He’s been a Hollywood star since his teens and now John Cusack stars in David Cronenberg’s Maps To The Stars, a cutting satire about Hollywood players, wannabes and has-beens. Cusack plays Stafford Weiss, a self-help guru who peddles his therapies to the narcissistic and weak-minded and who is also father to the foul Benjie (Evan Bird), a rehab-hopping teen star. But just how like Stafford is he? The Sloth got the lowdown:
Q: You were a young star in your teens like Benjie. Did you relate to him?
A: I was older than him [when I started acting], and I wasn’t in a huge Hollywood franchise. I just got to work as an actor. But just the idea of being that young and having that much pressure on you, and being at the very height of Hollywood, would be terrible to think about.
Q: Do you see a relationship between therapy and acting?
A: I think a lot of actors feel that the act of doing those things is somehow therapeutic for them. You obviously have some things you need to release. So it’s an intuitive thing, to go towards the flame – so we must know that there’s stuff we better get out.
Q: How would you describe Stafford – a charlatan?
A: Yeah, sure – an exploitative charlatan of Biblical proportions!
Q: But are these types very prevalent in LA?
A: Sure. You talk about the California of the Fifties and Sixties; Joan Didion says there is a Chekhovian sense of loss and uneasiness in the air – and this is a loose quote and I’m probably getting it wrong – as if all the people there thought we better make it here, because if not, we’ve run out of continent! So I think that environment leads to all sorts of free, original thinking, but also desert crazies! And all the people that prey on those people. We were just noticing in LA that there were these things – agents and managers. Then I realised there were these things called ‘life coaches’.
Q: Did you know much about them?
A: Well, I knew about Tony Robbins. I loved the ‘personal power’ things. I don’t know much about Tony, but it seems like he has this act of will – like Scientology. These evangelising shrink coaches…it’s got to be only in LA, right? It’s the place where the guy who ran The Source – a health food restaurant – started a cult in the Seventies and they were called the Source Family and he proclaimed himself a divine being and he had followers. It was a cult! So LA’s got something special!
Q: Your character seems very cynical…
A: That’s what Bruce writes. The first thing he writes is, ‘Say what you want about the Dalai Lama but the man’s a pro.’ He’s not even considering that he might mean it or not. There’s an element that every human interaction is a transaction. It’s all currency. What am I going to get? What’s my angle? And that’s connected to showbiz.
Q: Were you worried about biting the hand that feeds?
A: No! I don’t care about any of that!
Q: You’re very active on Twitter. What do you like about it?
A: What I think is interesting is the idea that you can curate content. If I like somebody’s stuff, I can say, ‘If you think I’m interesting, I’ll tell you who I think is interesting’, and you trust me. And also, it’s impossible to kill art. You can’t do it. You can’t bury anything. So, yeah, I like it – it’s fun!
Q: Doesn’t your publicist tell you to hold back?
A: No, and that’s good. The other thing is, it’s changed the way movies are distributed, it’s changed the way movies are marketed. People are going to have their opinion from the screenings. Critics will do what they want to do, and they’ll sway people, but people are going to listen more to each other than they listen to authority – so it’s kinda cool.
Q: Do you ever re-watch your old films?
A: No. Well, sometimes on TV, I might stop and watch for a while until it gets too painful. I remember one time, The Grifters was on. I’ve worked with Stephen Frears, who is such a great director, twice. And I remember stopping and watching it – it was Annette [Bening] and Angelica [Huston], and I started to watch the story a little bit, and then I came on, and I saw myself differently. And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s good.’
Q: How do you choose your films?
A: I’m up to do anything if it’s with a good filmmaker and a good script. I think that movies are like dreams; you can play any role in the dream, and there are lots of different dreams. I like to play any version, any role in the drama – it doesn’t matter.
Maps To The Stars is available on Blu-Ray and DVD on 2nd February, courtesy of Entertainment One.