"He's amazing," praises Peter Chelsom, the director of John Cusack's 2001 romantic comedy Serendipity. "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." That may be because John Cusack is the tortured, young man whose conscience is gnawing at him, who's obsessed and driven to go the right route. Even if that route isn't the yellow brick road to Hollywood.
John Cusack was born on June 28, 1966, in Evanston, Illinois, to Nancy, a one-time maths teacher, and Dick, a documentary filmmaker and thespian. By the age of seven he was performing alongside sister Joan and the rest of the family in Chicago's Piven Theatre Workshop. Adverts for McDonald's followed and aged 17 he made his feature film debut opposite Rob Lowe in the early Brat Pack film Class.
With ghetto blaster triumphantly hoisted and Peter Gabriel's anthem In Your Eyes filling the air, John Cusack seduced Generation X in Say Anything, while simultaneously saying goodbye to the genre that made him famous. Once the king of teen flicks having scored with The Sure Thing and Better Off Dead John next starred as a con man in the 1990 film The Grifters, marking his transition to "adult" actor by wooing the very sexy and very adult Annette Bening.
A series of hits and misses followed, but the late Nineties brought a career renaissance for Cusack. With the founding of his film company New Crime Productions, he launched the cult hit Grosse Pointe Blank, which he both headlined and co-wrote. Appearances in Terrence Malick's WWII drama The Thin Red Line and the screen adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel High Fidelity, earned him a reputation as a go-to character actor as well as a solid, if unconventional, leading man.
But Con Air aside, John isn't interested in being an action hero or Hollywood "star" in the Harrison Ford sense of the word. "I have nothing against them and they're fun to watch," he says of big-budget blockbusters. "But I like being able to play Nelson Rockefeller in The Cradle Will Rock and the guy in Being John Malkovich. I like moving laterally with work."
Cusack certainly moves laterally across the States, making regular trips to Chicago where he directs stage plays for his theatre troupe The New Criminals, started with actor pal Jeremy Piven in 1988. His extra-Tinseltown activities also include politics, and the staunch Democrat has hinted at a future in Washington.
In the comedy America's Sweethearts, John portrayed one half of a self-promoting superstar couple a role he'll never play off screen, although he does count Tinseltown "names" Minnie Driver, Alison Eastwood and Neve Campbell among his ex flames. "They say I'm private, but that's just because I don't talk about everybody I date," he says. "And they think that means I'm intensely private but that means you're sane."
"I'm trying to find the difference between free will making things happen and letting things happen," says the thinking-woman's sex symbol. "And try to find that balance. Free will and destiny, do they run concurrently, or do you have to choose more one over the other? Do you make things happen or let them happen? Where do you find that line? I don't know. That's how my brain works."