Last week, actor John Cusack asked his 855,000-plus Twitter followers whether Lady Gaga was the modern-day Edgar Allan Poe. It was a bit perplexing, considering Gaga is a musician and Poe was an author and poet. Surely there was some prolific writer that Cusack meant to say instead?
"I said that because of all the blood and gore she has in her [performances]," the actor explained to Moviefone, in a conversation at the Vault at Pfaff's, a New York City establishment once haunted by many of Poe's literary peers.
Despite potential cries of blasphemy from Poe fanatics, you should excuse Mr. Cusack for trying to make a joke. After all, he spent months researching the late author -- delving into the myriad of mysterious, blood-filled tales of revenge and murder -- for his role in the upcoming movie, "The Raven," and perhaps he needed a bit of humor to break things up.
Hitting theaters this Friday, "The Raven" explores the final days of the romantic poet (Cusack) and the mystery surrounding his passing. More than 150 years after dying in Baltimore, Edgar Allan Poe's cause of death remains unknown. (On October 3, 1849, Poe had been found deliriously wandering the streets, wearing clothes that weren't his. Afterward, he was taken to a hospital where he died several days later.) Speculations ran the gauntlet -- from cholera to murder to suicide.
Of course Cusack, known for his strong political views and outspokenness, has a theory of his own. "I think it was a voting fraud," said the actor, referring to the 19th century practice known as cooping. "[In those days] they used to get people drunk and give them new clothes and have them vote multiple times to try and load the deck, for whatever they were trying to win. That seems pretty plausible."
Cusack's theory notwithstanding, "The Raven" instead imagines that Poe spent his last few days chasing down a serial killer whose crimes are based off the author's most famous works, from "The Tell-Tale Heart" to "The Masque of the Red Death." Although it depicts the same gore and gruesomeness from Poe's writing, the film has its own creative license: At one point, the writer is seen riding a horse and firing a gun, as he chases after the killer. For those who imagine Edgar as more literary genius and less action star, you may find this turn of events a bit strange. However, Cusack says that it all makes perfect sense.
"When you do research on him, you realize he went to West Point, he was a championship swimmer -- he would swim up the Schuylkill River and carried around this cane that had a sword in it and challenged people to duels," explained the actor. "So he was kind of an out-there person."
Describing Poe as "out-there" and "rogue-y" gives Cusack's previous characters a passing similarity with the writer himself, as they all have embraced the fringe/contrarian nature of their world (i.e. puppeteering in "Being John Malkovich," music snobbery in "High Fidelity"). "The Raven" isn't the first time Cusack has portrayed a writer, either: In the 1994 Woody Allen film, "Bullets Over Broadway," he played a young playwright named David Shayne. (And he's not opposed to reprising the role again. Woody is currently working on a "Bullets Over Broadway" stage adaptation -- when asked whether he'd return to the role of David, Cusack said "Sure. But I don't think he's going to ask me, I am too old.")
That's not to compare Poe with the troubles of a music-store employee or unknown artist. Edgar had many demons, something Cusack came to understand as he delved deeper and deeper into the character.
"[Poe] wasn't the easiest person to deal with," said the actor, referring to the writer's long-standing addiction to booze. "[Some writers] are ultra-sensitive and ultra-intelligent, and there's just too much information they are getting in. So [alcohol] sort of turns their mind off and quiets their brain."
The decision to play Poe adds an interesting credit to Cusack's already noteworthy career, one that includes a film that's constantly referenced in popular culture: "Say Anything..." Does John get sick of people quoting Lloyd Dobbler and asking about the boombox scene? If so, he's not showing it.
"No, I am happy that anybody's talking about me at all, so it's OK."
"The Raven" hits theaters nationwide this Friday.