Interview: John Cusack and Rachel Weisz
In all honesty, this interview was scheduled to run last week as part of our RUNAWAY JURY coverage (read my interviews with Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman here). But fatherhood intervened (as it often will) and doctors visits and a sick baby took precedence and I wasn't able to meet my deadline. But in retrospect, I'm glad we're talking about this now in JURY's second week. The film kinda got lost in the shuffle this weekend amid the TEXAS CHAINSAW's and the KILL BILL's. But I'm hoping now, that with the help of this coverage and good word-of-mouth, the film will gain a wider audience and win over some more fans.
JoBlo himself said it was, "one of the more entertaining films that I've sat through all year." Smilin' Jack Ruby of CHUD says JURY is "a well-made, well-executed courtroom thriller." And check out all the nice things they're saying about it at Rotten Tomatoes. I haven't been paid to bring you this announcement, I just feel like pushing a movie I was surprised to really enjoy and think most of you will too. I never would've gone to see it were it not for the site and I'm hoping by giving it a little push here, some other people won't make that mistake. Anyway here's what John Cusack and Rachel Weisz had to say when they sat down to talk JURY in New Orleans...
What did you learn from watching Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman on the set?
JC: When I grew up in Chicago there was this theater - it was huge, a thousand seats, it had the balcony, it had the stars on top and a big screen - and we used to go there in the summer when they would have these retrospectives of all the great filmmakers in the 70s. They'd have Dustin's movies for a week or Gene Hackman's movies for a week, and all of the great directors. I used to go in the summer for a 10 o'clock show and listen to a retrospective. These are two great icons of American film and veteran actors, and they're right among the very elite. I feel very fortunate to work with those people that I grew up watching. I think that they sort of inspire me and reinforce things. Dustin is obviously so tenacious and passionate and so hungry, and he never wants to rest on his laurels. Gene is more of a thinker. He just comes in and knocks it out of the park and knows what he wants to do.
RW: I guess coming from England, Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman, they're your country’s big stars, and in England, they're even more so. I mean, they star on the American screen. These are huge American icons. I think that what John was saying about Dustin, he works harder than anyone I've ever seen. He cares so deeply about what he's doing. His passion is tremendous and he still gets scared. I still get scared, and I was terrified working with these guys and he told me, “I still get scared myself,” and I think that's what keeps an actor good. And Gene has this incredible power. You can sense that he's doing nothing. It's so simple what he's doing, and he has this thing going on inside him.
It's a smoldering power, and he comes in and does his job, he's very chivalrous, and very polite. I've been a massive fan of John’s since I can remember. It was a genuine honor to work with him. I feel like I was better when I got to work with him. He has this unbelievable charm and a lightness of touch, which is so brilliant for his character on this jury. No one suspects that he's up to anything. He sort of makes everything feel light and charming, but he has this other side as his character. I think that he has a huge intelligence, a profound intelligence. He's just an unbelievable combination, that wit and charm.
Do you stay with the accent when you’re not shooting a scene?
RW: I try to stay a little bit in the accent. It just helps. I can slide in and out, but I try to stay a little bit in it.
You knew where the script was going. How did you measure how many clues to drop without tipping off the audience?
JC: Well, I think in the theater - I sounded like an asshole right there - there's a saying, “Don't burn your steps,” which is you don't want to play where you're going to get to. So you know, that's a fun thing about doing something that's kind of a con movie or has a confidence game. You're gaining people's trust and there are some very slight misdirections. When you know that an audience is trying to figure out where a character is going or what their agenda is, there are some nuances, very subtle things, and you can sort of misdirect them so that they go, “Oh, I know it's going down this way.” And then it actually ends up going somewhere else. It's kind of fun that way. Gary [Fleder, the director] is a very precise kind of storyteller. He had methodical visions to the thing. We, of course, knew where it was going, but you sort of have hang back a little bit, and maybe do less sometimes than the audience imagines. That's the idea anyway.
The director said he didn’t think of your character as a "John Cusack type of role." Does it bother you when people can or can’t picture you in a role?
JC: I don't know what those roles are, really. I know sometimes what the studios want to pay me money to do, generally romantic comedies and stuff, which I don't like doing. So, I don't know what those roles are. This is a totally different role than stuff that I did in, say, HIGH FIDELITY. I don't know what that means, but I'm glad that Gary felt like I was stretching outside of my box, whatever that box.
Recently you’ve played characters who are playing characters. Was that the draw of playing this character?
RW: I don't know why one would be drawn to that. I think that it's fun to play a role where you have a secret and you have masks and you can take those masks off and have sort of a reveal. It just gives you something interesting to play. I think that made things more challenging and interesting.
Is it a conscious strategy to mix up the types of films you do?
RW: I wish that I had a strategy. I'm just a storyteller. I read a story and if I want to tell that story, I'll tell it. It doesn't really matter to me how much it costs. That's really a question for a producer. So, it's different kinds of stories. I have different tastes.
Did you draw on any other performances for this role?
JC: For the stuff that Rachel and I were doing, I definitely remembered the people that I'd met and studied for THE GRIFTERS because that was a con movie too. The first half of that movie is an elaborate con that these two people are doing. I definitely thought about that, but I'd never really seen a movie about jury tampering. The closest thing to that was 12 ANGRY MEN and that was just about jury deliberation. That was more of the aspects of being on a jury and what that means.
There are scenes where you're in the jury box, just watching the action. Is it difficult to act without dialogue?
JC: No, it's actually fun to do. It's fun to see what you can bring to that. That's also an element, when you're playing two movies about a confidence game, it's what you can express and what you can show. Rachel has a great, to me, transparency about her face and I think that a lot of movie stars, you can really see inside...what's going on. You can see it right there, all of her emotion. She has that aspect to her, but then, she can cover it up, mask it and only let you see what she wants to let you see, and what the character wants to let you see. That's a great combination.
How much does participating in big Hollywood productions give you the freedom to chase artistic films? Have you been doing much theatre in Chicago recently?
JC: I haven't really been doing much theatre in Chicago for a while. I took the theater company, or the spirit of it, and turned it into my film company, which is basically me and a couple of people trying to get movies made. I sometimes think that one big film is worth two MAX's some little, smaller film that I want to do, but the only way to do it is to make the studio box office on a big film. Then you say, “We want to do this film about Hitler and modern art and all of these different things,” and they say, “Well, you can't do that. No one will see that movie, but let’s go check it out.” They say, “Well, you're worth this in this territory, this in this territory.”
They do pre-sales and then give you some money to do it. There's a direct correlation between your box office profile and being able to make films that wouldn't get made if you didn't have a passion for them. So that's my plan, and this movie kind of falls in between because this is really smart [and] literate. It's also kind of very commercial. It's John Grisham and it has a big studio behind it, and it's a rare kind of no-brainer where you have a combination of a pretty cool film and [something] really commercial.
The film changes the books subject matter from tobacco to gun control? Was it because the tobacco issue had already been the subject of a movie?
JC: Yes, it seems like THE INSIDER done by Michael Mann was about a tobacco suit, but also think that it's just smart because it allows the movie to be its own thing. I mean, secondhand smoke kills, but I don't know if kills more than assault weapons. I think that it was very smart and very brave to do that. I loved it that it became about guns. I love the idea that these two characters find out the effect of gun violence; the extremes that they'll go to fight corruption. I thought that was very dramatic.
Do you think that this movie shows that the justice system is for sale in America?
JC: Justice is not for sale.
RW: I don't know; I'm an actor. I think that it definitely could be possible. It's a pretty extreme circumstance. I imagine that much worse things are going on than this movie shows. So, that's just me.
JC: I think that when there is that much money stake, there might some influence. I don't think that justice is for sale. I think that it's a battlefield. People are trying to fight the corruption.
This movie was filmed in and around New Orleans. What’s it mean to be able to shoot on location?
RW: It completely depends on where you are and what movie you're in. Sometimes you think, “I really feel like going there right now,” and sometimes you don't. I think that it was more than a beautiful backdrop. It had a wonderful mystery and ambiguity to it and I think that it has a pretty dark side. I was for five months and I wouldn't even begin to think that I know all about it. It's very multi-layered and I think that it's a good location for the story.
JC: I don't know if the movie would be as interesting if we were shooting on a lot in California and you had to drive on a freeway to get there and it was a smoggy sun, and we went in there and tried to affect Louisiana accents. I don't think that I'd feel the same.
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