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1408 - John Cusack interview

John Cusack in 1408

Compiled by Jack Foley

JOHN Cusack talks about appearing in horror film 1408, his long appreciation of Stephen King novels and why he relished the challenge of appearing on-screen most of the time by himself…

Q: How faithful is the film to the original Stephen King short story?
A: You’d be amazed how much stuff from the short story kept making its way back into the script – which is pretty interesting – you would think that it would run out of steam but it didn’t. There’s so much detail.

Q: Did you have any misgivings about doing 1408 because your role is so demanding?
A: I sort of had the opposite reaction. I’m always trying to get good material and to be in good movies. There was something about 1408 that I thought was frightening in a good way. Usually you get a script and you think that maybe you can make something good out of it. But when I read this I wondered… can we pull this off? And I would much rather be reaching like that. This felt almost punk rock, it felt pretty out there. It’s about one guy in a room and the room goes crazy on him and I thought: “How do you do a duet with a character that is a room?” I also liked that it is more than a horror movie, it seemed that it owed a little bit more to Rod Serling… that it was more of a metaphysical mind-bender. And I think that Stephen King is a really under-rated writer that way.

Q: Did you meet with Stephen King?
A: No, I’ve never met him.

Q: It’s interesting that initially 1408 was only intended to be a few pages in his book On Writing in which King explains his process?
A: I had read that he had never intended it to be a full story. From what I have heard Stephen King is very particular about who he lets do the films of his work but once he agrees then he doesn’t interfere. So I knew I had to get his approval. They said that they wanted to do it with me and he had the right to say no. I guess he turned down some other, bigger guys. But it was nice to hear that he approved of my work.

Q: When did you know that almost no special effects would be used in the filming of 1408 and therefore even more demanding for the film makers?
A: I think there are some but not many by today’s standards. It is very old-fashioned in a certain kind of way. But once the room really gets angry and annoyed that my character hasn’t given in, then it does start to get pretty out there. It’s much more of a dance that I’m doing with the cinematographer and the director – in a strange way it’s one long monologue. It’s both easier and tougher than it looks.

Once you begin you have to let it go and keep moving forward. So we find different ways to try and re-invent the space. We found different ways to have ebb and flow into it. Because once he gets into the room and he’s a believer then it’s almost as if the film red lines. And how long can you keep that there? So you have to find ways that my character can convince himself that he has control of the situation.

The writers have thought of a few ways and Mikael and I have thought of some ways for him to temporarily regain his equilibrium and think he has control over it. One of them has to do with the way that Harry Houdini used to go around disproving fake mystics. So he thinks the room is a great, elaborate con and he’s going to figure it out. Even though he’s scared, he believes there is a reason for everything… great magicians do great things and his is a good one. So he wants to figure it out. But then he loses that and so then he thinks that he has been slipped a drug and that he just needs to ride that out. So he thinks he can conceive what is going on – he is having a bad trip – and he just has to get through it. And after that…

Q: Has the film made you think about the rooms you stay in around the world?
A: I have definitely been in many spaces where I’ve thought that the energy was strange and you could feel that dark stuff had happened, or you could feel that there was a very light spirit in there. It sure does seem to me that places have feelings. But I also think that the work of the Devil is that you are going to find in that room what you bring in with you. You’re going to have to face yourself. So that has that mythological tradition of somebody moving into the underworld and facing his or her own demons.

Q: What are your thoughts on the paranormal?
A: I’m pretty convinced that there’s much more to Heaven and Earth… I personally don’t have any doubt about that. We put a line in the script where my character says something about an agnostic has no courage or conviction, if you really want to be convicted you have to be an atheist – agnostics don’t stand for anything. I find it to be a silly, arrogant position to think that you could possibly know that there is nothing else there. It’s very presumptuous. And I have had some pretty bizarre experiences. I have had people pop up into my mind and it seems so much more vivid than a memory… a very powerful sensation… and they will call right away. Or you will find out that there’s some news about them. So I have had those situations where people have been thinking about each other. It just feels that it couldn’t be a coincidence.

There have also been those types of things where you feel you have been there before or you meet people and you sense that you have met them before and you know stuff about them that you couldn’t really know. I have also had a couple of experiences where I’ve been in a room and I’ve seen things move. That has happened to me twice in my life. I was with people and asked if there had been an earthquake. It was in a restaurant and we both saw that something had moved. To this day, I can’t figure it out. What I know for sure is that I don’t know and what I know for certain is that I can’t explain the experiences I’ve had and I’m not making them up.

I was with another person and they can’t explain it but we both saw it. So I’m not crazy and I didn’t dream it. My logic says that the spirit world, whatever it is, has to be just as complicated and intense as this one. And in a way, confused and crossed agendas as this world. So I’m sure there must be some over-laps. There’s definitely evil energy on this planet. You can feel it permeating on the Earth this summer – this is like the summer of evil, and you can feel it all. It doesn’t mean you can take away human responsibility for any of these things, but there are dark forces.

Q: Are you a Stephen King fan?
A: Yeah. When I was growing up The Shining and The Stand were my favourites. I remember reading The Stand when I was in 8th Grade. I started it and I fell asleep with the book next to me, I just couldn’t read it fast enough, it was so gripping.

Q: Did you have nightmares as a kid?
A: I went with my parents to Nantucket and we were on one of those little islands. There were long winding country roads and pathways and they were showing The Shining. I didn’t tell my mom I was going to see it and I went and then when I got out of the theatre it was dark and I had to walk all the way home on this long winding road. And I think that was probably as scared as I ever remember being as a youngster. I felt as though I was in the maze in The Shining and round the next corner Jack Nicholson was going to come out with the axe. He wasn’t going to scream: “Danny!” He was going to say: “Johnny!” And come after me.

Q: How did you maintain your energy for 1408 because the film depends on you?
A: That’s the game. I think it’s nice to be afraid that you might not be able to pull it off, rather than to be afraid that no matter what I do that this is going to be average. I like to have that kind of challenge. And I like the director Mikael quite a bit, I liked his film Evil a lot. He’s very collaborative, we’d go in there each day and it was a partnership and a journey for us to find out how we’d pull this off. So there’s something quite exciting about it.

Q: How was it filming in London?
A: I wish I had had a little more time off, but that’s the gig. We edited High Fidelity there but this was the first time I spent three or four months in a row there and it was lovely.

Read our review of 1408