"As an artist, it's a dangerous proposition, and there's an excitement in that," said John Cusack about "Love and Mercy" and its unusual approach to tellingthe story of Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson. Cusack joined co-stars Elizabeth Banks and Paul Dano, as well as writer Oren Moverman and director Bill Pohlad to discuss the film at the 21 Club in New York City on November 9.
"Love and Mercy" cuts back and forth between two periods of Brian Wilson's life: the recording of the Beach Boys' iconic "Pet Sounds" album in the 1960s and Wilson's struggle to escape the abusive manipulation of psychotherapist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) in the 1980s. Dano plays Wilson during the earlier time period, and Cusack takes over to depict the later years, when Wilson met and fell in love with Melinda Ledbetter (Banks), who helped get him out from under Landy's influence.
"The idea was that we'd have two totally singular takes [on Brian Wilson], and we hoped they would harmonize in some way, so there's a great risk in that," Cusack added, "but there's a great reward if you pull it off."
For Dano, the music was the key to tapping into the spirit of Brian Wilson, "not just listening to it but learning to play and sing it and try to put it in my own body. I think Brian is at home when he's playing music. He's easiest to talk to when you're talking about music … And the joy in the music is what also kept me going through all the stuff with his father and the mental illness aspects because it's difficult to see your character go through that. I wish we could have helped Brian back then."
For Banks, one major challenge of her role was understanding why Melinda would begin a relationship with a man suffering from mental illness and other professional and familial woes to begin with: "She said to me, 'Well everyone has baggage,'" Banks said of her meeting with the real Melinda, "and they did it. They won, and that is what pulled me through the film was knowing that she kept imagining the life that they could have together if she could just get him out from under Landy … that moved me tremendously."
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