John Cusack would probably hate reading this; I'm told he's a fairly private person who hates dealing with the press. But I grew up with his films and have always considered him something like my cinematic alter ego. He and I are about the same age (OK, he's two years older), and his characters' concerns and discoveries have often mirrored my own, and I suspect I'm not alone in this. Cusack is very good at this "everyman" character, tapping into the secret self of an entire generation. He's kind of a nerd, but he's capable of tossing a football around. He's good looking, but never really fits in with the good-looking crowd. He's an average student, but still whip-smart. He's funny without ever seeming clownish. He's a loner, but sometimes has close friends. He's cool enough to play a crook, but sensitive enough to be tormented by his duties.
By parking all of these sliding scales somewhere near the middle, just about everyone can see a little of themselves in Cusack, or at least everyone of my generation. In high school, he was the perpetual goofy romantic, capable of falling more deeply and more passionately in love than anyone else around him, just as all of us were. It was easy to believe that he and his female co-star of the moment were absolutely destined to be together; he had chemistry with all of them. In Better Off Dead, The Sure Thing and Say Anything -- as well as the less accomplished One Crazy Summer -- he said the kind of funny things we all wish we could have said, and somehow got the girl to pay attention. During that same era, he proved his range by playing a benevolent older brother in Stand by Me (a football hero), a helpful Depression-era hobo in The Journey of Natty Gann, and a horny nerd in Sixteen Candles.