“The fun thing about boxing is what it brings up when you do it. You’re afraid that you’ll become a coward and run for your mommy, and you’re also afraid that you’ll become a killer, that you’ll lose control.”
“If my movie does well right now, nobody will care what I said about Iraq. The Dixie Chicks are doing just fine. Do you know why? Because people like their music. People are more tolerant than everyone thinks.”
“I’ve dated some very beautiful women. When I saw their pictures in interviewss, I remember thinking, God, I want to be the guy who gets to sleep with her — and I was the guy who was sleeping with her.”
In a world populated by teen stars gone bad — one in which Danny Bonaduce and Todd Bridges reign supreme — it’s easy to forget that not all young actors grow up to rob gas stations. In fact, John Cusack has become such a respected actor-writer-producer that few people recall he’s been working since he was a teenager. He has managed to make it to the age of 37 without a drug overdose, a sex scandal or a public meltdown. Instead, he’s thrived despite his unconventional career choices. What other star of his generation avoids action-hero roles and focuses most of his energy on playing the brainy everyman in smart, quirky movies that almost, but don’t quite, flirt with being uncommercial — and makes it work?
His first movie role, at the age of 16, was in a tacky sex comedy called Class. But in 1989 he was unforgettable in Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything, in which he plays a kickboxer who stands outside the window of the girl of his dreams (Ione Skye) and blasts Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” on his boom box. Cusack also had memorable roles in The Grifters, City Hall, Con Air, the outrageous Being John Malkovich and the controversial Max, in which he plays a Jewish art dealer who becomes a friend and mentor of aspiring artist Adolf Hitler.
Some of Cusack’s best movies are ones in which he had a strong hand. He co-wrote and co-produced Grosse Pointe Blank, in which he plays a hit man at his high school reunion, and High Fidelity (based on the Nick Hornby novel). In his latest movie, an adaptation of John Grisham’s Runaway Jury, Cusack stars with heavyweights Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman.
Cusack was born into an Irish Catholic family in Evanston, Illinois. His father, Dick, who died this year, was an advertising executive, an actor, a screenwriter and a documentary filmmaker. His mother, Nancy, was a teacher, and three of his siblings, including his sister Joan, are actors. Cusack began acting in his teens and landed his first roles while still in high school. He attended New York University, dropping out after one semester.
Vogue interviews called him “the embodiment of what today’s women want,” but Cusack is circumspect about past relationships with Meg Ryan and Neve Campbell. He’s more open about his other passions, including basketball, boxing and politics. Some of his fans have tried to exploit the last, creating a website devoted to drafting him to run for president of the United States.
After Cusack completed Runaway Jury and before he set off on a vacation in South Africa, Playboy sat him down for an interview at a hotel in Santa Monica, California with contributing editor David Sheff. The actor, unshaven and bleary-eyed, ate a Cobb salad, drank lots of coffee and, when pressed, refused to throw his hat into the presidential ring.
Playboy: High Fidelity poses the question, Is it possible to keep a record collection and a girlfriend at the same time? Is it?
Cusack: I have never been able to keep either, so I wouldn’t know.
Playboy: What seems to be the problem?
Cusack: I stumble over the illusions of romantic love. Some guys never get over it.
Playboy: Why is it bad to be a romantic?
Cusack: It’s not, unless it gets in the way of real relationships. You don’t want to be one of those guys hanging out in clubs at 45.
Playboy: Could that be you? Are you afraid of commitment?
Cusack: I hope it couldn’t be me. No, I don’t have that issue. Well, that’s not true — yes, I do have that issue.
Playboy: Do you or don’t you?
Cusack: I’ve been able to stay in relationships, so no, I don’t, but I admit that commitment is difficult, so yeah, I do.
Playboy: Do we detect — what, conflict?
Cusack: Absolutely not. [smiles wryly]
Playboy: Would you like to settle down?
Cusack: That’s kind of person-specific.
Cusack: I don’t want to settle down and have a family with you.
Playboy: With whom then?
Cusack: That’s what I don’t know. If I knew, I wouldn’t tell you.
Playboy: Why not?
Cusack: I can’t figure what’s in it for me.
Playboy: If you have a crush on someone, you can inform her through us.
Cusack: That’s true, but wouldn’t that be kind of sleazy? Here, in the pages of Playboy — “Hi, my name is John. I’m sixfoot- two and my hobby is water polo, and in my spare time I’m a biochemist. I think donkeys are erotic.” Who do you think I could attract with that rÃ©sumÃ©?
Playboy: Probably a donkey. Are you revealing that you’re not a confirmed bachelor?
Cusack: For some guys it’s not that they’re into bachelor status; they’re just loners.
Playboy: Is being a loner good or bad?
Cusack: There are some good qualities associated with it. You’re not as concerned with other people’s opinions. At times that’s useful.
Playboy: What’s the downside?
Cusack: The downside is that you tend not to rely on other people as much as you should. It has to do with opening up your heart.
Playboy: In most professions complete strangers don’t ask about your sex life. Do you find it annoying that the public wants to know these details?
Cusack: Yes. It’s totally depraved, but so what? I can understand how it’s tricky, because some artists reveal very personal things in their work and then say, “I’m not going to discuss this publicly.” You get all these glimpses into their psyches, and in some ways there’s no boundary at all. But in art it’s different. Parading it is a disaster on a lot of levels.
Playboy: On what levels?
Cusack: Besides being unseemly, it’s a disaster on a business level. If you want to keep people interested in you, the worst thing you can do is go off into the celebrity Ethernet. Who would want to listen to your album or read your book or see you in a movie? It’s not smart, let alone what it does to your psyche.
Playboy: What exactly does it do?
Cusack: To pimp yourself out for no goddamn good reason? To become just another disposable celebrity?
Playboy: On the other hand, is there a price to being so guarded?
Cusack: I’m guarded and cautious, but it’s not that big a deal. I have found a great system for dealing with the stuff they write about me. It’s simple: If you don’t read it, it doesn’t exist. My friends say, “Did you see Us? Did you see what they said about you?” I say, “Get the fuck out of here.” I don’t want to hear some garbage about me. I’ve told my friends, even my mother, “Don’t tell me.” Unless it’s libelous, I don’t want to know.
Playboy: What if it’s flattering?
Cusack: Well, that’s different. [laughs] Actually, I’m talking about the tabloid stuff. Nobody can call any of the people who write that junk “journalists.” They’re jackals. I’m not interested.
Playboy: Do you admit that you sometimes feed into it?
Cusack: Sure, but it’s an awful system. It’s a beast. I participate when I have to. I do interviews and pictures to publicize movies, but you have to be incredibly stupid to express your love to another human being in fucking Us interviews. You’ve got to be on crack.
Playboy: Is this what you have described as celebrity porn?
Cusack: Yes. And sometimes I feel as if all media are porn — political porn, celebrity porn, whatever.
Playboy: Why is it porn?
Cusack: The salaciousness, plus the format: obsessive and addictive. The repetition, the voyeurism. It’s warped, and it warps your perspective on the world. For example, I’ve been out with girls who are on the covers of interviewss.
Playboy: Such as?
Cusack: [Smiling, shaking his head] I’ve dated them — some very beautiful women. When I saw their pictures in the interviewss, I remember thinking, God, I want to be the guy who gets to sleep with her — and I was the guy who was sleeping with her. I still felt that I wanted to be the guy sleeping with the girl whose picture was on the interviews, and I was. The function of the whole industry is to create envy. “Buy our interviews, because here’s the VIP circle you ain’t never getting in, man.” Even if you get in, you aren’t in, because it’s an illusion. I was in and I still wasn’t in.
Playboy: Is it because the women don’t really look like they do on the interviews covers?
Cusack: Yes, and it’s not that they aren’t gorgeous. But they’re not airbrushed in real life. They look like, well, like people. They have irregularities in their skin. It’s why all these celebrities who’ve got the Rolls-Royces and the mansions crack up when the illusion is exhausted. There’s nothing there. The intention of the photographs is to create this unreachable icon. Being human is, by definition, a fall from grace. This culture of these illusions — peak sex, the It girl, the It guy — comes at you like a tidal wave. No one is immune. People mistake actors for real life, and they want people to live up to them.
Playboy: Is that a lot to live up to? Vogue interviews says you’re “the embodiment of what today’s women want.”
Cusack: I don’t know, but if it’s true, give them my number. Seriously, I don’t know what that means. I think they were talking about Johnny Depp.
Playboy: No, it was you. Are you flattered?
Cusack: I don’t know. When anyone writes really nice things, I tend to agree with them. I feel the pedigree of the specific writer is impeccable, that he or she is brilliant.
Playboy: And when it’s unflattering?
Cusack: If they think I’m an idiot, I dismiss them as tabloid trash.
Playboy: Reviewers too?
Cusack: Yes, usually. It really depends on the source. If it’s someone who seems to care about movies, who is thoughtful, who has knowledge, and they write something good, you secretly feel good that they respect your work. You can’t deny that it’s nice to hear.
Playboy: You once said that you watch your movies when they come on cable until you get embarrassed or otherwise horrified. Why do you get embarrassed or horrified?
Cusack: Sometimes it doesn’t bother me, if the movie is good. I saw The Grifters recently. It was my first shot at a real drama. I was 23 or 24 or something. It was interesting; my relationship to it had changed. When you’re young it’s all traumatic. You can’t get a clear perspective. Seeing it much later I was able to enjoy it. I was able to just watch. I’ll watch some of the movies if they come on, but I haven’t made that many good movies. I think a couple of them are good, and I’d watch them for a second, but most of mine I would never watch.
Playboy: Which would you never watch?
Cusack: I’ve forgotten them all.
Playboy: Which are the good ones?
Cusack: I made about six or seven that were probably okay — Malkovich, Max. I like Grosse Point Blank, High Fidelity,Say Anything. Then some are fun and commercial and never aspired to be more than good popcorn movies, and they’re okay, though they’re not necessarily my taste. When I was younger I thought that unless a movie had a certain significance, it was no good. I don’t feel that way anymore.
Playboy: Do you intentionally try to mix up your roles so you make small and big, art and commercial, and heavier and lighter movies?
Cusack: You sort of have to.
Playboy: Why do you have to?
Cusack: I guess you don’t have to do anything. You could leave town, get another job. But if you want to make movies and have the opportunity to make interesting movies, you also have to do some bigger, commercial movies. I don’t think I would have been able to get Max made if it weren’t for the box office profile of some of the bigger movies I’ve done. It’s easier to make a small art movie if you also make the kind I wouldn’t mind going to see on a Saturday night, in a popcorn sense.
Playboy: How do you choose?
Cusack: Scripts, people.
Playboy: How about Runaway Jury?
Cusack: It has an amazing cast of actors, including Bill Nunn and of course Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman.
Playboy: Would someone who has seen most of your movies get a pretty good idea of who you are as a person?
Cusack: Sure. You reveal something about yourself in everything you do, though it only goes so far. I think I get to show more of an array because of the types of movies I do. I’m not a traditional leading man in Hollywood movie-star kinds of roles. Those guys generally get to present one thing. You become a brand, like Pepsi. They want to make sure that when people open the can, they get what they expect. You still get a sense of the actor’s soul, but not much. Those movies are interested in little snapshots of humans, but not real humans. It’s a certain kind of acting with that brand-recognition quality to it.
Playboy: Is it a particularly good or bad time in the movie business?
Cusack: For big movies it’s a bad time. The bigger movies are leaving people unsatisfied, and many aren’t doing any business, no matter how much money they put into the marketing. It’s probably never been worse for the studios. From what I can see, they’re making really bad stuff. Everything is a sequel, the Charlie’s Angels thing: more than, bigger than, louder than. For smaller, more independent movies, however, it’s a relatively good time. There’s a lot of great indie stuff. With new technologies you can make movies really cheaply, so it’s easier to be profitable. Of course, if you make a movie, you want to see it on the big screen, which is harder to do than ever. If a movie doesn’t open big, it can’t hold a theater. On the other hand, there are many new markets for movies. You can sell a film to Bravo, Sundance, Flix, Starz, the markets in Europe, DVDs and video. Max, which pretty much got snuffed upon its release in America, has a life. People will see it on DVD, video and cable. It will show up in revival houses here and there. It’s being released in Europe and Asia. All this means that it’s a good and bad time: It’s almost impossible for a movie to come out and open and make its place in the market, but it’s almost impossible to kill it.
Playboy: Yet some of your movies seem to combine smallness and independence with commercial success.
Cusack: Yeah, some were hits, but for most of them, the total box office domestic gross would be a disappointing weekend for the big action movies. Some of what we define as success has to do with expectations. These days the studios spend $40 million and put a movie in a howitzer: “Open your mouth, because we’re going to blow this thing down your throat.” But the nice thing is they can’t really buy longevity no matter what they do. You can say something is a classic, you can spend millions to promote it, but it still won’t make people see it, talk about it, remember it. You don’t make movies like Max or Malkovich because you want to blow everyone out of the water on the opening weekend. You do it because you love it.
Playboy: What persuaded you to be in Being John Malkovich?
Cusack: A while ago I went to someone at my agency and said, “Look, I know it’s the era of romantic comedies, but what’s the craziest, most twisted thing you guys have? I want to read something that will blow my mind.” Someone asked, “Have you read the Charlie Kaufman script?” It was a famous, unproducible script. It had been around for years. It was one of the funniest things I’d ever read. I told my agent, “If this ever gets set up and I don’t get a meeting on it, I’m leaving the agency.” When the director Spike Jonze got hold of it, I was the first one in the door.
Playboy: Did you have to persuade Jonze to cast you?
Cusack: I think he liked me, but he didn’t know whether I would ugly up. I don’t know how I’m perceived, but I guess he had this image of me as — maybe he thought I would want to look pretty in a movie, wouldn’t be willing to go out there, to lose it. I was thrilled to get ugly.
Playboy: How did John Malkovich feel about his portrayal in that movie?
Cusack: At one point, before it was set, he called me. “Hey, Johnny, we’ve got to do this. It’s so fucking mean. It’s about me being an asshole, but you know, fuck it, I am an asshole.”
Playboy: Before that was Con Air. Was that your bid to be an action-movie hero?
Cusack: I don’t mind action movies. I like to go see them on Saturday nights with my friends. I laugh at them. I liked the director, and a lot of really good actors were in it. To be honest, I thought, This is a chance to go get your name above the title of something that makes a couple hundred million dollars. I liked working with Jerry Bruckheimer. Unlike many producers, he actually means what he says, does what he says. He makes crazy, theme-park-ride types of movies, which is exactly what he wants to make. I’d much rather work with someone like that than somebody who pretends to be a great friend to the artist and meanwhile is hustling you left and right.
Playboy: What led to High Fidelity?
Cusack: My friends and I, with whom I had made Grosse Pointe Blank, were asked to do it by Disney. They probably thought of us because we were all snobs about music and art and books, and maybe we had also exhibited emotional angst in the field of romantic love.
Playboy: Though Nick Hornby’s book was set in London, did you relate to it?
Cusack: Every word of it. If you replaced the British obsession with American R&B with the American obsession about the punk rock movement and the British invasion, I lived it. If you change the record store in England to the Record Exchange in Chicago, I was there.
Playboy: Did you collect records?
Cusack: I’m not a collector. I have things, but they leave.
Playboy: Where do they go?
Cusack: Somebody borrows them, or I say, “You’ve got to read this book” and I give it away. Every time. I never hold on to anything. My library kind of looks like I don’t read, but that’s just because I don’t have any books.
Playboy: Do you save anything?
Cusack: There’s a plastic buffalo that’s followed me around from house to house, and I don’t know why.
Playboy: The guys in High Fidelity had top 10 lists for just about every situation. Do you?
Cusack: I’m the worst guy to list anything. I remember specific movies, or whatever, but I can’t give you a list.
Playboy: Do you remember any specific movies or books that changed your life?
Cusack: When we were kids, my parents went out of town, and we had a friend of the family come and stay with us. The guy decided to take us to the 10 o’clock show of Apocalypse Now. I don’t know how old I was. I walked out in a daze. I think it was seeing the power that the medium could have, how deep it could go. It happened a few other times with books, a record, whatever. Once, my school assignment was to read To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it all night. Those things change you forever. Another one was Hunter Thompson.
Playboy: Do you miss Chicago?
Cusack: I keep a place there. I’ve lived in and out of Chicago my whole life. I was born and raised there. I always thought it was kind of a cleaner and more manageable New York City. It’s tougher in ways that are more subtle and distinct from New York. It’s a huge city, has the best jazz and blues in the world, great museums, mean-ass winters and great food.
Playboy: And there’s basketball.
Cusack: Yeah, though it’s not the same since Michael Jordan retired. I was there for the Camelot of basketball. The whole city would shut down. You’d have a really dark, cold, windy night, and literally the whole city would stop. Every night he would do some magical thing, and the city would just be in awe. It was an amazingly fun time. To me, after the Bulls were done, basketball was just not as good a sport anymore.
Playboy: Do you watch other sports?
Cusack: Football, baseball, and I’m a big boxing fan — boxing and kickboxing.
Playboy: Have you ever been in the ring?
Cusack: Yes, and I train a little. I do boxing, kickboxing, semiregularly. I haven’t done it in a while, but I’ll try to commit to doing it two or three times a week.
Playboy: In Say Anything your character wanted to kickbox professionally. How about in real life?
Cusack: I’m dumb, but I’m not stupid.
Playboy: What is it about boxing?
Cusack: It’s a guilty pleasure. The theater of pro boxing is so real. It’s insane. It takes incredible courage, almost beyond imagination. The boxers risk their lives. They’re right on the edge, and that makes for amazing raw theater. The athletes are incredible.
Playboy: How about when you’re in the ring?
Cusack: The fun thing about it is what it brings up when you do it. Nothing’s more primal than the fear of someone physically assaulting you, right? It brings up polar extremes. You’re afraid that you’ll become a total coward and run screaming for your blanket and your mommy, and you’re also afraid that you’ll become a killer, that you’ll lose control.
Playboy: Have both of those happened to you?
Cusack: They have. I get the gestalt of it. Another thing I love is helicopter skiing. I’ve done it in this place up in Canada. It’s actually a good place to learn, as psychotic as that may sound. The reason is that you’re skiing in powder; it’s not all packed snow. If you fall, you fall into powder, so you’re not going to hit a tree. You’re not going to hit anybody else.
Playboy: In Grosse Pointe Blank your character, a hit man, goes to his high school reunion. Did you go to yours?
Cusack: I did. I made a bet with the guys I made the movie with that if the movie got a green light, we would go to our reunion. We were kind of terrified that we would actually get to make the movie, because then we’d have to go.
Playboy: What was it like?
Cusack: It was everything. Joanie said it best in the movie: “Everybody just swelled” — that is, they were all swollen versions of themselves.
Playboy: You’ve worked with your sister Joan in many of your films. Does working with a sibling add difficulties?
Cusack: Not for me. It’s effortless. We have the greatest shorthand in the world. We just get each other’s sensibilities. It’s like a point guard. All you’ve got to do is come down the court, look left, throw the ball, and she’ll be there.
Playboy: You also worked with your father, who wrote documentaries.
Cusack: When I was little he went into advertising to support the family, but yeah, later he started a documentary film company and made films for the United Nations, wrote some plays and made commercials for the Santa Fe Railroad. My family was passionate about movies. They exposed us to art. They took me to plays, and Mom was always reading. Art was fuel and medicine.
Playboy: Are you and Joan the only fulltime actors?
Cusack: Ann’s an actress too. She’s doing a David Kelley show right now. And my brother Bill works too.
Playboy: We read that your parents were politically radical. Did it rub off on you?
Cusack: Yes. My mother was probably more into social protest, but my father was involved too. My father was from the World War II generation. His reaction to Vietnam was shaped by his experiences in the earlier war.
Playboy: Did your parents take you to protest marches?
Cusack: No, and they never insisted that we think like them, though they did try to make me a Catholic.
Playboy: Were they successful?
Cusack: No. They made me go to church until I was old enough to rebel against it.
Playboy: Was your childhood easy or traumatic? Were you popular with girls?
Cusack: It got better once I got into the film business.
Playboy: So actors get more action?
Cusack: I think so. It was a pretty good trump card in high school: “Yeah, I just did a movie.” Before that, I could never get the really fantastic girls to talk to me. They were into the jocks or whoever — the popular guy, who wasn’t me. I did a play, and some of the girls saw it. They started looking at me a little bit differently. Then they saw me in a movie, and I got a little more play.
Playboy: Of course, that was never your motivation for wanting to become an actor, right?
Cusack: One can argue that that’s the motivation for everything.
Playboy: Did you consider quitting school to act?
Cusack: Not really. It was just understood that I could act and go to school. I did three movies before I graduated. Then I did some plays, went to Africa and then went to NYU for a semester before dropping out and going back to the movies.
Playboy: Why did you drop out?
Cusack: I think I just had too much fire in the belly. I probably couldn’t sit still long enough.
Playboy: Have you ever regretted quitting?
Cusack: Sure, but not anymore. I’ve gotten a unique education in my life. I can’t say that I’ve been deprived of anything. What are you going to do? You’ve got to go with what you got.
Playboy: Have you thought about the impact your early success had on you compared with actors who struggle for decades? Would you be more –
Playboy: We were going to say –
Cusack: Less of an asshole? To be an actor in the first place, you have to have a problem. And if you want to survive, you’d better deal with your problem.
Playboy: Why do you have to have a problem?
Cusack: Because why would anyone need that much attention?
Playboy: Is it about attention?
Cusack: On some level. A lot of people don’t need that much attention, though of course it’s not just about that.
Playboy: One of your earliest movies was The Sure Thing. You were only around 19 when you made it. What do you remember about the experience?
Cusack: I was happy to get the job with this guy Rob Reiner, who had just made Spinal Tap. I was thrilled. He taught me a lot. He also set a pretty high standard for other directors. Funnily enough, the other directors who have done as well, in my view, have been actors too: Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood. As actors and performers they both really understand actors. They have a lot in common. Clint’s easier to talk to, but they’re both gentlemen. They’re both musicians. They’re both competent-enough artists to be very confident, and their confidence has sort of a generosity to it.
Playboy: Were you intimidated working with them?
Cusack: Maybe at first, but then you forget all that. You’re just working with them. When I was a kid I got to work with Paul Newman, and I was terrified.
Playboy: Your most controversial movie is Max. Did you know it would cause a storm?
Cusack: I expected it, though I didn’t expect people to attack the movie without having seen it. People condemned the film before they had seen a frame of it, which I thought was kind of fantastic, in a way.
Playboy: Was the most fierce criticism that you humanized Adolf Hitler?
Cusack: Yeah. How dare I humanize evil? I’m sorry to inform people that it’s a human endeavor. It’s a serious movie, but it’s a moral one. People were upset with the idea. It’s taboo to suggest that Hitler was a human being. After September 11, anybody who dared suggest that it might be worth trying to understand Osama bin Laden or his followers was vilified. That’s not helpful.
Playboy: Many performers and writers, including the Dixie Chicks, Susan Sontag and Bill Maher, were attacked for voicing unpopular opinions.
Cusack: Which is lunacy. It’s not helpful to view evil in a superficial way. I mean, it’s comforting, but it’s medicine that makes you sicker. You have to learn from history, which is complex and dynamic. The one original idea Hitler had was that art and politics would be forever fused and that whoever controls images and symbols — the aesthetics of art in a political sense — has the power. In that way Hitler was completely ahead of his time. Max, the character I play, saw all these great artists processing their World War I experiences in their work, with honesty. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not like somebody sneezes and it’s on a canvas. It takes great courage; you have to look within yourself. But Hitler didn’t have the honesty, or the ability, to do that. He made all these choices to avoid that responsibility as an artist. He knew art was about ideas and that ideas are power, though. He appropriated the aesthetics of art, opera, performance art, light, dance, movement. He put them into the canvas of politics. He was a lunatic, but his ideas about images and the power of images were right, of course.
Playboy: How bad was Hitler’s art?
Cusack: It was mediocre. It wasn’t connected to him. It’s like somebody coming back from street fighting in Baghdad and painting a nice picture of a daffodil. It’s disconnected from anything. He was disconnected from himself. Remember Bush landing on the aircraft carrier? It was all theater. It was all about the power of images. That’s the idea presented in Max. Then there’s the reaction against it all, the desire to turn back the clock, the Taliban or the Islamic fundamentalists who would like us to live in the seventh century. Why did these Taliban guys blow up those Buddhist temples in the mountains? It wasn’t because there was an arms cache underneath them. There was no gold there. It was because the symbols and images have power. Art taps into people’s unconscious, their psyches. The reason the planes that hit the World Trade Center were delayed, one and then the other, was because they knew that once the first plane hit, every camera in the world would be on the buildings when the second plane hit. It was demonic; that was a conscious part of it. It wasn’t just a murder, it was the iconography of the murder that was inherent in it.
Playboy: You were criticized for suggesting that the World Trade Center attacks were good art.
Cusack: Of course that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying what others have said: The attack was as devastating as it was, beyond the number of dead, because of the nightmares it implanted in the heads of Americans. They were planted intentionally. The hope was to create chaos and fear, to cripple the economy.
Playboy: With cusackforpresident.com, a Democratic operative attempted to organize a political campaign that would draft you into the race. Have you considered running?
Playboy: Who is behind the Cusack-for-president campaign?
Cusack: Some guy. I asked him to stop it. Now I think I’m going to see if I can take that organization and swing it to one of the Democrats. These days I’m really interested in the people from the left who want to work with the people on the right. I’m interested in the way Bono has made inroads. Bono works with people whose politics may repel him, but things are accomplished. He worked with Jesse Helms and, as a result, helped reduce Third World debt. He met with Bush.
Playboy: Many people on the left think that sitting down with Bush or Helms and reaching a compromise is the ultimate in selling out.
Cusack: Not if you get the debt reduced, not if you reach your goal. I’m not giving a blanket endorsement of Clinton centrism, but I am saying that the races are going to have to live together. There’s going to be a right wing and a left wing — we’re going to have to live together. That won’t change. Finding a way to live together, finding common ground, is better than ranting and raving at one another. If you rant and rave from your corner, I know who’s going to win: the far, far right.
Playboy: Will you work in the next presidential election?
Cusack: It’s pretty important to unseat Bush, in my view.
Playboy: Is there a chance?
Cusack: He has a pretty impressive rÃ©sumÃ© of incompetence so far.
Playboy: Do you have a favorite among the other candidates?
Cusack: I don’t know. I think people are starting to realize that Bush is very disciplined, that he’s a much better politician than his father. He’s not an idiot at all.
Playboy: Did you underestimate him last time?
Cusack: We all did, completely. It’s going to be difficult, but of course I think it’s possible. We have the radical right and the media to contend with, including Fox News and MSNBC.
Playboy: What’s the impact of the rightwing media?
Cusack: They help shape the debate. They try to convince people that it’s unpatriotic to question things about this country. I don’t know if Ben Franklin or any of the founding fathers would approve of that trend.
Playboy: Are actors who have opposed President Bush’s war in Iraq being blackballed?
Cusack: Look, if my movie does well right now, nobody will care what I said about Iraq. The Dixie Chicks are doing just fine. Do you know why? Because people like their music. I think people are more tolerant of ideas and opinions than everyone thinks. The Dixie Chicks are appealing to people, and they have a right to say what they want to say. The attack dogs can come out and try to ruin them, but it’s not going to work.
Playboy: Who has attacked you?
Cusack: One of the angry Irish Republican guys.
Playboy: Bill O’Reilly?
Cusack: Yes, he or Sean Hannity. One of those guys said something. So what?
Playboy: Are they right when they describe Hollywood as liberal?
Cusack: Well, there’s corporate Hollywood — Stallone, Schwarzenegger. They never seem to attack those guys. Remember when they used to attack the family-values thing, when they said that Hollywood was destroying the family? Which meant that Hollywood was making more gay movies, whatever that means. Notice that they never attacked the guys who have a death count of a million people by the opening credits. Those are family values we can live with.
Playboy: If you’re so politically concerned, why is it unthinkable that you would run for office?
Cusack: I don’t think it’s such a good job.
Playboy: Not as good as acting?
Cusack: You have to take an incredible beating every day. Movies may ultimately not have any great political significance, but they’re what I do. And it’s not just that. I believe art is important. As an actor you get to make all these movies, and once in a while you may even make a movie that falls into the category of art. When you do, you may be doing something worthwhile with your life. Or maybe not.