Interview: John Cusack On 2012 And The Magic Of Roland Emmerich
John Cusack has been a certain kind of hero for decades now-- every guy wants the guts to serenade his crush like Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, or the limitless pop culture knowledge of Rob Gordon in High Fidelity. But only in 2012 is he really taking charge as a hero, helping his ex-wife and their children escape the mayhem and destruction that occurs when, well, the world begins to end.
In a roundtable interview last week, Cusack said it was fun to have the chance to play the everyman turned hero, but maybe even more fun to drink near-beers with Woody Harrelson and marvel at how director Roland Emmerich pulled off the whole spectacle. Read below for our conversation with him. 2012 opens this Friday.
Did you get sick of acting in front of all the green screen in this movie?
The green screen is not as bad as it looks because there was this huge set design. So the green screen would really be in the back of the sets. It was just like making a regular movie really. Every once in a while if you're in a car, obviously that's green screen, but the car would be on hydraulics and things would be happening to it but mostly you were on sets just dealing with actors. All the underwater stuff that was just a set that they would submerge in a tank. It wasn't like we were sort of sitting in a blank room with light sabers. There was a world that you'd step into each day, a production design. It was a massive production design.
What was it like playing the hero, the guy who was always right and putting everything together?
It was fun. It was nice to get offered the movie, but it was very much like a guy just sort of surviving an extra sort of ten, twenty yards, trying to survive another hour. It's a big popcorn movie and so some of it is fantastic and surreal, but mostly he was just sort of an average person trying to survive.
Do you see bigger action roles in your future?
I don't know, it depends. If I get offered the good ones. This was a great one. It was Sony's big movie and Roland [Emmerich] who's one of the few directors who can do whatever he wants because he's so successful.
How was it then to work with Roland?
As I was saying, there's not that many directors who have that complete thing, like they have final cut and they tell you the budget, decide how much money they want to spend and hire whatever actors they want. There are like four or five directors like that in the world.
Did he let you input things of your own into your character and into the film?
Yeah. He just hires actors that he likes. He's always loved George Segal, and so he gave George Segal the role in the movie because he was a big George Segal fan. So it's not really like a corporate deal with him. I think as he's learned over the work on his movies, the special effects are only going to be as good as the characters that you cut to, so you have to still care about the characters. The movie is kind of elegantly written. It takes about an hour before anything happens. It's all setup, and then once things happen the geography gets smaller where people are saved and the time runs out. He actually spends more time having the characters trying to reconcile their relationships. Most movies, once the action starts there's no more characters. You say a couple of dumb lines and then there's just explosions until the end. In the second and third act here though there are long conversations between people who are trying to make their relationships right. It's structured a little differently than most action movies.
You've worked with Amanda Peet before. Was it just a coincidence that she got cast in this?
Totally. She's a friend. We sort of figured that they'd stop us from working together because they always like to pair you up with someone new but they keep saying, 'Do you want to do it with Amanda?' We said, 'Yeah.' It's kind of like when I've worked with my sister. I've worked with my sister a bunch and I keep waiting for someone to say we can't do it and I figure we'll keep doing it until someone says that we can't. Why not? We'll just see if we can keep getting away with it.
How does Roland Emmerich manage the actors on one level and the hugeness of the films on another?
There aren't too many directors in the world that can work on both of those levels in the same way or have the freedom to. As I was reading it, you'd read the script and go, 'I have no idea how you would even begin to shoot that because the scale is so big.' He did that and he wrote the screenplay. He had as much time for the actors, too, as he did for the special effects. It was like the Superbowl somehow. You had no idea how anyone could actually produce that. I was just glad that I was there. I just had to keep showing up and acting and I wasn't responsible for all the machines, the sets lower into the water and things starting to explode. I didn't have to deal with that.
Can you talk a little about working with Woody Harrelson? He's pretty funny and pretty improvisational, I would imagine.
Yeah, it's fun. I got to know him and hang out with him there. I'm trying to think, how do you describe Woody? He's an American original, I think. There's nobody like him and probably nobody who will be like him. They definitely broke the mold with him.
How many beers did you guys go through in that scene?
They're near beers on the set though because you don't want to get too drunk while you have professional obligations but I didn't check with Woody. Maybe Woody was drinking real beers. He might’ve slid those in.
You've done so many types of movies. Is there anything in the business, either acting or maybe directing, that you want to try that you haven't done yet?
I don't want to produce anymore small or independent movies because it's just too hard these days. I think I'd rather just work with the best people I can. I just get excited if I can read something that excites me or excited about an idea, like doing something with Woody sounds really [great]. That excites me. Certain filmmakers I can see, like a young filmmaker like Kathryn Bigelow's 'The Hurt Locker'. I saw that and I said, 'Oh, man, I'd like to make a movie with Kathryn Bigelow.' That gets me excited, seeing someone who's doing what I think is great work that I can sort of imagine. So I think towards that rather than a certain kind of genre.
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