Nobody ever said acting in movies is a cinch. But when you’re John Cusack fleeing the end of the world for nearly three hours in the apocalyptic thriller, 2012, life can get pretty tough. Seemingly still in survivalist mode, Cusack dropped by in worn jeans and hiking boots, to talk loose nukes, hot dogs, crap shoots, studio screw-ups, and other unusual topics in between. He also had a surprising confession to share, that doomsday is no big deal personally speaking, it’s swimming in water on the funky side that creeps him out more.
Q: Hi there. Amanda Peet was just saying that it’s about time you got an Oscar.
JOHN CUSACK: Yeah, well it should be easier to get one now, because with more nominees…they’ll be giving ’em out like hot dogs!
Q: Amanda also said you’re the everyman type in movies. What do you think is your appeal?
JC: I don’t really know. And I’m probably not the best person to say. Sometimes you get roles that are great, But sometimes you’re cast in things that you think are too plain, and you try to put your own spin on it.
So I think it’s like a crap shoot, where you just try to find things that you think have something in the piece that you want to express, and that touches you and is part of you. And then when you can find that, and you or the director or studio doesn’t screw it up! – you get lucky and it works. Which is rare. Then it’s a good performance. But I don’t really know…
Q: What got you into 2012, and wanting to be part of the movie?
JC: It was a real page turner, so that was nice. Usually the director just keeps the explosions rolling in a movie like this, but with 2012, I thought the characters were really developed. That’s very rare for an action director, there’s maybe Spielberg and a couple of other directors who can do both those things.
So that was really surprising. Also, Roland takes special effects to a new level. What he does with water, is one of the most difficult things to do. So I was just blown away.
Q: What was it like being involved in the production?
JC: It was like watching the circus come to town every day, with huge moving parts. I felt like, this was the biggest thing I had ever seen. And I just had to come in, and do my part. Which was a lot of work.
But the stuff all around you, it was massive. It has to be one of the biggest films ever made. They would like pour this concrete into this city block, and then the whole thing would crumble.
Q: Did it feel like reality?
JC: Oh yeah. If you were walking on that earthquake, it felt like an earthquake! And it was pretty hard to stay upright. It was pretty crazy!
Q: How do you feel 2012 is about society today?
JC: I think this movie gives voice to a lot of collective fears and paranoia. At the same time, I think it entertains and distracts from some of the woes people are experiencing. This is escapist entertainment, but also with a little bit of social conscience, that hopefully gets people to react about global warming, and some of those things. But I think people just want to have a good time at the movies, and not think about so many of the troubles going on in the world right now.
Q: What do you feel is the effect of audiences actually seeing scary things happen to the world that they’ve only imagined?
JC: I think it scares the hell out of people. But I don’t have a fear of natural disasters. I don’t know why! I’ve been on turbulent plane rides, and that hasn’t bothered me. I have fears of other things, but not that. I’ve also been lucky, because I live in Chicago and not LA with the earthquakes, and I have a gypsy life as an actor on the road.
So I only see the LA earthquakes on TV, because I’m never there. I’ve only been there for tremors. But maybe if I had been there for earthquakes and lived through that, I wouldn’t be so cavalier about it!
Q: So you’re not into that Mayan Calendar prophecy?
JC: No. I think if the world ends, it’ll be man made. And that may happen. But I think it’ll probably take more than two years.
Q: Well, what does frighten you out there?
JC: I think the global warming thing is a real deal, obviously. And loose nukes, nuclear weapons. Those types of things.
Q: What was it like working with Amanda again?
JC: Really fun, really lovely. She’s great fun to work with.
Q: And where was Joan this time?
JC: Hey, I was lucky enough to work with Amanda again. I didn’t want to push my luck!
Q: Where do you go in your head to play scared out of your mind, when facing death at least a few hundred times in this movie?
JC: I don’t know, I don’t know. There’s always that thing where like you get a call that someone has passed away, and there’s a camera in your face. It’s just acting.
So I don’t know what you do, you just sort of imagine. And you sort of try not to burn yourself out waiting, and try to do it when it counts. You know, you don’t want to give everything when it doesn’t count.
Q: What did you think of the plan in the movie, how the government would pick and choose the survivors for the boat?
JC: Yeah, I’m sure the boat was chosen by Goldman Sachs! Yeah, and with their own suites. That makes sense to me!
Q: What qualities would you see in a president who could lead people through such a disaster?
JC: Hey, how do you lead somebody through the end of the world. It would be more like a priest, giving everybody their last rites! But no, this movie is optimistic that at the end of the day, the boat would open up to more than just the rich and the powerful. And also that when disaster strikes, the illusion that there’s any differences between countries, and religions and ethnicities, all of that is stripped away. And people are just people.
And I think that’s why stories like these have a hold on our imaginations. And people getting to that place where there’s no more China, US or Russia, or Christians, Jews and Muslims, none of that stuff, and everybody’s in it together, I think people want that unity.
Because people aren’t really barbarians at their core. But yeah, I think this movie has a way to get there, without going through a real disaster. Or it gives you that feeling of better angels in people’s natures.
Q: What scenes in 2012 creeped you out most?
JC: The underwater stuff was kind of claustrophobic, when everybody was drowning. But I scuba dive, so I was pretty comfortable with it. But it was definitely intense! No acting required! You were holding your breath, and swimming long distances.
The only problem is that if the water’s not clean, people get ear and throat infections. But it was Sony, so it was pretty classy! And clean. But I have worked on other ones where I was like, I’m not getting in there! But it cool. And quite an adventure. And you had scuba guys with air tanks staying down there.
Q: How about the kid who played your son?
JC: He was like a fish too. If we had an actor who was afraid of the water, I don’t know how we would have filmed it. Because where are you going to get a twelve year old stunt guy!
Q: What bugs you the most in the movie world?
JC: When they’re committee decision-making productions. That wouldn’t be the best thing for my personality!
Q: Is there a message in 2012?
JC: Yeah. I think that it’s, be grateful for what you have. And reconcile with people, and enjoy your life. And live it to your fullest, right now, because you never know. And then to address global warming, and make sure people do the right thing that way. With a feeling of international unity in facing those problems, and that hope is expressed politically. Though mostly, this is supposed to be a fun popcorn movie. But if you’ve got a problem like with your brother, work it out.
Q: Did that message register with you personally too?
JC: Yes, except for getting back to Hollywood! That’s always harder.