John Cusack has a new hobby/side hustle. The actor has recently been traveling the country, attending screenings of select movies and answering audience questions in person. This week, he’s in Jacksonville, where The Florida Theatre is set to show director Stephen Frears’ 2000 romcom High Fidelity, starring Cusack opposite Iben Hjejle (and featuring marvelously overplayed supporting parts by Jack Black, Tim Robbins and the star’s sister, Joan Cusack).
Folio Weekly spoke with Cusack about being High Fidelity’s Rob Gordon, which he’s not. (It was a short conversation.) But first, a bit of background. The 1980s produced its share of bad boy movie stars—from Sean Penn to Rob Lowe to Robert Downey Jr.—but the decade of excess cultivated precious few everyman figures. Enter John Cusack. The Chicago-born actor briefly orbited the Brat Pack before breaking out in Cameron Crowe’s 1989 romantic comedy Say Anything…
At once aimless, stoic and naively hopeful, his performance as Lloyd Dobler defined the Cusack style. By the time he starred in High Fidelity, the actor had long since aged out of the teen demographic and established himself as a ‘serious’ artist(e) while retaining the halo of those youthful qualities. He might wax worldly with his deadpan expression and five-o’clock shadow, but his mere presence will always evoke that iconic Say Anything… scene. Swathed in an ill-fitting overcoat, John Cusack forever stands outside his lover’s window, holding boom box aloft and blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.”
In High Fidelity, Cusack and Frears knowingly play with all this. The film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel (of the same name) has Cusack playing Rob Gordon, the lovelorn and angsty proprietor of a Chicago record store. The soundtrack boasts underground gems by Arthur Lee, The 13th Floor Elevators and The Velvet Underground. Record store clerk Barry (Jack Black, fresh-faced, but not as fresh-faced as he was in The Cable Guy, in which he acted alongside that other ‘80s everyman, Matthew Broderick) namedrops Echo & the Bunnymen on screen. It was the kind of film a Gen X music snob could feel good about seeing in the cinema.
The fusion of pop music and storytelling is so fundamental to High Fidelity—and, indeed, to Cusack’s entire career—that it’s easy to forget the man is just John Cusack. So, pro tip: Don’t ask him what Jim Morrison had for breakfast. Here’s a cautionary tale. We had John Cusack on the phone for a few minutes and thought it would be cute to have him riff on ‘80s pop minutiae. I mean, what could be more John Cusack? I duly prepared five questions. (Yes, Craig Kilborn’s Daily Show still inspires, after all these years.)
Depeche Mode or The Cure?
“Good question,” he answers. “I’d probably say The Cure.”
Wrong. I give him a moment to reflect and amend his answer, which he does (though he might be humoring me). “You know, you’re right. Depeche Mode.”
What did you think of Hooky leaving New Order?
“I haven’t really been following them.”
What do you make of Morrissey’s support of the For Britain Movement in the UK.
“I haven’t followed that, but I think anyone who comes out in favor of right-wing neo-fascists—if that’s the case—needs to go take a long sleep or go to rehab. This Neo-Nazi thing is no joke.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. John Cusack is clearly more at ease when talking about real life. I scrap the remaining trainspotter questions and ask him about his recent run of live Q&A sessions (“It’s usually pretty rowdy and fun. Questions range from the sublime to the ridiculous”) and his running political commentary. He has 1.6 million followers on Twitter, and is pulling for Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic primary and challenge Donald Trump, of whom Cusack is no fan.
Is it more difficult to voice political opinions in these polarized times?
“Not for me,” he says. “I’ve always been someone who speaks their mind. It’s just a more extreme time.”
You better believe he’ll be speaking his mind at The Florida Theatre on Thursday night. Just don’t ask him what happened to A Flock of Seagulls.