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Lock the gate. All right, let's do this, how are you, what the fuckers, what the fuck buddies, what the fuck next? What the fuck stirs? What's happening? I'm Marc Maron. This is my podcast, WTF. Welcome to it. If you're new here, just go ahead, sit down. You'll get used to it. I just ramble on for a bit and then I'll talk to John Cusack.
Yeah, you know him. Come on in from say anything. Being John Malkovich. Gross point blank. He's been in everything, he's been around forever, and he's in this new Amazon show. Called Utopia, which I watched all of it's kind of it's a dark comic book oriented show revolves around a relatively ragtag group of grown up nerds. But it gets pretty violent, pretty intense deals with global conspiracy, deals with a lot of relevant stuff, oddly, what's going on with you guys, man?
Is it like, hey, I don't want to be Grímur darker even?
Yeah, I don't want to over gloat on some level.
But I mean, on the on a very basic level, I think what's happened here in the world of the United States of America, the great country of the United States of America, is that we've been given a few days off, a dark few days.
It's a dark reprieve. But it's interesting to sort of continue along the lines of a joke I did on my comedy special in 2017.
I think it was too real. Lynn Shelton, directed comedy special that won and my last one and Time Is Fun, which dropped right before the shutdown lock down.
But the idea I had into real was that, you know, living in this country during this period with this administration. When you pick up your phone and open your news app, it's like having your abusive stepfather kick open your bedroom door just to say I'm burning the house down, then turn around and slam the door behind him. And you sitting there thinking like, what, what what should I leave, do I have to leave? Do we what does that mean?
Is it serious? Continuation of that idea. Now that the bad step daddy is perhaps fighting for his life in the hospital, we get this strange, dark reprieve of.
A lack of daily chaos generated by that guy. And his minions and you really have these we've had these couple of days to really realize just how assaulting it is. And how completely mind fucking it is.
Look, I know there are people out there that like this man, I don't know how you can respect this man, but I know that there are people out there that like him because he feeds something in their hearts, something terrible, but just the lack of daily insanity and chaos.
Being raped on our minds, on our country, on our institutions, on our hearts has been interesting. No. Time to reflect. Donald Trump is a fallible, corrupt, corpulent, selfish human who is sick. With a disease, it doesn't give a fuck who he is that he literally taunted. For months and months, he taunted this disease, his hubris enabled him to believe his own bullshit. He knew. I think a lot of you knew I think a lot of people who wanted to follow the example or the anger of Trump and believe that it's nothing.
They knew, you all knew, but now I guess in this time of reflection, perhaps you reflecting on maybe this is a problem, maybe this is. Something to be afraid of, maybe this is a horrendous failure.
In public safety policy, maybe I believe the wrong guy, maybe I believe the wrong thing, maybe I should have thought about not only myself, but other people and their health because I was sloppy and careless and didn't believe enough to even get tested out of respect for the people around me, the people I worked with, the people in my family, the people I see at my place of worship or wherever the fuck you go.
The fact that this president probably knew before Thursday means that that his narcissism and his hubris enabled him to continue to go out in the world, knowing that he was probably positive, if not definitely zero fucks. It's one thing. To be above the law or to think you're above the law or to bend the law to your rules, but it's another thing to think you're above. Death, disease, frailty of the human vessel that can affect anybody. To believe that.
You deserve in some ways to. Spiralling to the ground. With the wax holding the feathers in your wings together melting. Because you dared to get that close to the sun on some level, there's some weird biblical lesson in this.
Old style guide. Your way, God. Folks, how many times a day do you find yourself hoping for a do over a fresh start? We all want that from time to time, right. But it's especially true if you're someone who has a criminal background, which, by the way, is one in four Americans, an astounding number. Imagine if your future, your security, your family, your livelihood depended on it. The opportunity to not just do good work, but to get back to work.
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But as I was saying, perhaps on the other side of this, in this time of reflection.
I mean, if there's anything that should be clear is that the disease doesn't care and the only way we're going to get back to any sense of functionality is if everyone gets on board and takes the precautions necessary to move forward, to stop being belligerent children and to think that a mask is somehow an impingement on your freedom. No one's telling you you can't do anything. We're just telling you to give a shit about your other to other people in your life.
The older people in this world, the frail people in this world, the people who have pre-existing conditions, the people that have to go to work every day and fucking behave properly so we can fucking get through this.
I mean, Jesus, man. What do you fuckin for? Got my mail in ballot, I'm going to hold off on it, not because I don't know who I'm going to vote for, but I don't know what's going to happen in the next few days. And it's not so much I believe in karma or would that, you know, or anything else. But this man who may be fighting for his wife, who is the president of the United States, elected by a minority of the people in this country?
Is one of the great human monsters. He's one of the. Historically, one of the. Spectacular monstrosities of individual humaneness whose.
Selfishness enabled him to allow two hundred thousand people to die of a disease, he now has millions of people to be infected. Seeing no responsibility. And himself as the leader of this country, to make it a priority, to put health care policy front and foremost would have been easy. But he doesn't give a fuck and now he's sick. I bet he gives a fuck now.
Because he doesn't want to go out, like stand Cheraman. Does he want to go out, like, stauncher? Folks, thousands of business owners have discovered the benefits of Stamps.com in recent months.
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My my hand is doing better.
It's still a little sensitive. I've been taking all my antibiotics. Thank you. And it's, it's sensitive. No swelling, no skin cell. You otitis no panic anymore. And I felt like I was getting through it. I got two more pills to take and I thought I was getting through it and I am. But then I get this email from this woman who said, you know, I was in and I was on antibiotics for two weeks.
I killed all of my gut fona and then had to be treated for, you know, uncontrollable diarrhea.
And I'm like, great, I wonder if that's happening. I'm a pretty conscientious gut gardener. I've got a pretty good gut garden going on because I think about my gut garden and I take care of it. I feed my gut garden sauerkraut. I have different kinds. I feed my gut garden coconut yogurt with probiotics in it of a couple of different kinds. And then I'll feed my gut garden, some pre biotic yams to feed the gut bugs that will flourish in my gut garden.
So now I'm a little concerned about my gut garden. And I'm a fucking damn good gut gardener, so I just keep it up, just keeping the probiotics, I'm OK for now. But I see unfortunately the prognosis in my mind is now like, hey, I'm not going to lose my thumb from a fucking cat bite. And perhaps uncontrollable diarrhea is in my future because my gut garden is died. So I was a little nervous talking to John Cusack because I he had a bit of a reputation for being a little unpredictable, maybe a little tricky, but he was very nice and I enjoyed talking to him.
And I watched all of his new show, Utopia, which is on Amazon Prime.
It's a very it's a it's a it's an exciting comic book nerd show and it's kind of kind of violent. It's definitely not stranger things.
Anyways, this is me talking to John. He was in Chicago. I was in L.A. and. All right, strap in.
Right, I'm good, I'm happy to see you, how are you? I'm good, man. Dude, I'm watching that. This fucking show Utopia. I watched all of it. Oh, did you watch all eight episodes? I got seven.
There's another one or is there eight?
I think there's like the the final. How do they not give me that?
I think they're saving that that piece for the. And they don't want anyone to see that.
Here's the thing about this. It's odd because I watched I interviewed Janelle Monae for homecoming and your sister plays a sort of morally dubious evil person in that.
And you in this one are completely amoral, dubious, evil, fucking this thing. It's interesting. There's a parallel villain thing going on between the Kuzak siblings.
Just we're just trying to portray one of the many great benevolent billionaires that are there for all of their mortgages, all climate crisis, going to solve food, the water shortages, everything. They're going to take the celebrity space shuttle to Mars. Great. Everything's going to be fine. Just keep giving all of our public loot the Commonwealth and give it to the benevolent billionaires and their foundations all and will trickle down like gentle rain.
All of us will be cleansed in the purifying, gentle rain you have of Kuhnen, the tree of entitlements. Yeah, the drops will come through the leaves and wash over it.
Thank God. When is this happening? Is this happening soon. Decided to stop this gibberish.
So I had I hadn't really been on a podcast person and everyone was saying, oh my God, you're on, you're on your podcast. And and so I said, well, I've got a list I want to listen to you and David Letterman, I thought was terrific. Oh, yeah.
Yeah, he was. Are you guys friends? Well, I've been on it. I don't know, I, I would I don't know if he considered me a friend. I've been on a show because he used to really speak highly of you.
There was a period there where he was just a really nice picture. Do you remember, though, there's a period there. He just kept saying, you're the best actor, that there's no one better than you. It was a while, you know. It was. Yeah, it was early on in your career.
He just was constantly flattering you.
I remember when I was a kid, I was there and I went with Rob Reiner and. Well, I didn't. Sure thing. I was in the audience and I think he had a cold that night and I remember he said something about the movie. It was great, especially the girl. And I remember I was in the audience. I was a kid.
I was like, was that the first movie?
First time I got a lead role?
And that was a sweet movie that was like, wasn't that a remake of a Clark Gable movie? Yeah, it happened one night. Yeah. Yeah. I can remember right before we go into that, I just want to say here's what happened to me when I was watching Utopia. Was that because of the shit we're going through now?
It kind of broke my brain a little. Did you watch it? Do you watch the final work that did you watch the series Utopia?
Had seen a few of the first couple of episodes, but I haven't seen the last I'd say from me, I know it was shot, but I hadn't seen, you know, four through nine because there was because of what's going on in the world right now.
It's not that it was Precint as much as it like the nature of the conspiracy, just kind of kind of broke that part of my brain a little bit. So like after I sat through seven episodes of Utopia, I was pretty sure that I understood the entire authoritarian momentum that's going on now and how it's all connected and intentional.
And I'm not sure I'm wrong, but thanks to your thing, now, I'm all fucked up in the head, more so than I need to be.
That's a that's a kind of a Gillian Flynn. That's her specialty. Yeah.
What else is she done? Oh, gosh. She's done gone girl and sharp objects. All right.
Yeah, but I thought the show was pretty good, like I thought initially getting into it that it was going to be like stranger things, but it's much more violent.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's she's a good writer. So, you know, the the kind of architecture of it is, you know, when you watch a movie like I've been there during the pandemic, I've been binge watching all these great old Graham Greene movies. Oh, yeah. John Le Carre movies. All right. Spy genre, these great writers. And, you know, they've introduced a character here in the first act, usually the third act.
They're going to become you know, they're going to come back and and gillion her. The architecture is so sort of sophisticated that you really can't see where the. The trapdoors are right, right, right. It's really, really interesting writer, so when you took the role, how much had you read? Well, I was it was one of those really nice phone calls you get where somebody says, hey, we love for you to do this, and you're like, Oh, wow.
And then can we send you the scripts and I read them and she sent me all eight. I read them and I started reading it and I don't know if you're this way, but if writing is really good, it's not hard to read. You just keep going. Right, and read it. I like I literally read all of them until 3:00 in the morning. And I was like, of course I'm going to do it. It's great.
I think it's a it was such a interesting casting choice because you're so capable of being kind of like seemingly benevolent in those kind of villains, you know, who are so sweet.
I mean, the fucking the thing that that stands out my mind is where you pull that kid back to smell his head.
And then what happens after? It's just like it's those are the worst kind of evil guys, the ones that are so sweet. Yeah, yeah. When you play something like that, what do you do when you think about it? You just play it straight. Do you just I mean, you don't have to put any evil in place. You just follow the words.
No, I, I contemplated you know, I can't play that stuff for a while because, you know, I just think it's very interesting. People's perception of themselves. Yeah. The distance between that and who they actually are or what they actually do. And so that's sort of a theme that I like to play around with, probably. So, I mean, I was always fascinated by, you know, probably the same age. Yeah, right.
Yeah. Do you remember like nineteen seventy eight. Nineteen eighty. Like that was Reagan era was like scary. Right. It was like during Reagan.
I don't remember being I was not politically awake but so it didn't hit me the same way. Say you did so. But I knew that the people that I liked who were politically awake were upset, but I don't know that I was feeling it in the same way. But yeah.
Yeah, well, I just thought of it like, you know, when they said that the nuclear launch is ready and that he would make a joke about nuclear war and the Berlin Wall was still up. And and you thought about these people who go and just sort of these rooms and they would stage these. Megadeath war games with weapons, and I will always interested. All right, so those guys like. Think they're good guys and then they go home to their wife and play with their kids and then they like, don't know, they can play cards, go to baseball games, but yet they can they can rationalize mass murder.
They can rationalize mass destruction, that there's no human engagement with the numbers.
Yeah, they just there's this kind of a schism between what they what they do, what their job is and their perception of themselves. Right. And probably in the 80s when I was was growing up, you know, read Noam Chomsky and you read all this stuff and then you you'd listen to The Clash and they do a double album, Sandinistas, and then you'd start to look around. And so I was always interested in American exceptionalism arguments. Sure.
And what was behind all that? Right. And it's probably just because, you know, following great films and books and plays.
But how did you you must because it's weird, because I don't think I got really active around that stuff or my understanding of it didn't really come into full form until probably much later.
Did you grow up with activism in the house? I mean, were you educated in that way? What were your parents like politically?
Yeah, it was a really weird, interesting bit of freak luck on my part, which was that my father served in World War Two and he served with Philip Berrigan, one of the Berrigan brothers. He was part of the Catonsville Nine. Yeah. So he became great friends with the Berrigan brothers and they became like. Family, so Dan, until Barrigan amnesia, those they were the underground radical prestrike cover of Time magazine, they had that piece and they burned the draft cards and all that.
So they were at all of our. Christenings, eulogies, wake's, so they were around when I was a kid and of course, anything your parents like you say, that's bullshit, right? Right. And I but I remember recognizing something in. My parents eyes that their eyes got like bigger and wider and they became like these higher versions of themselves when the parents were going to come visit. Interesting the time when they were like these guys were on the lam, know they were underground for a while and they would go in and out of jail.
So but I knew that as I as I was a child, the teenager, I could see that my parents eyes were elevating to a place where you could see that there was some something higher than themselves that they were into engaging with when those guys came around.
Yeah. And so I think that kind of I didn't realize later but that and then, of course, like all the great films and books and poetry and music that we all love. Of course.
Of course. But like those guys coming around and your parents being kind of hosting them, I mean, were there conversations going on? Were there and so and how you how many kids in your family?
There was five of us. And you're the middle. Yeah. How about you two?
You two got one little brother a couple of years younger. Oh yeah. I was fourth out of five. Fourth out of five.
And this is weird. Was it a Catholic thing? Irish Catholic.
Yeah, but that's interesting. So, you know, but they were Irish Catholic progressives.
Yeah, you know, that Jesuit right there sort of like honor, the real legacy of Christ thing service, and it was like more like the Vatican choosing, you know, where there was that accidental pope who was into the social justice thing and started the Catholic Liberation Theology thing where you couldn't just say you were a Christian. You actually had to help poor people and fight against injustice. Like, you know, there was there was a movement that was very influential.
And, you know, Dorothy Day, the Catholic worker in Detroit, these were influential people to your folks.
The the barricades came out of that movement folks movement. It was like the civil rights, social justice intellectual.
So I was sort of lucky enough to be born into a family where that shit was there, where word service was important and good deed or or the you know, the true faith without works is dead.
Yeah, and the belt. Yes, yes, definitely Frenchville, but that's what that is, right? Yeah. I mean, and so when what did your dad do, you know, for for life?
Like, what did you you know, what did you grow up looking up to? And your father like what was he was in there. Was he in show business. Now, he was on a. He passed away, but 18 years ago had pancreatic cancer, but the worst came. Yeah, that's a tough one. What the only thing about it's good is that you get you just definitely get to say goodbye, because I thought it would be a different thing if somebody just had a heart attack or got hit by a bus.
The whole thing with cancer is tough. I get to go through your grief right stages and say goodbye. But he went to war, too, came out of the GI Bill, went to Holy Cross and then came out in debt free and put money in the bank and he would earn seven percent. And what do you do for jobs? He worked in advertising at Mad Men. Oh, yeah, right. He hated it. But that's what he did to sort of take care of his family.
And then later on in his life, he started a documentary film company and make commercials like for Santa Fe Railroad and stuff and a filmmaker and then wrote plays and acted. Moonlighted an actor. He did. Yeah, yeah. He did a bunch of stuff, some plays and and worked in films a little bit. And and I was lucky enough to and he wrote a screenplay that I made for HBO called The Jack, which was with Alex Jones and John Goodman.
And Bob Dylan gave us the ring, the Bell, the final song.
So I got to watch Elche Jones is a trick question in western Elche.
Jones is like that must been while hanging out with that guy.
Yeah man I was just like yeah I just want to talk about Technophile. No, him and Struther Martin and like you of course is you know, made one of my favorite films ever. Which, which one way it is.
Oh yeah. Trippy movie way ahead of its time class.
And did he direct more. Was that it. I think that was the one he directed. Yeah. It's a wild yeah.
There's that era of guys just they were able to do that like you wouldn't expect that guy would direct that movie.
But him and Brother Martin in The Wild Bunch just running around pulling jewelry off a dead guy's great.
Yeah. And also the. Yeah. All I can possibly you can see it through.
So I'm kind of a Peckinpah freak. Like I kind of put myself through the the paces of like watching all of his movies at different points in my life. I just do like a little Peckinpah film festival.
Do you know what I just got into which. I kind of like. More with myself for, like, denying myself the pleasure of it for four, four years, accurate and Billy the Kid. Oh yeah, it's great. I know, but like, what was what was wrong with me? I mean, for 15 years, I forgot how great a film. No, I don't know.
I think sometimes, you know, you're not sure where Kris Kristofferson fits in in your head, but he's great. Great. He's great. And he's also great in bringing you the head of Alfredo Garcia is the biker, you know, guy like.
Yeah, but there's just sometimes he just like I don't beat yourself up about it. That's interesting that you should be excited that you've found one.
But I sort of refound and I thought, what was I doing all this?
I mean, it's got well, it's there's a lot of movies as Alien as Alias. Yeah. Just sitting around. It doesn't say much, but he's there. He doesn't say much.
No, but the songs are great in the end. And the weird thing about that movie is like, I think, you know, Billy the Kid died when he was like 21, you know, and by that point, you know, Kristofferson, it doesn't matter because it's a myth, but it's kind of weird that he's at the age he is. But it's a good movie. I like that.
I think it's a really, really cool movie. It has that great. That great scene with Slim Pickens when he finally gets shot and knocking on Heaven's Door is playing, he just walks over by the river and it's well, yeah, it's kind of it's it's kind of the most emotional.
I can pause day and I think that sure, yeah, I mean, it's one of those ones where he's like he's emotional in a weird way. The Wild Bunch is kind of emotional, too, you know, when those guys know that they're done. Yeah.
Kind of in a rage and. Yeah, kind of.
We're going to go out like we you know, I don't have a real sense of kind of lost its heavy boy shit.
And, you know, this real kind of it's some serious exploration of dude stuff, but it's great, no doubt.
Now, when did you start doing did you start acting in Chicago in the improv scene or did what happen?
How did that when where you were like you were doing comedy? New York in New York. Did you ever do, like, the improper in Second City or any of that stuff here?
I never like I was never improv driven. I played early on. I played Zanies there. And when I go back to. It's still there. Sure. Yeah. And I the last I taped a special at the vic a few years ago and I and I've played it Thalia Hall.
Yeah. Yeah. I love Chicago.
And I you know, I was there not long ago doing some stuff with Swanberg. I've grown to really like that city.
Yeah. I was, I didn't do it. I sort of started it was a very strange thing because I was. 14 or 15, and I've been doing some theatre and stuff and then. Hollywood wanted to make movies about teenagers, and they decided to shoot a couple of them in Chicago and I had had some training and so it was just kind of like weird freak luck that I had had some training and they decided to make movies about because there wasn't a thing wrong age movie, really a thing.
Oh, so in the 80s, in the sort of John Hughes thing, in the Breakfast Club and all that shit, there's a movie called Class, you know, that was I think, with Andrew McCarthy.
And someone didn't fuck someone's mom or something. Wasn't a problem. Mom was Jacqueline Bisset Hackman's that Cliff Robertson was in it. And so Louie Carlino, who had done The Great Santini did in Chicago. And then, you know, like kind of a newcomer to the cast, local actors. And I've been sort of training doing some stuff. So that's how it started.
And where were you training? Where you just training in my kids' theater or what? Yeah, I kind of think.
And like, what about like how how are all your siblings actors. How does that happen. Like I you know, there are these dynasties, you know, and I have this theory about it. But how did that come to pass? Were you all doing it at the same time or did it happen later for Ann and Joan? How did it work? Isn't your brother in it, too? Sometimes, yeah.
We've all we've all dabbled in it. Three of us are still. That's what we do for writing in Joan. Yeah. So my sister Susie and Billy have done a bunch of different plays and a lot of things, but. Jonie got the first break when Tony Bill was a producer who produced Sting, directed a film called My Bodyguard, and he shot it in Chicago and that some ALEC.
No, not not that Alec Baldwin different from Adam Baldwin, Adam and Chris piece, and so Jody got a small part in that and then we were like, Oh, but you can be in a movie. Yeah.
So it happened the same way for both you. They just happened to be shooting in Chicago and you guys had some kid chops. You could get chops.
Yeah. So it was kind of like local casting, a lot of luck. So did you do it?
You didn't have any training other than that as a kid, did you just kind of grow into it or did you study what people would happen?
Yeah, no, I studied with a group in Chicago and, you know, but then I was also but by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was doing and I was on I was learning on movie sets. So I really started I'd done that stuff earlier as well in that kind of terrible stuff where your mom takes you to auditions as a kid, because I always loved the theater and I loved going to the art house cinemas in the U.S. and seeing, like you, the Curaçao movies.
Yeah, seven of them for a week. And then you'd see the French wave where you'd see film noir features.
Yeah. So I really loved if I wasn't going to a White Sox or Cubs game, I loved going to those great old theaters and like watching these old movies. I had too to we're into it and and then. Yeah, and they started making movies in Chicago and there was this audition thing. What do you do? Go in there and you try to, you know. You're trying to get a partner. Who are you guys? Who do you like watching the most?
In terms of when I was when I was a kid or yeah, I mean, what was it like? Because it seems like as an actor, people are sort of like that guy knows how to do it. I want to.
Who are you? Who are your faves? Or do you consider in terms of the acting guys?
Yeah, but as a comedian. Actor. Oh yeah.
No, I have him I definitely have different heroes for different reasons. You know, I think, you know, Richard Pryor brought a lot of heart to the game in a way that no one had. So I you know, there's a certain vulnerability and a sensitivity to the type of comedy I like that you don't see that often. And I think HIMAN is more honest moments was really something in terms of acting.
It seems to it sort of shifts a lot because when I started acting myself a bit more, I started to try to see, you know, what people were doing more and how, you know, like is there a craft to it? Is it how much of it is just a natural talent?
You know, it seems like a lot of it, about 80 percent of it or more is you either have the talent for it or you don't.
And then if you do, you you polish it up. However, you're going to polish it up and get something into place for yourself.
Yeah, I remember that. Richard Pryor. Yeah, I remember that Richard Pryor bit. Where. He was doing some something on either Johnny Carson show or one of his standards, and he played a junkie. Yeah. And it ended with I wish you the best. I remember just being heartbroken. You just you at the end, you just sort of looked at whoever he was talking to the audience. I wish you the best.
Right. The heart. Right.
I got amazing. Yeah.
It was really something, man, when people really look into it. But like, when you do the work, do you do you like like what was I thinking about man.
Like like you said to you for this this most recent role, you think about how people see themselves and who they are in reality, but like early on, I mean, you seem to like have.
Do you have some sort of process that you do because I talk to people mostly to help myself, you know, in terms of how you approach a role on any given time, do you read the thing over and over again? Do you know if it's not like you, you know, what is it? How do you do? It kind of depends.
You know, if you're doing something that I don't know, doesn't have, you know, if it's. Kind of strange, but there's you know, you don't try to turn, I don't know, postcard into On the Waterfront. Right. But if you get if you get something with some depth right, then I think you just sort of really immerse myself in the world of it to the point.
I don't know the difference between my thoughts, my dreams and. The character, you know.
Yeah, and you do that through like reading or through like, you know, just thinking about the guy or, you know, or or even dreaming stuff, like, you know, I'll sort of I'll write myself a letter and say, tell me about tell me what I need to know and I'll dated. Yeah. And it's weird subconscious. If you ask it a question, it'll give you an answer. Really. I have something to me. Or maybe I'm just a weirdo.
No, no. But so you do that and then you sort of try to dream it. And then like, I was really fortunate enough to play Brian Wilson, which was when I saw that. Yeah.
And I thought that was an interesting movie because there was there was a couple of Brian Wilson's right.
Were there two or three of you and Paul Dano. Paul Dano. Yeah. And Brian was still alive. But so for that one, I got to just I would just immerse myself in music, like, so literally I would just live in his music.
How is that for you, man? Because like I talked I talked about I was talking about that the other day.
I have a hard time listening to his music because I can hear the struggle and the sadness in his heart. I said the other day, I said it was like listening to sadness filtered through cotton candy.
But it has a you know, it has an effect on me that it's too heavy for me sometimes.
Yeah, I mean, he's. He's a strange constellation of attributes and yeah, but because he's really a tough guy and a lot of ways to survive, he survived. He's also like this just, you know, it's like he's like a heart with two legs and his emptiness just breaks tend to just move into the ether. I mean, the guy. So he's kind of a he's a wizard. Yeah. No. Yeah. Oh, for sure.
But what was interesting for me in that one was the Smile Sessions boxset, 1966, which was.
As kind of you can listen to it, it's four albums and the demo is the outtakes and you can hear him constructing the music. Yeah, and this is pretty computer where if you needed for oboes, you have to have four of those. And you can he can say, let's have the third oboe. Yeah. And chop the mike. And he's doing it all with one ear and he's constructing like symphonies and pieces and no one knows exactly what he's doing, but he has in his head.
Yeah. And also here I'm interacting with all of the. All of the people in his life, so it was almost as if there was a tape on Brian's psyche and that was the kind of he had done pet sounds and then he'd done smile to smile sessions. And he was you know, he was a sort of a one man Beatles. Right. He was in an arms race with the Beatles to try to figure it out. Genius each other.
And Paul McCartney came and heard Smile Sessions, and he actually was. Chewed the carrots on the song Vegetables a Day and went back to England and said, scrap everything.
Yeah, we've got to steal this guy sound. Well, you know, I don't know. It's just he had just blew my mom was there as well.
Right. Right. And when he had done SMIL, the Beach Boys were on the road and they were doing their thing and they came back and they listened to this remarkable. Groundbreaking music, and they were like, dude, where the hits for concert music, right? Cause I was just like, I'm going to bed for three. I'm going to bed years. Yeah. And so so anyway, that that was the the peak of him. And then and so I use that as the way into the abyss and then also coming out of it because then finally when he reclaimed his life, he was able to play heroes and villains, write and perform it.
So, so, you know, there's different things. But I try to immerse myself in the world.
It's nice when the world is still alive and you have access to him. Yeah. So if you're if you're playing somebody alive, somebody who existed, then you can read about them not to give you dumb act or sounding what you know. Is that like an actor's studio.
No, no, no, no, no.
I just I'm just curious about how people feel about how people handle it because like it seems to me that, like, I can see you in your roles, you know, but like, you know, there's varying degree of what you turn on and what you turn off and how you sort of, you know, the different switches you have in yourself is going to be how you're going to approach it.
And it just seems that people have a different there's no single method or everyone figures out their own fucking tools. You know, I was just curious about it.
But like even like because it seems like as you got older, you evolved as sort of a harder edge, I guess. Engross point blank. There was there's in the grifter's and stuff, it was getting a little darker.
But like, you know, there was early on, it seemed like you were all heart of vulnerability, some struggle. But then you started to challenge yourself with things that were, you know, these are characters were were complicated and sometimes slightly dubious characters that seem to happen.
As you got older, like you challenge yourself, it seems like you were pushing against the idea of being cute your whole life.
Yeah, well, I think maybe there's a piece of that, too. You know, if you're nobody should be really I don't know if you're an actor when you're a kid, it's a weird thing. It's not right.
It's hard to survive. Right. Hard to survive.
Yeah. I mean, I wasn't like a totally a child actor. I was more of a teenager. So I was still sort of, you know, it looked like 16, 17 years old. So then I think. Yeah, yeah. Then people want you to just sort. Because. Witty or cute or whatever. But then you've got if you're not careful, then you just kind of do that. You just witty and cute yourself out of the business because you hit a certain age where they only see you as one thing.
And that's over.
See, I never had that sort of worry because I never I was always trying to you know, it's like you as a comedian, you're thinking about like Richard Pryor, right?
Sure. Yes, so same here I was thinking about it. I want to do some great how do you do something where you do something great? Yeah, I know it's not like, you know, being real satisfied with yourself, and that's for sure.
I talked to screwtop. Was there about this sort of thing. Was there a point where you're like the real answer to that is to challenging yourself and possibly doing something great is to do these character driven parts and not try to be like, you know, some sort of leading man all the time.
Yeah. Or you try to subvert that. Right?
Right. Yeah, I sort of had that that was a thing I tried to do, which was sort of like make a subversive commercial movie where you sort of it looks like.
Right. Yeah. All the things there that look like this. But there's, you know, then you're seeking ideas into it.
Like which one was that? Would that be like the grifters or something like Chris point blank? You know, I could see this guy comes back and was going to his, you know, high school reunion. And, you know, it's funny, but it's like, you know, underneath that, there's some weird. Yeah. Some serious fucked up shit to stuff. Yeah.
But like, you know, working with like somebody like like John Sayles. Great.
Eight men out was which is great and you're great in it and was a great bunch of actors and stuff like the difference in I guess in some of the directors you've worked with.
I mean, you know, he brings a lot to it.
He's got a lot of conscience. And what do you learn from a guy like that over the course of like kind of educating yourself around how this is done? What would you get? What do you bring out of that experience?
Man, just so everything I'd seen brother from another planet, I mean, that was also. Like nowadays, they say there's independent films, but they're just basically like a branch of the same studio, right? I separation that. Yeah, we're going to you're going to do our films and do it for no money. And then everybody's going to try to kill each other to get a Golden Globe. But back then, they're actually with independent films. So I'd say to one brother from another planet and I thought maybe one was an extraordinary, extraordinary, but still said he says he learned everything he needed to know about writing from watching Roberto Clemente play baseball.
It was a power efficiency and grace also with these great DP's that would be around here like you could work with on John's on May one, he was working with Haskell Wexler.
Oh, as to what great guys he Manawi, who was Bob Richardson, the great, great cinematographer or I had a chance to work with Laszlo Kovacs. Oh yeah.
Those are really the guys, right? They make the difference.
That was a it was a whole different thing. Yeah.
You know what? So are you in Chicago now? Yeah. And you're like you just you never lived out here. No, I have I've looked at California to New York and had a place in California and an office in Venice, California, but not for five or five years ago, I got out and lived in New York.
And you live in New York? Late 80s. Early 90s. Did you why didn't you just keep going back to Chicago, huh? Yeah. Check it out of control in New York. When did it happen?
What what which era are we talking about?
What was the first wave of insanity? You remember japes on the street now too high.
That's too far uptown for me. All right, that was it, yeah, what was it, BU's, let's see, back in the 80s.
What wasn't there? Yeah. And now you, like you had you had a real ID in. Yeah, you got some time. Yes, I know, right? Yeah, you feel better. Oh, how you feel.
It's weird, man.
I actually had a drinking dream the other night. I'm 21 years in and.
Yeah, and I hadn't had one in a long time. It was it was very subtle. It was just sort of like I just decided to do it. And that's exactly how it fuckin happens when it happens, right, you wake up, you wake up in a cold sweat.
Yeah, you wake up like I fucked it up.
Oh, thank God I blew it. I started to reel it in around 28, 29, 30, because I was like, all right, what am I to do here? And I was going to be one of these, like maintenance junkies and just sort of like, you know. Yeah, live on down or like what what what am I going to go down to the crossroads. Yeah. And then the only the only place that was really dangerous for me, I was very lucky.
But this is when I went back to Ireland. It's like, oh, it's a good place to go.
For a month he had to hide and drink and be and be completely supported in that decision.
Well, you could always find you always find those contacts in those bars, but you can always find it, it's always struck me as weird about that, about people, about neighbors of any kind. Like, you know, when when you have somebody who's clearly dying and can't control themselves, there's always those dudes are sort of like, no more.
I got some. Yeah.
Like, who the fuck are those guys? Where do they come from. Yeah.
I want to go to Ireland. Do you have, did you have you spent a lot of time in Ireland.
I went back. What do you mean back. Are you your family from there. Yeah, I'm Irish.
Yeah. Both both sides of my family.
As you can get, you can get citizenship, which I probably should do.
I depending on depending on what happens the next month. No shit. Aren't you thinking about that shit?
Yes. I can't take it, man, I mean, I got and now we can barely go anywhere, but you can't. I love Ireland.
I'm a are you are you here? I'm in L.A., but I'm like, I don't know what it is with Ireland, man. I'm a Jew and I love Ireland. I just I go there and I'm like, I want to be here. It's all I think about right now because I don't know how this shit's going to go down, but it's not going to be good no matter how you slice it. And all I'm thinking about right now is like I kind of want to be out of the country for the I want to vote and then get out for a month just because I don't know what the fuck is.
I don't know how this is going to unfold. But then there's another part of me that's sort of like maybe you should just stay and watch it from here. But I don't know. Yeah, I'm of to my. You know, the bastards are going to do it. They're going to do it. We got to do what we got to do. All right. And then you don't want to give them the satisfaction of running away. Yeah, I guess.
But isn't there a part of you like you? We're roughly the same age. I mean, I've saved a little money. Is there any crime? And stopping someplace nice and just riding it out? No.
Where's that justification? I don't I'm not running away. I'm fucking retiring. Go fuck yourself.
Yeah. Yeah, but but also like I, I won't feel like I am like I shouldn't have said something like, you know, I've been a pain in the ass and I think all the time so I'll be.
And what where have you been talking lately. Yeah. I never.
That's right. You've gotten into some trouble here and there. So like how afraid of you on a day to day basis around this shit.
I mean, I'm not afraid for myself. Right. But I don't know when I saw, you know, early on. I mean, a you called them what did this matters, but I mean, we called Max a while ago and it was about Hitler and modern art and aesthetics and about how modernism came from like World War One. Right. And how Hitler sort of stole from the guard left and used. He hated the message of the avant garde left because it was anti war for one year.
But that that art was the new politics was the new art and art and politics were going to be few. Right. And you see Trump doing the sort of same thing. He's doing this kind of kitsch futurism, he's saying. I'm going to make America great and we're going to the future is going to be a return to the past. Now it's past that never existed. I'm. Everything I say is a lie, but, you know.
Sure. And he's also really good at at Fascist Theater. He's very good at the signing ceremony, the the you know, the walking, you know, or you know or the rallies where he you know, where he compares.
Immigrants, people of color, people protesting to, you know, vermin and cockroaches, and that's that's a very specific purpose, of course.
Thank you. Of course, you know, these human beings are subject. Yeah. The terrified should be educated. So I was never. I guess maybe just loving everybody from Breck to the writers and comedians and film and writing that we all love. Right, right. If you don't, you don't have to be a genius to know that shit is real. And the first time he tore. Child away from their mother's arms. Put them in here like this wasn't a reality TV show anymore.
This is like real fashion, right? And it's all a it's you know, it's a frozen, frozen explosion. It's happening slowly. Right. But, you know, it's like the frog in the water. You just turn the salt water up and, you know, it's been boiling a lot. Right. That's all right now.
Yeah, it's terrifying. And I don't know, like, I want to it's sad because of the covid that, you know, the arts have been sort of kind of neutralized because no one can really do anything, you know?
You know, it's hard to get things done and to express yourself in in a bigger sense, because we're all kind of frozen in this plague zone like like Chicago that like the theater scene.
I've become friends with Tracy Letts, who's a Chicago guy for the most part. Great guy, great theater, great actor and a great playwright.
But like, did you ever spend any time, you know, with Down at Steppenwolf at all and hanging out with those guys?
You know, I used to I worked with John Malkovich a lot, and so I used to go when he would come back and direct a play or something, I would do that. Yeah. Hanging out with him is really my favorite guy hanging out.
He's a trip, right? Is he like is he is he always that intense?
He's he's just really, really like a wonderful man. Know. A great mixture of things, it can be incredibly sensitive, compassionate, and then it can be you know, he he you know, the character he played in TriWest, which was. Yeah, he said he was Lee or Austin, which was Lee.
Leave the city. But, you know, which he says was a member of his family. And, you know, so he has access to those kinds of these different parts of himself that are that are very often contradict the raging river. Yeah, yeah. But he is such a thoughtful, intelligent man, you know, like, he really reads and studies and is a very such bright person.
OK, so there's another good example. So you read the script for Utopia and it's well written. Now you get this. How did the Being John Malkovich, how did that unfold for you? I mean, did you get that script?
And you were like, holy shit, what is not this is going to sound like I hope I don't sound like an asshole on your podcast because I think even talking about yourself is a weird thing to do in this climate. It just feels slightly obscene.
But we've talked about we've balanced it out with politics. You're OK. Go ahead. I love that script. Was I I had an agent in Chicago. I was like twenty four, twenty five. And then with William Morris Agency. And when I went there I said, you know, come on, you guys have a vault somewhere, right. You guys have the vault of like that and whatever your black book is like the most unpronounceable scripts. Right.
And they're like, oh well.
And then I said, I know you guys have something like where you have like.
This little box that has the craziest shit, you know, whatever they call it, really well, I was I was fishing, but I thought they must be.
Well, why were you why are we asking those questions? Because he wanted to do something new and weird and wild. Why were you.
Yeah, to find out where like, you know, because anything good. Right. Most things that are good don't really get can't be comprehended when they first come out. OK, it's usually only time something is good. Right. Maybe. I mean, it's different like with, you know, with Richard Pryor. He does a set that's filmed. Sure, sure. I get I get it. But you were like where the things that you think are on producible.
Yeah. I said, I want the I want the things that cannot be made into a film, the most insane thing. And I kept pressing as well. I mean. I mean there's. I mean, I what I found out and I found the script, I read it, I said, here's the deal. I just want to be first in the door. This never gets made. And if and if that happens, I'll stay with you guys forever.
And it's not a looks. This is fantastic. Yeah. Because it was the most non-commercial. Right.
And say so at that time. Did you think it would ever get made. Well, I thought I was very proud of myself for having found it. So did you did that start the ball rolling? Other people might have known about. But I took my own initiative to find something good.
So you just attach yourself to this script that wasn't even alive. Really?
No, Charlie. Charlie wanted me to know who I was. So they called me, like, not going to believe this, but they want to do your movie.
And he's been there for four years. He's been calling us about it three years or whatever. And luckily enough, Charlie and I thought it was a good idea. So so I came in and did it. But it was pretty great because John Malkovich called me up and he said, you know, Johnny, you know, there's this script and it's really good. And, you know, and like, I was already doing the script. I got a job was calling me and, you know, it's about me and, you know, and.
You know, it says I'm an asshole, but fuck it, I am an asshole and, you know, I just I got to stop. I'm doing the it's great. So and then we started and we started talking about the script. The only things we we thought I was. In the script, his friend in the end was Kevin Bacon, you know, when he calls a celebrity friend, right? And so. John and I were talking and we're thinking, you know what, like six degrees of Kevin Bacon of it all, whatever, you know.
And we said, no, Charlie is Milkovich, his best friend. He had just given the most incendiary in the interview and he was and it was and John just couldn't stop laughing at the thought that the Milkovich and Being John Malkovich in his time. But he's what you would call on Charlie. Yeah. And then, um, so we we we pitched that idea to Charlie and Spike, and they they liked it. And I think Kevin Bacon wasn't available or didn't want to do it.
Worked out. And then you'll hear that the script is so perfect, the only other thing we had was I thought I said, Charlie, you don't have this puppeteer. He doesn't talk about his work that much and why all artists have a justification for why we're failures, right? Sure, I do. So I said I want to have this thing where he talks about its work, that it frightens people. It's too much, you know, it scares them.
And wasn't there another guy, too? Wasn't there another guy? Another puppeteer, the great. Yeah. Yeah.
That is working so too soon to provide a line. Yeah. It was too. Yeah.
So that was sort of you kind of came up with that. You thought that through. Yeah.
Just a rip with Charlie. I just thought it would be good for Craig to sort of give a justification for what his work means.
Did you ever feel like that though yourself? Did you ever feel like a failure? Yeah, I mean, I think that I don't know how you feel about it, but like. I'm not one to talk about the past much, because when I do what I do, I find sound particularly coherent, but I always feel like. I almost did something once that was good. You feel that now? Yeah, like I I remember I almost did that one thing, and it was it had a pulse is pretty good, but not quite.
I almost I almost. Yeah.
So that's so you're driven by that kind of like, you know, you never quite as good as you think you should be. Yeah, yeah, I feel like I almost did a couple of things, it is so you you like to keep a bat around a beat yourself with occasionally?
No, I don't know. I just you know, it's a strange thing. What was the thing?
What was the thing that you almost did. What was the cause was the closest you came.
John, I think like I look at it like, you know, if you like baseball, right. You know, if you if you're if it's three out of 10 holes. Sure. You know, you're you're that's you're hitting three hundred. You're good. Yeah, yeah, and then the rest is just sort of like you do, you know, you're working.
If you still have line out, you may strike out. Right. Here's a question for you. Paul Scheer was talking to Danny Trejo on his podcast about Con Air.
I guess what a great guy Danny Train is. No, I know. I worked with him.
You know, that story when I worked with him was hilarious.
When you do, he did an episode of my show of Maron on IFC and he played I he played a newcomer who had just gotten out of prison and I was playing his sponsor. It was crazy.
But he said this, I guess Schirò was I'm paraphrasing, and they were asking him about all the all the actors on Con Air and who was the real bad asses were who were the who were the dudes? Were the who were the real bad asses. And he said, man, you want to fuck with Kuzak, you're the guy you're the guy he identified as the bad ass.
Now, why would Danny Trejo think that about you? And did you are you a brawler? Are you what is your trip? No, the thing is, is Danny Trejo is very tight with Benny the Jet or and any of the jet akitas is a one percent of one percent in the world. He's a kind of a martial arts grandmaster, started Akito. And he was around the Gracy brothers. He was around he was training. He he did a Jackie Chan Bruce Lee era.
So he was he was that he was that guy in East L.A.. He's he's a he's Bass and Blackfoot Native American, but grew up in East L.A. fighting and he's a martial arts grandmaster. And so when I did. Say anything where I played kickboxer, I was shot in his gym and then I studied under him for 30 years in martial arts and and 30 in if you I don't know if you remember, there's a scene in Grosse Pointe Blank where I find a guy in the hallway and then Minnie Driver comes by and sees me and I kill them with Pen that the guy giving me a fight.
There's a fight within your kids and that that's Benny the jet. And he was a kick boxing champion. Sixty eight now. And he had blood all around the world. He'd been every Chinese, every tai, every Japanese people that started schools. They they built schools to just create a champion to be standing. Right. You also did a film. He did a bunch of early films of Jackie Chan once called Meals on Wheels and on one where it was the first time that the two actors would do the stunts.
And the fights were like Buster Keaton stuff, really inventive, really comical, but like really violent. And the kicks were the kicks, the head shots were the head shots and they were fighting. So I sort of emulated that in the Crosspoint with Danny. So I think Danny knew that I was training with Danny and he had seen me train me spar and I used to go smokers and stuff like that. But the good just to show you that I'm not a complete asshole.
When we shot the scene in Grosse Pointe Blank. Right, the our other producer said, well, we're going to need two or three days to shoot this. I said, none of the two, three cameras, no stuntmen, don't worry, would be fine because I sparked thousands of rounds. Yeah, I had to. They had my I was in a suit. Right. The only reason we had to stop was because I was drenched in sweat and they had to read blow dry my hair and then put me in a new suit and I was drenched to the bone.
At the end of the day, at one sweat, yeah, I would train with them and somewhere on air time using that was is I was as good a weight as I could be and I was ready to fight all that stuff. One hundred ninety five pounds. And I'd spar with Benny and with the Benny at first. When you first start sparring with him, he doesn't wear, he's wearing gloves but you can't touch him. And then four after five years, if you get him to wear a mouth guard, that means if you've gotten to another level and a few years later, I finally got him to wear headgear and I remember we'd sparked thousands of rounds and kick the shit out of me forever, but.
At one point, I slipped and I hit him with the best right hand I can hit him with, like Joe Frazier's left hook that dropped on me. It was that was the best day. It was the perfect punch. And I remember hitting him and. He just looked at me and he smiled, and this is why it's like that was great. I felt that all the way to that was the level. I felt that all the way down.
He was so he was so happy for me. He's been a very special person in my life and trade with him for the third year around.
Yeah, they're like, I'm just not I'm not L.A., but I had an opportunity to I did this. I got a phone call to go do this Jackie Chan movie when they said, do you want to go do a martial arts movie in in China with Jackie Chan and the Gobi Desert? And what kind of like lunatic? Adventure would pass that up, right? Of course, yeah, I'm going to go do that. And so I brought Benny out and we choreograph the scenes with Jackie, so it's kind of full circle.
That's not how it started out with Benny. Yeah, I get my point blank to honor Jackie Benny. And then we did another fight, you know, five years ago for Dempsey. That's great. So I think Danny might have been referring to to that.
Yeah. Yeah. Oh, OK. That makes sense. We both dipped into. Do you still keep in shape. Yeah. Although I don't spar as much because it hurts. Right. Yeah.
We get old and like do you how often do you take jobs that are just sort of like, fuck it, I want to go to that place and hang out. How often do you do.
Is that a reason? Oh. So, you know, sometimes you take whatever job you can get, can get a great job, you take it right simply to up money, right. And you use that to go do something else.
But keep your. Keep working, but also the Jackie, there's not that many, but if there's some, you know, it's such a crazy adventure like that, you just have to do it.
And yeah. And you're working with, you know, guys you respect and guys you have a good time with. And that's like, what's better than that.
Yeah. And also over in China, Jackie Chan's kind of like a cross between like Elvis, Charlie Chaplin and you know. I don't know Evel Knievel or something. Yes, same with Trejo in my old neighborhood in Highland Park, we were driving around shooting in Highland Park and there are people come and kids come coming to the windows going Magette de Magette.
It's crazy. Van Den is literally one of the sweetest, warmest human beings that it has ever, ever been around for sure.
Solid guy to, you know, like a real recovery wizard, you know, decent human being shows up for people. You know, I liked working with him. I wish I'd spent more time with him. I should I've never really interviewed him because I think he's one of those guys where as much as I like him, like he tells his story probably every week at the Secret Society. Right. So, like, it's a polished kind of process.
And I. I wouldn't mind doing maybe I will.
Maybe I will. But but it's good talking to you, man.
Yeah, you too, man. Thanks. Thanks for having me.
What have you been doing with your time during this fucking quarantine business? Playing the guitar. Playing guitar, I've been reading a lot, but I also just like I've been watching a lot of old movies. You're not watching. Yeah, like I went on a deep dive on Graham Greene. Yeah.
What was that about? Like why? Because it's like I'm doing the Criterion Collection and I just watch The Heartbreak Kid again with Groden the other day, you know? But I guess the Graham Greene. The Graham Greene.
Did he do did he write The Third Man or he didn't know.
Yeah, no, no. I think I think it was yeah. I think he wrote that. Directed it. I think he was the story for it. But yeah, I think it's just it was just interesting because it's like.
Every character starts out already totally exhausted. They totally know the score and they totally know that both communism and capitalism have betrayed everything that they set out to do and that it's a complete disaster and they're just trying to survive. And so you're preparing. No, no. I just I guess I just thought it was interesting, like even in the 70s and 80s that that was there. And now we we live in a climate where the Democrats. And the Republicans that are basically a death cult at this point, literally, are they pretend like they haven't seen those Ken Burns documentaries?
Yeah, I was like all the mainstream guys are on that. Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham. Right. The FDR, the New Deal stuff.
But. That Ken Burns documentary, you can't pretend like you haven't seen that, right? Right. I get people health care, right. I wake up anyway. I just find it.
What was your favorite one so far?
The movie I watched this cool Richard Burton, one coming in from the cold. That was good. I thought I got to watch some of those. I know I don't know, I don't watch a lot of British stuff.
I watched I just watched that Bob Hoskins movie, the long Good Friday that that modern gangster pick, because I interviewed Helen Mirren and I was just like I'd watch that.
When I saw that one of those theaters we were talking about when I was in high school, it premiered in one of the art theaters like The Waverly Place or like, yeah, it was called Don Poncho's.
It was in Albuquerque, right across from the university. And we went to see Long Good Friday and I remember just blew my thumb.
It was one of those big halls and the ceiling had like stars and it was a little double feature revival theater across from the university.
It's a laundromat now, but it was great as great to watch it.
So I'm going to check out some of that Graham Greene stuff, but I'm glad you're holding up. And I and I enjoyed the show. And it was great talking to you, man. I take it easy by.
That was me and John Cusack and folks, don't forget to ask yourself what it would be like if you find yourself looking for a do over. Fresh start. Imagine if your future, your security, your family, your livelihood depended on it. The opportunity to not just do good work, but to get back to work. Dave's killer Bread believes your past shouldn't be what holds you back. That's why Dave's killer Bread believes in second chance employment. It's the purpose behind every loaf they make.
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