Hollywood Flashback: 'High Fidelity' Found Romance in a Record Store in 2000

Mary Evans/TOUCHSTONE PICTURES/WORKING TITLE FILMS/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection
John Cusack (left) and Jack Black in a scene from 2000’s 'High Fidelity.'

As Hulu prepares to launch a TV series based on Nick Hornby's novel — starring Zoe Kravitz — John Cusack reflects on the success of his film 20 years later: It had a lot to do with "a climate of filmmaking when not everything had to go through algorithms and testing."

Nick Hornby's 1995 novel High Fidelity has had quite the post-publication life.

In 2000, it was adapted into a Disney film when Joe Roth headed the studio. It starred John Cusack and brought him a Golden Globe nomination. In 2006, the book was then turned into a Broadway show that The New York Times called one of the "all-time most forgettable musicals." (It closed after 10 days.) And, on Feb. 14, the High Fidelity TV series launches on Hulu starring Zoë Kravitz. (In a showbiz confluence, her mother, Lisa Bonet, co-starred in the film.)

Fidelity's plot focuses on a music-obsessed, 30-something record store owner with a talent for making clever top-five lists but none for maintaining relationships. In the novel, the store is in North London; in the film, it's in Chicago; in the Hulu series, it's in Brooklyn.

"Nick told me, 'My book's about a lot more than an English accent,' " says Cusack, who also co-wrote and co-produced the film. "I knew that record store completely as an American. In mine, they were obsessed with punk; in England, it was R&B and Chess Records. But you take away the accents, they're the same guys."

When High Fidelity the movie launched two decades ago, The Hollywood Reporter said the film "should score well with post-college viewers who will identify with the film's commitment-phobic take on issues of love and work." (The $30 million production grossed $47 million worldwide, or $70 million today.)

THR was especially enthused by the supporting work from Jack Black, who "delivers a full-throttle comic performance that should bring him to the attention of casting directors who have heretofore relegated him mostly to bland background roles."

That prophecy proved accurate: Black has said Fidelity was his career breakthrough. "I knew Jack was perfect for this," Cusack tells THR. "As soon as I saw him, I knew we had an ending for the movie."

That involved Black's character's band, Sonic Death Monkey, performing Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" as the main lovers reconcile. (On the other hand, the film also starred Iben Hjejle, a Danish actress who was expected to become a major star but has since been seen primarily on Scandinavian television.)

As for the making of Fidelity, Cusack says, "I kind of think we got it right and that had a lot to do with [music supervisor] Kathy Nelson and Joe Roth; and a climate of filmmaking when not everything had to go through algorithms and testing." 

This story first appeared in the Feb. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.