By Jessica Derschowitz
May 01, 2019 at 11:58 AM EDT
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It’s been 30 years since Say Anything… arrived in theaters, introducing the world to underachiever Lloyd Dobbler and the girl of his dreams, class valedictorian Diane Court. Just say the movie’s name and you’re probably hearing Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” in your head from the film’s unforgettable romantic crescendo.

On Tuesday night, director Cameron Crowe reunited with producer James L. Brooks and actress Ione Skye, who played Diane, to celebrate the film’s three-decade anniversary at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Lloyd was in the house too — actor John Cusack appeared via Skype from Chicago, where he’s filming the Amazon Prime series Utopia. In a conversation that followed a screening of the film, the quartet looked back on how the film came together and whether anything could ever replace that iconic boombox. Here are some highlights from that conversation.

Lloyd Dobbler was based on Crowe’s neighbor

Say Anything… marked Crowe’s feature directorial debut, and he initially conceived the idea as “the story of a golden girl,” and he wanted to create a leading man for her that was unlike ones we’d seen before. Inspiration ended up coming from close to home — via a neighbor named Lowell. “There was this knock on the door and it was a guy who moved in next door,” Crowe explained. “And he said hello, I’d like to introduce myself. I am from Arkansas. He wiped his hand off on his pant leg before he shook my hand, which I thought was amazing, because he was nervous but he didn’t want to show it.” And like Lloyd, Lowell was an avid kickboxer and called it the sport of the future. “I was able to tell him later, ‘Thanks for the inspiration,’” Crowe said.

Cusack, for his part, says that he found himself pulling inspiration from his director as well. “It seems to be Cameron’s infusion of this guy Lowell, but I remember putting a lot of Cameron into the part, in a way.” He and Crowe also connected connected over the idea that Lloyd was a “warrior for optimism.”

Cusack and Skye were perfect together from the get-go

Crowe knew he had something special from the moment his two leads first met at a cafe. “They sat together and it just looked so right. It didn’t look dissimilar from the end of the movie when they’re sitting next to each other,” he recalled. “So my heart was racing, it was great.”

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Cusack’s own clothes made a cameo

Lloyd’s trench coat and Clash T-shirt both came from the actor’s closet, and that wasn’t the end of the cast’s influence on the film’s look and sound — music they listened to on set also ended up on the film’s soundtrack (Crowe specifically thanked Cusack for turning him onto The Replacements).

Dick Van Dyke could have played Diane’s father

In other teen movies, the parent was often a repressive, distant figure. But Diane’s overly protective father, as played by John Mahoney, was compelling and complex in his own right, as was his relationship with his daughter.

But other people were also considered for the role of James Court, including the legendary Dick Van Dyke. “He was fragile and wanted to make sure he was really in the running for the part — I got the feeling he went up for a lot of meetings and people just wanted to meet Dick Van Dyke,” Crowe explained. “So when he knew that we were seriously interested in talking about him, he got very excited. He did know that he was a little old for the part and that was something that he was smart enough and open enough to discuss in the room. But was honored to come in.” (Richard Dreyfus was another potential contender. Per Crowe, he was sent the screenplay early on and wrote back: “Great script. I want to play Lloyd.”)

Mahoney ultimately landed the role as James Court, and Skye recalled them having a special bond. (Mahoney died in 2018.)  “He was amazing. I was intimidated with [John and Joan Cusack] but with John Mahoney there was something about him,” she said. “He was one of those great actors who completely went there when you were doing your scene but in between we were singing standards or just hanging around.”

Getting that Peter Gabriel song

When the movie got to the point where Lloyd hoists a boombox over his head and plays Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” outside Diane’s window, to show he wasn’t giving up on her or their love, a number of moviegoers actually took out their phones to take photos of the famous moment on the big screen. (Yes, seriously. Don’t do that, people!) After the screening, producer Brooks recalled that it was difficult to get the rights because of the film’s budget. “He wanted a ton of money,” he said. “It was tough to get but … Cameron couldn’t have any other song. Passion has a purpose. Passion does move things.”

There’s no replacing the boombox

When an audience member asked if modern technology could ever stand in for the film’s boombox, the stars said that seemed impossible. “It’s a gleefully analog movie,” said Cusack. “I would hate to have to try and think of this movie without a boombox or without records.” Skye added, “That moment with the boombox is so good. It’s perfect the way it is.”

The pair also discussed if they reacted to any parts of the film differently now, three decades on. “I remember every second of it,” Skye said. “I really haven’t seen it for like 20 years or something, and I really absorbed this movie. I feel it was like just watching it the way I watched it back then.”

“It was a simpler time before cell phones, when you could go out at night and get lost,” Cusack noted. “The whole milieu of the movie, when you’re leaving high school and making a transition, leaving young adulthood and going into adulthood. All these rest stops and views and vistas. I think that’s what makes this really special are those layers of depth underneath.”

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