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Top Five: An Oral History of High Fidelity

Featuring interviews with John Cusack, Nick Hornby, Jack Black, and many more

Top Five: An Oral History of High Fidelity, artwork by Noelle Garcia
Top Five: An Oral History of High Fidelity, artwork by Noelle Garcia
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    Oral History offers the most comprehensive retelling of a pop culture artifact.

    Top five reasons High Fidelity still resonates with us 20 years later…

    Number 1: Love him or hate him, we all know Rob Gordon. Number 2: We all think John Cusack’s cool. Number 3: We’ve all been in relationships. Number 4: Even worse, we’ve all been heartbroken. And finally, number 5, with a bullet: We all live for music.

    Need we say more?

    High Fidelity had a lot to live up to ahead of its March 31, 2000, release. By then, Nick Hornby’s book already had a cult following; it was a bible for music obsessives. So, adapting its pages to the screen was a challenging, if not unenviable, task for screenwriters Cusack, D.V. DeVincentis, and Steve Pink. Mercifully, they rose to the challenge, and the film was met with similar critical acclaim that Spring.

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    Two decades later, the film’s popularity has only strengthened. It’s made the leap to the stage as a musical, pivoted over to television as a Hulu series, and Cusack himself has toured behind it. It’s a cult classic gone mainstream, and it’s since become one of those films that you can remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you saw it for the first time. That’s a powerful thing.

    In celebration of its 20th anniversary, we’re retracing the steps of how it all came together. Below, you’ll hear from all the key members, including author Nick Hornby, director Stephen Frears, screenwriters D.V. DeVincentis, John Cusack, and Steve Pink, actors Jack Black, Todd Louiso, and Iben Hjejle, production consultant and Drag City co-founder Dan Koretzky, music supervisor Kathy Nelson, in addition to the creators of the critically acclaimed Hulu series Veronica West and Sara Kucserka.

    NICK HORNBY (AUTHOR): My first impulse was to write about a romantic relationship from the guy’s point of view. I had read quite a lot of fiction by women, and that was my favorite kind of fiction, but at that time, it occurred to me that there was a book from the guy’s perspective about that side of life. And certainly not one that was plain spoken I suppose.

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    And what I started with was the shape of a relationship that was busted at the beginning and was sort of fixed by the end. And it was really the end of the book, the end of thinking about it, that I thought, What’s this guy going to do? And I thought, Oh, he could work in a record store. I know stuff about music and record stores. And then that kind of played more importance than I thought it would at the beginning.

    high fidelity Top Five: An Oral History of High Fidelity

    Published in 1995, the novel became a critical hit and a favorite among readers. However, it would take half a decade for Hornby’s story to hit the screen.

    HORNBY: Well, it was optioned I think before the book came out or maybe about the time it came out, which I was really surprised about. But with that particular iteration of the option, nothing really happened with it. It was going to be directed by Mike Newell, the English director, and it was bought by Disney from Mike Newell’s company — and that was in 1995.

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    It just disappeared for four years. I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know where it had gone or what had happened to it. And I now understand that this is pretty standard for the process. Because I’ve had some things optioned, and they’ve all disappeared in the same way. But at the time, I did not have that experience, so I just presumed it was just dead.

    D.V. DEVINCENTIS (CO-SCREENWRITER/CO-PRODUCER): I read the book when it came out because everybody kept telling me, “You’ve got to read this book. It’s you. You have to read this book.” So, I read the book, and I loved it. I related to it so much. I happened to have always been a music obsessive. I’ve got thousands and thousands of records. I get into these types of conversations all the time. And it was sort of written by somebody who understood this and was also poking fun at it in the perfect way. I loved it.

    But, at that time in my life, my pleasure reading was being intercepted by my business brain, because I was just starting out in the business. And I was like, “No, I don’t want to always read things in terms of adapting them. I don’t want to think that way about this book. I want to protect this book from my adapting brain.” And so I didn’t do anything like pick up the phone and call my agent and see if anybody owned it. And I left it alone. And then about six or eight months later, we got a call from Kathy Nelson.

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    KATHY NELSON (MUSIC SUPERVISOR): I was working at Disney for Joe Roth, and a friend of mine from the music business from my MCA days, Roger Ames, called me and he goes, “Oh, while you’re at Disney, they own a property of a book that is just amazing called High Fidelity.” And I said, “Really?” And he said, “Yeah. This book is amazing.” And I called Joe and said, “Joe, do we have a property called High Fidelity that we own?” And he called me back and went, “No, we don’t.” I called Roger and said, “Roger, Joe said we don’t have it.” And Roger said, “Yes you do. I know you do because I’ve been tracking this forever.” Long story short, they did own it and it was about to expire. And so I got ahold of the book and I read it. And I had done Grosse Point Blank with John Cusack, and Johnny and I had been friends for a very long time. So I called Joe and said, “Joe, you know this would be a perfect project for John Cusack. He actually is this guy.” So Joe said ,“Go ahead and send him the book. It sounds like a great idea.”

    JOHN CUSACK (“ROB”/CO-SCREENWRITER): Initially what happened was I had made Grosse Point Blank with Joe Roth and Kathy Nelson over at Touchstone. And we had sort of just finished a film where music was super important. We got Joe Strummer, we managed to get David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure”. And so, we had gone through the process of making a cool soundtrack and Joe and Kathy knew how important music was to me, to the movies that I was producing. And so we were sort of primed up, so Kathy knew that they had High Fidelity as a property and said, “Why don’t you give it to John to write?” And so that’s how the story came up.

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    STEVE PINK (CO-SCREENWRITER/CO-PRODUCER): We wrote an adaptation. And when you’re in development — we were young, we were in our 20s — you just don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s so hard to get movies made, and we didn’t actually know. We were like, “Well, we love writing this movie,” and whether or not the script will become an actual movie, you just never know. And one day we were on the Disney lot for some reason and Joe Roth, who is getting out of the parking lot, pulls over. And he’s the chairman of the studio. And he pauses and says “Hey. How’s it going on the script? Because I’m making that movie” or something like that. And he then drove off. And we’re like, “Holy shit. We better get to work.”

    High Fidelity Oral History

    High Fidelity (Touchstone Pictures)

    With the writers all on board, they had to meet with the director who was already attached to the project, Mike Newell. Newell, at the time, was coming hot off of the success of films like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Donnie Brasco. At that time, he was actually working on another film, Pushing Tin, starring John Cusack.

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    DEVINCENTIS: I had to pitch to Mike Newell. This was before the Internet and cell phones and Mike Newell needed to be pitched to — pretty immediately. And I was the only one around. And my Chicago transposition was something I had to work out in preparation to talk to Mike Newell. And so I got to basically outline the Chicago transposition in Sharpie and on note cards on a wall in my dining room like A Beautiful Mind. Except it was much less beautiful. Mike Newell was in London and I took him through the Chicago transposition of the story and he loved it.

    We had a great conversation for a couple of hours, and at the end, he said something so charming and sweet which was ,“Does it have to be in Chicago? Could it be in London?” I said, “Yes, but if it were to be in London, you might want to consider getting a British actor and British writers. Why do you think it should be in London?” He said, “Well, the only reason I really think it should be in London is because I have a family and they live there. And I think it would be really nice to make the film around my family.”

    PINK: I remember it being a very good experience with Mike. I remember meeting with Mike, I remember getting notes, I even remember maybe doing some work for him on the script. And then he left the project.

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    DEVINCENTIS: We had a draft, and suddenly, Mike Newell couldn’t do it anymore. We were trying to think of directors to go to. And John was like, “What about Stephen Frears?” That was both a dream to me and completely impossible.

    CUSACK: I did a film with Stephen when I was 25 called The Grifters, and that was an intense, cool film. So I had a good understanding of how he worked. I don’t know if everybody else did. But how could they? I sort of knew what he was up to and how to deal with it. But it was great. He’s a very intense, creative guy.

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    HORNBY: I used to buy my cigarettes, back when I smoked, from the same kiosk outside Arsenal Underground Station every day. And one day the guy who ran the kiosk gave me a piece of paper, and on the piece of paper, it said “Phone Stephen Frears on this number.” Stephen knew someone who knew that he was a neighbor of mine. And he said, “Can you get this to Nick?” And he said, “Well, I think he goes to the kiosk at the end of my street, so I’ll give it to the guy there.”

    STEPHEN FREARS (DIRECTOR): Nick [Hornby] always tells that story. I remember I got a phone call from John Cusack saying would I like to do it? Yes. And then I guess a bit later, they must have said, “Well, come and meet Nick.” I have no memory of that [story Nick tells], but I had a friend who lived near the kiosk, so I guess that’s how it happened. But I got a phone call from John Cusack and everything really followed from that.

    DEVINCENTIS: We went to New York and met with Stephen. He walked into the room, it was in a hotel room, and he never sat down. He leaned against the wall, and then paced, and then leaned against the wall. And I can’t remember all of the conversation but it was brief. And he said, “Well, alright. This sounds like jolly good fun” or something.

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    HORNBY: When I spoke to Stephen, he said, “Well I’ve been called in to direct this film and I’m working with the people who are writing it. Will you come and talk to them?” So that was the first time I met DV and Steve and John. And the most gratifying thing was that they thought it was a book about them. And you can’t be in safer hands than that. That all three of them felt that the book spoke directly to them. That it was about their lives when they were growing up in Chicago at a different time. And that was what they wanted to make the movie about.

    High Fidelity Oral History

    High Fidelity (Touchstone Pictures)

    CUSACK: I thought, The only difference with the record store that I grew up in is we were obsessed with British music and the characters in the Hornby novel were obsessed with Soul, Rhythm and Blues. But once you switched those, it was the same guys. It was just a male confessional. And also it was about a love affair with music. Themes about how music is autobiographical in our lives. How deep and meaningful music is to people. So it’s a really fun and soulful thing to do.

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    FREARS: John said to me, “It’s set in Chicago.” And I thought, Well, that’s not a very good idea. And then I read the script and then read the book and thought, Well, that’s perfectly alright. That isn’t what’s important. The script they had written really got to the heart of the book. And I could see that they had taken their experiences from Chicago, but I also realized that somehow saying, “It’s all about England,” I didn’t think that was terribly important. You could see that the boys had changed it to suit their age and their taste in music.

    HORNBY: That seemed to me a ridiculous thing to have any objection to. I had just started going on tour with the book, and whether I went to New York or whether I went to Hamburg, no one ever said to me, “Oh, that’s what it’s like to be English.” They always said, “Well, I’m like this and my brother’s like this and my boyfriend’s like this.” And the nationality of Rob really had no baring on anything.

    DEVINCENTIS: It all made sense. It dovetails right into all of my record stores. It dovetails right into my friends’ bars and my friends’ bands and the conversations that I’ve had throughout my whole life — teen into adult life in Chicago. Like this is easy for me. I could transpose this thing to it effortlessly.

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    PINK: It’s a post-industrial town that has a vibrant counter culture. And Chicago has always had that, like London. So we all identified with that because there’s almost no limit of all the cultural stuff you could get into in Chicago.

    chicago Top Five: An Oral History of High Fidelity

    CUSACK: And it’s hard to get a movie like that right, but the book was right and I think we did the book justice. I think we did the book proud.

    FREARS: I realized that it was about love. It wasn’t about music. It was about love. And so you had to create a couple who were convincing. A couple you cared about.

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    PINK: I feel like we wrote the movie 100 times. Easily. All the way through production we would constantly be rewriting and making things better.

    DEVINCENTIS: And a very important project to New Crime, which was the company we had, and I think John still has, was a film called The Jack Bull. It was this great movie that was hard to get made. We eventually got it made for HBO. But it had to be made in Calgary, so John and Steve went up to do it. John was starring in it. And Stephen wanted to get going on the script. And so he said, “Alright, just send the other one,” which was me, to London. It was September of ’98. So suddenly, I’m getting on a plane to go to London to be supervised through a draft by one of my all-time heroes.

    PINK: Well, the process generally was that DV and I would draft and then Johnny would revise and then we would draft. Pretty much DV and I would just draft. There was a point in which I was producing a movie for HBO that Johnny was starring in, and DV flew to London and did a draft with Frears, so that was a draft he did without us. But generally, we would get notes from Frears, and then we would incorporate those notes.

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    DEVINCENTIS: What had happened was the prose is so good in the book. I’m not a big voice-over guy, and I don’t like movies that tend to depend upon it, but the prose is so good and so insightful into Rob’s character that you don’t want to lose it. Because it counters the story so beautifully, and it just wasn’t going to be as good without it.

    High Fidelity Oral History

    High Fidelity (Touchstone Pictures)

    FREARS: It was written with voice-over. And then I said to DV, “Look, I don’t think this is a very good idea as voice-over. The ratio will get lost.” I actually said, “I think it should be some form of direct address.”

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    DEVINCENTIS: Then the next thing was I sent the script to John and Steve who were in Calgary making a movie, and then Stephen and I flew to Calgary to go over it and work on it with those guys. Which we did. And it got better. And then Stephen and I actually flew in an unpressurized four-seat plane from Calgary to Montana, because Stephen wanted to drive to LA, but nobody would give us a car to go from Canada to LA. So he found a way to get to the most Northerly point in America, where you could land a plane and rent a car and then we drove to California. He wanted to drive. He loves road trips. It’s one of his favorite things. It was like My Favorite Year.

    DAN KORETZKY (DRAG CITY FOUNDER): I think I might have been the only obsessive music fan they knew, took pity on, and subsequently found a good use for.

    DEVINCENTIS: Dan has always been my greatest source of music to listen to. If I need new stuff to listen to, I ask him and that’s how I get turned onto a whole wealth of stuff. So when I was thinking of this thing with Rob, I was thinking about putting out records like Dan did. There was a day when Dan decided he was going to put out his first single and it was Royal Trux actually. That was a big deal. And it took him from a spectator to someone taking part in the process. So, to me, that was something I thought would be great for Rob.

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    High Fidelity Oral History

    High Fidelity (Touchstone Pictures)

    With the script in tow, it was time to figure out the world for the film, and that meant capturing the true spirit of Chicago, Illinois. Given the party involved, that didn’t prove too difficult.

    CUSACK: I think we were just showing off different parts of the musical scene that is kind of now changing even as we speak. So, it was a portrait of a time in Chicago, and it was nice to capture that era of Chicago. Some of it’s still here, but like The Double Door, the club where Jack Black’s singing Marvin Gaye at the end, that place has closed down. Gentrified. The Green Mill is still there; there’s some other places. I felt very good being in a city that I know so well and having the movie sort of wrapped around it with the architecture.

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    DEVINCENTIS: In pre-production, I was really, really excited about sinking this into the Chicago that I knew. And that meant taking Stephen and the production designer around to the record stores that I bought my records at and still did at that time. And modeling the record store on that record store. Also apartments of my friends. I took those guys into so many different houses and apartments to show them what average people who were going to Lounge Ax lived like. I took them to clubs like Lounge Ax, which was owned by a friend of mine, Sue, who is the wife of Jeff Tweedy. At the time, Wilco was not a big thing. But she owned Lounge Ax, which is the venue where Lisa Bonet plays in the movie. And we were like, “We’ve got to shoot it here. We’re not going to take it to another club. We’ll shoot it where these people would actually play.”

    KORETZKY: It didn’t seem so much connected to the Chicago music scene as to music scenes in general as a thing — and made that a positive thing –which is a remarkable feat when you consider how nightmarish local scenes can be!

    High Fidelity Oral History

    High Fidelity (Touchstone Pictures)

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    DEVINCENTIS: We were shooting on Lincoln, outside Lounge Ax, and I pointed across the street to the Biograph Theater — to the little alley next to it. And I said, “Stephen, see that alley?” “Yes.” “That’s the alley where they shot John Dillinger to death.” He’s like “What?!” “Yeah. And you know what happened? His fucking girlfriend tipped him off. She tipped the cops off, and that’s how they caught him and shot him dead in that alley.” And he’s like, “Well, why isn’t that in the script?” I’m like. “What?!” “Put it in. We’re shooting that!” “Okay.” And it’s in the movie.

    PINK: We were very blessed to have the support of the studio at a time when it wasn’t that cheap to go to Chicago to shoot a movie of our dreams. We fought to shoot it in Chicago. We wrote it for Chicago, we shot the places we wanted to shoot, we were able to create the world of this movie through our own eyes, basically. Having that be our stomping grounds for so many years, and then being able to go shoot a movie in our stomping grounds, and then express it in a very particular way like, “This is a cinematic expression of our stomping grounds,” to me, it was just crazy. It was surreal how awesome that was.

    HORNBY: That’s the brilliance of their adaptation. Because they came from Chicago and did all the touches. They absolutely knew not only the record culture but their alternative Chicago record culture. So they made it their own and they made it specifically about that city. And that is exactly what you want in an adaptation. It was rooted in there.

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    High Fidelity Oral History

    High Fidelity (Touchstone Pictures)

    Now that pre-production was underway, it was time to start the casting process. Rob had been written, naturally, with Cusack in mind, but it was filling out the rest of the cast that would prove challenging.

    FREARS: John was sort of grown up by this point. When I did The Grifters, he’d be very good for about two hours a day. And then you’d eventually arrange that day’s shooting around those two good hours. By the time we did High Fidelity, he was able to take responsibility for the whole film. So he’d grown up. He’d become much more adult. But he was very well cast. I always thought, For a film with this novel, he’s a really good guy to have. So I don’t remember him being particularly difficult. He was absolutely passionate about it. He just adored the material.

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    CUSACK: You’re always like, “This is a good role because there’s good overlap and he’s similar.” But I think that mostly I thought that if men were in a room and were given truth serum, they would probably tell you all that stuff. So I think it’s universal in the sense of … I’m not an OCD collector type of person. But in other ways, I’m a lot like him.

    FREARS: For Barry, I said, “Who should play this part?” And the boys said, “Jack Black.” And I said, “Who’s he?” And he came to see me and I said, “Well, you’ll be fine.” But I didn’t really know a great deal about Jack. And then, of course, he was absolutely brilliant. Brilliant. But I didn’t quite know what to expect.

    DEVINCENTIS: John, Steve, and I had known Jack Black forever from The Actor’s Gang. And we had watched Jack be Jack everywhere from Canter’s Deli to tiny theater stages in LA. We were very familiar with him. And just mentioning Jack, between the three of us, would make us laugh.

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    CUSACK: As soon as I read it in LA, I had seen Tenacious D play because I knew Tim Robbins and The Actor’s Gang and Jack was around there. So, I already knew that he was a great musician and singer and a great comic actor who was about to explode. But I felt like I had this secret weapon because no one really knew that he could rock that much. So the book was perfect and I thought, This is the perfect role for him.

    PINK: I remember it being a no-brainer. When you’re that age, you’re just so supremely confident about everything. So I don’t remember thinking anything else except not only that Jack was perfect but that he was going to do it and anyone else that didn’t see it just didn’t get it.

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    JACK BLACK (“BARRY”): I don’t read books unless I really have to. Then once I got the part, I thought, I better do my research, my due diligence. So I went back to the source, and I thought that the screenplay stayed true to the spirit of the original text. But I was just worried that, at the time, Tenacious D had a full head of steam, and we were getting great crowds and were playing to big houses. And I had, in my mind, a legitimate rock and roll career, separate from film and television, that I wanted to protect. And to do a movie about music, playing sort of a music critic and talking about some of my heroes like Kurt Cobain … just all those elements made me nervous about messing with this thing that was my own little crown jewel of my life and career up to that moment. I was hesitant to fuck with that.

    DEVINCENTIS: It was very mysterious. We were getting all this pushback. And he asked if he could audition. And Stephen was like, “I don’t want to do that. That’s a joke. I want him. He’s the guy. I don’t want to fucking audition him. I’ve already hired him. This is crazy.” He was amused by it. But he was like, “No. I’m not auditioning him. I know he’s the guy.” And it was really, really hard to get Jack to do it. And you’re thinking, This is the role that can change your whole life. You could feel it. And then we came to realize, or I did anyway, Oh he’s frightened of doing this because he knows this is the role that is going to change his life.

    High Fidelity Oral History

    High Fidelity (Touchstone Pictures)

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    CUSACK: At first, he might have just been frightened by the whole big, high-pressure film and Stephen Frears with Working Title. And maybe he was a little intimidated by that. And then I had to tell him, “No, it’s going to be fun.”

    BLACK: If I’m really being honest with myself, I was terrified of failing. I was terrified of being bad in this movie and also terrified of working with Stephen Frears. I had seen Dangerous Liaisons like 12 times, mainly because I was obsessed with John Malkovich. I really wanted to be John Malkovich. But he was clearly a master, and I was intimidated that I wasn’t good enough as an actor to pull it off. So I said, “I’m gonna pass.”

    But Stephen called me in, even though I had passed. He said, “Get in here. I want to talk to you.” We talked about it a little bit. I told him about my fears, and he just thought it was funny that I was passing. Because it was obvious to him and to anyone in my life that this was a no-brainer. And it would be a huge mistake to bail on it for any reason other than I just didn’t like it. And that was not the case. I loved the script and I loved Stephen and I realized that I was just passing on it out of fear. And that was not a good reason. And so I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.”

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    TODD LOUISO (“DICK”): I guess I auditioned for the casting director. I had been acting for a while anyway. And then I got called back to read with John and meet Steve and DV, and so then I read with John, Steve, and DV and Vicky Thomas was the casting director. It went really well. And then when I went back to meet with Stephen, it was great. I didn’t even read, really. He just sort of met with me but then also walked around me as I was sitting there and just looked at me. Like I was on display or something. [Laughs.] But it was great. He just wanted to talk, which as a director myself, I like doing also. Not necessarily reading people but just talking with them and meeting with them to see what kind of person they are.

    FREARS: I remember seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman and I kept saying, “I don’t know which part he should play.” And then we found Todd Louiso, who is brilliant.

    LOUISO: They had also offered the part to David Arquette first and he passed. So then glory came.

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    High Fidelity Oral History

    High Fidelity (Touchstone Pictures)

    PINK: The thing about Todd that I loved so much in High Fidelity is that he is Jack Black’s perfect opposite number, and I think that would’ve been hard for any other actor. We got really lucky with Todd. Obviously, Jack Black is Jack Black, and he’s extraordinary in the movie, and he is who he is because that’s who he is. But Todd was almost like this Yin to Jack’s Yang in a way that had so much authority. Jack could pick on Todd all he wanted, and Todd was kind of an unmovable force of heart. He was kind of this force of serenity. He also was a music snob like the rest of them, which made him still part of this club of music snobs. But beyond that, he had this genuine heart that could not be diminished by Jack’s insanity.

    FREARS: I couldn’t find an American actress for Laura. And I kept saying, “Well, if you cast so and so, she’d be like John’s mother.”

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    DEVINCENTIS: We’re like “What!? She’s younger than John. What are you talking about?” And he’s like, “No, that’s not what I’m saying. The character, his immaturity is so delayed. He’s immature. And this actress has a presence that feels much older than him. She’d have no reason to be hanging out with him.” It was this very difficult needle to thread.

    FREARS: And then I was at the Berlin Film Festival, and all the jurors said, “Oh, go and talk to Iben. She’s really good. She speaks English.” And I remember going to talk to her and you feel like Harvey Weinstein. “Would you like to be in a movie?” [Laughs.] But then I remember taking John over to meet her and then taking [producer] Tim Bevan over to meet her. And they said, “Well, she’s terrific.”

    High Fidelity Oral History

    High Fidelity (Touchstone Pictures)

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    IBEN HJEJLE (“LAURA”): Well, the thing is, I wasn’t approached. I had approached Stephen with my friend Søren [Kragh-Jacobsen], who had directed the Dogme film that we were there with. And we had looked across the room at this great, big celebration thing, and we see Stephen Frears and I say, “That’s the director of the greatest movie ever, Dangerous Liaisons.” And my friend said, “That’s the director of the greatest movie ever, Gumshoe.” So we argue about that and he says, “Why don’t we ask him what’s the best movie he ever made?”

    And so, we walk up to him and we talk to him for about five minutes, and then Stephen turns to me and says, “So you think you can act in an American accent?” And I say, “Absolutely, sir.” And I had no idea. And he said, “I think I have a part for you in my next film. Can I please call you?” And somebody gave him my private number on a matchbox. I didn’t expect to hear from him ever again. And then a week went by after I came home and he called me and said, “So, I would very much like to send you the script and the book that the script is based on.”

    DEVINCENTIS: So then [Stephen] comes back and he’s like, “I’ve found her.” And we’re like “Okay.” He’s like, “She’s Danish.” We’re like “What?!” But you know, we all trusted Stephen so implicitly and he’s incredible at casting and incredible at discovery. If you look at the people that had their first meaty role in a Stephen Frears movie, it’s remarkable. It’s fucking crazy all the people that he’s introduced us to. So we’re like, “Great. Let’s check it out.” So Stephen and John flew to Denmark to read with her. What I was really waiting for was what John thought. That was the big decision to be made in my mind was that John liked it and if it felt right to him. And John came back, and, sure enough, he thought it was great. He loved her. He thought she was perfect.

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    HJEJLE: John Cusack, Stephen Frears, and the casting agent from London flew to Copenhagen to meet with me, because my son was so young — he was about a year old at the time. So, we went to a place and we shot a couple of scenes with Stephen and the casting agent on a camera — and we had so much fun. We were laughing. He was just so easy to work with and just a joy. Really a fantastic guy to hang out with.

    PINK: And we had to write to it, that she was Danish. We had to write that into her backstory. In that scene, where she goes to the funeral, you can see they’re all very Scandinavian. Like her sister, her aunt, her mother. And we had to kind of lean into the fact that she was an alt-punk rock girl.

    High Fidelity Oral History

    High Fidelity (Touchstone Pictures)

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    DEVINCENTIS: I remember that we initially focused on the possibility of finding a real singer to do the role of Marie. Like a musician. I was really pushing for Liz Phair because she and I were old friends from North Chicago. And I thought Liz would kill it. She became one of the more important musicians to come out of Chicago in the ’90s. So, we actually had a read through of the script in Chicago with Liz reading the role. We did it at Joanie Cusack’s house. And she was totally great. And we’re like, “She’s an actress. Oh my God.” But it wasn’t right for the role.

    PINK: In the book she was like this American singer-songwriter. So, we were trying to think about, “Who would be outside of Rob’s reference level?” Because we wanted her to be mystifying. Well, if it was Jewel or someone like that, that wouldn’t be odd to a white dude in Chicago. So, we wanted to find someone who could play it with this mysterious quality that he could be awed by, who was also in the music world. And I don’t remember how her name came up, but I remember thinking it was brilliant.

    FREARS: We had a lot of trouble casting that part. It was the hardest part to cast. I can’t remember why, but it was. Just that particular one. And I just knew her as an actress. I didn’t know her history. But she was great. She was really good.

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