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John Cusack Interview: The Peril And Pleasure Of Bringing Edgar Allan Poe To Screen In 'The Raven'

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John Cusack has succeeded in bringing his literary hero Edgar Allan Poe to the big screen in 'The Raven'
John Cusack has succeeded in bringing his literary hero Edgar Allan Poe to the big screen in 'The Raven'

It's been 23 years since John Cusack defiantly held a stereo above his head and sealed his place in teenage girls' hearts as the tousle-haired, lovesick outsider in Say Anything, but if you still remember this fondly, well...so does he.

"I've never done a sequel," he says in London. "But I've been trying to work with Cameron (Crowe, the film's director) for years - tell him to give me a job. He only wants to do his work with blonde movie stars now or Tom Cruise, I got replaced early on, he never looked back. But it would be fun."

If Crowe wants someone with the same dedication as Cruise and presumably a smaller entourage, he need look no further than the recent CV of Cusack, still recovering from his efforts of bringing Edgar Allan Poe to the big screen in The Raven.

Never mind the physical efforts - "we decided to go for clean-shaven, the moustache was just a little too Charlie Chaplin, and the beard was already a bit Colonel Tom Parker meets Colonel Sanders, meets Johnny Cash" - it is the mental journey of which he seems still be to feeling the repercussions...

"I tried my hardest, I came back exhausted, weighing 187 pounds, stumbling around. But we made sure to get him as complex and f***ed up as possible. It was like being on a bender. It was like being on a journey to the underworld artistically, and I thought it was exciting, but I didn't want to stay there.

"Afterwards, you come out, and just hope that there's not a brick wall in front of you, and you put some throw mats down on the ground, and make no plans for about a month after."

With all this effort, Cusack sounds like a fine match for the wayward talents of Poe, as famous for his self-destructiveness as for his poetry and writings, a comparison the actor quickly defers:

"I wouldn't presume that, he's a genius, I'm an actor," he says. "But you have to see yourself in these great people if they represent the shadow part of you.

"Poe went to the White House and got drunk, The Raven was published all over the world, but there was no copyright, he was famous and living in a hovel. He was so self-destructive, he'd burn any bridge he ever built..." Cusack's admiration for nonchalance on such a grand scale is clear to hear. "He was at war with the entire world."

"He was a pioneer like Jung or Freud, of the unconscious. So he was all ideas, but he was also writing thrillers for a Saturday afternoon for people to read, a great mixture."

If it comes as a surprise that Cusack would reach beyond the surface popularity of a film, it shouldn't. He claims all of his films have been political - really, including The Sure Thing, High Fidelity or the still iconic Say Anything?

"I did a movie when I was a kid, Say Anything (oh dear, that makes me feel old but it's endearing how little he expects anyone to remember it), that has lots of politics in it. My character Lloyd Dobler didn't want to work for the Army, he was an anti-culture character, but what he stood in opposition to was what made it political. I wanted to make him like J D Salinger... so it wasn't some glossy perfect fairytale."

Are audiences going to get all this from The Raven? I'm not sure. It works effectively on the surface as a thriller and romance too, something Cusack is not uncomfortable with:

"The problem is people don't want to think about it so much, so they just market it as a thriller, or say it's for women with a romantic thriller, or one with action, when it's actually for adults. There are plenty of ways to look at it."

He shrugs.

"It's like a piece of art. Put it out there, and maybe a couple of years later, people realise it's really good, and they keep looking at it, like a painting. It changes.

"I've done movies that were modest successes and still spoken about ten years later, and movies that were massive hits, that people don't think about at all any more."

Spoken with a true nonchalance - Poe would be proud.

John Cusack will be doing a Q&A this Thursday (8th March) at 12pm – simply follow @JohnCusack on Twitter, send him your questions and tune in at 12pm on Thursday.
The Raven is in UK cinemas from Friday 9 March. Watch the trailer below:

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