Compiled by: Martyn Palmer
WHEN John Cusack first read the script for Max he knew instantly
that the film, if it was ever made, would be provocative.
He was convinced, too, that it is a deeply 'moral' film with
an important message and that made him determined to use his star
power to make sure that it did indeed make it to the screen.
Max is controversial - to some at least - because of its fictionalised
portrayal of a penniless Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor) recently returned
to a ravaged Germany after serving in the first world, war as
a young, struggling artist who is befriended by a Jewish art dealer,
Max Rothman (Cusack), a man who has also recently returned from
the horrors of the trenches in France, where he lost an arm and
his dreams of becoming an artist himself.
Max dares to show us a human side to Hitler, a man on the verge
of a fateful decision to reject modernism and a future of hope
and instead embrace a hideous, hate-filled political doctrine
which would once again plunge the world into mass conflict and
lead to the deaths of millions.
"It is a disturbing film," says Cusack. "And I
think the paradox is that we see this person as human, with certain
desires, and to see him in that light makes us uncomfortable.
"It troubles me too, but in that discomfort was maybe one
of the messages of the piece, which is that besides feelings of
revenge and self protection, maybe it's not helpful to view evil
in a one-dimensional way.
"Maybe we need to look at it on a deeper level and maybe
that's the moral thing to do which doesn't excuse it or sympathise
with it in any way.
"I believed that to be true when I first read the script
and I believe that to be true now."
Q. Certain Jewish groups have criticised Max. How do you feel
A. Well, the major attacks have been from people who haven't
even seen it.
Q. Do they have cause for concern, do you think?
A. No. It is a disturbing film. And I think the paradox is
that we see this person as human, with certain desires, and to
see him in that light makes us uncomfortable. It troubles me too
but in that discomfort was maybe one of the messages of the piece
which is that besides feelings of revenge and self protection,
maybe it's not helpful to view evil in a one dimensional way.
Maybe we need to look at it on a deeper level and maybe that's
the moral thing to do which doesn't excuse it or sympathise with
it in any way. I believed that to be true when I first read the
script and I believe that to be true now so I can defend it with
a clear conscious.
Q. I guess that's the problem, showing a man who was obviously
evil to have any kind of humanity at all
A. I think there is such a thing as evil but I don't think
it's helpful to one dimensionalise human beings and where they
came from. Their actions are absolutely, unequivocally evil but
it's not helpful to not look at where that might come from.
Q. The film suggests that he could have taken a different
A. From a spiritual perspective art is a blank slate, it can
go either way, you know, it can either be used to regenerate a
human being and make them more whole, by expressing what is inside
of them, you know funnelling it, turning rage into creativity
for the benefit of yourself and others or it can be used to manipulate
people, take away their free will or mask it.
Q. Can art be dangerous do you think?
A. I think most good art is dangerous because it explores
and presses taboos and threatens people's sense of normality and
status quo, all the obvious reasons. But not all art has to be
Q. When you first read the script, were you slightly apprehensive
about being involved in the project?
A. No, I was excited. But I'm kind of stubborn that way. I
Q. If the film was attacked before it was even seen, that
proves the power of the piece, in a way.
A. Yeah and I'm fine with that (laughs). No, seriously, there
hasn't been much controversy from people who have seen the movie
because they see that the entire core of the film is on the side
of Max and progress and humanism and the illusion, the insanity
I mean, how could anyone come out of this film and not think that
the man is a coward, a thief and a liar? If somebody came out
pro Hitler then they didn't see the film that we made.
Q. Were you involved in putting together the finance for the
A. They had some financing and that fell apart and when I
came on board, along with my agency, we worked really hard to
get the money together.
We found some more investors and there was this incredibly complex
deal to put money together - it was held together with safety
pins and tin foil and barbed wire and finally, at the 11th hour,
a private investor, a lovely lady, put her own money in. She doesn't
like publicity but she deserves it.
Q. Did you have any input with the script?
A. The script didn't need re-writing. I worked with Menno
and the one thing I did was challenge him to show a little more
of Hitler's documented journey into the occult. And a little of
that is in the film but it's foreshadowed because that is a whole
Q. You seem to have an admirable knack of choosing good projects..
A. You missed a few (laughs). But thank you.
Q. How do you go about that?
A. I think I kind of try to do one film to keep my name in
the box office, hopefully that will be a successful one.
Q. Like Con Air?
A. Stuff like that. And then I try to use that as leverage
to do stuff that I really like.
Q. Will you continue to co-produce?
A. Yeah. If you have a great project and no one else is going
to get it done, then a lot of times you have to go and fight for
Q. You've been working with Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman
recently on The Runaway Jury. How was that?
A. Fantastic. I was lucky, because that's a big film but it's
a smart script and great actors.
Q. What made you want to become an actor in the first place?
A. I don't know. My father, I guess, watching wonderful plays
and films. We had a great movie theatre near where we lived and
I can remember going there an awful lot as a teenager and seeing
Kubrick films, Coppola, you know this was the late seventies.
I just loved it. I loved the journeys you were taken on.