As one of Hollywood’s most successful actors, John Cusack can somewhat relate to revered poet and author Edgar Allan Poe.
“I think people can connect to anybody who’s sort of outside the box,” Cusack told me during a recent press event promoting his new movie “The Raven,” in which he plays the master of macabre. “He was real defiant and almost sociopath in his defiance. He was at war with everybody and he wanted to go against the grain.”
Sociopathy. Defiance. Eccentricity. Not exactly traits commonly associated with the 45-year-old everyman, who’s starred in beloved films such as “Say Anything,” “Better Off Dead” and “One Crazy Summer.”
“I think actors all — you don’t wanna go with the herd. Why are we acting? We wanna prove that we’re different, you know?” Cusack explained. “Like Kurt Cobain. Why do we all love Kurt Cobain? He was miserable and depressed and he’s anxious. He didn’t want to be a part of society, he wanted to be on his own, but he was like a patron saint and I don‘t know why. Because he houses all that stuff that we all have that we relate to when we‘re not pretending to be perfect.”
He continued, “And Poe was like that. He was the patron saint of the artistic and the doomed.”
“The Raven,” which opens in theaters everywhere today, is a fictionalized account of Poe’s final days, during which a madman terrorizes 19th century Baltimore by murdering innocent people using methods described in the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Once terrifying tales on paper, stories like “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Premature Burial” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” are brought to life in gruesome, deadly detail. To catch the killer, a detective named Emmet Fields (played by Luke Evans) calls upon the Godfather of Goth himself to figure out his next move.
“The movie is sort of a blend of fact and fiction and legend, but the conceit of the movie, I think, is very Poe-like in that it’s Poe getting wrapped up in one of his own stories,” Cusack said. “Which is sort of the meta Poe version of his thing where he’s always trying to figure out the difference between waking and dreaming and living and dying and sanity and insanity and he’s trying to get into that place beyond him.”
“It’s a mix of real Poe and fantasy Poe,” he said. “But so is Poe.”
The question is, will the Poe faithful be able to accept the fantasized action hero version of their gothic hero?
“I think they’ll like it. Some of them,” said Cusack, who likens the movie to a 19th century “Saw” film. “Roger Corman certainly took the burlesque, satiric side of [Poe] and turned it into these camp movies in the ’60s. This takes his terror much more serious than those, certainly. There could be a straight biopic that’s a good version of the movie too, but I thought this one was cool.”
Cusack claims he was already well versed in the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe prior to taking on the role. While speaking to the press, the actor shows great admiration for the writer’s poetry (“Ulalume” is his favorite), stories (“The Fall of the House of Usher” tops the list) and influence on authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne, but also showed sympathy for his life of destitution, alcoholism and tragic love life. When asked if Poe is the most damaged character he’s ever played on film, Cusack takes several seconds to consider the idea.
“Yeah. Probably,” he replied.
“Well, he was a genius. Most people aren’t really geniuses. They don’t have the insight,” he continued. “He had a pretty serious appetite for self-destruction, for sure. But I think his thing was also [that] he romanced the abyss in a way that really hadn’t been done before. There’s not many people who have the worst nightmare you can think of — and most people will then say, ‘Wake up, wake up, wake up’ — and he was like, ‘Oh, great. Go deeper.’”
So how does one go deeper? How does an actor romance the abyss, embrace the self-destruction and channel the patron saint of the artistic and the doomed?
“You just go goth or go home,” Cusack said. “Go all in. Go dark.”
“The Raven” is in theaters everywhere now. Click here to order tickets through Fandango.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.