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On mute

John Cusack practices the art of silence


John Cusack has cornered the market on chatterboxes, like those he played in The Sure Thing, Say Anything ..., Grosse Pointe Blank or High Fidelity. But anyone who's wished Cusack would just shut up for once, take heart. He spends a good deal of time quietly observing the unfolding courtroom dynamics from the relative silence of a jury box in the new legal thriller Runaway Jury.

Years in development, Runaway Jury is the latest in a series of indistinguishable but largely lucrative movies based on the best sellers of John Grisham. Freely adapted (by four screenwriters) to the extent that the cold, heartless tobacco company in the book is now a cold, heartless gun manufacturer, the film is otherwise fairly faithful to Grisham's patented David-vs.-Goliath formula, in which the sundry corporate Goliaths may change but the nobly put-upon Davids invariably prevail.

Creative Loafing: Would you agree with director Gary Fleder that this role in Runaway Jury is a real change of pace for you or a case of casting against type?

John Cusack: Well, even though I'm not sure what that means, I'll take it. I'm glad if people feel like I'm stretching outside my box, whatever that box is. I don't know what my type is, really, except what the studios are willing to pay me money to do. I'm offered a lot of romantic comedies, which I don't enjoy doing as much, but it's not like I'm not always looking for totally different things to do, be it The Grifters or Being John Malkovich or whatever.

For one thing, to borrow a quote about your character from Say Anything ..., you seem to have perfected a trademark "nervous talking thing" in many of your other films, which isn't quite the case with your character in Runaway Jury.

Yeah, it was kind of nice to pipe down for once, because usually I do play characters who just never shut up. There's obviously more than one thing going on with this character, but I liked the challenge of finding things to express or show without the benefit of a lot of dialogue.

Talk a little about working with Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman [who co-star as a high-powered jury consultant and a high-minded attorney, respectively].

They're two of the great icons of American film, right among the very elite. It was similar to the sensation I felt working with Al Pacino [in City Hall], because I grew up watching their films, and they made me want to become an actor myself. ... The other cool thing is, beneath it all they're like almost any other actor. They get nervous and insecure, too. You have to figure, if it can happen to people of their caliber, then it just might be part of the human condition, or at least part of the acting condition, you know?

What makes you nervous or insecure after all this time?

Well, I probably don't get as nervous as I used to. At a certain point, you just realize that there's nothing you can do to make something like Serendipity into something like Max. Things are what they are. They're similar, because they always require a certain amount of commitment on your part to get into the flow and keep it engaging. But they're each different, too, because sometimes the stakes are higher, or sometimes the movie's more about ideas or things that hold more meaning in people's lives.

There are several Atlanta-based actors in some of the film's smaller roles. [In addition to Rhoda Griffis and Bill Nunn, who prominently appear as other jury members, Margo Moorer, Ted Manson, Shannon Eubanks and Afemo Omilami also pop up in isolated scenes.] Do you get the same kick working with actors who may not be as famous or legendary as a Hackman or a Hoffman?

I definitely got a kick from working with Rhoda. She's a trip. Between her and ["SNL" alum] Nora Dunn, we had a blast shooting all that jury-room stuff. I kept telling Rhoda she should move out to L.A. and get her own sitcom, but she didn't seem too interested in uprooting herself. I guess L.A.'s loss is Atlanta's gain.


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