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Max - John Cusack Q&A



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 about that?
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 path...
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 dangerous.

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 don't mind.

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 of racism.
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 film?
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 other film.

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 it…

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.

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