Australian filmmaker James McTeigue made his directorial debut with V for Vendetta, starring Hugo Weaver and Natalie Portman. He went on to helm Ninja Assassin, with Korean superstar Rain.
His new movie, The Raven, stars John Cusack as legendary writer Edgar Allan Poe. Set in Baltimore in 1849, the story revolves around a serial killer who is using Poe’s stories for his horrifically grisly crimes. When Poe is brought in as a consultant on the case by Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans), he doesn’t realize how dangerous his involvement will be until his love, Emily (Alice Eve), becomes the killer’s next target. Poe must solve the case before it’s too late, as the killer has buried her alive in a coffin.
Alice Eve (She’s Out of my League, Sex and the City 2, Starter for Ten) and director James McTeigue spoke with us about their new horror film.
What did you see in Alice and John that they could pull off these roles?
James: John came fully loaded to our first meeting. He knew a lot about Poe, and I think he just immediately saw the place I wanted to go with the character. I think John got into the head space of Poe and really pulled out a great performance.
With Alice I had one meeting and we talked. She’s very bright and erudite. I remember we did this funny little test [at] this theatre in Soho in London. We were in a room like this, and I’d go, ‘Now pretend you’re buried in a box, and you’ve been in there for five days.’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, okay, sure.’
I remember I was standing over the top of her with this camera, and I’m like, ‘This is a really weird situation to be in.’ But Alice was completely there, and I could see she would be fantastic in the role.
What was it like working opposite John Cusack?
Alice: I really enjoyed learning from John. We had a little bit of time on this in Hungary to sit and talk, and I really learned about the benefit of covering ground and inventing stuff, working through the history of the relationship, and then throwing it away.
That allows you to be very confident when you arrive on set, and you know exactly where you stand as a couple and what you’ve experienced, and so that for me was very informative.
Which was more confining, 1800’s Baltimore fashion or a three sided vault grave?
Alice: Well it wasn’t always three sided. Sometimes I was completely blocked in, so that was ultimately the most confining thing.
There seems to be a perennial fascination with corsets, and I realized that I don’t think they’re any worse than high heels. I think they are just as painful but corsets are actually better because they help your posture.
Definitely being buried alive was genuinely horrific for one moment, because when they first did it, the coffin lid went down, and I took a breath and the oxygen went from the coffin, and I panicked. Didn’t I? I had a bit of a cry.
James: You did, but I think she was very brave. There are not too many actresses that you can say, ‘Hey, I’m going to put on a lid, and I’m going to put dirt on you, just hold your breath, and then I want you to come out and looked like you panicked.’ There was a mixture of acting and real life!
James, did you test try the coffin beforehand for safety’s sake?
James: It’s hard for me to answer that question truthfully with Alice next to me, but I did crawl into the three sided one. It wasn’t exactly made for me, but yeah I did try it.
Alice: One gallant young man went in first.
James: That’s true, yes. The standby prop man Steve went in first.
Death is such a big topic in this film, what was it like delving into the brink of death so often in the movie?
Alice: I think that I only came out of that darkness about six months ago. It was in winter, it was dark, the streets were bleak and misty, and we were making a story about an insane genius, and I think that we definitely went there. It was really intense actually.
Did the studio ever ask you to cut out some of the more gory sequences?
James: If you’re going to make movie about Poe you have to speak to what he did. It would seem churlish not to have those scenes with the pit and the pendulum, or the severed tongue. I know some people are a little repelled by some of the gore, but I think that was like Poe would do it. He did do it.
He was so much more graphic than the film is. So there wasn’t any [request] to tone it down, everyone was on board with what we were all trying to do.
How do you think Poe’s fame would compare to that of today’s celebrity?
James: It’s hard to be famous now, because of the twenty four hour news cycle. The way the media follows you, it’s impossible if you’re in the public eye. Fame now seems like it’s almost an impossible task, whereas then I guess you could remain a little bit anonymous.
Would Poe court that kind of fame today?
James: Absolutely. I think he’d be the guy you’d say, ‘Wow, look at that guy,’ as he’s getting dragged out of a bar again. ‘Doesn’t that guy know better yet?’
What do you think Poe would think of this movie?
James: I think he would have admired the fictional construct that we put him into one of his stories, like a dream.
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