With over 60 film titles to his name and starring roles in a huge variety of different genres, John Cusack is probably most famous for playing the professional assassin on a trip down memory lane in Grosse Point Blank, opposite Minnie Driver. He has also starred in the likes of Con Air, Being John Malkovich, High Fidelity and Hot Tub Time Machine, he has recently taken on the role of the 19th century American poet and writer, Edgar Allan Poe, who was famous for his chillingly gothic stories of murder, revenge and insanity.
Talking to View’s Matthew Turner, John Cusack spoke about his take on the infamous author, why he sees much of Poe’s work as a forerunner of psychoanalysis, whether or not he did actually have a raccoon as a pet and growing his own beard.
What kind of research did you do for the role and did Edgar Allan Poe really have a pet raccoon?
If I remember correctly, I think we did that because there was a theory that he had rabies, so it was a little bit of an inside joke. I don’t think he did have a raccoon. He had a cat though that used to ride on his shoulders. So, he did like animals. But I think we made that up about the raccoon.
How did you go about your research?
Just reading – I read everything. There are some great biographies around.
How important is that to a film like The Raven? Is it relevant that you’re telling the truth?
I think it is, actually. I think poets tell better history than historians. Historians lie all the time but the poets can get to truth of it. So, if you have Poe de-constructing Poe’s stories, and you know what Poe’s written about in all his stories, what he’s said about all his stories and about his letters, you can investigate him. So, you have Poe investigating the mind of Poe. So, I think there’s a lot of historical insight you can get. You can put a lot of accuracy in the fiction and I think that’s what we tried to do.
It’s always interesting to see a character who creates fiction in fiction because there’s a tension there. For me it was more a Pirandello sort of thing than it was a historical idea - it’s more about creativity ...
I agree. And I think that’s more revealing about Poe than a biopic, to me. What you’re saying about Pirandello is absolutely true and then I thought of Jorge Luis Borges’ The Circular Ruins. And that’s Poe. All we see is a bit of the dream within a dream. Where does creativity end and the imagination and reality begin? What are the boundaries between life and death? He took his creativity to the edge of madness.
Or I even think of it mythologically. Mythologically, The Raven is like some God or something and it goes down into the underworld and gets secret forms of knowledge and then gets all disfigured and it comes up and it has all these incredibly wise and heavenly things to say. So, he was going into the underworld. He was always talking about these figures from the other world, like literally The Raven comes right there ...
So, to me he was a pioneer like Jung or Freud or something into the unconscious. And that’s very exciting. But he was also writing thrillers for a Saturday afternoon for people to read. So, it’s like a great mixture of high esoteric kind of stuff.
How do you think people will react to The Raven?
The problem is, at least in the States, is that sometimes people don’t want to think about it so much. So, they just market it as a thriller. So, they want under 25 people in here, or they say, ‘This is for the women,’ so they cut a romantic trailer or a trailer with action. But it’s really for adults and there are plenty of ways to look at it. But I think it would be great to talk about a movie in that way, to put it out there with all these different things.
A lot of people just read the press notes and that’s what they write about the movie and the public doesn’t talk about it or think about it. I don’t know how people are going to see it. But I think we were true to the source material. I think we made a movie that was much like Poe’s writing, which was high-brow and pop. That’s sort of what he was. And I think it’s dark. I tried my hardest. I came back exhausted and 187 pounds. I touched down in Chicago at Christmas and I didn’t know where the hell I was. I was stumbling around. I felt like I went on a bit of a journey.
Would you rather have it be a mainstream success with the popcorn audience or have a select group of people watching it and getting it? Which is more satisfying to you?
I don’t know. I don’t really care. Whatever - it’s going to be what it is. Everybody wants to label it or put things into a box right away, or explain it right away. But even if you explain something, the definition of that is you’re making it flat. It’s got dimensions – is it a hit? It’s not a hit - it’s an art film. But then you put it out there and people will see it and then a couple of years’ later people are like, “That’s really good.” They keep looking at it, so it’s like a painting; it changes. So, it’s going to be what it is.