The Raven will be released to theaters on Friday and I had a chance to talk with director James McTeigue earlier today about the making of the film. During my interview time, I learned balancing the real and fictional Poe, the casting of John Cusack, changes to the script, and his inspirations for the style of this film.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me about The Raven. I’ve read that the script existed for a good bit before you had come on board, so I was curious about how you got involved. What attracted you to the project?
James McTeigue: Aaron Ryder is the producer of this film and also worked on Memento, The Prestige and Donnie Darko. He brought me the script and I knew a little about Poe, but not massive amounts. I really dug the concept, which was a melding of fact and fiction, with Poe in the middle of his own story. The conceit of the movie is what really attracted me to it.
Was the script you read very similar to the shooting script? Did you make any significant changes when you came on board?
James McTeigue: There is always the desire to put your own stamp on the movie. In the original script, I didn’t think the killer’s motivation was exactly correct, so that was changed a little bit along the way. 95% of what Aaron first presented me became the film.
The actual Edgar Allan Poe or the version we see at the very beginning of the movie isn’t necessarily the same we see by the end of the film. How important was it for you to humanize Poe in a way that the moviegoing audience would find likable?
James McTeigue: I think there is always the desire to do that. You don’t want an unsympathetic lead character because then no one can get into the film. Having said that, I didn’t want him to be a choirboy either. Part of the reason to cast John Cusack in it, was because he has a great empathy with audiences. I thought we could show the less desirable aspects of Poe, but still not have the audiences turned off. You can’t really make a film about Poe and not show these demons, which ultimately created all of the great work that he did.
I enjoyed the mix and thought it was fun to watch John Cusack in that role. Especially at the start of the masquerade ball or in the bar scene.
James McTeigue: I tried to have the bar scene be the microcosm of the film. Poe comes in and he hangs out with these lowlife people. He starts out very charming and when he doesn’t get what he wants, he tries to joke. When that doesn’t work he acts desperate, and when that doesn’t work, he becomes abusive to everyone around him. Those were all the facets of Poe that you’ll see in the movie and was a good way to set it up.
Was John Cusack your first choice to play Poe? How did you have him prepare for the role?
James McTeigue: When I met John, it became very apparent that he was the right person. You always go through a period of who you think will be right, but when I met him, he was very well read and knew a lot about Poe. I think he could see similar traits in friends of his, like Hunter S. Thompson. He knows what those people tried to do, which is ultimately the mingling of beauty and horror.
When John started talking about it, he told me how he’d prepare for the role. He wanted to lose weight to appear as a more gaunt-like Poe. He also understood that this wasn’t a biopic about Edgar Allan Poe and was a fun construct.
What movies inspired the look and style of this film? There were a number of scenes that reminded me of serial killer movies like Se7en and I remember another scene that was reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera.
James McTeigue: What I always try to do is give the creative team an insight into films that speak to what I’m trying to do. Some of those films were The City of Lost Children, Nosferatu, Coppola’s Dracula. Eyes Wide Shut was a reference for parts of the ballroom sequence.
Daily Dead’s main focus is on horror, so I thought our readers would be interested to know more about your taste in horror movies. What are some of your favorite horror films?
James McTeigue: I love Rosemary’s Baby and always thought that was pretty cool. I also like some of the zombie movies, especially Dawn of the Dead. The Exorcist, The Shining, Repulsion, The Birds…. those are a few that I really like.
I know that you’re name has been attached to a number of projects and I was wondering what’s next for you after you’re done promoting The Raven?
James McTeigue: I’m in the process of casting Message from the King at the moment. It’s a really great film about how Los Angeles works, while shining a light on the underbelly of the city. Then there is Ness/Capone, which is a retelling of the Al Capone and Eliot Ness story. It is about as far away as The Untouchables as you can get, because in real life Eliot Ness was 26 and Capone was 30. It’s a much younger version of that story, which I think is really great. That’s getting close and there is a really nice script for it.
I conducted interviews with John Cusack and Alice Eve as well, so be on the lookout for those articles later this week. To catch up on our recent coverage of The Raven, check out the following articles: