I recently had a chance to speak with Joan Cusack over the phone for a movie she's in called War, Inc.. The film stars her brother John and is a biting satire on the current military-industrial complex we all live in. I'll do my best to capture the spirit of the interview, which was one of the more entertaining ones I've ever been involved with.
Note: The conversation started with my broken speaker phone. Essentially, I couldn't get Joan on speaker, so I couldn't record the conversation as easily. She patiently waited through a few doomed attempts before I gave up the ghost and decided to just hold the recorder up to the phone the whole time.
Laremy Legel: Nope, this thing (the speaker phone) doesn't love ya.
Joan Cusack: No!
LL: That's okay though, it's inanimate ... not its fault.
JC: Yeah, it really can't love.
LL: Unless it's Wall-E... then it can!
JC: How is that movie?
LL: I haven't seen it yet. I'm a little worried though because the trailers look a little odd.
JC: Do they?
LL: Yeah, I like things that talk.
JC: Yeah. But don't worry (emphatic)! Never worry.
LL: I'll try not to.
JC: My son is really looking forward to Wall-E.
LL: Is he around ten or eleven?
JC: He's eight.
LL: Oh, yeah, he's perfect (age for film).
JC: He IS perfect, thanks for mentioning that.
LL: Your improv background is shining through here. You were on SNL...
JC: That's right.
LL: That counts.
JC: Yeah, that's something. I did do improv growing up. But I think I just had a witty moment there. Well, I wouldn't even call it witty...
LL: Oh, I would. I'd call it witty banter or a witty repartee even.
JC: Okay, I'll take that! That's fantastic.
LL: (laughing) Okay, let's get to the official questions.
LL: This is exciting.
JC: Allright, question NUMBER ONE.
LL: Am I your 40th or 50th interview today?
JC: Nah. No, in fact I haven't gotten to talk about the movie much yet.
LL: Well, that's very sad...
JC: It IS sad.
LL: Since that's the goal...
JC: Well, it's not THAT sad. Now I get to talk about it.
LL: If I could give you one piece of advice it would be to not worry about it. (callback!)
JC: Oooookay, that's nice! Worrying is never helpful. It's a waste of time.
LL: Very counterproductive.
JC: Really, it is. Very good, I'm glad you said it to me.
LL: No problem! I'm here for ya. It seems as though war-related films have had a tough time lately (The Kingdom, In the Valley of Elah, even Grace Is Gone). In your opinion what makes War, Inc. more accessible to a general audience?
LL: Sounded pretty official didn't it?
JC: Yes, it did. And thank you for asking me that question. I would say COMEDY in large letters. Obviously war isn't funny. It's NOT funny. There's nothing funny about it. In fact I was watching Saving Private Ryan with my sons the other night because they really wanted to see it. Anyway, I was sobbing. Sobbing and sobbing because of course I have sons. This war film is nice because it's comedy. If there's anything funny it's in the movie ... about war.
LL: When things are so serious you have to laugh, right?
JC: That's right. I mean obviously the idea of satire in general. We grew up in a family where social activism was as important as Monty Python. That's just where that comes from.
LL: Is there a fundamental message here that you feel needs to be heard?
JC: I think that my mother is incredibly political and my brother is incredibly political and caring about the world you live in and how it works is obviously important. I think it is a tough time in this country right now. But there's exciting things too. I think Obama is incredibly exciting. He's not a worrier (callback) by the way! So there's a lot of momentum towards getting over these incredibly tough times. Having an opportunity to think about things in a funny way or having a stimulating conversation with your friends after you go to a movie ... it's good for your brain.
LL: This is John’s second take as a hitman after Grosse Pointe Blank, do you think he just likes wearing all black?
JC: I think he has some obsessive qualities. He could be obsessed with wearing black. It's possible. But I think it's also very easy. It's super easy to wear all black. Sometimes, when things are hard, like trying to make a movie like this, and trying to survive in this business ... sometimes you just want to have some easy things. Like wearing black. Easy. Hopefully, other people got to do what was easy for them too.
LL: There's a quote from the movie that goes something like, "Whoever gets in the way of our accumulation of wealth we pulverize." What do you think of that sentiment?
JC: I think that's some human nature stuff. It's just part and parcel of being unhealthy mentally. It's just bad mental health. Like, it comes down to sibling rivalry. Because a mother or father loves one kid it doesn't take away from loving the other kid. You can love them both the same and each uniquely. You don't have to have all the money in the world. It's ridiculous. In fact if you have too much it can be distracting. So, it's all just mental health.
LL: I've got five brothers but I don't think we compete over parental love. It's more about having a peer group, I think. As in: "Well, he's done this ... so I'd better accomplish something."
JC: Hmmm, I'd dig a little deeper. Five brothers? I don't know. I think there's something else going on there.
LL: I'm getting therapy from Joan Cusack!
JC: There you go.
LL: (I start to ask question) What do you make of the current ..
JC: Now are you married?
LL: I am. Going on five years, now.
JC: Well you go that going for ya! Kids?
LL: Nope, no kids yet.
JC: Well you gotta do that!
LL: I don't know. We've thought about adopting and we're active in exchange student programs (AFS) so we like doing that too.
JC: Wow. That's fantastic!
LL: Yeah, it's really nice because you get to learn about another culture.
JC: And they become ambassadors [for our country].
LL: Well, yeah, hopefully. If we do our jobs right. Okay, so what do you make of the current slate of independent cinema? I know that's a lofty thing to talk about. It seems like War Inc. has a few short weeks to make a splash before it’s eaten up by the blockbusters.
JC: First off, thank you for even caring what I think. Because really. (Laughs) I would never presume to think that my thoughts are really that interesting or important. However, I will talk to you about independent cinema. I think that it comes down to tough economic times of bad presidents. I think that women are in a transition stage. Just in general, where they are trying to figure out working and family. Once that stage ends and women are more comfortable they will influence the film industry a little more. But right now if you're going to be a woman in the film industry you have to be a crazy person ... because if you weren't manic-depressive just being on the celebrity side you'll wind up being that way. Or if you're trying to do production, people will work such crazy hours because I think men can get a little work-a-holic-ish. They get working in the work world and not working in the relationship world or the family worlds because it might be a little more difficult. Soooo, once we get that changed maybe we can get better films.
LL: Clearly you and your brother John work together a lot; do you ever have creative differences?
JC: We have different ideas. And sometimes it's fun to hear about different thoughts and feelings about things. Obviously. Creatively, I'm so grateful to be in this business. So if he's trying to make a movie like this that's so hard to do I just trust his sense of humor and politics. So I'm just ready to go lend a hand.
LL: When do you start Confessions of a Shopaholic?
JC: Just finished it actually.
LL: And you've got Kit Kittredge: An American Girl coming out too. It's a busy summer for you.
JC: Yes. That film is interesting because [of] the American Girl model. If studios could get on it, they would be in good shape. It's so content-driven, but meaningful and empowering. I think that's why it's so incredibly successful. Because while it's commercial, it's empowering for girls. I think that boys need other outlets besides sports and "getting girls." They need something deeper! Raising two boys, I realize men need more. Sports and getting girls, they get trapped there somehow. But there's more to you men, I know it! I see it in my boys. You're loving, sensitive, and interested. And fascinating.
LL: See, I usually pay like $100 an hour for this sort of affirmation.
JC: I'm happy to be there. See what I get to do with my job?
LL: Press can be tiring though can't it?
JC: But what's fun is I get to talk about real things as opposed to "What's Cameron Diaz like? Blah, blah, blah," or, "What cool outfit are you wearing?" That's not really fun for me.
LL: Yeah, not as relevant.
JC: Although, I did just do a movie with Cameron Diaz and she IS really nice.
LL: I'll note that for the record. What movie was that?
JC: My Sister's Keeper. Ah, I'm being told we've got to wrap it up.
LL: Okay, one more quick one. Do you think War, Inc. has any parallels to something like Thank You for Smoking?
JC: I didn't see it. Wish I had. I'm blaming it on my children.
LL: Well, that's a good thing to spend more time on.
JC: Yes. Thank you. And good luck with having a baby... or getting one!
With that our time was up! War Inc. releases in New York and Los Angeles this Friday, May 23.