Joan Cusack: mom first, then movie star

Madeleine Marr
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Fans of 1984's teen classic "Sixteen Candles" probably can't imagine Joan Cusack as a mom. It's hard to erase the image of her playing the ultimate geek in a head retainer trying unsuccessfully to grab a drink at a water fountain.

Believe it, the perennial sidekick is 47 now, and still enjoys a successful career, with some 50 films behind her including "My Sister's Keeper," "Confessions of A Shopaholic" and "Friends with Money," plus a few with her younger brother John ("Martian Child," "Grosse Pointe Blank," "High Fidelity"). But the Chicago native also dedicates her time to a sweet cause, teaming with Glad bags and Cookies for Kids Cancer, an organization that helps raise money for pediatric cancer research through bake sales.

We talked to Cusack from her Illinois home.

Q. Why did you get involved in this charity?

A. "It's like promoting a movie you really care about. I'm a mom first and foremost (to sons Dylan, 12, and Miles, 10, with attorney husband Dick Burke). And as I get older I realize all my friends are moms too. Kids with cancer — well, it's so awful you don't even want to go there in your mind."

Q. Do you have personal experience with the disease?

A. "My dad (actor/ writer Richard Cusack) died of pancreatic cancer in 2003. He was sick, then two months later he was gone. But it's a whole different thing with kids."

Q. Do you get recognized when you walk around Chicago?

A. "I think Oprah's got the market cornered! She's the big celebrity in town. Usually when people know me they're not sure for what."

Q. But you've appeared in movies for more than 25 years!

A. "I've been lucky; I was never the ingenue. I am always the character or the best friend, the comedic sidekick. There's actually more opportunity there. You don't have the great rise and fall of the leading-lady scenario. I also have to thank John Hughes for giving me my start. He was making movies about teenagers and I was a teenager."

Q. Do you have a favorite role?

A. "Movies are like times of your life. You don't remember days, you remember moments. During (1997's) "In and Out," I found out I was pregnant with my first son. I was so, so happy."

Q. Is it fun to work with your brother?

A. "It is. I'm happy to support him in whatever he does. It's a tough business and we all need grounding. But John has managed to stay above it all."

Q. What's next?

A. "(Voicing) "Toy Story 3," out June 13. Both my kids think it's pretty cool that mom's in a movie with Buzz Lightyear."

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