The fact that there are people who are alive and haven’t seen One Crazy Summer is an insane concept to wrap your head around. This was a reality I had to face when I started talking to my girlfriend about the movie and she had no goddamned idea what I was talking about. Luckily, I was immediately able to show her how good it was through the power of Netflix and I am now able to sleep easy. Some people might associate John Cusack and the 80’s with movies like Say Anything or Sixteen Candles, but I haven’t seen either of those movies, so he’s always either “Hoops” McCann or Lane Meyer from Better Off Dead… . Once you start naming movies from the 80’s that an actor has been in, you do that because they haven’t done anything else since then that was worth mentioning. Despite his early success with those light-hearted movies in the 80’s, John Cusack never stopped making movies we all wanted to see. I mean seriously, have you seen his filmography? From Eight Men Out to Grosse Point Blank to The Thin Red Line to High Fidelity to Being John Malkovich to 1408 to Hot Tub Time Machine, he’s constantly reminding us how good of an actor is and how there is no genre he won’t tackle. In his latest film, The Raven, he plays Edgar Allen Poe, who is involved in a cat and mouse game with a killer who is replicating Poe’s stories. At the recent Chicago Comic and Entertainment Exposition, I was lucky enough to be included in a press conference to promote the film.
WolfMan: Clearly Poe is ingrained in pop culture; movies, music, TV, he’s everywhere. Everyone knows at least some of his stories, even if they don’t know it’s specifically Poe. Since Vincent Price in the 60’s, this is the first time we’ve seen Poe in theaters. This is Poe, this is his work. Did you feel pressure, that you were the one to bring him to life theatrically?
John Cusack: It wasn’t as much of a pressure as much as it was an opportunity. If you read about him, you know that he started so many different genres, the seeds he planted just grew in so many different directions. From science fiction and Jules Verne to hoaxes and being punked and pranked, to gothic horror and to this mystical stuff to great poetry. There’s so much to take from. Once he gets caught up in his own genre, you can always go back to his letters and pull language and it was such a great thing to do. It’s not like you’re ever going to have a definitive version of a person. This is one dream of Poe. Someone else will do another. If you can feel the underworld in the movie, or if you can feel it coming out of my performance, then that’s great.
He then went on to compare the process of interpreting someone like Poe to the different interpretations on stage and screen of the composers Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:
Salieri and Mozart…there was nothing (to work from). You get an insight into Mozart, you get a version of him, but then you get to understand classical music in a way that you probably wouldn’t if it was just a strict biopic, where he did this here and then he was really depressed and stumbling around drunk. It’s a weird blend of fantasy and fiction and legend. Some of the legends around Poe are played with a little bit, and that’s sort of what he did in some of his writings, so I thought it was a cool conceit. I thought it just seemed like a really good version, a good pop-pulp version of him. I just kind of went all in. I didn’t feel pressure, I just gave everything I had into it, and that’s the best I can do.
WM: You mentioned that this isn’t a straight biography about Poe, it blends legends and myth and his stories, but there are still some direct biographical nods to Poe, such as a rival writer being the victim in the pit and the pendulum sequence and the pet raccoon, which alludes to the rumors of Poe dying of rabies. Were there specific poems or stories that you took to heart to incorporate into your personification of Poe, that you used as the most direct references?
JC: I just read him all day and all night when I was making the movie. You could sort of take proxy characters and use then things that he’d said. For example, you could say things that he had said to Emily, the new girl, who’s a fictional girl. After his wife died, he had some romances with some other girls, and she was a proxy for that. His relationship to male authority figures, you could take things he had said to other writers or editors , which is on record, and put it into the stuff I said to Brendan Gleeson (who plays Captain Hamilton) or (Detective) Fields. He didn’t have a relationship with a guy Fields, but he still had a relationship to other people that he thought were inferior to him and he would say certain things to challenge them or push them, so I could take those things. When he says “I have often thought I could distinctly hear the sound of the darkness as it stole over the horizon”, he sort of says that in the movie to Fields, but he actually said it in another context. You have a lot of historically accurate Poe stuff in there, like he did go to West Point and he was athletic, he was a swimmer, that people didn’t know about, but it’s still in a fictional setting. There’s always stuff we could pull, it was amazing. Nobody talked on the phone, people wrote letters, so it’s all there. Amazingly there’s a lot preserved.
WM: I feel like other actors would have had trepidation approaching such a dark character and not knowing how to get out of that headspace, but you said this role is one you’d have fought for, but you had it offered to you. Are there any other historical icons or literary icons that you would fight for the opportunity to put up on screen?
JC: Anything good or anything that can really challenge you and get you frightened and make you think “how do you do this?” but I don’t have anything specific in mind. I’d love to do The Master & Margarita, which is a great Russian book that I think is very cool. I’d love to play Professor Woland but I think someone else has the rights. That’s a great book, I always thought it’d be a great movie.
In regards to the “darkness” surround Poe, he said:
It was helpful that it was winter and it was Serbia and Hungary and we were shooting nights, so I just kind of felt like a vampire anyway. I didn’t sleep much, I felt like I was on a bender for 8 weeks. I just sort of stayed in that headspace of it and then when I got back, I came back for Christmas, and I scared my family. They asked, “What happened!? You need to eat! You look sick.”
I think one reason people are fans of Mr. Cusack are his ability to appear as the every man, or rather, a man who everyone sees parts of themselves in. It’s this endearing quality that makes us always want to root for him and want him to succeed, whether it be as a person or the characters he plays. One big difference with his role in The Raven is that I’m not sure anyone wants to be in his position, and when you see some of yourself in Poe, it might be time to either write some poetry or schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist. Make sure to check out The Raven when it comes to theaters April 27th.