A Smart Dark Thing: John Cusack Talks ‘The Raven’

The actor on his favorite Edgar Allan Poe stories, researching the role, and that whole Chuck Klosterman thing.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani


Perhaps one of the most talented of all American authors, Edgar Allan Poe was a melancholy and grim figure, whose mysterious death is chronicled in the speculative murder mystery The Raven, opening in theaters this Friday. In the lead role, John Cusack captures the dark energy and maniacal obsessions and deep romantic passionate longing of the occasionally macabre alcoholic.

CraveOnline had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Cusack, very briefly, about playing Edgar Allan Poe, his favorite Poe stories, and his approach to biographical acting. He also comments a bit on the patterns of his career, his indifference toward his heartthrob image, and some of his personal projects. Quoth I: 


CraveOnline: In The Raven, you have the unenviable task of playing Edgar Allan Poe. Are you a Poe fan yourself?

John Cusack: Oh yeah. I was a big Poe fan. You know, I grew up reading him. So this is all pretty cool. I like him. I like him a lot.


Do you have a favorite Poe story?

Yeah. I like a lot of his books and stories, so I don't which one I should pick. The Murders in the Rue Morgue is good. Also The Masque of the Red Death. King Pest and Hop-Frog. You know, some of the lesser-known ones. I like his verse. I like all his stuff.


Did you do a lot of reading to prepare for the part, or did you stick with your current fandom?

No no. I read all his stuff. I read all his letters. I read all his biographies. I read all his everything. So, yeah. I did a lot of reading. A lot of, you know, study.


I'm a fan of yours. I like your comedies, of course, but I also like your more recent, darker roles. Like 1408.

Oh thanks!


Do you find yourself drawn to darker parts these days, or has that just been the luck of the draw?

I think it's more luck of the draw. I also think it's better to make… it's easier to make [a] smart, dark thing than a smart and more comic thing. For some reason, recent comedies have gotten more simplistic, when I don't think they necessarily have to be that way. But that's okay. It's okay for things to come in shifts.


This is maybe the fifth time that you've played a biographical role. Is that different than your fictional roles?

You know, you're always doing the fictionalized version. Unless someone is there watching with hidden cameras. So, you're always going to be doing a fiction. So we're tending back toward fiction. The legend. I mean, we used plenty of real stuff. We did the research. A lot of my dialogue is straight from Poe. His letters. We got a lot from his biographies. We took advantage of all these things. It's actually just really great that we have this much information about somebody. You can always look back when you're looking for an answer. Y'know, obviously it's conjecture. You're just surmising what the man was like, but, you know you can always go back and find answers. Certain attitudes. Emotions. You can always find that stuff right there in his work and his letters.


Have you been to Baltimore? Did you see his grave?

I haven't been there.


I was always intrigued by the story of the mysterious fan who always left the bottle of sherry on Poe's tombstone on his birthday.

Right. Yeah. That's right. She must have passed away or something.


I read once that you like to act in studio pictures, and then every third or fourth film, you use that energy to make an independent film that you produced or wrote yourself. Is this a pattern you cleave closely to?

Well, no… but I do. I think the ratio is more like one-to-one, actually. Or two-to-one. I do a studio movie… I'd do it every other movie if I could. Now I don't really know what the pattern is. I've kind of lost track.


I like some of your more recent personal projects. I liked the ambition of War, Inc.

[chuckles] Oh well, that! That definitely wasn't a studio picture. That was for sure. For that, I had to do a bunch of studio movies to get that one done. Yeah, that was a fun one. But that was a hard one.


One of my favorites of yours is Grace is Gone

That one was the same kind of deal. I guess that one was a little easier to make, but, yeah, we had to rush to make it.


Chuck Klosterman mentioned in an essay that every single woman born between the years of 1965 and 1978 are all, very naturally, going to be in love with you. I was wondering if you like to relish the heartthrob image you have, or if it's something you like to distance yourself from.

Neither. I don't really think about it too much until someone brings it up. I don't sort of relish it or try to get roles from it, actually. I don't really think about it. Unless I'm talking to a reporter, no one really brings it up. So, I mean, I'm on Twitter. I do a lot of stuff on Twitter that's pretty interesting. And people bring it up there. So I'm definitely aware that there are fans… y'know, a lot of enthusiastic female fans. People who like me. So I guess that's a good thing. I don't really worry too much about that.


What was the first record you bought with your own money?

God, I think it might have been a KISS record. I'm thinkin' I was in the sixth grade, and maybe it was a KISS record. I think it was a 45 rpm. A 45… it might have been Led Zeppelin or KISS or something.


If you're buying KISS in the 6th grade, that definitely ups your cool quotient.

Woo. We definitely liked that in junior high. In junior high it was cool to like KISS. You weren't supposed to like 'em, I guess.


I was busy with show tunes and “Weird Al” Yankovic, so I was not a cool kid.

Oh! I listened to “Weird Al” Yankovic! Well, not specifically him, but I was a big fan of Dr. Demento and The Dr. Demento Show. That was about 4th grade, all that stuff. So, yeah!