There comes a point for many actors where they turn into one of two things. Sometimes, they become caricatures of themselves. Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Christopher Walken, Robert DeNiro and other actors from the 70’s are so comfortable with their public persona that they further skew the line between reality and fantasy by acting like cartoon versions of themselves, acting like bad MadTV impressions instead of just acting. Think about some of the movies they’ve made recently and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. They walk thru scenes with a sort of winking acknowledgement at the audience that says, “Yup, it’s me, Academy award winning actor. I can do comedy too!” It’s disheartening and if I had grown up with these actors instead of merely idolizing them, I might be more perturbed by the phenomenon, but since they’re older, I just think it’s kinda cute.
On the other side of the spectrum are actors who just end up playing themselves. Now, this is a cinematic tradition that goes back to the days of screen legends like Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. These actors also embraced the public’s perception of them and in choosing roles and making decisions in their performances, carefully cultivated that image that would carry over for them regardless of the genre or the director of the film they were making. It made sense back in the studio systems days when actors were lent out and forced to unwillingly act in films. Actors wanted audiences to see their movies regardless, so people paid to watch a Bogart movie or the new Gary Cooper picture because they could reasonably know what to expect in the movie. Whether it was a Howard Hawks western or a epic Zinnemann movie, at least you knew you were going to see your favorite actor doing what they do best. This is a tradition that I enjoy even to this day (I only saw The Avengers because Robert Downey Jr. was in it.) and was pleased last night when I saw one of my favorite actors indulge himself in a film called The Raven.
John Cusack has been making movies for almost thirty years, which means I’ve basically grown up watching his movies. I love the man and he’s in some of my favorite movies. He’s Buck Weaver, Denny Lachance, Hoops McCann, Martin Q. Blank, Lane Effin’ Meyer! And in all of these roles, his performance has given us sight beyond sight into what we think of John Cusack. John Cusack seems to be a funny, charming, intelligent guy, someone ladies love and guys like hanging around. If your best friend is uber-douche Jeremy Piven, you’re probably the cool guy in the crew is all I’m saying. He’s usually the smartest guy in the room, so effortlessly casual, yet deeply passionate about romance and records. Whether he’s killing people for money or stealing from the mob, he still has a strict moral code about him that makes you empathize with him. Watching John Cusack movies makes you feel like you KNOW John Cusack. But, if you go further than that, you’ll find even more to love about him. You ever seen the dude on Countdown? Do you know how politically active he is, how much he believes cinema as an art should be revolutionary? He loves the Cubs AND the White Sox? Who else could get away with such audacious behavior? No one, readers. No one but John Cusack. So cool and he makes it seem so simple.
Seriously, when is the last time Cusack really acted? Grace is Gone? And how many of you saw that? Being John Malkovich? Did you realize that movie is THIRTEEN years old? To paraphrase Piven in Grosse Point Blank, “Thirteen years, man! Thirteen years!” He’s coasted through the past decade in movies where he shows up as himself and audiences drop ten bucks to watch another John Cusack movie. As one such ticket buying consumer, I am happy with my purchase. The Raven was a boring procedural that wasn’t even exciting with the sight of Alice Eve in a corset, but to watch John Cusack chew through the scenery, wear a cape (!) and steal a movie from nobody save boredom reminded me why I’ll pretty much go see anything that he’s in. One of my favorite comedies from the last few years? Hot Tub Time Machine, where Cusack, quite literally, plays himself both now and in the Eighties. I think the movie really has a lot going for it and a lot of the emotional stuff is on him to carry even though he holds his own in the comedic sequences with Rob Corddry and Craig Robinson. One of my favorite Woody Allen films? Bullets Over Broadway. Stand By Me. Grosse Point Blank. Eight Men Out. Serendipity. He’s worked with Malick, Eastwood, Reiner, Hughes, Crowe, Frears, Jonze and others. He’s got an Inside the Actor’s Studio episode! 2012 is a terrible movie, but John Cusack is in it! Con Air has the worst Southern accent ever committed to celluloid but it’s also got John Cusack as the hero. I’m not fond of High Fidelity or Say anything…, but I love me some America’s Sweethearts.
I could go on and on like some of my pieces do, but overkill is not the mark of John Cusack. Ease of restraint is more his style and I’d rather emulate that as well. Having watched Cusack since I was young enough to quote The Sure Thing, I have eagerly looked forward to each of his films, even the ones I’ve missed. And if he just keeps making movies as himself, whether it’s in Baltimore in the 1800’s, a ski resort in the 80s or medieval times, I’m going to keep watching them. Because I want to be Martin Blank and Gib and I want to be John Cusack.
Quick note: watching Cusack in the cape last night made me think of him as a superhero. And then I remembered them talking about re-casting the role of Iron Man. John Cusack anyone?