Thomas McCarthy joins '2012'

John Cusack, Danny Glover among cast

Thomas McCarthy, the writer and director behind the season's indie sleeper hit, "The Visitor," is moving into disaster movie territory by booking a role in Roland Emmerich's "2012."

McCarthy, on a cross-Europe jaunt promoting the immigration-themed "Visitor," joins an ensemble cast led by John Cusack that includes Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover and Oliver Platt.

McCarthy will play the boyfriend of Peet, who is the ex-wife of Cusack's character.

The movie is a far cry from the types of films McCarthy is known for, whether as an actor (he had roles in "Michael Clayton" and "Flags of Our Father") or as a director (his first movie was the award-winning "The Station Agent").

McCarthy said he is driven to roles out of curiosity.

"As an actor, I've never worked on anything with this scale before, and I always go see these movies," he said. "And then there's the director part of me. I get really excited about working with directors like this, who do things that are so wildly different from me. And he really is. He works on a totally different canvas.

"It's something (Gersh agent Rhonda Price) and I talk about: finding new things to do that are different and exciting from what we've done before, and this fits the bill."

While some actors do big studio projects in order to sustain themselves in between indie character films, this is not the case here, McCarthy said.

"This does have a big budget and I do make more money, which is nice, but I know if you take a job like this just for the money, you'll be miserable," he said. "There's got to be something as an actor, and also in this case, as a director, that I'm excited about. There are other ways for me to make money."

McCarthy, much like John Sayles, who takes on studio writing jobs in between his movies, also does rewrites and polishes for the big companies.

McCarthy lately has been taking roles in movies being made by writer-directors as a way to learn things that apply to his own work, which is why he has gigs in Tony Gilroy's "Duplicity" and "Peter Jackson's" The Lovely Bones."

"As a writer-director I love to work with other writer-directors," he said. "It's such a bonus for me. I'm not only watching and observing, I'm involved in the process. It's cool luxury ... I've only done two films, so there's still a lot to learn here."

"2012" is set to shoot in August in Vancouver. McCarthy also will begin working on a new script that he intends to direct.

In the meantime, he is enjoying the response to "Visitor," which has grossed more than $7.6 million since Overture began its slow rollout in April.

"We have emerged as a nice alternative to the big movies that come out every weekend," he said. "At some point, you probably want to see something a little different and I think we've become that something different ... I didn't know how it would hold up, but I am pleasantly surprised and obviously very happy."