When a madman begins committing horrific murders inspired by Poe’s darkest works, a young Baltimore detective (Luke Evans) joins forces with Poe in a quest to get inside the killer’s mind in order to stop him from making every one of Poe’s brutal stories a blood chilling reality. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues, which escalates when Poe’s love (Alice Eve) becomes the next target.
Cusack talks about “The Raven” in the following interview:
Q: What made you want to be part of this film and play Edgar Allan Poe?
John Cusack: I really liked James McTeigue. He’s a great director and had a really good vision. People have wanted to do a story about Poe for a long time, but biopics are tough. You can only do so many things with time and have to flash forward or backward. His creative life was so vast, that we thought we could put Poe as a character in his own stories.
The conceit of the story was smart and it allowed us to explore more of his works in a piece of fiction. This is Poe’s version of going mad and other themes he had, but it is also true to the source because he was a great master writer, a master of the English language, and a master poet. He also invented the detective genre, he was the godfather of goth, he wrote satire, and he also did burlesque. The movie got to show all of his sides.
Q: What kind of research did you do to prepare for the role? Was it difficult for you to find personal information?
Cusack: There were no telephones back then, so everyone communicated with letters. The great thing about researching him was that there are so many of his letters, which were incredibly revealing. That’s where you can see that there were very human parts of him and also a side that was at war with the world. He had all of these feelings of despair and loneliness, and a lot of passion.
I read many of the biographies and really liked Peter Ackroyd’s short biography Poe: A Life Cut Short. I immersed myself in Poe’s books, reading all of his stories to really get into him. What I respond to most in his works is when he is writing about that twilight space between waking and dreaming, and life and death. He’s always exploring that twilight space, where he’s attracted to these almost godlike female figures in his life. There is this eternal love mixed with death being in the room.
Q: Was there anything you found particularly interesting or surprising while doing your research?
Cusack: I wasn’t aware that he was conscious of his fame, but he was actually very famous when he was alive. I also didn’t know that he went to West Point and held a swimming record. I didn’t know to the extent that he was at war and competitive with other writers. I knew about his melancholy and sorrow, but I didn’t know about his brittleness and spitefulness. He really did feel like the world was his stage and he must conquer it. He said once that he wouldn’t put up with anyone he could put down. It has been said that he didn’t say one good word about another English writer, living or dead.
He really liked women and liked being adored by women. I think he felt competitive and threatened by men, because he didn’t really have many male friends. Many of the women in his life had died. His mother died in his arms of tuberculosis and he sort of found a step mother in a woman that was a friend of his. She died of tuberculosis too and he married his cousin who also died of tuberculosis. So it was really like he was taking his sorrow and turning it into all of these stories and creativity. When you play someone who is like an icon like this, it can get two dimensional after a while. You think of him as the sad Halloween guy, but when you research the life, you see that he’s writing satire and burlesque and science fiction. He had such a wild and crazy imagination. He was out there.
Q: Do you think The Raven will inspire people to give Edgar Allan Poe’s stories a try after watching the movie?
Cusack: I hope so. If it makes people want to read his stories again, that would be pretty cool. If they read his stories, they will be able to see what we were trying to do.
Q: Seeing as you were friends with Hunter S. Thompson, I was wondering if you thought about Hunter when playing this role? It seemed like you kind of channeled his manic energy in this.
Cusack: I knew Hunter really well and I can see Hunter in Poe. If you read the The Imp of the Perverse, you can see how much it influenced Hunter right there. There is the confessional aspect, with the embracing of the abyss and being drawn almost magnetically to it. There is also the courage to confront your demons in some ways.
Q: What was your fascination with Poe and why do you relate to him?
Cusack: It’s an interesting headspace and he’s an interesting character. We’re all sort of attracted to the abyss. Around Halloween, doesn’t everyone get into the supernatural, ghouls, and the underworld? It’s not something I want to stay in, but it’s a fun place to visit once in a while.
There are not many writers who try to think about what their worst nightmare is. Most people want to wake up and get away from it, but some want to go deeper. He just had this interesting mind and wanted to embrace the nightmare. His romance with the abyss makes him courageous, tragic, and sympathetic. We all have a bit of that in us and I thought it was fun to do for a limited time.