole.’ Or ‘he’s ungrateful.’ But it’s really just a weird thing to be recognized.
“I think that’s where the asshole [reputation] comes in, where people think that you’re kind of a jerk sometimes when you’re trying to think of something else and you have to switch hats and go, ‘Oh yeah. I’m the host of something. I don’t know what I’m hosting, but hello!’”
And you know what? I totally get that. I mean, I am not famous, and I am never recognized in public (except by the pizza delivery guys), but I know — even when I spend only a few hours with close friends and family — that I can get irritable. I mean, after I spend a few days at SXSW in Austin with the writers here — who are some of my closest friends in the world — I still leave and hole myself up for a few days because that much social interaction takes everything out of me. I can’t imagine having to be “on” all the time, so I get it/
But most importantly, Cusack walked back on statements that I have long held against him, namely that he had disavowed one of my favorite films of the 1980s, Better Off Dead. According to some (including his co-star Curtis “Booger” Armstrong), he hated Better Off Dead.
But the truth is somewhere in the middle, which to to say that Better Off Dead simply wasn’t the dark comedy that Cusack thought it was based on the script, but that he holds no ill will toward the director, Savage Steve Holland, or the movie.
“It was one of those things where I made it, and I didn’t really have a feel for it. But it was fine. It was good. But what happens is that you have to go [to your press tour] and they’d want to talk to you about The Sure Thing or that movie instead of what you were there to talk about. So, it wasn’t that I hated the movie or hated anything. I just didn’t want to keep talking about it.
“And I felt terrible about it,” he continued, “because if the actors or the director [thought that I hated it], that was on me. I never really thought about it. I was just on to the next thing. I was like 17 years old …
I just felt bad. I had nothing [against the movie]. If people dig it, that’s great!”
The script had a lot of black comedy elements and surrealism that hasn’t been done in the genre. But I was looking at ‘Oh, I didn’t like the score, or I thought the cinematography would be a little darker, but I was 17 years old, so, no. I don’t have anything against it. I mean, I love when he says, ‘It’s a shame to throw away a perfectly good white boy.’ I feel bad that the director [thinks I have something against it].”
It’s not exactly a glowing endorsement of the film, but at least Cusack isn’t slamming the film or decrying it as the worst thing he’s ever done. He was honest, and more importantly, he wasn’t an asshole about it at all.
In my mind, the man is redeemed, except for starring in Identity, which I continue to contend had the worst ending for an otherwise great movie that I’ve ever seen.