The Raven - John Cusack
The Raven - Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) © 2011 Amontillado Productions

John Cusack has evolved into one of the most accomplished and respected actors of his generation, starring in such diverse movies as 2012, Sixteen Candles, The Grifters, 1208, Runaway Jury, Identity and High Fidelity.

His new movie, The Raven, directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin), is set in Baltimore in 1849. John portrays the legendary writer Edgar Allan Poe who is approached by Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) when a serial killer audaciously murders his victims using Poe’s gruesome stories.

What was the appeal of taking on this role?

The Raven - Jimmy Yuil & John Cusack
The Raven – Captain Eldridge (Jimmy Yuil, far left)) and Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) © 2011 Amontillado Productions

I think working with James was a big deal for me, because I think he’s a really talented filmmaker, and I so really wanted to work with him.  I think any actor would want to play Poe, and try to get under the skin of this very complex genius.

It would be a great challenge and opportunity.I was up for it one hundred percent.

How did you prepare to play Poe?

I think the script was terrific.

James and I went through it with the writers and tried to pull as much of Poe’s own dialogue as we could from his letters and from his novels, so that we put that cadence and idiom into the kind of structure of this genre story, which is basically where Poe becomes a character in one of his own stories.

So you have Poe deconstructing Poe. I was always trying to use his own vernacular and his own words as much as I could in the fictional setting.

One of the biographers said that it was not known that Poe said any good thing about any other living writer, English or American, living or dead.

I think he was very theatrical. He felt like he was at war with the world, and his parents were actors, and so he sort of said, the world is my stage I must either conquer or vanquish. He was very dramatic.

What do you think made Edgar Allen Poe tick?

The Raven - John Cusack
The Raven – Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) © 2011 Amontillado Productions

I think his feelings of abandonment and loneliness from losing his mother, and his step-mother, and then his wife, made him a perpetual orphan of the world. He was a genius, and he was kind of a bastard, and he was a rogue.

[Edgar Allan Poe] was inward looking, melancholy, soulful, but I think he was just this blasted soul. He was kind of a wanderer. He’s become like a shadow archetype of the culture. He was a pioneer into the underworld.

I think he was a fascinating figure. So I just thought if I can immerse myself in that, if I can feel that it would be a great challenge.

I read that you said you were afraid that you were going to be emotionally pulled under doing this character and it would be hard to release him. Is that true?

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 as we could be. We were on these cobblestone streets, and we were shooting a lot at night. So I just sort of felt like I became a vampire.

It felt like a bender, but in a good way, a kind of cool bender. I know when I finished we were at the airport in London, and I think James looked at me and said, ‘You ought to go home, man.’ I went back home and I did scare my family. They were like, ‘What the f-k?’ It was really sad. I was pretty strung out.

Death is such a big topic in this film, what was it like delving into the brink of death so often in the movie?

The Raven - Luke Evans & John Cusack
The Raven – Detective Fields (Luke Evans) and Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) © 2011 Amontillado Productions

I think there’s something in Poe’s work, he took all of his suffering and all of his faults, but was genuinely interested in going into the underworld and exploring these areas that most people are afraid to explore. There’s something courageous about that.

He was so vain he said, ‘I could never believe in God, because I couldn’t believe in anyone superior to myself,’ but yet he was always looking for that space between life and death.

He was always looking for that other world, and I think that since he was abandoned by his mother, since he was an orphan, he put all that religious fervor into this eternal love he had for women. I think he really did love women.

I think for him death and beauty were always inner-play, and that’s why he’s the godfather of Goth.

He was a rogue and he was a gambler. He was a drunk, and he wanted to fight every man who was any competition to him.  [Also] he was disagreeable and he was shy, but I don’t think he was a playboy.

I think he was a one women man, and I think that’s where he put his spiritual fervor. I think that’s where his feeling of death was just always with him, as every women he loved died of tuberculosis in his arms.

How do you personally relate to him?

The Raven - Alice Eve & John Cusack
The Raven – Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) and Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) © 2011 Amontillado Productions

The way I relate to him is that metaphysical space of his, the dream within the dream element where waking ends and dreams begin, life and death, that space that he writes about is the most interesting to me.

But he was also such a genius that a lot of his writing was burlesque, and satirical, and he was making satires of other people’s forms and styles. He was not only a high esoteric poet, but he was writing pulp for Saturday afternoons.

He was writing thrillers. I think he would have looked at Saw and said, ‘Yep that was mine.’

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.