John Cusack on the dark heart of the film industry and playing Brian Wilson...
Your new film Maps To The Stars is a satire on Hollywood. There’s incest, murder, suicide, therapy. Is it that messed-up in real life?
The satire and absurdity is a logical extension of current truth and trends. Maybe [the film]’s a look into the future. There’s nothing less obscene or crazy than the stuff you see every day.
The way child stars are treated isn’t great…
Yeah, it’s brutal. I got into films [at the age] where it can do a lot of damage – 16. I started with people who got damaged.
Did you had a lucky escape?
Yes, but it’s different now. It’s much worse than it was. Back then, there was expectation of a private life. There were areas you could go and make mistakes [without media attention], because what else are you going to do between 16 and 25 but make mistakes?
And now there are a million cameras to catch the mistakes.
It’s like the Eye Of Sauron. Here we are in Toronto [at the Toronto International Film Festival], and there’s a TV channel doing live ‘breaking news’ coverage that is tracking – in real time – Justin Bieber’s movements into a mall. This movie is tame in comparison.
Your character in the film is a lifestyle guru and therapist who ‘Rolfs’ [deep-tissue massages] Julianne Moore. Do you indulge in any unusual techniques?
I’m into that stuff. I’ve done Rolfing. As an actor you’re into it because you look into how you internalise emotion. Your whole body is your ‘thing’, right? One part I think is true is that your emotions, memories and trauma get stored in your body – if you press into them then you can release them. But then the emotions come back up. There are always truths in these hustles.
Has LA changed much from ‘The Viper Room’ days of the Eighties and Nineties?
I don’t spend much time there now. When I was there, there was a very cool underground film scene and a culture where you could go see music… I remember going to see Perry Farrell play in an empty bar. Or Fishbone. Or No Doubt. There was that sense of a scene happening.
Was filmmaking different?
Yeah. There was a studio system, but even that was different. Totally. It’s all corporate now. Friends of mine from Pittsburgh say, “It was much better when the Mob ran things” [laughs]. It got privatised and corporatised. So the movie business used to be Mobby, now it’s Goldman-Sachsy.
There’d be guys and it’d be their studio, their company. Like, you had Joe Roth at Disney and he’d make these huge tentpole movies – like Con Air, which I did – but then he’d have six or seven slots on his portfolio which he’d give to artists he liked. So, I got to make High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank, Spike Lee got to make Summer Of Sam, Wes Anderson got to make Rushmore. These were studio movies, but we didn’t get f*cked with at all. Those guys aren’t there any more. It was better when it was those big ego guys.
One kind of film that always makes money is superhero films. Ever been tempted?
I’ve done a couple of huge movies, but it’s a strange thing, hard to quantify. Nowadays I do some journeyman-ish films that are the best that I can get, then I take that money and use it to develop other things. It’s like two totally different careers. If you can get a superhero movie, you get it, but they aren’t offering me one…
You’re playing Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy. Was it strange to play someone still alive?
I spent time with him and his wife Melinda, so I got to know him and he let me immerse myself as much as I could. It was important to me that they felt happy. And the music – the Pet Sounds sessions, the Smile sessions – they’re treasures of US musical history – you can hear how they created the music.
Do you listen to new music?
I’m always really ahead of the curve or far behind it. But there isn’t that platform for music and film that there used to be. Anything new is swallowed and corporatised immediately. When I was growing up, you could never think about going to a concert and seeing a Budweiser sign. [Raises his right fist] What does this mean any more? You’re not a Black Panther at the Olympics. It means nothing. It seems like everyone’s working to empty slogans.
You’re prolific on Twitter. What do you get out of it?
I see it as a place to f*ck around, but it’s interesting to hear from people who are into what you’re doing. Some of them are fans in a freaky way… You can also curate content. I get my news feed from people I’m interested in. If I want to know about foreign affairs or politics, I follow journalists I think are awesome. You can create this eclectic mulch. Or just f*ck around and post sh*t.
Maps To The Stars is at cinemas from 26 September
[Images: Entertainment One]