- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Among the new breed of film stars who came of age in the 1980s ("Please don't call us Brat Packers"), surviving in Hollywood as adults often proved more challenging than becoming famous in the first place. None has made the transition more smoothly than John Cusack.

Effortlessly cool, the 34-year-old Chicago-bred star kept right on working and thrived. Mr. Cusack has had his share of clunkers, such as Clint Eastwood's wrongheaded "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" and last year's "Pushing Tin," a supposed comedy about stressed-out air traffic controllers.

He was able to stride confidently from the wreckage of such cinematic bomb sites and nail the lead in last year's wildly acclaimed surrealist comedy "Being John Malkovich." In fact, he informed his agents he would fire them immediately if "Being John Malkovich" was made without him in it.

The still-boyish Mr. Cusack is starring in "High Fidelity," a charming comedy from director Stephen Frears. Mr. Cusack plays the owner of a Chicago vinyl-record store trying to sort out his romantic history. The soundtrack is crucial to the success of the movie, which features characters devoted to idolatry of the obsolete vinyl album.

Mr. Cusack helped pick the film's abundance of music, but he admits to finding the fanaticism of the avid record collector a bit strange.

"Actually, the music in this film is a little obscure even for me," he reports. "One of my writing partners has 10,000 pieces of vinyl and that's not even counting the CD collection. I'm not that obsessive a collector. But the eclectic nature of the music is what I like. I like everything from the Cramps to Mozart."

Mr. Cusack co-produced the film's knowingly hip soundtrack CD, which mixes new artists such as the Beta Band, Smog and Royal Trux with classic rockers such as Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, the Kinks and Stevie Wonder.

"Weeding it down to these 15 tracks was a bloodbath," he says with a laugh.

Music aside, "High Fidelity" also delivers a compelling story.

"It's really about men and their relationships to women," Mr. Cusack offers. "Men get into their 30s and some of them still aren't ready for a relationship. Even those who are ready still can't let go of their fantasies and projections. They think the laws of gravity won't work for them, so they believe that special woman is just around the corner. These men are crippled in their romantic delusions about what a relationship is supposed to be."

As for his own love life, Mr. Cusack is tight-lipped. He much prefers talking about his movie or movies in general.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with fairy tales," he says. "Films don't have to tell the truth all the time. People want to go out and have a good time, which is why they see action movies on a Saturday night.

"You could spend all your time judging that, but people will still go see them anyway. You can have romances where people meet their soul mates, but life is much messier. I personally like films that are funny but also reflect real life."

"High Fidelity" is certainly his kind of movie. Like "Grosse Pointe Blank," it was written and produced by Mr. Cusack and two longtime buddies, D.V. Devincentis and Steve Pink. It even features Mr. Cusack's sister, Joan Cusack, no slouch herself in the acting department, as well as Tim Robbins, Iben Hjejle, Lisa Bonet, Jack Black and uncredited cameos by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bruce Springsteen. As an actor, Mr. Cusack projects a likability that audiences believe regardless of the merits of the project. Mr. Cusack says he strives for a naturalistic performance style.

"That's what the craft is supposed to be about. If you can see people acting, then they're not doing a good job. Of course, if you have a hand in the writing and producing, you can create an atmosphere where the other actors can also be free.

"I've done like 40 films already, and five or six of those were really good. I know what happened on those sets and why it was good. It's an atmosphere where people can take risks."

He pauses, then sums it all up: "Somewhere along the line, this is supposed to be fun."

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