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Exclusive: John Cusack on playing a Beach Boy in film ‘Love & Mercy’

Taking on the mammoth task of inhabiting the mind and soul of legendary Beach Boys singer, Brian Wilson, former 90s heartthrob John Cusack, 48, talks to us about portraying the troubled icon. 

Exclusive: John Cusack on playing a Beach Boy in film ‘Love & Mercy’

Cusack, somewhat of an icon in his own right, is known for movies such as Say Anything (1989), Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Grosse Point Break (1997), High Fidelity (2000), 2012 (2009), and Maps to the Stars (2014).   

Ironically, the Beach Boys music is very much about the lighter side of life, with song titles as Good Vibrations, and Fun, Fun, Fun, however, in reality, the truth of how these songs were created was set against a backdrop of mental abuse and darkness.

What was it like to immerse yourself into the troubled yet brilliant mind of Brian Wilson? It must have been quite a journey emotionally as an actor?

Well, the source is Brian’s music so it was an honour.  Obviously, it was a tough thing to do because Brian is still alive and he’s gone through some dark periods of his life but he’s a vital guy and his story isn’t over yet.

How did you feel playing an icon of this stature?

I was rightfully humbled but also eager to do it, especially that we got to work with Brian and Melinda, his wife.

What is your own relationship to The Beach Boys? You are of the generation that caught the tail end of their success?

Well the relationship is always that if you are interested in pop culture and any of those things, all roads sort of lead through Brian Wilson and Phil Spector and The Beatles.  Even when I was in high school I was much more interested in the British invasion, the punk invasion than what was going on in America.  And even when I did High Fidelity, the only thing in Nick Hornby’s book and in the American translation, the three greatest record snobs in the world could agree on was that Brian Wilson was on everybody’s Top Five list.

How much did Brian really collaborate with you? Did he give you any insight about what his unbelievably unethical doctor really did to him?

Yeah.  He did.  I think in a way the story of Brian is such lore and it’s such legend; the genius who stopped making music and went away and you don’t really know where fact ends and legend begins.  So I think the idea to do something that was factual and accurate without it being a documentary, it wasn’t closed circuit cameras or anything, but this is how it happened, this is really how bad it was.  In fact, Brian said it was worse than what we showed.  But the good news is, when I went to talk to him for the first time, you walk into his house and the doors flung open and there were dogs running around, there were kids and there was somebody in the kitchen. It was like, ‘Wait a minute, this doesn’t seem like a troubled person, this seems like a really happy house.’  And he’d be up in his music room and he’s still totally in love with Melinda, so I was amazed when I met him.  I had to ask him the questions and he wanted to tell me about it and he re-feels them when he talks about it.

Speaking of interpreting him, what is your singing voice like? Do you have one?

Yeah, I sang with Brian at the wrap party. But I can’t sing like Brian. No one can.

Since the movie touches on celebrity, and this is familiar territory for you, how difficult was it for you in terms of privacy? 

I never went for that kind of celebrity lifestyle.  But it’s a strange thing because in a weird way when you are on the streets now, you can get a little bit more anonymity because most people are walking around like this (pretending to look at his smart phone), and so they don’t see you.  So, I am like ‘Wow, this is kind of great.’  But that didn’t used to be the way it was.

What about in terms of meeting a woman? Most women know who John Cusack is, that must be a double-edged sword?

Well, I don’t really go to places where I have to worry about that.  I know how to go and have private space.  You definitely come into a room with people having an assumption with how you are, and sometimes it’s just what’s repeated in the press or if it gets put up on the computer and repeated you deal with it.  But I have been very lucky because people don’t have too many negative associations with me and so people are usually pretty open to just meeting me as I am.  I just try to live as normal of a life as I can with a little bit of a strange abnormality because I have been on screens for a long time.  But it’s a high class problem.

I was wondering if your siblings give you any advice about women?Yeah, my sisters give me a lot of advice all the time and they are not shy about it. (laughs) Especially my sister Joan.  So I always get straight talk from them which is good.

What do they tell you?

I don’t think they try to tell me what to do as much as they just say, ‘What does your instinct say?’ or ‘What does your heart say?’ They just channel you back to get out of your head and into your heart.

The other day, I was watching ‘Say Anything’ on the plane. Do you watch those old movies of yours?
No, I don’t really watch them.  I wince a lot, but not at that movie.  The movies that people are very fond of I think it’s kind of nice.

Watching the movie I thought, what if Brian had not met Melinda, would he still be alive? Do you believe in fate?
I think I believe more and more in fate because I have worked real hard and tried to do the best I could for a certain project or a certain relationship and then, no matter what you do, you can’t seem to make it work.  And sometimes the universe just opens up and you walk through.  I mean, any working actor would have wanted to play Brian Wilson, anybody would want the part.  So I think it was for sure not just because I decided I wanted it and I get offered anything I want, that’s not how the world works. (laughs) but it was a little bit of timing and fate, for sure.  So I believe there has to be a little bit of that involved in your life and your personal life.

So do you believe the right woman is out there for you?
I don’t really think of it that way because I don’t really talk about my personal life that much because that involves other people.

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