John Cusack — a man Roger Ebert once said “isn’t found in bad films” — stars as one of the most iconic American writers, Edgar Allan Poe, in The Raven, a fictionalized mystery that casts Poe as a detective.
Cusack speaks about what intrigued him about the role, how difficult it was to get into character, and what he found lurking in Poe’s psyche.
Cusack admits that he felt passionate enough about the role that he really wanted it. He reveals, “This is a role that I would have been willing to audition for. I would have fought hard for it, but I was lucky enough to have it offered to me. I said yes right away. It was a no-brainer for me to be able to play Edgar Allan Poe.”
Still, getting the role was only the first step. Cusack then had to figure out how to get inside the head of a man notorious for his dark, gothic writing about murder and torture. He says, “I had an idea how I’d get in. I just didn’t know how to get out and I wanted to make sure I had an escape plan. It was a pretty trippy headspace to stay in.” Part of the struggle includes Poe’s alcoholism, which Cusack describes as like a modern-day rock star. He explains, “He became a bit of a rock star when The Raven became famous. And like some rock stars, he was one of the great stone-cold, bull-goose crazy addicts. Like most alcoholics, he was capable of periods of sobriety where he’d get it together, but he was white-knuckling it, just holding on by the skin of his teeth.”
Nonetheless, Cusack understands that Poe had plenty of reasons to be miserable since the writer had a notoriously torturous life. Cusack explains, “He had such misfortune. Much of it was self-imposed. He had a lot of character defects. But so many women close to him died tragically young, from his mother to his wife. Three women died of tuberculosis in his arms. The character of Emily is a composite of a couple of different women who were in his life after his wife died and all of them died before he did. I think that loss was what kept him always looking into the other world, always wanting to get into the other world somehow.”