Through a thick cloud of smoke, John Cusack appears. It’s not an elaborate magic trick. Instead the actor is sitting back in his hotel room and puffing contentedly on a large cigar. Smoking laws be damned.
“I got into these when I visited Argentina,” the 45-year-old actor tells us as he exhales another pungent plume. “Since I have no idea what time it is and I can’t drink any more coffee, I thought a cigar would help.”
This is partly down to jetlag. Cusack flew into London the night before our interview to promote his new film The Raven — a gory thriller in which he plays Edgar Allan Poe — and it’s clearly affecting him. We blink back the smoke and get down to business.
You lost 25lb for the part of Poe — was that tough?
Yeah, but it was fun. That’s one part of the job that’s great — when you immerse yourself in what you’re doing. But it needs to be the right role, otherwise it just looks like a stunt.
Was that as ‘method’ as you got? Poe was a notorious drunk — presumably you weren’t necking brandies for ‘research’?
I remember enough of those days from my early twenties, so I had plenty of experience to draw on [laughs]. I’ve run with some lunatics in my time.
Hunter S Thompson comes to mind…
Hunter was very Poe. I thought of him a lot during The Raven. I think he liked people more than Poe did. If you were friends with Hunter, you were really tight with him. But he was also someone not to be f*cked with. He could be dangerous.
Did he ever turn on you?
He got mad at me a few times. It wasn’t fun. I once bet against him on a Minnesota Vikings vs Chicago Bears [NFL] game and he lost. He wanted to double the bet, but I said, “No, just pay me.” And he was like, [adopts ‘Hunter’ voice] “You motherf*cking c*cksucker!” and hung up. Then he called me later and pretended it had never happened [laughs].
You once said one of the perks of fame was always being able to get restaurant reservations. What are the others?
Well, I keep waiting for there to be one at airport security, but if anything it’s a reverse perk. If they see someone famous, they have to check everything. They want to know what’s in my shampoo bottle. They take everything out of my suitcase.
Matthew Broderick revisited Ferris Bueller for an ad. Have you turned down vast sums of money to hoist an iPod dock above your head in a Say Anything… update?
You know, I wish I had, but I’m in the horrible position of being the person who tried to sell out and couldn’t [laughs]. I would love it if someone offered me a sh*tload of money to do something really stupid, but they never do. So, you know… show me the money.
Since learning it for Say Anything… in 1989 you’ve become an avid kickboxer. Have you ever had to use it?
No. The whole idea of doing that stuff is that you don’t need to use it. But also, I’m old. I’m in my forties; I don’t want to fight anybody. So, I’m not going into sports bars full of rugby players because fame, alcohol and testosterone are not a good combination. You know what’s going to happen [when people recognise you]. But, saying that, I don’t generally have aggression coming at me.
Nicolas Cage describes his acting style as ‘nouveau shamanic’ — did you witness this on the set of Con Air? Or do you have your own style?
[Laughs] “Nouveau shamanic”? That’s good. What would mine be? I’d probably be neo shamanic. It sounds like it could be a classic acting style. It sounds new and old at the same time. Actually, forget that — mine would be Nero shamanic. I dress like a mad emperor and stumble around.
You have around 800,000 Twitter followers. Other than proof of your popularity, what attracts you to it?
I like the idea that there’s so much information around. I’m interested in politics. I can follow writers I like and tweet their stuff. Lots of people hate it, and say, “You’re an actor, you should stick to that,” but I just block them [laughs]. If people say nasty sh*t to me, I’ll say nasty sh*t right back. Also, I don’t know how to work my phone’s spellcheck, so I’m always misspelling. People get furious about that, which I find hilarious. I purposely make more errors if people start complaining. Tell your readers to follow me — @johncusack.
Do you think things like Twitter make it tougher for young actors today? Every move they make is instantly across the globe…
Yeah, it must be harder now. We could probably get away with more when I was younger. But I’m lucky — I had my fun and nobody got hurt.
You’re a staunch supporter of the Democrats — would it annoy you if someone such as Sarah Palin said she loved your films?
No, I think it would be funny, because it would prove she clearly didn’t know anything about me.
What is your next project going to be?
There’s a film I co-wrote called Pipe Dream. It’s about what would happen if an anarchist poet, like a Bukowski figure, fell in love with the daughter of someone like Rupert Murdoch. So it’s Montagues and Capulets; they love each other but their worlds are primordially destined to clash violently.
Maybe you could approach Murdoch to play the father?
No, that won’t be happening [laughs]. I don’t think it’ll be a Fox movie, put it that way.
The Raven is at cinemas nationwide from 9 March
(Image: All Star)