Pentagon policy bans media coverage of America's war dead as their remains are returned. The Bush administration has strongly enforced the ban, something Cusack describes as "one of the most shameful, disgraceful, cowardly political acts that I've seen in my lifetime."
So the actor started looking for a project that would illustrate "what happens when the coffins come home."
The result is "Grace Is Gone," a small, independent film in which Cusack plays a man whose wife, Grace, is killed in service in Iraq. Filming wrapped last month; the movie's producers — who include Cusack — will be looking for a distributor or film festival opportunities.
Cusack's character, Stanley, delays telling his two daughters about their mother's death, instead taking them on a road trip while the former military man sorts out his complicated feelings about the war.
While Cusack's motivation for taking the part are political, he insists the movie is not.
"It's kind of a spiritual story about grief and hopefully a little bit of redemption," Cusack said.
The screenplay was written by James C. Strouse, who penned "Lonesome Jim," which was directed by Steve Buscemi and released earlier this year. "Grace Is Gone" marks Strouse's directorial debut.
While "Grace" is set in a vague Midwestern city, most of the six-week shoot took place in Chicago. Cusack grew up in suburban Evanston, and divides his time between homes in Chicago and Los Angeles.
Before shooting the scene of Grace's funeral in a Methodist church on the city's North Side, Cusack, 39, folded his 6-foot-2 frame onto a pew for an interview. Dressed casually in a gray T-shirt and blue cargo pants, with sunglasses pushing his rumpled black hair off his forehead, Cusack spoke of his feelings about the war, the film and what he has tried to accomplish with his career.
Cusack got his start more than 20 years ago in teen comedies like "Sixteen Candles," "Better Off Dead" and "The Sure Thing."
Unlike many of his Brat Pack contemporaries, Cusack easily made the transition to adult parts, often as an underdog or unconventional hero. He stood out as an underachieving kickboxer in Cameron Crowe's "Say Anything." He was a con man in "The Grifters," an out-of-work puppeteer in Spike Jonze's "Being John Malkovich," and a cheating playwright in Woody Allen's "Bullets Over Broadway."
In the past decade, he has branched out into writing — co-writing "Grosse Pointe Blank," about a hit man who returns home for his high school reunion, and also "High Fidelity," in which he also starred as a record-store owner who compiles lists of most everything in his life, including his top-five breakups.
While "High Fidelity" was an adaptation of British author Nick Hornby's London-based novel of the same name, Cusack moved the setting to Chicago.
"I always love to bring films here if I can," he said. "If you finish work in time, you can go to a Cubs or Sox game."