John Cusack’s Live Q&A a Wobbly Show of Hits and Misses

I thought I was a big John Cusack fan, but my longtime admiration for Hollywood’s perennial everyman paled next to the pilgrims gathered from far-flung locales to listen to the actor’s rare Q&A Friday night at the Broward Center.

As the audience members proudly, if nervously, proclaimed when they stepped up to the two microphones arranged in the aisles, they came from places like Hialeah and Vero Beach and Seattle and Tanzania (!) just for this show. When Cusack replied that he had also spent some time in Tanzania, it was enough for the attendee not to faint at the news.

Whether the general audience, which likely included folks from around the corner who didn’t arrive with an encyclopedic knowledge of Cusack’s oeuvre, received its money’s worth is up for debate. The production value of the evening left plenty of room for improvement, and the actor’s contributions, largely soft-spoken and cerebral, were a mixed bag of revelations and evasions, insightful observations and outright dodges, even for the softball questions tossed his way.

The show started promptly with a 30th anniversary screening of “Say Anything …,” one of its decade’s defining romantic comedies, and one of the handful of early features that elevated Cusack’s star power. The nostalgia factor was strong in the room, but the film holds up regardless of its age, as it’s one of those inspired features where all of its stars aligned, both the ones in front of the camera and behind it.

But seeing it projected on the Broward Center’s screen was a reminder that while the venue may be excellent for performing arts, and for carrying the acoustics of live amplified voices, it’s not properly outfitted for cinema-quality audio. The actors’ voices echoed across the auditorium, and much of the movie’s low-key dialogue was virtually inaudible, drowned out by its own soundtrack.

The Q&A, moderated by WLRN anchor Christine DiMattei, followed promptly after. Cusack appeared in all black, including jacket and baseball cap, although from our seats in section BB, he was a blurry figure in the distance, and the Broward Center missed an opportunity in not projecting a close-up on the idle screen behind them, as is standard procedure in pretty much every robustly attended lecture I’ve attended.

DiMattei sounded nervous, as I would have been too, but her questions were a solid mix of light trivia and substantial technical probing, presenting them in a rough chronology from “Class” to “Never Grow Old,” and lending the conversation an “Inside the Actor’s Studio” feel. It was only after the floor was opened up to the audience that the program started to drift off course, with some oversharing questioners monopolizing their time at the microphones to ask three or four questions, most of them obtuse and not worth their subject’s time.

This is a common hazard, perhaps, of letting nonprofessionals captain the ship, and as a result, a sizable number of attendees left after 10 minutes of the audience Q&A. For his part, Cusack, who gamely tried to answer even the most far-afield queries, could have been more forthcoming on certain questions he’s surely received in the past, and should have been well positioned to answer. I, and many others, were disappointed when the star of “High Fidelity” couldn’t, or wouldn’t, come up with his Top Five Favorite Bands, either of all-time or the present moment.

But the evening had its highlights, too, and I’ll leave you with a few of Cusack’s most memorable observations.

• He shadowed professional air traffic controllers in his preparation to play one, in “Pushing Tin.” He compared the slow-moving but constant progression of planes on the monitor to “Chinese water torture.”

• Praising the slim but intellectually weighty source material of Stephen King’s short story 1408, Cusack called it a “deceptive magic trick,” and spoke reverently about its complexities, which were able to be translated into a two-hour film.

• When asked if he reads reviews of his own pictures, Cusack replied, “Are there still movie reviews? Didn’t they leave around 1996?” As a member of the Florida Film Critics Circle, I winced at that one.

• When asked if he would ever want to play Michael Cohen in a future biopic, Cusack responded, “fuck, no. I just want to flush them all down the toilet.”

• Asked if Lloyd Dobler, the protagonist of “Say Anything…”, resembled Cusack himself at the time, he responded, “When you do anything good, the actor and the part merge.”

• Cusack explained his screenwriting style as a combination of concrete words on a page and improvisatory freedom, adding that he likes to present a script that is “70 percent done” to his actors and allow them to fill in the rest. He cited Dan Aykroyd and Alan Arkin, his co-stars in “Grosse Pointe Blank,” as a perfect example.

• When a young man who has been told he looked like Cusack asked the actor for dating advice, Cusack responded with two words: “Stop texting.”