Four Actors Walk Into a Bar…

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On Sunday afternoon, congoers packed into the Hilton’s Grand Salon to see a slew of really interesting actors chat about creating iconic moments onscreen. The guests? The incomparable John Cusack, his frequent co-star and talented character actor Ned Bellamy, the easy-going Sean Gunn from Gilmore Girls and the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, and Ashley Scott, who has proven her chops on shows like Jericho and UnREAL.

Launching right into questions, the audience wanted to know more about the seminal Say Anything moment when Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler held the boombox above his head in a show of love for Diane Court. The scene also made a classic out of Peter Gabriel’s song “In Your Eyes,” which, according to Cusack was actually the third choice. This short sequence became the unexpected flash that has defined the film for almost 30 years and helped launch Cusack into a 1980s legend, something many question-askers gushed about.

In talking about his own unexpected iconic moment, Gunn joked it was “any time I got naked on Gilmore Girls” before jumping to the Guardians film and how his character’s parroting of another became the line he always gets asked to repeat: “Captain’s gotta teach stuff!” Bellamy—who has appeared in The Shawshank Redemption, Django Unchained, Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles, and Being John Malkovich (among many, many others)—joked he has had hundreds and thousands of moments, but that his appearance on Seinfeld, for which he developed a strange gravelly voice that cracked people up, stands out. He also said he was “blazingly scared the whole time” of working with Jerry Seinfeld.

They all talked about the difference between public and private personas and the importance of kindness in their field. Cusack noted that the advent of TMZ and Snapchat changed culture as celebrities now seek the limelight, even during their worst, most humiliating moments. While saying that there are a lot of nice people in Hollywood, he has come across many “diva freak[s].”

Later on, Scott told those seeking advice to be kind (and enjoy the free food), something all the panelists agreed with, pointing to Bellamy as he walked the table refilling everyone’s water, which elicited audience applause. Bellamy’s own advice was to practice Commedia—a form of rehearsed improvisation that is often funny—when learning the craft to help you get out of your head and “go with the spirit of [your] heart.” Cusack, instead, quoted the very practical Spencer Tracy: “Know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.” He then talked about not letting your ego overpower you and said to “pour energy into the other actor,” while Gunn reminded everyone that “when you get there, it’s not a dream anymore. It’s a job.”

When asked about character development, Cusack talked about Rob Gordon’s propensity to make lists in High Fidelity and love of music, which he related to, and also the “weird, wild process” it took to play a man confronting true terror in 1408, for which he found the source material irreplaceable. While most people try to avoid what they feel, actors can go to and explore dark places; though, it is nice just watching cartoons afterwards to just get out of that headspace.

Bellamy talked about how he likes playing a variety of characters that fulfill different emotional needs.

He said “I felt like I was Ted Kaczynski” about his role in The Paperboy, “and that was haunting.” And yet, he mused, he can watch himself as he remembers so little of filming and what came out of him, saying it was a “magical, whimsical, dark time.”

Scott, too, talked about dark character moments—such as in Jericho recognizing the magnitude of a nuclear attack. Additionally, her character, Mary, on UnREAL was bipolar and struggling with her daughter’s death. “It was difficult to let her go,” she said, as the character commits suicide in the first season. “Very, very difficult.”  She also said that switching genres—from romance to horror to sci-fi—isn’t very difficult as it “speaks to our imagination as actors.”

Gunn echoed this, saying that when you’re a part of the story, you’re not focused on the genre. You are looking at the character and the story arc.

All of the panelists said music colors their performance, helping them prepare for roles, regardless of the genre. “I can answer for all actors,” Cusack said when asked if music was important, “yes!” He also said he did sing with Brian Wilson while promoting Love & Mercy, a movie about Wilson’s life, and is a fan of Gogol Bordello—the last live band he saw that blew him away. Gunn then talked about how crucial music is to the Guardians franchise and argued that that ‘90s rap and ‘70s country “is just better,” a notion Cusack nodded emphatically at. Bellamy just always enjoys The Clash and Elvis.

The audience, of course, wanted Gunn to talk about Gilmore Girls, which he said didn’t lend itself to ad lib or improvisation. He said that though Netflix would love to do another season, there are no plans, which he thinks is ok since it finally got the ending that creator Amy Sherman-Palladino always intended it to have. He also joked that the wookie is the father of Rory’s baby and wasn’t sure how many jobs his character, Kirk, had, but knows it’s over a hundred.

Cusack also spoke briefly about more personal issues, such as family and politics. He said he and his sister, Joan Cusack, didn’t fight as kids and that now she always changes whatever he writes or produces: “I just gladly get steamrolled.” He joked that he “can get her to work cheap” but knows she’ll always be funny and they’ll have a good time. When asked whether he ever talked politics with director John Hughes—a noted conservative before his death in 2009— Cusack said no: “I was a sophomore in high school.” He then made a valid point that you can’t talk about conservatism or liberalism without some context because each have shifted over the years, noting that Richard Nixon’s solution to healthcare in the 1970s was the single-payer system now touted by uber-liberal Bernie Sanders.

They’ve all got upcoming projects just as varied as they are: Scott is focusing on being a mom, Gunn is filming a little movie with The Avengers here in Atlanta, Cusack is looking to get Timothy Egan’s book The Immortal Irishman made into a film, and Bellamy just finished two films—An L.A. Minute and Blood Money.

About the author

Kelly McCorkendale is a dog-lover, avid quilter, and occasional creative writer who loves the color orange and boycotts cable (except Game of Thrones because, well, what if winter is coming!?). After college, she realized poets weren’t in demand, so she shipped off to Madagascar with Peace Corps. Since then, she’s found a niche working on health systems in Africa but has a long-list of life tasks yet to be fulfilled--such as perform blackmail, learn a trade, and become a competitive eater. She has an MA in International Education, believes rice is the elixir of life, and, in high school, won the best supporting actress honor for the state of Missouri. She may also recite poetry (her first love) when imbibing in alcohol.

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