Joan Cusack, co-star of the "Ice Princess" Movie!
One of Hollywood's funniest and most underappreciated actresses, Joan Cusack was for years relegated to playing the buddy sidekicks of her more glamorous co-stars and known primarily as John Cusack's older sister. Thanks to a couple of Oscar nominations and strong roles in a number of movies, Cusack finally began getting her due in the late 1990s, earning both recognition and respect for her singular talent. Born in New York City on October 11, 1962, Cusack grew up in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. The daughter of actor and filmmaker Richard Cusack, she and her siblings were encouraged to perform from an early age. As a result, Cusack grew up acting on the stage and training with the Piven Theatre Workshop. She broke into film while still in her teens, getting her start - -and often acting alongside her brother -- in such teen comedies as My Bodyguard (1980) and Sixteen Candles (1984). In 1985 she was offered a part on the Saturday Night Live roster, but felt constrained by the lack of quality material offered to women, and left the show after one season. Gradually getting better supporting work in such films as Broadcast News (1987) and Married to the Mob (1988), Cusack had her screen breakthrough in Working Girl (1988), earning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role as Melanie Griffith's street-smart best friend. More strong notices followed in 1989 for Cusack's work in the drama Men Don't Leave, in which she played a nurse who helps get Jessica Lange's life back on track after her husband's death.
Following a negative experience during the making of the Steve Martin comedy My Blue Heaven (1990), Cusack decided to abandon Hollywood in favor of Chicago, where she spent the next few years concentrating more on her family than on her acting career. Her film appearances were sporadic (1993's Addams Family Values, 1994's Corrina, Corrina, 1995's Nine Months), but when she finally did make a comeback in 1997, it was a remarkable one. For her role as a would-be bride who gets left at the altar when her fiancé (Kevin Kline) realizes he's gay in In & Out, Cusack earned her second Best Supporting Actress nomination, and the widespread opinion that her hilarious performance was one of the film's highlights. That same year, she gave a brief but memorable portrayal of the unhinged secretary of a hit man (brother John) in Grosse Point Blank.
Cusack spent the rest of the decade doing steady work in a variety of films. 1999 was a particularly busy year for the actress: after playing a deceptively bland suburban wife in Arlington Road and Julia Roberts' best friend in the romantic comedy Runaway Bride, Cusack could be seen acting alongside her brother in Tim Robbins' historical drama Cradle Will Rock and heard voicing Jessie the Cowgirl in Toy Story 2.
More fun facts about Joan Cusack
Birthday: October 11, 1962
Birth Place: New York
She was again up for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1998 for her role in "In & Out".
Her father is actor Dick Cusack.
Her siblings are all actors: Susie Cusack, Ann Cusack, John Cusack and Bill Cusack.
Her first son (Dylan) with her first husband, Richard Burke, was born in June 1997.
Was one of the three woman improv comedy troupe, 'An Impulsive Thing', with Bonnie Hunt & Holly Wortell. They performed regularly in Wrigleyville at Bob's Bar in Chicago.
Has a habit of doing cameos in her brother John Cusack's movies.
(17 June 1997) Son, Dylan John Burke, born
Had second child, Miles, in July 2000.
Husband, Dick Burke, is a Chicago attorney.
After working together no less than six times before on screen, John and Joan Cusack might get another chance to appear together in the remake of 1975 thriller, THE STEPFORD WIVES -- With Joan already confirmed to play a hard-drinking, sarcastic wife pre a touch of robot transformation, little brother John is now in talks to star opposite Nicole Kidman in the reworking of the quietly feminist tale. (March 8, 2003)
One of Hollywood's funniest and most underappreciated actresses, Joan Cusack was for years relegated to playing the buddy sidekicks of her more glamorous co-stars and known primarily as John Cusack's older sister.
In the softball game scene, Cusack wears a Peaches baseball cap, a reference to A League of Their Own, which was directed by Penny Marshall (director Garry Marshall's sister) and which co-starred Anne Cusack (Joan's sister).
Joan and John are real-life siblings as they also play brother and sister in SAY ANYTHING (1989).
Was nominated Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for IN & OUT in 1998 and for WORKING GIRL in 1989.
Joan's entire family are actors or actresses, including all four siblings and her parents.
Nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture at Golden Globe Awards for IN & OUT (1998)
Joan and John used to put on family plays in the garage. Joan would play the princess; their sister Ann would play the queen, but baby brother John would always get stuck playing the dog. In the '80s, Joan was a member of the Chicago improv group, An Impulsive Thing, with Bonnie Hunt.
Joan Cusack: The comedienne talks 'Ice Princess'
For the past two decades, Joan Cusack has been one of Hollywood's most reliable comediennes. She started her career with cameo roles in Sixteen Candles and Class alongside her brother John, and soon grew into one of the industry's funniest females; Broadcast News, Working Girl, and Toy Story 2 may have possessed decidedly more bankable stars as their marquee attractions, but she sold the undercard and even stole some of the A-list limelight. In the new family film Ice Princess, she serves the same purpose, this time ironically as a dramatic counterpoint to the teenaged tomfoolery; as she recently described to IGN FilmForce, she thrilled at the prospect of portraying a parent, but still relishes having a career – and a lifestyle – where she isn't plugged directly into the moviemaking mainframe.
Ice Princess follows a young bookworm named Casey (Michelle Trachtenberg) who decides to abandon her safe adolescent existence as a student and strike out in the world of competitive figure skating after uncovering a mathematical formula which makes it possible to complete those jumps, twists and turns with hair-trigger precision. Cusack, who resides in Chicago, far removed from the glare of Tinseltown, says that her experience with skating, figure or otherwise, was largely peripheral prior to working on the movie.
"Skating is big in Chicago," Cusack says. "There's a lot of hockey; a lot of the boys play hockey. And figure skating is big. I mean, I don't have girls, so I don't know that whole thing that much, whereas my son plays hockey. [But] we went one day because they were having this ice skating show of all of the girls, and it was huge. It was like all of the dresses and the things and all of the outfits and the moms and all of the members and they were doing a big show; it was big."
While the film itself obviously explores that world, Cusack says that the underpinnings of her character's conflict – whether to support her daughter's pie-in-the-sky ambitions or encourage more practical ones – became the story element she focused on, not the least of which because of her personal responsibilities as a parent. "That's a huge balance, I think, with kids– trying to find the right [balance]," she explains. "It's everything, you know – it's social life, it's academics, it's sports." For her money, however, she says there are slightly less specific goals she aims for with her own kids.
"I actually think that having a good sense of themselves is the most important thing, you know, actually kind of more emotional intelligence," she says. "Because then you can say, 'Okay, here's a challenge I think you can handle,' and they can go for it freely. Or 'I see this in you – you're good in this – you're good in that. Do it and enjoy it.' It's not a struggle as much when they have a good sense of themselves, I think.
"When they don't have that it's hard to do everything, you know, and then you're pushing, and they don't know what they really like."
Cusack says that most of the leg work was done in the script to develop her character's strong relationship with her daughter, but it generated some interesting questions among the cast and crew. "There was a lot of that in the script already, which was nice," she remembers. "It's something I'm interested in, and that was one of the things I liked about the movie, that it had parenting stuff in it. So we talked about it, what really is going on, and that was nice to have those kind of discussions." Ultimately, she was attracted to the purposefulness of the role, both personally and professionally. "We talked a lot about that, which was so fun, because it's meaningful to me – you feel like you're doing something that's meaningful."
In recent years, Cusack's played her share of stern authority figures, including in 2002's School of Rock and last summer's Raising Helen. But she says the shift is more a product of her age and Hollywood's perception of women than anything intentional. "Well, some of it, I think, is culture and movie culture, and the kind of roles that people write, and what's available and what's available to me living in Chicago and trying to balance my own parental concerns with – you know, being a good parent and trying to make it work and do this," she says. "Maybe I'm more drawn to those kind of parts because they are meaningful to me. I mean, more parent-y ones, I find them interesting to do."
One of the themes the film addresses obliquely is single parenting, which frequently changes the essential nature of the relationship between that parent and his or her child. Cusack says she's thankfully never confronted that situation in real life, but she was able to interpolate that into her performance in the film. "I can't imagine being a single parent or a single parent that doesn't have a lot of money," she says, referencing her character's financial woes. "That's a big, huge impact on your life and your dynamic and everything – I mean, that's huge. It affects how much you have a break from just concentrating on just one other person in your life. It becomes so myopic that way, and more intense, probably. I think it's a huge difference."
She says she intensified the on screen bond to reflect that kind of 'emotional myopia,' as she put it. "I think it's a little harder to let go in a lot of ways, to let them be separate from you," she says. "I mean, this is a time when they're going to college, so really, that's it."
As the parent of two boys, she contends there aren't that many correlating conflicts that have yet arisen in her real life, but she does admit that playing a parent on screen occasionally enlightens her off-camera family life. "I think it's fun to have work that you can relate to, that you can feel like is meaningful," she reiterates. "I mean, I might think that's a thing that a lot of parents do. I see it in my own parenting all the time; I definitely don't want them to be actors; that would be hard, if my sons wanted to do that, because it's a really tough life, and you wouldn't want to put that on your kid.
"You see it in small ways with they have a friend that they want to play with that is not the best influence, but they really want to play with that person," she continues, reflecting on the film's exploration of the respective goals of parents and their children. "There's so much you can shape and so much you've just got to say, 'He has so much fun with that kid'; you've got to let him do it.
"It just kind of reinforces good to think about, important to think about, fun to sit and talk about [things], you know?"
For the family-minded Joan Cusack, it's an 'ice' life
Joan Cusack is that rare actress who really does put her husband and children before her career.
That's why she hardly ever works.
"In a perfect world, filmmaking would be more life-friendly," Cusack says. "I'm grateful I can do little parts in something and come home and be with my kids."
Cusack, 41, found a good role in "Ice Princess," opening tomorrow. She plays the mother of the title character (Michelle Trachtenberg), a high school senior who has to decide between college and her figure-skating career.
"I liked 'Ice Princess' because it was filmed in Toronto, which is only an hour away," says Cusack, who lives in Chicago with her lawyer husband, Richard Burke, and their two sons, Dylan, 7, and Milo, 4. "And it has parenting themes, which I love and can relate to.
"I'm very passionate about being a good parent. It's such a demanding job, an active job, a 24/7 job."
In "Ice Princess," Cusack is a teacher and a single mother who describes herself as "Mom Type A." Her primary focus is getting her daughter into Harvard, and she's stunned to discover the girl might have another agenda.
"Joan is very good at playing characters a little offbeat and severe - like in 'The School of Rock,'" "Ice Princess" director Tim Fywell says. "But you always warm to her, as you do to Joan herself."
"Being described as 'quirky' is okay," Cusack says. "There's some freedom when they say, 'You're going to be the quirky one.' I'm not really a wacky person in real life. I'm not the kind of entertainer who'd get up at a party and sing a song."
The second oldest of five siblings, all actors, Cusack made her film debut in "My Bodyguard" in 1980. She joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" (1985-86) after college (University of Wisconsin) and earned Best Supporting Oscar nominations for "Working Girl" (1988) and "In & Out" (1997).
"In Hollywood, what happens in front of the camera is so much more important than anything you can possibly do in real life," Cusack says sarcastically.
"That made me really depressed. But in the end, you start figuring out the important things of life."
In the early 1990s, Cusack moved back to Chicago, determined "to meet a nice, normal guy," she says. "I kept an open mind and went to lots of things."
Marriage and motherhood ensued, but at a price to her acting. "Getting up with your kids at 7 a.m., getting their clothes on, making breakfast, carpooling, figuring out play dates, making dinner, doing homework and reading them bedtime stories is a full day," she says. "You might as well make your peace with it."
The worlds of math and figure skating collide in 'Ice Princess'
Little did anyone know that when the two mother/daughter teams were cast for the ice skating film "Ice Princess," both mothers and daughters shared the same birth dates. Kim Cattrall and her on-screen daughter Hayden Panettiere were born on Aug. 21, and Joan Cusack and Michelle Trachtenberg were born on Oct. 11.
"Isn't that funny?" says Cusack in an interview with Zap2it.com. "I think that's part of your job as an actor, having some sense of intimacy, and then we had the same birthdays. That's a great conversation starter, you know?"
Panettiere says she totally forgot about Cattrall's "Sex and the City" character, Samantha, and they connected quickly. "She's such a sweet person and she's really good in this film, it's crazy that we have the same birthday," says Panettiere.
"Ice Princess" explores the world of competitive figure skating. Trachtenberg, known as Dawn on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," plays a bookworm who concocts mathematical formulas to improve on ice skating techniques. Her serious mother, played by Cusack, sees her daughter on the fast track to Harvard.
Cattrall plays a disgraced skater with a devious past who is now running her own skating rink and is grooming her daughter (Panettiere) for championship competition. Problems arise when Trachtenberg's character decides she wants to compete, too, and wants Cattrall's character to help her without her mom (Cusack) knowing.
She worked as hard for the role as her character did in the film, Trachtenberg says. "I was training five hours a day, five days a week, and I had ballet every other day. We were shooting seven days a week and after 10 hours they went home and I was still there on ice skates, I was working 20-22 hour days."
That resulted in a few torn ligaments and a dislocated knee for the actress. For Panettiere - who rode a zebra recently for "Racing Stripes" - even her training as a gymnast didn't prevent a few minor injuries.
"I definitely went through many more bumps and bruises on my legs and my rear end went through a beating," she says about skating. "But I'm proud that I learned most of my tricks and they used them in the film."
Real-life champions Michelle Kwan and Brian Boitano made cameos in the film and watched the actresses on the set.
"I was the biggest nerd," Trachtenberg says of her first meeting with Kwan. "To see her on the ice is like I would imagine watching Sean Penn or Dustin Hoffman work. It's just so effortless and brilliant. And she turned around to me and she's like, 'You're good, you're a natural for what time you've had and what you've accomplished. I'm impressed.' So that to me that was the utmost compliment."
Actual skating competitors were used in the film, and they razzed the actress. "I fell on my butt a couple of times in front of a couple of thousand extras, but for the most part, they were all very nice, so I laughed," Trachtenberg says.
And unlike her character, she hates math. "I always thought it was pointless, but one day my teacher explained how it teaches you logic, so that was one way I was able to accept math, that's how I connected," Trachtenberg says. "And I actually understood the physics. I was really proud of myself."
Cusack's mother is a math teacher, and she says she loves math and emphasizes the importance to her sons. "I think with kids, trying to find the right balance with social life, academics, sports and arts is a big thing," says Cusack, and pointing to the moms in the movie, she adds, "We're both kind of pushing what we think our kids should be like. It's sort of crossing that line where you want to shape your kid, but you don't want to shape them into you."
Trachtenberg's real-life mom isn't like either of the mothers in "Ice Princess," she says, "She is really proud of me, and said, 'If you want to be an actress, that's awesome but you have to go to school. You have to have your education, that's first and foremost.' She's never a stage mom. She's just always been there for me, and that's really important."
Trachtenberg says she isn't at all like the glamorous girl she becomes in the film with the jeweled tiara and skimpy skirt. At 19, and dating actor Shawn Ashmore (Iceman from the "X-Men" movies), she admits, "The real me is sitting at home, no makeup, in my old sweatpants, watching DVDs."
"Ice Princess" opens nationwide Friday.
Joan Cusack's new movie ''Ice Princess''
Joan Cusack has joined the cast of Disney's "Ice Princess," opposite Michelle Trachtenberg. Tim Fywell ("I Capture the Castle") will direct. Filming begins today in Toronto. In addition to Cusack, Hayden Panettiere ("Raising Helen") has also joined the cast.
What's it about? A high-school bookworm transforms into a swan in Walt Disney Pictures' "ICE PRINCESS." Brainy Casey Carlyle (MICHELLE TRACHTENBERG) has never quite fit in. Caught between her fantasy of becoming a championship figure skater and her strong-willed mother (JOAN CUSACK), who has her on the fast track to Harvard, she can only hope to be like Nikki, Tiffany and Gen (HAYDEN PANETTIERE)--three elite skating prodigies who are ruthlessly competing on the US National circuit (and have attitudes to match). But when Casey gets the chance to train with Gen and her coach, a disgraced former skating champion who also happens to be Gen's mother (KIM CATTRALL), she must dash her own mother's hopes in order to pursue her dream. Now, with only the support of Gen's teenage brother, a hunky Zamboni driver (TREVOR BLUMAS), Casey takes on the challenge of her life when she finds herself competing against the best to make it into the championship circuit and become a real "ice princess."
Joan Cusack really likes living in Chicago
And while most people who reside here think nothing of being able to find gainful employment locally, an actress who wants to work in TV finds it virtually impossible.
Unless, like Ms. Cusack, she has a couple of Academy Award nominations under her belt and a powerful TV producer like James L. Brooks in her corner. And Ms. Cusack had no problem using her clout to make her ABC situation comedy, "What About Joan," the first one ever filmed in Chicago.
"New York and Los Angeles are great, but they are so extreme," she says.
With Chicago home for her, her husband (attorney and Classified Ventures exec Richard Burke) and their three young sons, and craving a more stable work life than her successful but erratic film career afforded, Ms. Cusack landed a television series deal that allowed her to work here.
The show, which focused on the work and love life of a Chicago high school English teacher, garnered respectable if not stellar ratings as a mid-season replacement last winter.
It was significantly retooled before its first full season launched in September, but after low-rated airings in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, ABC canceled the show. That wiped out jobs for the 200-member cast and crew as well as an estimated $15 million spent to develop the show.
Ms. Cusack says that regardless of the quick cancellation, she's happy that she gave series television a go. "It can be such a great medium when it's done well," she says.
But it was also hard work, she adds: striving to tell funny stories each week at a sophisticated level that would still engage a mass audience.
While she hoped for a five-year run that would keep her working, as well as living, here, Ms. Cusack is committed to her Chicago home. She will look for locally produced film work, which this year has been in relatively short supply.
Promoters of local film production hope that despite the quick demise of "What About Joan," Ms. Cusack's attempt will blaze a trail for future sitcom production here.
"She proved it could be done," says Ron ver Kuilen, managing director of the Illinois Film Office. "She took a situation comedy on location and brought it in on budget."
Joan Cusack: "What About Joan?"
June 1999: Joan Cusack sits in a Los Angeles hotel suite surrounded by about a dozen reporters. It's one of those film junket roundtables that keep the Hollywood media machine running, and Cusack is musing about her two movies, taking her young son Dylan to a local park, and other matters. Then the conversation turns to the sitcom she's been developing for two years and how she's just received a script for it and how her hope is that it will be on the air by the following spring. A journalist in the room remarks that maybe he will see Cusack at the TV press tour come January.
"Oh, what's that like?," asks Cusack with curious eyes. The reporter tells her to look at the writers in the room with her, then multiply them by about 20. The look on her adorably scrunched-up face could have launched a thousand sitcoms.
Yet when Cusack finally presented her new show, What About Joan, to the TV critics of the universe -- another 18 months, one more son and who knows how many incarnations later -- she had the reporting hordes eating out of her hand. Grown men who would eat David E. Kelley's young were fawning over the adorably kooky actress, whose infectious, nervous laugh echoed throughout the packed ballroom. And Cusack was clearly enjoying herself, displaying the spirit that attracted network executives and producers to her in the first place oh so many years ago.
The public-at-large also has embraced What About Joan, prompting ABC to renew the midseason replacement for a full year's run. So already, the process has been far different from Cusack's first foray to the small screen, a stint on NBC's Saturday Night Live in 1985, during one of its many "rebuilding" periods.
"I was actually fired from that show," laments Cusack, 38, who has since recovered from that indignity. In fact, that event proved Cusack's resilience, because she got right back on her horse with a memorable appearance in James L. Brooks' Broadcast News. Since then she has gone on to prominent performances in films such as Addams Family Values and Runaway Bride not to mention two Oscar nominations for Working Girl and In and Out.
But for all of her movie success, Cusack strived for a more normal life -- a desire made stronger by her 1996 marriage to attorney Richard Burke and the birth of their two sons, Dylan, now 3, and Miles, 13 months. A sitcom, the Hollywood equivalent of a 9-to-5 job, seemed to fit her bill.
"If you do television and it's great, it's the best job there is," she says. "Every week it's another opportunity to really make that work and figure out how to make it work better. And I love that it's like theater, too, and the audience, and it's so short. It's only 20 minutes. It's like a haiku or something."
The development of Cusack's dream job wouldn't be short, though. A big sticking point was that she wanted to work not in Los Angeles or New York, but at her home base of Chicago, where no such show had ever been staged. After all, the point of doing a sitcom was to remain close to her husband, kids and the rest of her family, including parents Dick and Nancy. But, she thought, where would that leave everyone else -- the actors and writers and crew who would have to relocate to the Windy City? "It's just the reason why I didn't want to come to L.A," says Cusack. "People have their lives and their families and kids."
Eventually, things would come together for Cusack. A production facility on Chicago's West Side was prepared. A large portion of the writing staff and supporting cast were brought in from other places, while much of the crew is native to the area. Kyle Chandler, who plays Cusack's straightlaced love interest on What About Joan, happened to be in town anyway, fresh from his four years on the Chicago-based drama Early Edition. And TV veteran Brooks, who came on board as the show's executive producer, remained in L.A., using a video-remote system to monitor episode tapings.
Brooks feels that the Chicago surroundings adds something special to the overall production of Joan. "I wish I could convey the experience of doing it in Chicago," he says. "There's something raw about it. We had to create the studio, where nothing could be taken for granted, where the crew hadn't done a television show before. And there's something great about that. It's not like the same experience of doing a show here in Los Angeles. It's so great that I plan to visit them sometime."
The most important Chicago aspect, though, is Cusack. As Joan Gallagher, a high-school teacher with fantastic friends, a great boyfriend and a befuddled look at life, she has found an excellent role for her talents and spastic energy. And the experience of not only putting Joan together, but of working close to -- and sometimes alongside her family, with sister Ann already having logged a Joan guest spot and brother John possibly next -- has been well worth the wait.
"It's hard, it's really hard. But I'm doing it," she says with satisfaction. "I'm taking the time to figure it out and making sure I'm with my son in the morning, and I'm getting him breakfast before he goes to school. It just takes a lot of energy, but doing a television show is such a great life for an actor, and that's why I wanted to do it, because it's hard if every time you work you have to go to a different city, when you don't live and work in the same place. And that's the best thing about it, is that's it's here. And I think as the process gets better, it gets easier and easier -- or that's what I've heard."