Nationality: American. Born: Evanston, Illinois, 28 June 1966. Education: Trained for the stage with Byrne and Joyce Piven at the Piven Theatre Workshop, Chicago. Career: Writer and director of musicals for Evanston Township High School; appeared in industrial films and commercials; founder, New Crime Productions, 1986; director and producer of the play Alagazam . . . After the Dog Wars , Chicago, Illinois, 1988. Awards: Commitment to Chicago Award (with other family members), Chicago Film Critics Association, 2000. Agent: William Morris Agency, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019–4701, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
Class (Carlino) (as Roscoe)
Sixteen Candles (Hughes) (as Bryce); Grandview, U.S.A. (Kleiser) (as Johnny Maine)
The Journey of Natty Gann (Kagan) (as Harry); Better Off Dead. . . (Holland) (as Lane Myer); The Sure Thing (Reiner) (as Walter "Gib" Gibson)
Crazy Summer (Holland) (as Hoops McCann); Stand by Me (Reiner) (as Denny Lachance)
Hot Pursuit (Lisberger) (as Dan Bartlett); Broadcast News (Brooks) (as Angry Messenger)
Tapeheads (Fishman) (as Ivan Alexeev); Eight Men Out (Sayles) (as Buck Weaver)
Fat Man and Little Boy (Joffé) (as Michael Merriman); Elvis Stories (Stiller) (as Corky); Say Anything . . . (Crowe) (as Lloyd Dobler)
The Grifters (Frears) (as Roy Dillon)
True Colors (Ross) (as Peter Burton)
Roadside Prophets (Wool) (as Serial Eater); The Player (Altman) (as himself); Shadows and Fog (Allen) (as Student Jack); Map of the Human Heart (Ward) (as The Mapmaker); Bob Roberts (Robbins) (as Cutting Edge Host)
Money for Nothing (Menéndez) (as Joey Coyle)
The Road to Wellville (Parker) (as Charles Ossining); Baseball (Burns—doc, for TV) (voice); Floundering (McCarthy) (as JC); Bullets Over Broadway (Allen) (as David Shayne)
City Hall (Becker) (as Kevin Calhoun)
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Eastwood) (as John Kelso); Eastwood on Eastwood (Schickel—doc, for TV) (as Narrator); Anastasia (Bluth and Goldman) (as voice of Dimitri); Con Air (West) (as Vince Larkin); Grosse Pointe Blank (Armitage) (as Martin Q. 'Marty' Blank) (+ sc, co-pr)
The Thin Red Line (Malick) (as Captain John Gaff); Chicago Cab (Cybulski and Tintori) (as Scary Man) (+ pr); This Is My Father (Quinn) (as Eddie Sharp, the Pilot)
Being John Malkovich (Jonze) (as Craig Schwartz); Cradle Will Rock (Robbins) (as Nelson Rockefeller); Pushing Tin (Newell) (as Nick Falzone); The Jack Bull (Badham—for TV) (as Myrl Redding) (+ exec)
High Fidelity (Frears) (as Rob) (+ sc, co-pr); White Jazz (Robert Richardson)
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The myriad adjectives used to describe actor John Cusack seem to mirror traits of his many film characters: highly intelligent, quirky, wry, cynical, wise, ambitious, sensitive, likable, arrogant, serious, soulful, funny. This wide range of intriguing attributes has made Cusack one of the most versatile actors of his generation. A movie star since his late teens, the darkly handsome Cusack can carry a film, but he will probably never earn a Cruise or Pitt-like fee for doing so. Undoubtedly this is because Cusack has always eschewed the obvious in favor of characters that Caren Weiner Campbell categorizes as typically ranging between "the extremes of Smirking Daredevil and Neurotic Ditherer."
As a child actor in Chicago's Piven Theater Workshop, John Cusack learned his acting chops and a disdain for the Establishment. Nonetheless, as a sixteen-year-old, he made his screen debut in the frothy Rob Lowe-Andrew McCarthy feature, Class , and followed up with a small role in another dubious Brat Pack classic, Sixteen Candles . But it was director Rob Reiner who saw Cusack's potential, casting the teenager in the starring role in the 1985 It Happened One Night update, The Sure Thing . As college freshman Walter "Gib" Gibson traveling across country in search of love, Cusack brought depth and a winning decency to what might have been a merely cloying role, and proved himself a romantic lead. This uncommon depth of character in a teen film would become the hallmark of Cusack's early career.
But it was Cusack's nuanced portrayal of the soulful Lloyd Dobler in Cameron Crowe's Say Anything (1989) that elevated the Chicago-based actor to cult stardom. As the kickboxing, misfit, high school senior, who wooed and won the beautiful class brain by playing Peter Gabriel outside her window on a boom box, Cusack became the thinking woman's screen idol of his generation. He also won the respect of the movie community. Critic Pauline Kael wrote of his performance, "Cusack is a wonder: Lloyd's (nearly) blank look tells you that a lot of things are going on inside him—he has a buzz in his blank face."
Cusack followed up Say Anything with his first adult role, as Chicago "Black Sox" third baseman, Buck Weaver, in John Sayles's dark baseball drama, Eight Men Out . As the lone player who knew of the scandal but refused to go along with the conspiracy, Cusack turned in a poignant and movie-stealing performance in a cast featuring some of Hollywood's hottest young actors.
Throughout his twenties, Cusack landed on his feet in small roles in some of Hollywood's most ambitious films, such as Fat Man and Little Boy , Bob Roberts , and The Player . The good-looking yet quirky actor became a favorite of many of cinema's most lauded auteurs, including Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Stephen Frears, and John Sayles. Cusack's most memorable roles from this period were youthful con artist Roy Dillon in the contemporary noir, The Grifters (1990), and earnest playwright David Shane in Woody Allen's period farce Bullets Over Broadway (1994).
More than holding his own in the formidable company of Angelica Huston and Annette Bening, Cusack was the emotional center of The Grifters . Caught in the emotional warfare between the grifter mother who abandoned him (Huston) and his glamorous grifter girlfriend (Bening), Cusack takes the film to its ugly and cathartic climax by doing less rather than more. As one critic noted, "Cusack makes a style out of recessiveness."
Bullets Over Broadway marked Cusack's full maturation as an actor, leaving behind the teen idols and troubled young men, and brilliantly assuming the role of an exceedingly serious and self-absorbed playwright who sells out for success. In a cast of brilliantly outlandish performances, Cusack's earnestness once again became a cinematic anchor.
After making a series of less-than-successful films such as The Road to Wellville and City Hall , Cusack took the role of sanguine U.S. Marshall Vince Larkin—the voice of reason in the smash 'em up Nicolas Cage blockbuster, Con Air .
The success of Con Air allowed Cusack to bankroll the first film from his own production company, New Crime. In Grosse Pointe Blank , Cusack plays humane and psychologically confused hit man Martin Blank, who returns home for his high school reunion. At the crux of the film is Blank's contentious and electric relationship with his high school girlfriend, played by Minnie Driver, and once again Cusack proves himself a charismatic, if rather dark, leading man.
Throughout the late 1990s, Cusack alternated Hollywood films with independent efforts. For every Pushing Tin , there was a New Crime production such as High Fidelity . Consequently, Cusack's popularity with audiences grew even as he continued to be a favorite of filmmakers such as Spike Jonze, Terence Malick, and Tim Robbins.
In Pushing Tin , Cusack plays Nick Falzone, a hotheaded air traffic controller who thrives on stress. When a renegade Zen-like controller, played by Billy Bob Thornton, joins their team, high testosterone high jinks ensue and Nick's world falls apart. Again, it is Cusack's underlying integrity that keeps audiences believing and empathizing with his character.
Spike Jonze cast Cusack in the leading role of out-of-work, down- and-out performance art puppeteer Craig Schwartz in the surrealistic Being John Malkovich . With his unkempt beard and greasy ponytail, Cusack's Schwartz is an anti-leading man who falls obsessively in lust with the mysterious Maxine, even as Maxine and his wife fall in love with each other. Cusack's seethingly dissolute and simultaneously bleak performance as Schwartz bears resemblance to nothing so much as his starring role as used record store owner Rob Gordon in his next New Crime effort, High Fidelity . Although Gordon is much better looking than Schwartz and infinitely more attractive to women, his inability to come to terms with his own adulthood propels him into one hopeless relationship after another. In both performances, Cusack willingly plays against his own attractiveness in order to create characters that are both utterly lost and curiously powerful.
As Cusack enters his mid-thirties, he seems to be experimenting with his own persona even as he is pushing the limits of the Hollywood system. He is, as Time magazine dubbed him, "the hip, cutting-edge, counterculture-but-inside-the-Establishment, Trojan horse guy."