LOS ANGELES – After some 20 years playing unconventional heroes, it's surprising to discover that John Cusack (search) looks classically heroic in the flesh.
In a hotel promoting the new romantic comedy "Must Love Dogs," (search) the 6-foot-2 actor seems to loom larger than most of his best-known screen characters. Among them: the romantically challenged, boom-box hoisting Lloyd Dobler in "Say Anything" (1989); bumbling, stumbling young playwright David Shayne in Woody Allen's "Bullets Over Broadway" (1994); and the wise-beyond-his-years U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin in the action blockbuster "Con Air" (1997).
In "Must Love Dogs," Cusack is Jake, a down-and-out divorcee dragged into the world of Internet dating, where he meets another reluctant romantic, played by Diane Lane (search). Based on Clare Cook's 2002 confection of a novel, the breezy date film is one of the last places you'd expect to find the 39-year-old Cusack, who generally prefers meatier fare.
AP: The character of Jake builds boats that he seems to care more about crafting than selling. It seems as if putting art over commerce is an important tie that binds you with this guy.
Cusack: I think the character has started a small business and made some money and now he's sort of doing what he wants to do, and so I think sometimes that might be kind of what I've done, which is I've tried to do some more commercial movies so that I can go do movies that I want to do. In that sense, I'm like him in a way. You know, he's sort of stubborn in a way. And I think I probably am, too.
AP: You seem to have always favored artier films over commercial ones. And when you have gone for the blockbusters, there's been surprising artistic integrity. Take "Con Air."
Cusack: There's always that balance. I mean, I would be totally disingenuous if I said I didn't always think, Well, can this movie be good and successful. Can this be commercial, but is it going to be a big release? And you think about all those things. It would be a lie if I said I don't. A movie like (Con Air), you know it's going to be a big summer release and it's (produced by) Jerry Bruckheimer ... it's designed to be this big, commercial thing.
AP: Still, it doesn't appear as if you've ever sold your soul.
Cusack: No, I actually think a movie like that is actually more straight up than some movies that pretend to be art-house movies but are really kind of pandering.
AP: How about "Must Love Dogs"?
Cusack: This is one that's kind of both. I was going to go off and make another film, and it fell apart because the business is so weird these days. ... And then they called and said, Well, there's this romantic comedy with Diane Lane. I went, Wow! I guess that would be pretty good because I hadn't done a lot of romantic comedies lately, and I thought the opportunity to work with her was so great. And then I met (director) Gary Goldberg and he seemed like just the greatest guy in the world: totally collaborative, open, and just this great person. ... And it ended it up being a really great experience — really wonderful, wonderful group of people. You know, it's light fare in the sense that it's not about war and disease or any of that stuff. It's about dating and love and it's a very kind of springtime movie. ... But (Goldberg) very much was intensely interested in these characters, and loved them, and really wanted to give them the biggest stage to work on that he could, flesh them out. So, it was a very, very enjoyable kind of artistic process to go do it.
AP: What do you think the film says about dating and romance?
Cusack: We're all kind of God's fools. The process is going to make fools out of all of us, I think: fools in the best sense, in the sense of struggling and innocent and vulnerable.
AP: Are you a dog guy?
Cusack: Yeah, I love dogs.
AP: It's got to be hard, because you're on the road a lot.
Cusack: Yeah, it's hard for my lifestyle, because you're gone. But one day ...