John Cusack and his sister Joan are quite comfortable working alongside one another. But she’s not really in his shadow — Joan is more the classic sibling protector.
“I’m his big sister. You better be nice to him,” Joan Cusack told SheKnows from her Four Seasons suite in New York City.
The pair has appeared in numerous films together. John and Joan have teamed again for the summer movie “War, Inc.,” arriving in theaters May 23. Her brother’s handprints are all over the political satire.
“War, Inc.” also stars Hillary Duff, Sir Ben Kingsley and Marissa Tomei in a tale of a Middle Eastern brewing conflict that is far more complicated than anything the nation’s headlines could generate. Therein lies its power.
In the ’80s John Hughes arrived in Chicago ready to make a trilogy of teen classics, and discovered the thespian team of Joan and John Cusack. Casting them in “Sixteen Candles,” the director launched a career for both.
Since then, Joan has appeared in a slew of favorites, from “Working Girl,” “Toy Story” to “Friends with Money.” Her Filmography has allowed her to share scenes with some of Hollywood’s great talents. “Broadcast News” found her opposite Holly Hunter and ducking file drawers. “Married to the Mob” brought Michelle Pfeiffer and “Say Anything,” an iconic cinematic moment for her and brother John.
With “War, Inc.” the Cusack siblings are enlightening while entertaining. The biting comedy, in the vein of the such greats as “M*A*S*H” and “Wag the Dog,” sent Joan to a movie set in Bulgaria with a pop culture superstar, Hilary Duff. The pair hit it off and celebrated their mutual admiration society.
Haylie Duff told SheKnows that, “Hllary and I love Joan Cusack. Hilary called me all the time from Bulgaria,” Haylie said from the Vancouver set of her latest film. “We love Joan. Hilary and I were so excited that she worked with her.”
The phone rings
Joan Cusack: Hello, Joel, this is Joan.
SheKnows: Well, hello, Joan, how are you?
Joan Cusack: I’m fine. How are you doing?
SheKnows: I’m fantastic…
Joan Cusack: I’m actually surprised.
SheKnows: Why is that?
Joan Cusack: That I’m talking to a man on SheKnows. That must be fun for you! (Laughs)
SheKnows: It is fun, beyond rewarding.
Joan Cusack: So, you know then that SheKnows all?
SheKnows: You bet I know. And speaking of she’s that are in the know, what does Joan know?
Joan Cusack: (laughs) I don’t know. (laughs) Wait, I do know!
SheKnows: You know! Come on…
Joan Cusack: You’re right. I’m smart. I could write the book “She Does Know.”
SheKnows: Speaking of smart, “War, Inc” really gets to the point.
Joan Cusack: Right. The business of profiteering by killing others…
SheKnows: It could not be timelier. When you first got the script, what compelled you to be a part of this film?
Joan Cusack: As you know, it is my brother. I grew up in a house of political activism and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” “Monty Python,” and Mel Brooks — and so those things have been huge influences in our family. The discussion of “War Inc.” is part of our life. When John was making the movie…have you ever tried to make a movie?
SheKnows: I’ve written a few movie scripts…
Joan Cusack: Then you know. It’s difficult to get one made. It’s incredibly, incredibly, incredibly, incredibly, incredibly difficult to make a movie. So when he was able get some money and he got a third of what he got for “Grosse Pointe Blank,” I just wanted to go support him and go shoot it in Bulgaria.
SheKnows: Is there a difference performing off of your brother versus other actors such as that fine cast in “Friends with Money?”
Joan Cusack: Yeah, because it’s my brother. I think so because you are not worried. You’re not distracted. You get to trust your instincts. My brother does not let me look bad. And if he looks bad, it’s his fault. I think in the big picture for me, it is the best time. I believe in John and his passion. I think the country is in a political frame of mind right now because of the election.
A war comedy during war
SheKnows: It’s impressive to make certain movies in certain environments. I would think especially this one. You take its subject matter of war profiteering and I would think that was a problem exponentially for the filmmaker.
Joan Cusack: Right. Oh, my God. I feel grateful to be in this business and I think it’s like winning the lottery to get in, because there are so many talented people out there. Once you’re in and you get to work, the best times are the times when it’s the most relaxed. I think I’ve found in life in general, the more relaxed you are the better you do. If you get to be relaxed on a movie set, it is a luxury.
SheKnows: So you must have been on the set knowing you were working on something truly special because of what it took to get “War, Inc.” made.
Joan Cusack: It is amazing. And then, that’s what I love about John. He was having so much fun. Because whenever you do something that you really love, it’s so great. It’s so hard to get a movie made, and all these people joined in. Hillary Duff’s in the movie, which is crazy. She was so great, and Marisa Tomei, Ben Kingsley. It was fascinating. You get to do something that you care about and it’s relevant. And at least you tried to say something. The feeling is just great.
‘We were lucky’
SheKnows: You mentioned the political discussion that was active in your home growing up. So many kids aspire to go into acting, what it was about acting that you personally decided to make it a career?
Joan Cusack: I have to say to those kids, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t go there. Don’t do it. It’s not good. It’s not good.’
SheKnows: Then why did you?
Joan Cusack: Unless you come from really stable, healthy parents and it’s your passion, you’ve got to be willing to buy a lottery ticket and hope it works.
SheKnows: You saw that ahead of you and still went for it?
Joan Cusack: You know what? It was luck because we were young. We just happened to have great training for film. Joyce and Byrne Piven — who came out of the University of Chicago and the Compass Players with Mike Nichols and Elaine May — they did all these kind of humanizing theater games that were about how to develop your creative spirit. My sister was standing next to Jeremy Piven and it was stop sign. It just happened. It was random that we ended up connecting with them and getting that training which was so helpful. It was about being relaxed and not being self-conscious.
Somehow you just get in the door. Once you get in the door, it’s like you are on the other side of the world or something. It’s just luck. John Hughes came to Chicago to do movies and John and I were kids and we were there and…you know. It’s hard. We were lucky.