James McTeigue's The Raven is released in UK cinemas this Friday. It's a murder mystery caper, verging on a modern slasher film, and features John Cusack as a fictional Edgar Allen Poe, getting all caught up in the police investigation of some perverse copycat murders borrowed from his fictions.
I'm a great admirer of Cusack and many of his films, but The Raven is not the kind of thing I would typically look to him to provide. Still, it's worth it to not dismiss the film out of hand, so when I got to speak to Cusack last week, conversation turned to a number of serious subjects.
Here is some of what he told me.
What are the politics of Poe? They're more internal. Poets are political, they have to be reflections of their times – they're living in their times. But I see him more as a pioneer to the sub-conscious. But putting anything poetic out there is political. Poetry is political in that it's standing in opposition to fascism. Good poetry asks a bunch of questions and asks the audience to interact with themselves or see themselves in it. Maybe you like it or you don't like it. But the fascist stuff plays on your fears and tells you to jump on the party line and gives some simple excuses – blame this person, blame that person.
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 have research and you know what Poe's written about in all his stories and you know what he's said about all his stories and you know about his letters, you can investigate him. 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.
If you think of the politics of a movie like 300 – that's a political movie, it's a political movie that doesn't know that it's actually gay. Basically they do a battle cry and they go "This is for reason and intellect and tradition and we will take a death blow to mysticism and the east!" right? The people that they're going to kill happen to be dark skinned androgynous kind of people. "The other", right? That's a fascist fucking movie. But it's a good popcorn movie. I don't have an agenda against 300 but that's fascism, right?
With Poe we're saying here's an artist who is admitting he's totally human. He's the protagonist but he's got all the problems you could ever imagine a human could have. He's not some super-angel with perfect muscles who loves his queen. He's fucked up. He's one of us, and he's worse than us, or he's better than us. But it's not simple. It's not reductive.
To me, politics is a weird word… but I did a movie when I was a kid, Say Anything, and that's got lots of politics in it. Lloyd [Dobler] is a totally political character. He doesn't want to work for the Army and he's a counter-culture type of character.
I'd do a Say Anything sequel if [Cameron Crowe] wanted to do it but he never said he wanted to do it. We never really talked about it. I've never done a sequel… or rather War Inc is the only one and we kind of had to lie about that one. But it is, basically. I've been trying to work with Cameron Crowe for years so tell him to give me a job. All he wants to do is work with blonde movie stars now, or Tom Cruise. I got replaced early on and he never looked back. But I'd love to do another one with him, we haven't found one yet or he hasn't wanted to do it yet. But it would be fun.
The Raven is released across the UK today, with a US release following in April. Cusack is an actor of rare charisma and is, in and of himself, always worth watching.