A Chat with Joan Cusack, Joan Cusack interview, "War, Inc."

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Don't miss Jonathan Flax's interview with John Cusack.

Although Joan Cusack is a well-respected character actress, not to mention a two-time Oscar nominee (first for “Working Girl,” then for “In & Out”), it would not be untrue to suggest that a hallmark of her career has been her tendency to appear in supporting roles in films starring her brother, John. Think about it: there’s “Say Anything,” “Gross Pointe Blank,” “High Fidelity,” “Martian Child,” and – most recently – “War, Inc.,” which continues its slow but steady infiltration of America by opening in Washington, DC, on June 20th. Bullz-Eye spoke with Cusack about the controversial political satire, how much it meant to her brother (who also co-wrote the film), and what it means to her, and we also asked her about some of her upcoming appearances sans John and a few items from her back catalog.

Bullz-Eye: Hey, Joan, how are you?

Joan Cusack: Hi, I’m fine. I’m sorry about the delay.

BE: No problem. I’d already told Ryan (the publicist) that I didn’t have any other interviews today, so you weren’t backing up on anyone.

JC: Oh, okay, good. We just got a new dog a little while ago, and we had the dog trainer come by today. We’re having a little, uh, accident problem, so I was on the phone with the steam cleaners. So I had that going.

BE: (Laughs) Well, I can understand where that would take priority.

JC: (Reassuringly) It just ran over, that’s all. It didn’t take priority.

BE: Oh, okay. I feel better, then. Well, I was able to check out a screener of “War, Inc.” – fortunately, since it still hasn’t opened in my area yet – and I enjoyed it…

JC: Oh, good, I’m glad.

BE: …but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it’s really getting some mixed reviews. Do you think that’s because some folks just can’t appreciate a serious message being delivered in a humorous manner?

JC: You know, I think that sometimes that’s the best way a serious message can be delivered. The old spoonful-of-sugar works pretty well. I think that sort of the way John’s described it, the kind of punk rock, indie spirit…he tried to get as much money as he could to get the movie made as fast as he could, then kind of sneak it out there. You don’t always get the most support and time to perfect something, so I think it has kind of a raw quality to it that may not add to its…what’s the word? Accessibility. But I think that his heart’s in the right place, and it’s one of those things where…it’s like a candidate. You’ve just gotta get out there and see it and vote for indie political movies that are trying.

BE: I know the phrase “cult hit” has been bandied about.

JC: Well, that’s good.

BE: Do you consider that description an acceptable accomplishment for it, then?

JC: Hey, yeah, it sounds great!

BE: I loved your character’s line about how you were finally getting a chance to put your communications degree to work. As a journalist, I can appreciate that.

JC: (Laughing) Jumping back for a moment, this is my thing: unless you’ve ever actually tried to get a movie made, you have to understand that it’s worth doing, just because it’s so hard to do. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to get a movie made yourself…

BE: I have not.

JC: It’s so incredibly difficult, and it’s so incredibly competitive, and it takes so much raw determination, unyielding, unflinching determination to get something made, especially something that’s obviously not mainstream. Even getting something mainstream made isn’t easy to do, so it boggles my mind how hard John worked to get some of the movies he’s done made, and how he’s gotten them made. It’s just 24/7. It’s the ultimate sales job, putting everything out there, leveraging everything. It’s just so hard to get something made, it’s just unbelievable. Even someone like John, who’s done a lot of things and had success in his indie kind of way, with “Grosse Pointe Blank” or whatever, it’s just incredibly difficult.

“I’m more psychological than political, I think, although I’m interested in the psychology of politics as well. If (‘War, Inc.’) had been my movie, it would’ve been all about George Bush and his relationship with his father.”

BE: I would guess that some of the cast members were sold on the script rather than the salary, just because they were so in agreement with the message.

JC: That and the tone of it. And John just has so much passion about what he does that I think…I mean, my latest take on the movie industry is that if you weren’t manic-depressive going into it, which a lot of people are (Laughs), you wind up that way, because it’s just such an unstable business. The highest highs, the lowest lows, first you’re going to be “it,” then you’re not “it,” and there are yes-men and blah blah blah. But at the end of the day, something like this, it’s just very clear that “War, Inc.” is a movie where so much of what they’re doing is because they truly, authentically, passionately believe in it. You get the best of John in that way. He’s so smart, charming, charismatic, and funny, and he was just so fun to be with while doing this movie. I mean, he’s always funny…

BE: Yeah, I was just going to ask, “But isn’t he fun all the time?” (Laughs)

JC: He is, he is. But, yeah, it was just great on this particular film.

BE: You got to deliver the great joke where you held up a book entitled “How I Conquered The World and Worked Out Issues with My Dad” and referred to its author as “you know who.” Did you get a giggle out of that gag?

JC: Actually, that was my contribution. I’m more psychological than political, I think, although I’m interested in the psychology of politics as well. If it had been my movie, it would’ve been all about George Bush and his relationship with his father. But that’s the difference between me and John. I can talk about a million movies I might make, but he actually makes them. So I got to slip that line in, and I was happy.

BE: Do you have the same kind of writing aspirations as him, even though you haven’t necessarily proceeded with them? According to IMDb, you do have at least one writing credit to your name, though it’s actually for a film that reportedly doesn’t actually have any dialogue.

JC: Interesting. I didn’t even know that!

BE: Well, as you know, IMDB is accurate 100% of the time…

JC: Uh-huh. (Laughs)

BE: …but they have you listed as a co-writer on “The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez.”

JC: Oh, that’s funny.

BE: So do you have writing aspirations, then?

JC: I don’t. It’s not my gift. I have ideas and visions, but I’d be more of the Mariah Carey school, where I can’t do any of that. But I hear things in my head that I’d love for someone else to write down. (Laughs)

BE: You’re an actress who can say as much with a look as you can with anything provided to you in the script. Have you always been expressive in that manner, or is it something that’s come over the course of time with your acting?

JC: I think that, for better or worse, part of our training was, “Show, don’t tell.” Later on in life, it works better if you tell, if you use your words to actually communicate what it is you actually need, but in training initially, it was helpful. So I think that was part of that training.

BE: I wanted to ask you about a couple of your other projects. How much arm-twisting was involved in getting you to reprise your role of Jessie in “Toy Story 3”?

JC: You know what? I think…it was not hard. It’s that they have this tier system thing where, like, the people at the top get paid eight hundred million dollars, and then everyone else gets paid, like, nothing. And that was a little bit hard to swallow at first. But it’s fun to be a part of it.

“My latest take on the movie industry is that if you weren’t manic-depressive going into it, which a lot of people are, you wind up that way, because it’s just such an unstable business.”

BE: And you’re also in the film adaptation of “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” a book series my wife is absolutely in love with.

JC: Oh, great!  Yeah, that was fun. I knew (Sophie Kinsella’s) work from “Can You Keep A Secret?” I don’t know if your wife’s read that one, but I love that one.

BE: I’d just like to say that, by talking to you, I’m now 2 for 3 in my unintentional quest to talk to the three female leads in “The All Nighter.”

JC: Oh, my God! (Laughs) How bizarre!

BE: Yeah, I talked to Susanna Hoffs last year.

JC: Oh, my gosh! What were you talking to her about?

BE: Well, I talked to her once for a Bangles DVD, then also when she put out a CD with Matthew Sweet.

JC: Oh, how neat!

BE: I know it was a thousand years ago, but did you enjoy working on that movie?

JC: It was, but, yeah, I did enjoy working on it. It was interesting. The grandson of () was a filmmaker on it. I can’t even remember what the movie was about! But either I was a filmmaker, or someone else was also a filmmaker, and he was doing that piece of it. Anyway, that was kind of interesting. I remember him showing us his grandparents’ home up in the mountains somewhere. So that was neat.

BE: There’s only one movie on your IMDb page that I’ve never heard of, not even in passing. It’s called “Stars and Bars.”

JC: (Excitedly) “Stars and Bars”! Oh, that was actually pretty fun! That was with Daniel Day Lewis, who was fascinating, and Laurie Metcalfe was in it, and…I’m trying to think.

BE: I saw Harry Dean Stanton’s name as well.

JC: Right, he was in it. And there was another guy who was in it who was awesome, too, though I can’t think of his name right now. But Laurie Metcalfe was hilarious, and it was fun to work with Daniel Day Lewis.

BE: From what I was reading, it sounds like a more comedic part than he’s generally renowned for.

JC: Yes, it was.

BE: You did your time on TV with “What About Joan.” If you found the right part, would you risk doing TV again?

JC: Yes, and in fact, I’m trying to something with that right now. I’m working on that.

BE: Would you stick to comedy?

JC: Yes, definitely. You know, I think that, obviously, the TV business has had kind of an identity crisis, but I think that it’s going in a good direction. Everybody’s just getting more real, and that’s the kind of stuff I like to do, so hopefully it’ll work, because it makes for a great life with family. I have kids, so that makes a big difference.

BE: A stationary location.

JC: Yeah!

BE: Do you have a favorite project over the years that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

JC: Hmmm. (Pauses) I’m just trying to think. You know, I did this play in work called “Cymbeline,” and I think that when it first came out, it didn’t get great reviews. Or maybe they were mixed. But on the whole, it was a great experience for me, just doing the play and being in New York and working at the Public Theater. I just had a great experience with that. And, you know, the beginning of the play is so much different than the end of the run, when you’ve had a chance to work with it for such a long time. That was such a great experience.

BE: And my last question: what was the deal with your not being credited for your role in “Say Anything…”?

JC: Oh, I think it was because we decided it would be fun. I don’t really know.

BE: I had just always wondered if it was a contractual thing or something.

JC: No, I was just playing his sister, so I think that was it. Maybe. I don’t know. It was probably some dumb reason or other.

BE: In other words, there was no great conspiracy involved.

JC: Yeah, not really. (Laughs)

BE: Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Like I said, I enjoyed “War, Inc.,” and I hope it continues to expand.

JC: Thank you so much, and I appreciate you supporting it. Take care!

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