John Cusack isn't the nostalgic type. "I don't usually look backwards too much," Cusack told CITY via phone from his Chicago residence, in advance of his Rochester appearance this week. But he'll make an exception for the things he loves, such as "old baseball, sports teams, the '85 Bears," he says. "So, I guess I have a sweet spot for things that I like...but as far when you're doing it, you wanna keep moving to the next thing. And what's in front of you."
Coincidently enough, the Kodak Center's screening of his 1989 film "Say Anything," which brings him to town this Thursday night, is very much in front of Cusack. He's screened the film in theaters a half dozen times this year. "Say Anything" centers on Cusack's character Lloyd Dobler, a noble ne'er-do-well who dares to ask out fellow high school senior, Diane Court, a pretty, preppy, straight-A student. Both characters grapple with an unanswerable, unavoidable question: "What do they want to do when they grow up?" And in this case, whether they can or should do it together.
The film has gained cult status and general acclaim since its debut. Its most memorable scene -- featuring Cusack's trench coat-clad lead character hoisting a boombox over his head, blasting Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" outside his ex-girlfriend's window -- became something of a modern archetypal image of a jilted lover begging for a second chance. And Cusack went on to have a career of memorable performances in blockbusters "Con-Air" and "Hot Tub Time Machine," and niche romantic comedies "Grosse Point Blank" and "High Fidelity," which he has also took on the road this year.
For Cusack, revisiting these films is less about vanity and more about his fans' relationship with his films.
"If people keep coming and enjoying it, I'll keep doing it," Cusack says. "It's kind of a party atmosphere. You can see the fans having an almost interactive experience with the movie," he says, adding that the audience's reaction almost sounds like the audiences of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
Each screening is paired with a spirited question and answer session. Cusack says most fans want to talk about their favorite scenes or characters, while others want to talk politics, which is a passion of his.
"These days, I'm mostly upfront with politics because of the Trump Administration and how dangerous it is," Cusack says. "The press is under attack. I work on trying to preserve principles that matter."
But Cusack's principle-driven work started years before the Trump Administration. He's been an outspoken critic of drone warfare and sits on the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. That organization was founded by fellow Chicago native Daniel Ellsberg, who famously leaked The Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War. The foundation's site says that it's "dedicated to helping support and defend aggressive, public-interest journalism focused on exposing mismanagement, corruption, and law-breaking in government." Other key members of the organization include Edward Snowden, The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald, and filmmaker Laura Poitras.
Cusack says that politics have always played a role in how he chooses his acting roles. "You can be in super jingoistic manipulative pieces or choose not to be in them," he says. "I've always chose not to do those types of things. Sometimes there's a lazy way to tell a story. And sometimes there's a more provocative, honest way to tell a story."
His quest for honest, provocative roles has recently led him to participate in independent films with unique slants, such as the 2012 dark period piece, "The Raven," inspired by the titular Edgar Allan Poe poem; and the 2015 Spike Lee musical, "Chi-Raq," which is an adaptation of the Greek play "Lysistrata," set against a modern day backdrop of Chicago gang violence.
"There's a difference between having a point of view and sticking to it," Cusack says. "Or having no ideas at all. Even if you're making a popcorn movie, you can still try to make something good. Something that has contrast."