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An Embarrassing '80s Nostalgia Trip for John Cusack

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | March 26, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | March 26, 2010 |

Junket Jackassery is a new series on Pajiba where were attempt to examine the role of entertainment journalism, and the blurring of lines between movie criticism and outright promotion, among other related topics.

John Cusack in recent years has had something of a reputation for being a slightly abrasive character in real life, and some of that is based on the way he conducts himself in interviews. But in preparing for this piece, I just spent two hour pouring over interviews conducted with Cusack by dozens of different outlets, and I’ve officially come to the conclusion that, if Cusack is indeed abrasive in interviews, it’s because the promotional system is stacked against him — in fact, it’s stacked against most celebrity actors.

Indeed, for “entertainment journalists” who revel in puns and dumb fucking interview questions, it’s been something of a banner week, what with the release of Hot Tub Time Machine today (our review is forthcoming). It’s a movie built around a silly premise (a hot tub time machine) and it’s steeped in ’80s nostalgia, which finally gives interviewers the opportunity to badger Cusack about his ’80s movies, a subject he’s never really been fond of talking about. However, for the purposes of promoting Hot Tub Time Machine, he’s had no choice in the matter. And interviewers have seemingly taken pains to make it as excruciating as possible.

But before we get to the series of dumb fucking questions that have been asked of Cusack this week, I’d just like to note that scouring the Internet for interviews of Cusack reveals just how completely ridiculous the junket system often can be, especially for the actors. All week, Cusack and Co. have been forced to sit around a jacuzzi and answer the same stupid questions over and over and over again — I found it remarkable, really, that Cusack could keep his brain matter intact after being asked, for the 43rd time in three hours, what he would do if he could travel back to the ’80s. It’s also somewhat remarkable, not that his answers have been strikingly similar from interview to interview, but that so many outlets running these interviews tout them as “exclusives.” Why is it “exclusive”? Because apparently these entertainment journalists have successfully elicited the same exact answers, but at different points in time. Thus, they own “exclusivity” to that ten-minute period? (Note, also, that many outlets in the junket game also tout as “exclusive” round-table interviews done with other journalists, all of whom share the exact same material).

Below is a sampling of interview questions that Cusack has been asked this week. Having looked at interviews on both movie blogs and in print publications, I also found it fascinating that it was the major print outlets that asked the most humiliating questions of Cusack. The point of this exercise, however, is not just to reveal how moronic entertainment journalists can be, but to demonstrate that John Cusack’s supposed abrasiveness is perhaps not borne out of a personality flaw, but out of impatience for idiocy. Cusack’s a smart guy, who — yes — is a little touchy about his ’80s oeuvre, but honestly, it’s been 25 years. How many times could you withstand being asked about Better Off Dead before you revealed some irritability? I’m surprised, really, that no one asked him for their “two dollars.”

I might also note that these interview questions were not atypical — they were fairly characteristic of the types of questions he received all week long.

The New York Times’s Dave Itzkoff:

“Which member of “The A-Team” do you most closely identify with?”

I have to say Mr. T, just because he lived in Chicago. There was this place he used to go to work out, and he’d always be there in the steam room with this big towel around him, with his mohawk and his chains. He was the nicest guy.

“‘Dynasty’: Krystle or Alexis?”

I was “Dallas.” I was Team Charlene Tilton, Team Victoria Principal. I had a little boy crush on Ms. Tilton and Ms. Principal. Maybe a little more than a boy crush.

“Tiffany or Debbie Gibson?”

I used to hear those things and try to re-enact medieval truncheon battles. I would be anti-Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.

Vanity Fair

“Is sexting the modern equivalent of standing on somebody’s lawn with a boombox, blaring a Peter Gabriel song?”

I guess it is. Either that or Twittering. As long as you can tell somebody how you feel in 140 characters or less.

“You’re not even slightly sentimental for the ’80s? “

I don’t know. Not really. I personally remember it being a kind of dark decade.

“Why? Because John Mahoney wouldn’t let you date his daughter?”

I remember the ’80s being about the Cold War and Reagan and the homeless problem and AIDS. To me, it was kind of a dark, depressing time. I thought those “Morning in America” commercials were fucking scary.

Associated Press:

“Were you more Motley Crue or The Cure?”

I was more of the Clash, Fishbone, The Jam.

“If you had a real hot tub time machine that worked, where would you go and why?”

It would be pretty fun if you could go back to when your favorite bands were first playing. Like if you were a drummer, you could go back to Liverpool right when the Beatles fired Pete Best and they’re looking for a drummer and replace Ringo Starr. There could be a couple historic opportunities there. Or you could go see the Rolling Stones’ first American tour or something, or see David Bowie or see the Sex Pistols when they first came to America at CBGBs. You could do an awesome rock ‘n’ roll tour and see bands’ first explosions.

You could also travel back in time and not meet people that you ended up meeting and going out with. You could avoid a few bad relationships by just actually not bumping into them, so that would be good.


“If you could go back and change something about your life, like your character in Hot Tub Time Machine does, what would it be? “

There’d have to be multiple stops. There’s too many to choose. I’d probably go back and not do some of the movies I did. Unmeet some people that I know.

What is the message of Hot Tub Time Machine?


Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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