John Cusack gained the attention of audiences in the 1980’s film classics The Sure Thing and Sixteen Candles, and went on to star in such eclectic movies as The Ice Harvest, The Thin Red Line, Grosse Point Blank, Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, The Grifters and the horror tale 1408. He has never appeared in a blockbuster – that is, until now.
In Roland Emmerich’s doomsday thriller 2012 he portrays Jackson Curtis, a civilian who stumbles into the news that the world as we know it is coming to an end, a prophecy that began when the Maya left us their calendar, with an end date and all that implies.
At the press junket for the movie Cusack discussed why, after all these years, he decided to make his first blockbuster.
What made you want to be a part of this film?
I think it was the combination of the project, the director, and the actors. You get the call for Roland Emmerich’s next movie and he wants you to do it. That’s a nice call to get. Then I read the script and I thought it was a real page-turner and very surprising. By the end of the film I thought it actually got quite emotional and very tense.
You have this scene where Rome burned and Paris fell. Then California falls into the ocean. The story would get bigger and bigger. The catastrophes got bigger, places where the characters are safe got smaller and smaller. Yet, the movie actually got more intimate as it went along. Usually once the explosions start, the characters stop.
This whole film is full of characters who are trying to reconcile a relationship and get some kind of redemption because they know that time is running out. I think that it really gets your imagination going as to who you would want to be right with, and what you would do if you really only had ten more hours.
Is this the most physical film you have ever done and what was it like working on set?
Yeah, there was a lot of running, jumping and tumbling. You’ve got to stay stretched out or you’ll definitely pull a hamstring for sure.
What was there to look at during the disaster scenes?
Usually you have the entire set built and then in back of the set will be a green screen. But with this there is a massive production design when you walk onto a set. At the end when we’re in the mountains, there would be a huge glacier field with flooring underneath and then blue screens in the background.
So we always were acting with regular sets, it’s just that the backgrounds would be digitally enhanced. And Roland’s got a whole army working so effortlessly you could come in and just do your acting job
Did someone yell out what you were supposed to be seeing?
[We had] the most fantastic guy in the world. Best First Assistant Director, (Tommy Gormley), I’ve ever seen in the history of cinema. He was Scottish [John shouts in Scottish accent] ‘There’s a huge donut flying around. It’s buildings, and sewage everywhere.’ He was screaming! It was like an international theme park ride. I was too tired to act but he had it all down.
We had almost like a video game of what the plane would be going through, so you wouldn’t really see all of this detail, but you knew that you were flying between these two buildings, or that a train was coming over your head. So you knew the sequence and then you went from there. The planes and cars were all on hydraulics.
There was an entire city block on poured cement, with fences, houses, cut outs of houses, lawns, and trees and everything. The whole thing was on these hydraulics, a whole city block, with cars on it and it was just shaking and pulsating so it was a pretty wild set too. It wasn’t all just green screen and imagination stuff.
This film is tapping into the paranoia about the end of days. So, is it a cautionary tale or just a cool popcorn movie?
I think it taps into the paranoia all over the world about how out of control the world feels. Everybody sort of knows what all the problems are, with global warming and all of those things. This smartly doesn’t get into the politics of it. It just gets into the fact of what’s important to you?
What are your values and that feeling you have when something bad happens that cuts through the B.S. I think movies like this give you that sense without the real tragedies having to happen. I think that’s maybe their function and why people like them.
They give expression to people’s fears and you get a release and then a sense of humor. So there is something to the fact that at the end of the movie you can see that there are no more divisions between Russia and the United States, or China, and everybody is on the same playing field.
That’s kind of a nice populous myth that we all wish one day could happen.
What is your personal belief about 2012?
That book, 2012:The Return of Quetzalcoatl, I think is probably more in line with what I think about the Mayan prophecy for 2012, which is that there will be a shift in consciousness.
That seemed more like what I thought was going to happen rather than the actual End of Days.