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Think of John Cusack, and beloved movie classics like “Say Anything,” “Grosse Pointe Blank,” “Being John Malkovich” and “High Fidelity” immediately come to mind. But after that run of iconic movies that stretched from the 1980s to the early 2000s, it might feel like he hasn’t done anything in forever. So what exactly has the hard-working actor been doing since then?
Here’s a look back at Cusack’s early career and a recap of what he’s been up to in recent years.
A Family Of Entertainers
Acting is definitely in Cusack’s blood. His father was actor, writer and Emmy Award-winning documentarian Dick Cusack, who had roles in movies like “The Fugitive,” “Eight Men Out” and “While You Were Sleeping.” Meanwhile, John’s older sister, Joan Cusack, is well known for her roles in “School of Rock,” “Working Girl” and “In & Out.” She’s also had a long-running role in the Toy Story franchise as the voice of Jessie the cowgirl.
An Early Start On Stage
Born on June 28, 1966, in Evanston, Illinois, John Cusack started his acting career at the age of 8. That’s when he joined Evanston’s Piven Theatre Workshop, which was taught by the parents of actor Jeremy Piven, whom Cusack would go on to co-star with on many occasions, in movies like “Runaway Jury” and “Say Anything.” Cusack eventually moved on from the stage to commercial work and became one of Chicago’s most in-demand voice-over artists.
First Movie Role
Cusack got his first movie role at the age of 17 in 1983’s “Class,” a teen romance starring Rob Lowe, Jacqueline Bisset and Andrew McCarthy. Big sister Joan was in the film, too, although she had a smaller role than John! His next appearance was in the 1984 John Hughes classic, “Sixteen Candles,” in which big sister Joan also had a part. The famous siblings have acted together in several movies throughout their careers, most recently in 2008’s “War, Inc.”
Not Exactly A ‘Brat’
His 1980s Hollywood contemporaries included Lowe, McCarthy and Emilio Estevez, but Cusack managed to avoid the “Brat Pack” label that those others were hit with. “The Sure Thing,” in which he played a sexually anxious college freshman in 1985, was a turning point in his career. That role led to even bigger parts in “Better Off Dead” and “The Journey of Natty Gann,” which were also released that year.
Unconventional Love Interest
By the early 1990s, Cusack had received critical acclaim for his starring performances in “Eight Men Out” (yes, alongside his father) and “The Grifters.” In the latter, he played a con man who seduced an older woman, played by Annette Bening. His portrayal of the lovable underachiever Lloyd Dobler in Cameron Crowe’s 1989 teen favorite, “Say Anything,” had cemented Cusack’s ability to be a somewhat alternative kind of romantic leading man on the big screen.
More Success In The 1990s
Throughout the 1990s, Cusack continued to work solidly. He appeared in Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway” in 1994 and Clint Eastwood’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” in 1997. He also played the protagonist in the high-concept high school reunion movie “Grosse Pointe Blank” that year, a performance that went down well with critics. Writing for Rolling Stone, critic Peter Travers described Cusack’s professional assassin and conflicted psychopath, Martin Q. Blank, as a “marvel,” and said the film “flies on Cusack’s seductive malevolence.”
Striking Critical Gold
Most critics consider Cusack’s career high point to be the Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze collaboration, “Being John Malkovich,” which came out in 1999. In the bizarre film, he plays poverty-stricken puppeteer Craig Schwartz, the main protagonist turned main antagonist in the fantasy/comedy, in which he discovers a portal into actor John Malkovich’s mind. His co-stars included Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener and Malkovich, who played a satirical version of himself.
“Chances are you’ll never see another movie like Being John Malkovich, so make sure you don’t miss out,” wrote Caroline Westbrook for Empire, adding that Cusack had “never been better.”
High Marks For ‘High Fidelity’
The new millennium got off to a great start for Cusack. He starred in, co-wrote and co-produced the movie adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel, “High Fidelity” in 2000, which was beloved by critics and still holds a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. As the lovesick music store owner Rob Gordon, Cusack won over audiences with his performance, despite the character being pretty unlikable most of the time.
“In his winning performance, Mr. Cusack finesses the tricky task of alternately telling his story to the camera as though he were talking to a friend, and living it,” Stephen Holden wrote in The New York Times.
Romantic Comedy Lead
After “High Fidelity,” Cusack continued being cast as a romantic lead and 2001’s “Serendipity” is one of his most famous romantic comedies. He played New Yorker Jonathan Trager opposite British woman Sara Thomas, played by Kate Beckinsale. Cusack’s work got major kudos from his boss on the set.
“He’s amazing,” said the film’s director Peter Chelsom of his protagonist. “There’s no one better at playing the tortured young man whose conscience is gnawing at him, who’s obsessed and driven to go the right route.”
Although not all his films have been box office hits or received critical acclaim, Cusack is one actor who has never stopped working. Throughout the early 2000s, his projects included the 2001 romantic comedy, “America’s Sweethearts,” with Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Billy Crystal and the 2003 courtroom drama, “Runaway Jury,” with Rachel Weisz and Gene Hackman. He also starred in the 2005 romantic comedy, “Must Love Dogs,” with Diane Lane and Elizabeth Perkins and the 2007 indie drama, “Grace Is Gone,” alongside Alessandra Nivola and Gracie Bednarczyk, among others.
Creating A Cult Classic
Of all the projects he has taken on in more recent years, it’s 2010’s “Hot Tub Time Machine,” which Cusack starred in and produced, that remains a cult classic. The movie saw Cusack as a depressed middle-aged man who travels back to the 1980s with his friends in a magical hot tub.
“It may not be as consistently uproarious or quotable as a movie like ‘The Hangover,’ but ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ admirably turns a potentially one-note joke into a consistently funny package,” wrote Ian Buckwalter for NPR. “Better yet, it even manages to engender a twinge or two of heartfelt nostalgia for the most culturally embarrassing of decades.”
Supporting Freedom Of Speech
Like many artists, Cusack has put his energy into other projects he’s passionate about when he’s not acting. In 2010, Cusack co-founded the Freedom of the Press Foundation, in response to Visa, MasterCard and PayPal’s decision to stop taking payments from Wikileaks. The goal of the nonprofit is to protect the privacy of journalists who are willing to tackle potentially dangerous topics. They raise money via crowdfunding to help various press organizations survive amid outside pressure.
A Hollywood Star
A big moment in Cusack’s career came in 2012, when he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But despite the recognition, Cusack was apparently growing tired of show business. In an interview with The Guardian the same year, he sounded like one of his characters when he said, “I’m still here, desperately groping in the dark. Increasingly, I feel it’s about just trying to remain relevant enough to do good work.”
He also shared his thoughts on superhero movie franchises, saying, “Sometimes I think I’m in control, but more and more I realize that it’s just a complete fare. It’s true, it used to be that if you did a big, big movie then you could leverage it and make some smaller, cooler ones, and I got away with that for a few years. But now, they just want you to put on tights, they just want to get rid of you.”
Slamming Modern Hollywood
Cusack didn’t hold back during another interview with The Guardian in 2014, claiming that Hollywood is obsessed with franchises and superstars.
“I got another 15, 20 years before they say I’m old,” he said. He also slammed the modern movie business culture, saying, “People would look after you when I was a kid. There were good people in the business. […] The culture just eats young actors up and spits them out. It’s a hard thing to survive without finding safe harbor.”
He also called Hollywood a “whorehouse,” asserting, “people go mad.”
Turning His Hand To Writing
In 2014, Cusack traveled to Russia with Arundhati Roy and Daniel Ellsberg to meet Edward Snowden, a former computer intelligence consultant who copied and leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency in 2013 when he was an employee and subcontractor for the CIA. Roy and Cusack wrote a series of essays about their conversations with Snowden which subsequently became a book, “Things That Can and Cannot Be Said.”
Portraying A Music Legend
In 2015, Cusack again got great reviews when he starred as an older Brian Wilson in “Love & Mercy,” a biopic about the Beach Boys co-founder’s troubled life. The movie was nominated for a pair of Golden Globes and earned some Oscar buzz, bringing Cusack back to the limelight for a brief time. When asked about Cusack’s performance, Wilson himself gave a positive review, saying, “He’s really good. And he sings well.”
Always Politically Minded
Cusack is passionate about politics, and doesn’t hold back on social media, which he recognizes isn’t always the healthiest choice.
“I would love to think about other things,” he told The Guardian in 2020. “Poetry. Love. Anything else. But that’s just not the times we’re in. And, y’know, not all anger is just sort of somebody stuck in some rut in a basement. If you can’t be outraged on behalf of other people, or express anger at injustice, maybe that is its own rut. Sure, I might go too far sometimes. But I really just want to get across the message: that we’re sleepwalking into an incredibly dark possible future.”
The star caused a stir on Twitter in 2017 when he posted a photo featuring the quote, “YER DEAD—GET YERSELF BURIED,” along with the caption, “Message for Trump.” This riled up many Republican voters on behalf of the then-president, and Cusack deleted the tweet amid the backlash.
He later reposted the photo with the caption, “Message to GOP rob health care give tax breaks to rich bill,” and clarified that he was using a quote from the 1957 film “Sweet Smell of Success,” but some people were skeptical. Fox News contributor Todd Starnes posted a screenshot of the original tweet, comparing it to Kathy Griffin and the infamous photograph of her holding a fake version of Donald Trump’s severed head.
Showing Fans His Sweet Side
Not all publicity about Cusack has been negative in recent years. In 2013, Phoenix Askani of Thought Catalog shared a story about meeting the actor on an airplane. She said she was too nervous to talk to him, but tweeted, “Oh my god, @JohnCusack is on my flight. I should tell him how I almost lost my virginity to ‘Say Anything’…” To her amazement, Cusack later approached her on the flight and joked, “How exactly do you ALMOST lose your virginity to ‘Say Anything’?” At the end of the flight, Cusack gave Askani a hug.
The ‘Straight To DVD’ Years
Cusack is nothing if not a dogged worker. Between 2012 and 2016, he made an incredible 17 films. Unfortunately, most of them ended up going straight to video on demand or DVD. So you probably won’t even have heard of movies like “Drive Hard” and “Reclaim,” despite the latter of which co-starring Ryan Phillippe and Jacki Weaver. To add insult to inury, some of Cusack’s recent releases have had ratings below 10% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Bucking The Marriage Trend
He may be outspoken about social and political issues, but Cusack has always remained private about his love life. He’s rumored to have dated Minnie Driver, Alison Eastwood and Neve Campbell (amongst others), but has never married. In response to a question about his single status during an interview with Elle in 2009, he said, “Society doesn’t tell me what to do.”
Another Social Media Stir
Cusack caused more controversy in 2019 when he retweeted a cartoon picture of a hand with a Star of David pushing down on a group of people, captioned with, “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” According to USA Today, the quote comes from the writings of white nationalist and neo-Nazi Kevin Alfred Strom. Cusack initially tried to explain his actions as being related to his personal stance against Israel’s actions, then blamed the retweet on a “bot” and finally apologized.
Embracing A New Medium
After years of movies that didn’t exactly bring him back to the A-list, Cusack has recently turned his attention to TV. He plays the founder of a biotech company in the TV series “Utopia,” an Amazon Prime Video remake of Dennis Kelly’s Channel 4 hit in the U.K. The first episode was released in September 2020, and the feedback has been middling at best, with an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 50% so far.
Giving Advice To the Next Generation
During a 2016 panel discussion at C2E2, Cusack encouraged aspiring filmmakers to just do their own thing, even if it meant “breaking the rules.”
“If you go to L.A. to make films, you’re going to L.A. to ask for permission to make films from the studios,” he said, per CBR. “Now you can go out and shoot films with your iPhone. Once you have films that you made, you can go to L.A. and meet people.”
Struggling To Get Funding
Cusack recently took a philosophical stance on the current state of his career. In an interview with The Guardian in October 2020, the now-54-year-old star revealed that it had been years since he’d been able to get projects financed (2010’s “Hot Tub Time Machine” was one of the last).
“That could be a function of getting older,” he said. “Or it could be a function of being cold.” Talking about the ups and downs of his long career, Cusack added, “I haven’t really been hot for a long time.”