Possibly alienating the entire state of Kansas? Harold Ramis and John Cusack think they can with The Ice Harvest
John Cusack teams up with legendary actor/writer/director Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day) for the darkest comedy of the holiday season. The Ice Harvest is chock full of head shots, drunken debauchery, and enough T & A to satisfy the horniest Maxim reader. The film is a real departure from what you would expect from them. They're definitely trying to break the mold and do something different. It'll be up to audiences to decide if they were successful or not.
Is Wichita really the land of strip clubs and mob enforcement?
John Cusack: It's got the most strip clubs and the most churches per capita of anywhere. That was an incredible factoid.
Harold Ramis: We got that from Scott Phillips, who wrote the novel and lived in Wichita.
Did you actually film there?
Harold Ramis: No, It was filmed in the Chicago area. I tried to find film on Wichita. None exists. I asked for still photo photographs of Wichita. There were two. It's not like a photogenic place to be.
Are you worried that Kansans might be offended that they're being portrayed in the wrong light?
Harold Ramis: You know how they get when they're pissed in Kansas. They come after you.
Will this movie even play in Kansas?
Harold Ramis: The people who would be offended by this film aren't going to see it, so we're safe. This movie is not for the squeamish. It's not for the religious right. It's for people who are willing to look at reality without sugar-coating it and consider their own moral culpability.
How long have you two known each other?
Harold Ramis: John was 14, I think.
John Cusack: Is that true?
Harold Ramis: No. (laughs) He was already an acting professional in Chicago when he was 14 or 15, so despite our age difference, he's been working as long as I have. I became aware of John's work with the rest of the country. "Say Anything" and those early films were just so good, and I thought "Well, that guy's got something." John and Steven Frears cast me in "High Fidelity", so we had a day acting together that was cut out of the film. I played his father in a little fantasy cut where his father speaks to him and tells him to go for the girl.
Harold, Why choose John for this film?
Harold Ramis: John was the first actor ever thought of by the producers when they optioned the novel. They were so happy we ended up with John after their long process of getting the movie filmed.
John Cusack: Which is a frightening thought.
What was your collaborative process building the character of Charlie?
John Cusack: Harold and I just like to talk about human nature. We like to work the same way, which is play around with ideas and try them on and put them out there and walk around and poke at them. That's kind of the fun of it.
Harold Ramis: And the most engaged cast in general. Connie [Nielsen] and Oliver were deeply involved in that same process with their characters, and of course, it spills over into the relationship between the characters, so we all talked a lot during the rehearsal.
John, you play sort of the straight man in this film. Did you hang back and let the other actors do their thing?
John Cusack: My philosophy is sort of all boats rise. In a way, you're kind of like a point guard in a certain sense. You're going to take the ball down and then you're going to dish off to Oliver (Platt) and do something and then you come back. There is a sense of you setting people up, but you still experience their comedy through Charlie. I guess there's an element of being the straight man of the piece.
Harold Ramis: I don't think of it as a straight man. Charlie's problem is that he's reactive. He's never taken responsibility for his life. If he'd taken a significant action at any point in this film, he wouldn't be in the situation that he's in. The other thing is there's an awful tendency some actors have to subvert or compete. When one person looks good and you facilitate that, then you both end up looking great. So they have great scenes together. Oliver's scenes could not be what they are, if not for John letting it happen and helping it happen. And it's true for all the duets in the film. The movie is a series of duets, John with someone else, and they all work, and they all have a different tone and John's perfectly matched his attitude to each of the actors he's working with.
Harold, you're known for your comedies. This one's very dark and more of a crime drama. Do you consider this a comedy?
Harold Ramis: I don't start with "This is the kind of film I'm going to make" and then shape everything to that. You start with material, and in this case, great material, really literary material. We had a Pulitzer Prize winner and a three-time Academy Award winner. You get great actors, a wonderful designer, terrific cameraman, and you start letting people contribute. I have my vision, they have theirs, a synthesis evolves and that's the film you end up making. It's like this is the film that emerged. We knew the script was funny. There's stuff that made me laugh in the script. We knew that it was insanely violent at certain times.
It's certainly being marketed as a comedy. Do you think people might be thrown off by the fact that it's a bit darker than they expect?
John Cusack: I asked Harold that myself. I've only seen the film by myself and with some friends, not with a big audience. He said that it gets laughs as big as any comedy he's done.
Harold Ramis: Yeah, sure. I want people to feel anything. The worst that happens is that you don't feel anything. You sit there for two hours and go what was that? I could have stayed home and had more fun alone, so feeling anything is already a bonus in a film. In this movie, people are genuinely amused, and the laughs are big. Then you get really scared. There's some revolting violence in the film and it really adds up to something. To me, it's just a lovely package. My fear was what shelf is this going to be on at Blockbuster? I didn't want to go in and start making the movie and find out that the studio actually wanted me to turn it into a laugh-fest and downplay the serious elements to the film. They assured me that they really liked the serious core of the film and the hard edge of it, so that's what I went for.
John, you seem to play very similar roles in your movies, always the nice guy or romantic lead. Do you ever get to the point where you just want to be the bad guy who swears a lot?
John Cusack: I don't even think of it that way, so I don't know how to answer that. I don't think of it as nice guy or good guy or bad guy. I think more of the character I've played all sorts of different ones. I've played characters who've done worse stuff on screen than Billy Bob [Thornton], like killers and strange people. Likeable has to do with if you feel empathy for a character, it's because you understand him. I'm not drawn to films, directors, or scripts that are easy black and white judgments on the good guy bad guy thing. They're usually not that complex. So maybe it's just because I like to take a different approach.
John, Gross Point Blank is a great film and the fight sequences in that movie were very good. You also did Con Air. But we really haven't seen anything else from you in that genre. Are you opposed to doing action films?
John Cusack: Usually, if you do those sorts of things, they're really bad films. To me, they promote friendly fascism, redemptive violence; violence solves the tough problems. It's this hideous fairy tale, so I don't like those kind of movies. I did "Con Air", but "Gross Point Blanke"; the violence had a different idea behind it.
This movie has a Christmas theme and it's opening on Thanksgiving weekend. Are you worried about opening against the more family friendly movies, especially with the dark theme?
Harold Ramis: The good news about this season is that this is when people go to movies, the bad news is they're going to release a lot of movies. So hopefully, you find your audience, your audience finds you and the studio has the courage and confidence to leave the movie out long enough to do some good.
John Cusack: They seem like they've been pretty smart about positioning it as kind of a fun, nasty, smart alternative to the glossy Christmas movies or the artsy Academy movies. I think people will see it as a serious piece of work. It's in that "Bad Santa" marketing model which is kind of an alternate film. I think that's probably a pretty smart play.
Harold Ramis: It's not the feel good movie of the year.
Dont't forget to also check out: The Ice Harvest