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To get a laugh Cusack-style, just say ‘Zhivago’ a few times

John Cusack
 (The Spokesman-Review)
John Cusack (The Spokesman-Review)
Susan King Los Angeles Times

Though he’s more than proved his dramatic mettle in such films as “Eight Men Out,” “The Grifters” and “The Thin Red Line,” John Cusack is associated most closely with comedies.

He made his first big splash 20 years ago in Rob Reiner’s romantic farce “The Sure Thing,” and over the last two decades his quirky charm and boyish good looks have been put to good use in a diverse array of comic fare: Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich,” Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway,” “Serendipity,” “America’s Sweethearts.”

He’s also co-written and produced the offbeat comedy hits “High Fidelity” and “Grosse Pointe Blank.”

His latest is “Must Love Dogs.” Written and directed by Gary David Goldberg (“Family Ties”), the romantic comedy finds Cusack, 39, as Jake, a lovelorn divorced boat maker who has become obsessed with watching “Dr. Zhivago” since his wife left him. Diane Lane plays a divorced woman who connects with him via an Internet dating site. He’s desperately seeking love; she isn’t.

Q: When you got involved in “Must Love Dogs,” you and Goldberg worked on rewriting your character. Do you always try to be so hands-on with your projects?

A: I think it depends on the movie and depends on how it is written and what the aesthetic is of the person who is making it. Gary, who wrote the script, is always writing and rewriting, so it is like I jumped into the fray with him.

Q: Jake is sort of an offbeat romantic hero. Was the role more typically conceived?

A: I think he was written as a smaller part and then Gary asked me to do it. He said if we are going to have you come do it, we are going to make the most out of it and flesh him out. We just tried to think of stuff that we both thought was funny.

Q: He doesn’t seem to know how to verbalize his feelings.

A: I think that’s always interesting, to have guys try to verbalize what they are feeling, because they are not good at it. Obviously, that is interesting from a comic perspective.

Q: Why did you decide to make him obsessed with “Dr. Zhivago”? Usually that’s considered more a chick flick.

A: Right. I think at one point it was “Rebecca” and at another point it was another movie we couldn’t get the rights to and then we came up with “Zhivago.” I think that “Dr. Zhivago” – just the word is funny to say. Say it a few times. Go on. Say it.

Q: Zhivago. Zhivago.

A: See, it’s fun to say. I found that the theme song alone would get a laugh. In most movies, you have the guy who isn’t ready to commit and the girl wants endless, enduring love that spans across continents. This movie, it’s kind of reverse. The guy is ready for it, but she isn’t.

Q: Do you have a specific movie you watch when your heart is broken?

A: No. I haven’t had it happen too many times. I think usually I will listen to Bob Dylan, or if I’m angry, Elvis Costello – some of those really early records. … If I’m in the middle of heartache, I don’t want to see a movie about heartache.

The birthday bunch

Producer Dino DeLaurentiis is 86. Actress Esther Williams is 84. Mel Tillis is 73. Actor Dustin Hoffman is 68. Actress Connie Stevens is 67. Actor Keith Carradine is 56. Donny Most (“Happy Days”) is 52. Guitarist The Edge of U2 is 44. Rapper Kool Moe Dee is 43. Guitarist Tom Linton of Jimmy Eat World is 30.

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