Note: In deference to Hurricane Florence, the screening of “Say Anything...” hosted by John Cusack has been postponed to Oct. 25. Tickets for the original performance will be honored at that time; those who can’t attend have until Sept. 21 to request a refund. Go to modell-lyric.com for more information.
You can talk about the boombox, or the chemistry with co-star Ione Skye, or the fact that audiences always love it when an underdog comes out on top.
But for John Cusack, much of the appeal of “Say Anything…,” writer-director Cameron Crowe’s 1989 comedy about mismatched teens with more in common — including a love for the songs of Peter Gabriel — than stereotypes would suggest, lies in the complexity of his character, Lloyd Dobler.
He was, the actor believes, someone audiences hadn’t encountered before.
“He’s a sensitive character, but he’s also a boxer, so he can take a punch,” Cusack says over the phone from Los Angeles. “He definitely doesn’t fall into a lot of the gender traps that lots of characters fall into.”
Cusack and his kick-boxing alter ego will be front and center Saturday night, when the 52-year-old actor hosts a screening of “Say Anything...” at the Lyric. It’s a new gig, hosting screenings of his films around the country and answering questions from fans he admits often know more about the movie than he does. So far, he’s having a good time.
“They’ve been super party atmospheres,” he says. “People seem to be having a real fun time. That’s nice. As long as people enjoy them, I’ll do them.”
He’s also shown 2000’s “High Fidelity,” Cusack says, and hopes to continue with such crowd favorites as 1997’s “Grosse Pointe Blank” and 2010’s “Hot Tub Time Machine,” plus “maybe a couple of the horror films or some of the other thrillers.”
Baltimore, however, will be lucky enough to get perhaps his most beloved film, the summer-after-high-school-graduation romance that gave hope to every nice guy who ever had the temerity to ask out the coolest girl in school. It’s also the film that made Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” the go-to song for every floundering romance, and launched Crowe on a career that would lead to such acclaimed movies as “Jerry Maguire” and “Almost Famous.”
Cusack, who had been appearing in movies since 1983 and had his career take off after 1985’s “The Sure Thing,” says he was lukewarm about “Say Anything...” when first approached.
“I didn’t want to do it at first,” he says. “Then I started talking to Cameron, and I said, ‘Well, I can do it, but we want to work on the character.’ So we worked on the character together.”
Their collaboration, Cusack says, made Lloyd more distinctive. They made him not so much into a rebel, but into someone who knows what he’s interested in — as he says repeatedly during the movie, he wants to spend as much time with Skye’s character, Diane Court, as possible. Beyond that and maybe doing a little kick-boxing, he’s open to whatever the future brings.
“He didn’t feel the need to have a confirmed, stable identity,” Cusack says. “He didn’t want to pretend, he didn’t have his future worked out. He just knew what he didn’t want to do, who he didn’t want to be… He was optimistic and sensitive, but then he was also a little bit more aware and more non-conformist. That’s what we brought to the front.”
Not that the film’s success is all about his character, Cusack hastens to add. There’s also Skye’s radiant, whip-smart yet vulnerable Diane and her intensely well-meaning but fatally flawed father, played with just the right amount of benevolent force by John Mahoney (later a multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominee as the cantankerous dad on “Frasier”).
“All of the three leads are all very well-drawn, and distinctly individual in their characteristics,” Cusack says. “The daughter, the father and then the young suitor — they’re all sort of richly drawn and performed. It just works as a film.”
It’s likely Cusack will gain even more insights into the movie and its appeal after Saturday’s post-film Q&A. People come to these screenings armed with all manner of questions.
“They’re super-interactive with the movies,” he says of his hosting experiences so far. “They’ve obviously seen them a bunch of times, so it’s a chance for them to see it in the big theater and laugh with a bunch of other people.
“And afterwards, they’re very into the film and want to ask questions about how it was made or what was happening on the set, how we decided to do certain things.”
And more than a few will doubtless ask about the film’s most iconic scene, when a heartbroken Lloyd stands outside Diane’s bedroom window, holding up a boombox playing “In Your Eyes” and hoping the song will convince her of his love in ways he can’t.
“Sometimes people show up with their own boxes,” Cusack says. “I’ve signed a few of them.”