MANILA, Philippines - John Cusack depended on very old letters that author and poet Edgar Allan Poe himself penned during his lifetime to play the American writer in the gothic thriller "The Raven."
"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," said Cusack in a statement sent through the film's local distributor.
"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."
Directed by James McTeigue, "The Raven," which will be shown exclusively at Ayala Malls Cinemas (Glorietta 4, Greenbelt 3 and Trinoma) beginning May 23, fictionalizes a portion of the era when "a madman begins committing horrific murders inspired by Poe's darkest works."
"The conceit of the story was smart and it allowed us to explore more of his works in a piece of fiction," said Cusack. "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."
The actor said he discovered quite a series of revelations about Poe while immersed in character research.
"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."
Among the interesting findings by Cusack was the fact that Poe "really liked women and liked being adored by women." He added, "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 found a step mother in a woman that was a friend of his but she died of tuberculosis too. 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."
Playing characters like this one allows Cusack to tap the "underworld," a place he always wants to visit every once in a while. His craft, of course, is the perfect escapism.
"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."