John Cusack a Pitch-Black Edgar Allan Poe in “The Raven”

Playing the intense writer was a bit like going on a "bender"


John Cusack is back, and instead of playing Peter Gabriel on a boom box in the rain to win a woman’s hearts, he’s got the heart-pounding poetry and prose of Edgar Allan Poe on his side. Cusack plays Poe, American’s first master of macabre fiction, in “The Raven,” an appropriately spooky and gruesome tale mixing some fact and a lot of fiction to provide the answer to the writer’s mysterious last days when a serial killer with a taste for Poe’s bloodier prose strikes 1840s Baltimore. The actor – who also produced the film – tells PopcornBiz how he teamed with director James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”) to create a thriller they believe would’ve tickled Poe’s particularly ghoulish fancy.

On the Poe-like appeal of ‘The Raven’s’ unorthodox plot:

“I think the script was terrific, and I think James and I went through it with the writers and some people and try to pull as much of Poe’s own dialog as we could from his letters and probably his novels. We put that cadence and idiom into the kind of structure of this genre story, which is basically a Poe story, where Poe becomes a character in one of his own stories, so it’s Poe deconstructing Poe. So even though it is fantasy, I was probably a little more obsessed and drove James crazy – ‘Yeah, Poe said this and he said this…’ I was always trying to use his own vernacular and his own words, as much as I could in the fictional setting."

On letting Poe have a tight grip on him:

“I tried to get under to skin of this very, very complex genius. I think any actor would want to play him…We were in Hungary and in Serbia and it was the winter, so it sort of felt like we were as far away from the world that we could be in. We were on these cobblestone streets, and we were shooting a lot at night. I just sort of felt like I became a vampire, and I sort of clung to that, and I’m sure I don’t know if I was disagreeable. I might have been. It was sort of like a bender, you know, but in a good way: a kind of cool bender. I know when we finished we were there in London, and James was like ‘You need to go home, man.’ I went back home and I did scare my family – they were like ‘What the f---?’ I was pretty strung out. But it was the kind of thing where you need to go all in. It seemed like the only way to go.”

On how Poe took an unblinking look at the uneasy spaces between life and death:

“There’s something in Poe’s work like going into the underworld. Mythologically, the raven – Odin’s bird – goes down to the underworld and gets all the secret knowledge and it comes back up and is disfigured – it has one eye, but it knows all these secrets of the universe, right? That’s the myth. So I think Poe was a guy who took all of his suffering and all of his faults, but he was genuinely interested in going into the underworld and exploring areas that most people are afraid to explore. There’s something courageous about that. And he’s completely flawed...He was so vain he once said, ‘I could never believe in God, because I couldn’t believe in anyone superior to myself.’ But he was always looking for that space between life and death. He was always looking for that other world…I think for him, death and beauty were always interplay, and that’s sort of why he’s the godfather of Goth.”

On Poe’s celebrity status in his own time:

“James and I really loved this book [Poe: A Life Cut Short] by Peter Ackroyd, the guy who wrote the book on London. I think that was because maybe that, compared to some other biographies, showed he was more aware of his impact on other people. He was more aware of this fame. He was more on the circuit, competitive in that way. It showed more of a 3-D portrait of him in that way, and I think he was very, very aware of his image and his impact on people, and very aware of fame, and courted it in a very clever and manipulative way. Even if you look at some of his writings and some of the things he said are so provocative, and he was so sort of ballsy, like writing “The Imp of the Perverse,” which I guess is about his addiction, but it’s also about the need to do the exact wrong thing…you may say it’s in bad taste, but he just DID it. There’s something punk rock about him."

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