Love & Mercy is the story of Brian Wilson, the musical genius behind the Beach Boys who hit both incredible highs as an artist with albums like the landmark Pet Sounds and agonizing lows as a human being who suffered from mental illness and the grip of drug addiction. The movie tells Wilson’s story in two time frames, with the musician portrayed in each by a different actor.
In the “past,” we see the young Wilson (Paul Dano) overcome his own doubts and the protests of the band in crafting Pet Sounds even as the first signs of his mental disorder begin to surface. In the “future,” we find a nearly dissolute Wilson (John Cusack) completely under the control of a corrupt psychotherapist named Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), until love and salvation comes in the form of a woman named Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks).
Screen Rant sat down with Cusack and Banks in Los Angeles to discuss playing Brian and Melinda, meeting the real-life people, and more.
Congratulations to both of you, this is really an extraordinary film. Was it illuminating or intimidating to have the real life people around as a resource, and how far did you go in utilizing them as a resource?
Cusack: Both, you know. It was like intimidating when I knew they had to see the movie and then we were going to find out like whether we screwed up.
Banks: I was intimidated at sort of the idea — before I met Melinda, I had no idea if I was anything, if we were going to have any connective tissue, and so meeting her was an absolute relief to me. We were very connected actually, and I loved hearing how she felt about Dr. Landy and sort of when she first met Brian, and just hearing about their life now, and what survivors they are, and how supportive she is of Brian and how much she adores him. You know, they’re still together, they have an amazing family, they have a beautiful house…I mean, they’ve won, you know. They’ve come out on the other side, and I kept taking that long view as we were going through it.
Cusack: It’s like if Iago got beat. Do you know what I mean? It’s like there’s this terrible person that’s trying to stop this love story from happening and you watch Brian and Melinda reach for each other…
Banks: Just keep going.
Cusack: But then it’s still, it was Melinda who finally ripped him out of this.
Banks: She figured it out.
What else did you find out or learn about Brian in doing this film that maybe you hadn’t known?
Cusack: Just, you know, it’s hard to say things about Brian that haven’t already been said, but you understand his legacy, you understand his place in pop music history. But when you go back, and you think of a time before all this music was sort of the nursery rhymes of our consciousness and it’s been here forever, you think somebody created all those sounds and had to visualize all those instruments and then book them in a studio, and mic them with these mics, and then move the trumpet one inch here and there, and doing it all with one ear…and you think about the other side of the Atlantic, the Beatles were doing their thing and there was the Phil Spector wall of sound. I mean, they were extraordinary artists and extraordinary bursts of creativity, and we haven’t seen anything like it since. I mean, there was always creativity, but “genius” and “brilliant” are things that get thrown around a lot, but it really applies here — the real definitions of “genius.”
Did you and Paul watch each other or interact a lot, or did you keep things separate?
Cusack: No, we just sort of kept things separate because we figured it was going to be two different takes on him and that was going to be part of the conceit of the film, so we just, everybody just sort of went with it pretty effortlessly. We were too concerned with the Brian —
Banks: Yeah, Dr. Landy —
Cusack: We didn’t want to look back or compare notes or get into doing anything similar. I don’t even know if we did anything similar as far as mannerisms.
Banks: You both found this beautiful essence of this sweet, sort of artistic soul. You know, that’s the throughline between both of the performances that connects them, I think. You totally, you buy it. I do anyway, as an audience member.
Love & Mercy is now playing in theaters.