NEW YORK – John Cusack walked into the room, listening to his iPhone. He’s deeply involved in the new Bruce Springsteen album, Magic, and sat down looking reluctant to pull away from either the Boss or his shiny gadget. Fumbling with the device for a moment, figuring out how to turn it off, he removed his ear buds and flashed a big grin. Cusack is definitely as cool as everyone who fell in love with his role in Say Anything wants him to be.
At 41, Cusack isn’t Lloyd Dobler anymore, and it’s showing in the roles he chooses. In his two upcoming films, Martian Child and Grace Is Gone, he plays widowers trying to connect with their children. In the case of Martian Child, Cusack plays David, who decides to adopt an 8-year-old. But the boy he chooses comes with a bit of baggage: he spends most of his days in a cardboard box and insists that he’s from Mars. Dennis, the box-bound boy (played by Bobby Coleman), makes David believe he’s in over his head, despite his growing affection for the child.
“[In high school,] I never belonged anywhere. I was never in the popular clique,” Cusack said. “And then I started doing movies when I was in high school, so then I got popular. Then the girls paid attention to you who didn’t before. ‘Oh, so that’s how this works!'”
Cusack is unmarried and doesn’t have any children, yet seems to effortlessly connect with them onscreen. When approached with the topic of whether or not he wants to have kids, he remained tight-lipped. “Yeah, theoretically,” is all he said.
Still, Cusack’s on-screen chemistry with Coleman is the successful foundation of the film. Cusack said he and Coleman improvised a lot of their one-on-one scenes together. “[It worked because] it’s not so much a plot-driven movie as it is about the behavior and the characters,” Cusack said.
Coleman’s most memorable day of shooting involved Cusack and him letting out some pent-up aggression by smashing plates and squirting ketchup at each other. “As you can imagine, I can’t break plates every day,” Coleman said. “I was like, ‘Aim, fire!'”
The 10-year-old actor was enthralled with Cusack on set and looked up to him as a teacher. “With John Cusack, every scene is totally different,” Coleman said. “Every take in every scene is different. He plays with things, he changes them around. He tries to find the most real thing you would say in that scene. He taught me to loosen up.”
Amanda Peet, who plays the best friend of David’s late wife, was thrilled to reunite with her Identity co-star, even if it came with some physical injuries. “It was so fun, even though he cracked my back and I had to get a chiropractor,” Peet said. “When he hugs me, he always cracks my back. We had to have a chiropractor come because I couldn’t move.”
Peet spoke about her career with rare candor, opening up about some of her failures and being realistic about her level of stardom.
On returning to Broadway: “Yeah, I hope so. If they’ll have me after, um, what happened.” Peet is referring to her 2006 run in the revival of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park, which only had 109 performances due to unfavorable reviews. “I didn’t read them, but I heard. Broadway’s hard – it’s really tough.”
Peet admitted she doesn’t have the luxury of being finicky when it comes to choosing projects. “I think when you’re a bigger star, you get many good scripts sent to you and you have to choose which one you’re going to gravitate towards,” Peet said. “I just try to gravitate toward the best-written one that’s been thrown my way after a lot of girls have passed on it. That’s really the truth. I’m just being really honest. I just try to get something that’s respectable.”
Coleman, however, is enjoying the glory of his first major film role in what he hopes will be a long-lasting career. After getting the role and wondering whether or not he was being tricked, he and his family sat down and examined the script and his character. “We played around with things. We talked about how would Dennis feel if he got left by all these foster parents,” Coleman said. “We just came to the decision that he’d totally just close up, hide and be afraid that he’d get hurt by someone. So he just hid in a box.”
“I have a friend that says if you want to see the Buddha, go to a 12-year-old because their bulls–t detectors are the best,” Cusack said.
Coleman might still be floating from the experience with his super famous costar, but he’s not going to pretend that he’s getting any envy from his friends. “First of all, I don’t really think my friends know who John Cusack is.”
Jesse North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.