As gruesome as serial killings may be, many people are intrigued by the details of the crime, as documented by the countless films and television shows that chronicle the motivations of the murderers. When combined with a famed 19th century Gothic poet notorious for inventing and contributing to the genres of detective and science fiction, the murders can create an intense, thrilling story. Such is the case with the new thriller The Raven, directed by James McTeigue, which features John Cusack as the legendary writer Edgar Allan Poe in a fictionalized account of the poet’s last days.
The Raven follows Baltimore Detective Emmet Fields (Luke Evans) as he starts investigating the brutal murders committed by a serial killer. When Emmet realizes that the murders resemble fictional killings described in stories submitted by Edgar to the local newspaper, the detective asks the struggling writer to help track the assassin.
Recently, Cusack generously took the time to sit down with us to discuss what kind of research he did in order to portray Poe, how much knowledge he had of the famed author before he began shooting The Raven and why he felt connected to Poe.
Check it out below.
Question: There are so many different ways people can perceive Edgar Allan Poe. What in the script or in your own research that allowed you to portray him in this very different way than many people may have seen him before?
John Cusack: I think you can never do a definitive version of somebody, and certainly not in one book or in one movie. I think I’ve never seen the writer, Edgar Allan Poe. You’ve seen The Raven or some of his stories, like The Pit and the Pendulum or The Fall of the House of Usher.
What I read about him, from his letters and from his biographies, there are some surprising things. The movie’s a blend of fact and fiction and legend. The theme of the movie is actually very Poe-like, in that Poe is getting wrapped up in one of his stories and one of his own creations.
It’s sort of the meta-Poe version of one of his things, where he’s always trying to figure out the difference between waking and dreaming; living and dying; and sanity and insanity. I thought that kind of allowed him to deconstruct his own work in that way.
Then you have all of the stuff that you can actually use, because you know what he thinks about his own stories. We know what he thought about other writers. We know how much he loved (his wife) Virginia (Glemm), and he wrote Annabel Lee for her. We know how he talked to his editors like. You can put them all into this fantasy, and mix real Poe with fantasy Poe.
Q: How much did you know about his work before you became involved in the film?
JC: I knew a lot about it. You read about it in English (class in) school. I don’t know if you really take anything. You kind of distance yourself from it, and say, okay, it’s part of the curriculum. You find the real stuff outside of school.
But I knew him and liked him. I liked anything to do with the other world, anything that had a mystic quality to it, or a supernatural feeling, I always had an interest in. I loved Poe’s work for that.
Q: That’s interesting that you mentioned that, because he spent a lot of his time writing poems that were super-gory, but also wild. Were there any particular poems that weren’t widely known that you read?
JC: There’s a great one called Eulalie. All his poems are great, The Raven‘s a great poem if you just look at it, and read it again. It’s pretty wild, pretty great.
Q: Which elements of Poe’s personality or life did you personally connect with?
JC: I think people can connect with anybody’s who’s sort of outside the box, or sort of defiant, almost sociopathic. He was at war with everybody, and wanted to go against the grain.
Q: You relate to that?
JC: Actors don’t want to go with the herd. Why are we acting? We just want to prove that we’re different.
Like Kurt Cobain, why do we all love Kurt Cobain? He was miserable and anxious and depressed. He didn’t want to be part of society, and he wanted to be on his own. But he’s a patron saint, because he encompasses all that stuff that we relate to, that we all have, when we’re not pretending to be perfect.
Poe was the patron saint of the artistic and doomed. I don’t know, there’s something great about that. I love that, he’s a crazy character.
Q: What about his romantic side?
JC: Doomed women, I love it, doomed, dying women. His mother, step-mother and wife all died of tuberculous. They were all kind of fragile, physically.
Q: Did you relate to that fragile side?
JC: Yeah. He loved beauty, and he loved women. I don’t think he was a playboy. He wanted patrons more than lovers, I think. He wanted rich people to pay for him. He wanted admirers, I don’t think he wanted sex, really. But I think he loved his wife. The one that he was with, he loved a lot.
Q: You worked with Brendan (Gleeson). What was he like to work with?
JC: He was so good, all the actors were so good. I was always a huge fan of his.
Q: One of the surprising things that you, as a producer can probably relate to, is Poe’s need to get money.
JC: Especially if you read his letters. Poe’s always saying he was in desperate circumstances. He was always scrounging for money his whole life. Food, drink, the basic necessities, he was always looking for, and he was world famous.
There were no copyrights. When he wrote The Raven, it went all over the world. He actually got invited to the White House. He was a well-known poet, but nobody could really make a living as a writer.
So he would do the stories in the paper, and would do the gore and horror stories. They were very successful. But he got paid by the word, one time only, and that was shocking.
I think he was a binge alcoholic. What I read from my research, he would stop drinking for awhile and get it together. Then something would happen,and he would start drinking again.
That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank John Cusack for taking the time to talk to us.
Be sure to check out The Raven, which is now playing in theaters.