Hollywood star John Cusack talks about starring in Amazon Prime Video’s chilling pandemic-themed conspiracy thriller
Most people have seen a John Cusack movie at some point in their life. With more than 70 films under his belt – The Grifters (1990), Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), High Fidelity (2000) to name a few – the versatile actor has built an unrivalled career on playing underdogs, antiheroes and hopeless romantics.
Now, John Cusack is treading new ground in Amazon Prime Video’s conspiracy thriller, Utopia, which sees the 54-year-old star taking on his first-ever regular TV role, playing a biotechnology mastermind who’s linked to a sinister flu pandemic.
Written and executive-produced by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, the eight-part series is inspired by C4’s 2013 Emmy-winning show of the same name – and while filming wrapping shortly before COVID hit, viewers may find some eerie parallels with the world we know today.
The action follows a ragtag group of comic-book fans who meet online and bond over their obsession with an underground cult comic called Utopia. Believing the comic contains hidden messages of real-life threats to humanity, including a flu pandemic, they set off on a risky mission to save the world.
But as the virus quickly spreads, it’s soon linked to an artificial meat product engineered by a biotechnology company owned by billionaire Dr Kevin Christie (John Cusack). Can Christie enlist the help of virologist Dr Michael Stearns (The Office star Rainn Wilson), who’s an expert on the new flu, to clear his name?
We called John Cusack in his home city of Chicago to find out more…
Why did you choose Utopia for your first regular TV role?
John Cusack: "I hadn’t been offered anything on TV that I’d liked before this. I knew Gillian Flynn was doing this adaptation and wanted me to be a part of it, then when I got the scripts, I read all eight episodes in one sitting. I was gripped by the writing. It has the grandest of all big conspiracies rolled into one!"
What can you tell us about Dr Kevin Christie?
JC: "He’s a character who doesn’t appear in the original series. He’s the CEO of an incredible empire and is trying to change the world through technology and science. He plans to stave off a dystopian world that’s coming by ushering in a more green, sustainable vision of life on the planet."
What part does he play in the pandemic?
JC: "Christie has created a fully synthetic protein in his laboratory, but there's a suggestion that something is wrong with it and it might be connected to the viral outbreak. That’s what pulls him into the story."
It must have felt bizarre filming a show about a pandemic shortly before the COVID outbreak?
JC: "It was a little odd and spooky to have an actual virus emerge right after we finished filming. The show doesn't allow you to escape reality in that sense because it pretty much confronts it, so it may cut close to the bone for some. But the storytelling is so sophisticated, intricate and gripping."
The show was filmed in your home city Chicago…
JC: "Yes, which was terrific. However, I was jealous of my castmates who were shooting downtown because I was filming about an hour away and I couldn’t ride there on my bike. But these are Champagne problems, not real problems!"
Have you watched any of your old movies during quarantine?
JC: "Oh, God no! I would just recognise all their flaws so it wouldn’t do me any good to watch them. I've been catching up on shows like Breaking Bad, and also working on some of my own projects and trying to get financing, but no luck so far."
You’re now four decades into a legendary career after starting out at 16, but is your dream role still out there?
JC: "You would assume that there are lots more fun things to do out there, but I guess I’ll know when I see it. I love horror and the supernatural, and working in the Stephen King world. But I’d definitely be up for doing more seasons of Utopia. It’s a big, juicy role in a sophisticated piece of writing. It’s been so much fun!"
Utopia is available on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 25 September
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Rebecca has more than 20 years' experience in journalism and is now writing about all things telly-related for TV Times, TV&Satellite Week, What’s On TV and whattowatch.com.
She’s interviewed all sorts of big-name stars, including Al Pacino, Ewan McGregor, Tom Hardy, Winona Ryder, Benedict Cumberbatch and more. She’s also been known to step in front of the camera, dressing up as a 1920s flapper to star in ITV’s Mr Selfridge and co-hosting ITV News at Ten with Mark Austin – all in the line of duty!
When she’s not quizzing actors, directors and producers, you’ll find her bingeing US dramas and anything horror/sci-fi/zombie-themed. But her greatest love will always be Game of Thrones… just don’t mention the ending!