Thursday, August 27, 2009

Joan Cusack Talks About Her Beginnings With John Hughes and Acceptance

Joan Cusack (pictured left, credit Jon Farmer/Lifetime Television) has a new movie coming out on Lifetime Television, and it comes just in time for the back-to-school crowds. The movie is called Acceptance (Saturday, Aug. 22 at 9 pm ET/PT), and it focuses on one family - the Rockefellers - and the mother-daughter tug-of-war that comes with trying to choose the right college for you. And then once you do, will you be accepted?

I am sure we all remember the angst, the studying, the worrying, the essay writing, etc., that came with trying to get into the college of our choice. Acceptance illustrates all of this with wit and authenticity.

I caught up with Joan recently to discuss the movie, as well as some other topics that were on her mind.

Cindy Elavsky: Before seeing Acceptance, I had no idea how cutthroat it has become to get into college these days. Did you have any idea of what the high-school seniors are going through, prior to starring in this movie?

Joan Cusack: I have a couple of friends who just went through the whole college thing with their kids, so I did know how cutthroat it is, and it’s sad. It’s really sad.

CE: What did you think about the character of Nina Rockefeller after reading the script? She really wants the best for her daughter (in the form of Yale), but she is so high-strung in her efforts.

JC: It’s kind of almost typical. It’s putting all of your fears in one person, wondering if they’re gonna make it. It’s just a bucket of fears. It’s easy to be afraid as a parent, to not be proactive, to not think clearly. It’s like just wishing for a prince to come and take you away and take care of you for the rest of your life. It’s really easy to do that, but it never really helps anything.

CE: As a mother, in what ways can you relate to her?

JC: You want the best for your kids; you want them to succeed, and you want them to be happy. If getting into Harvard ensured that they’d be happy and have a meaningful life for the rest of their life … but really, it’s just a simplistic way of looking at life, and it’s easy to fall into that trap.

I love being a parent. It’s very challenging, but it is also very meaningful. You make mistakes all the time, because it is hard. You just want, sometimes, for it all to be fine. So, I do understand.

CE: What did you enjoy about the movie and about playing Nina?

JC: I personally like that the story itself was meaningful; it was about something. For me, that frees me up to enjoy playing around with the character. When I know that it is about something, I can just have more fun being that part.

I think she really loves her daughter. She did want to have a relationship with her, but she just didn’t see that her daughter was not the same as her. I think that happens all the time. Myself, I love parenting, so there were so many things to play with in there, so it was fun for me. Mae Whitman (who plays onscreen daughter, Taylor) was just so fun, and she is so accomplished and has great acting chops.

CE: For most of the film, Nina is doing much of the parenting alone. How much of a toll has this taken on Nina?

JC: When you are a control freak, you want to be the one who is doing everything. But then, at the same time, you are by yourself, so it’s hard when you’re alone. And it’s not really that satisfying. So, it’s a catch-22. It’s hard to know: Did she push her husband away because she was so controlling? Or did they both just have values that weren’t bringing their family together to start with? Ultimately it would be very hard to be a single parent.

CE: Your breakout role was as the Girl Geek in Sixteen Candles, which is my favorite John Hughes movie. Were you as shocked as we all were to hear of his passing a few weeks ago?

JC: Yes! Oh my gosh, yes.

You know, if he hadn’t lived in Chicago and been making teen movies when I was a teenager, I’d never be in this business, ever. There’s just no way. I tagged along with my older sister, who is beautiful and outgoing, and I just went along to the after-school theater thing, and somehow wound up with some really good training. The Piven Theatre Workshop was awesome. My sister Ann got into this really prestigious college, so she went off to college.

Then John Hughes came along, and I got a little part in the film and got a break. If he hadn’t been there, it never would have happened. It was just total serendipity. I feel like I owe everything to him.

I am so grateful that I had little parts in things over time, so you build up confidence to do stuff. It takes so much confidence. Because the parts I had were little parts, and John was such an empowering presence. He said that teenagers are alive and thinking and feeling and doing all sorts of interesting things. It was so empowering just being involved.

CE: Back in 2001, I remember you had your own sitcom, What About Joan. Would you be interested in starring in another TV series one day?

JC: Definitely. One thing I so admire about my brother (John Cusack): He gets things done. My God, it’s so hard to get something done. I really love doing TV and I am still trying to do that. I am trying to find something I can do here in Chicago.

CE: What kind of show would you like to be in?

JC: Something with an ensemble that is funny and real, and not cynical and mean and sophomoric. I think we have enough of that.

CE: What do you have coming up next for us?

JC: I did a motion-capture movie; it’s called Mars Needs Moms. It’s filmed by computer — you wear like a scuba suit with black dots on your face and there are no sets or anything. They just film it kind of like a play and they reanimate it all using computers. The technology is really amazing; it keeps getting better and better. Polar Express was the first one filmed like that. It’s a weird mixture of animation and real-life performance. It’s really cool.

Also, I am trying to develop a TV show, so hopefully that will work.


  1. I love her! I hope the new TV show works out.

  2. Me too. It would be great to be able to see her on a regular basis!