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Interview: James McTeigue & Luke Evans on The Raven

How horrifying does this Poe murder mystery get?

Shock Till You Drop was one of a very small group of outlets selected to speak with director James McTeigue and actor Luke Evans about The Raven, the thriller opening from Relativity on March 9, 2012. The timing of the interview was significant for two reasons. The trailer made its premiere, also, today marks the 162nd anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death.

To promote the release of the The Raven, Relativity had black-wrapped cars, mannequins, and trash cans with “RIP EAP” emblazoned on them strewn around Baltimore, Maryland where Poe is buried. There, McTeigue and Evans spoke to us on the phone from Westminster Hall. Below they discuss the nature of the film, how star John Cusack got into the role of Poe, the dynamic of the two lead characters and The Raven‘s grisly recreations of Poe’s stories.

Question: How much of the film is based on fact and how much is fantastical?

James McTeigue: There’s a portion of it that’s fantastical because Poe is in the middle of a murder mystery, a serial killer’s loose in Baltimore, Maryland in 1849. That is the fiction. The nice thing was taking facts of Poe’s life, using some of his stories, and melding them together in this fictional tale.

Question: And Luke, how do you factor into this?

Luke Evans: I play a detective character named Emmett Fields who works on the Baltimore police force. You’re introduced to him when he finds the first murder by a serial killer who is inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. He brings Poe in primarily as a suspect and realizes that he’s not the suspect. The story unfolds and Poe has to work with my character as the killer leaves behind clues. Two unlikely characters who would never work together in real life. They’re not similar. One is methodical and a detective, the other is a poet, an alcoholic, a drug taker. They’re forced to work together before the killer strikes again.

Question: What is it about this period horror story that you found that makes it relatable to you or the audience?

McTeigue: Horror stories are timeless, I think that’s why [Poe] is still so iconic. He was the precursor to detective fiction, science fiction and influenced everyone, a myriad of people. What attracted me to this film was the opportunity to make a film that was partially about Poe’s life, but also the chance to touch on Poe’s stories. The motif of this story is a murderer taking a twist on Poe’s stories and adding a twist to them. The killer constructs this environment so Poe finds himself in the middle of one of his stories. The fantasy element is always great in a period film.

Question: You mentioned Poe was an alcoholic and a drug abuser, does that take an active role in the plot?

McTeigue: It’s there, we don’t shy away from it. That’s the reality of Poe’s life. Part of his troubles was being an alcoholic, that’s all in the film. It would be hard to do a movie where Edgar Allan Poe was a character and to shy away from that. It’s what made the man and informed his stories.

Evans: I also think this film, it doesn’t shy away from how gory and detailed the murder stories Poe wrote and how topical and shocking they are today. James wanted to make a movie that didn’t shy away from any of that. It’s a proper gothic, mystery, suspense thriller. All of those murder scenes and crime scenes definitely give it a scary edge.

Question: You’re not shying away from an R rating…

McTeigue: Not at all.

Question: Talk about John Cusack’s interpretation of Poe and what did he bring to the role?

McTeigue: John, the first time I met him, knew a lot about Poe. And then we talked about if he was to play Poe, it would be great to get him into that skin. I think he went a long way to do that. He lost weight to give himself a drawn Poe look. He grew a goatee and died his hair a little blacker than it usually is, to get into that physical space. He was friends with Hunter S. Thompson and he could see parallels between Hunter and Poe. I think that helped inform the character. He came to the set fully formed, which was nice.

Question: The murder scenes that are recreations of Poe’s works, we see a bit of them in the trailer, how extreme do they get? Are they rivaling some of the on-screen nastiness we’re seeing in modern horror pictures?

McTeigue: The construct of a killer taking Poe’s stories and putting a new twist on them were fun to do, like the aftermath of the Murders in the Rue Morgue and it was great to create our version of the Pit and the Pendulum and parts of The Tell-Tale Heart. It was definitely great creating them all because Poe obviously had a macabre sense of humor as well as a macabre sensibility. I’m not trying to compete with movies like Saw, which are very particular. We’re more in the psychological thriller mode.

Question: How difficult is it to juggle the demands of properly adapting the Poe material and deviating from them for the sake of the story?

McTeigue: With Edgar Allan Poe who is so well known, I think there will always be people who will call you out on inaccuracies, but in any adaptation that you try to do, you try to get the essence of the character. The essence of Poe and what were parts of his life. If you nail those, as long as you’re true to some of those stories, people will enjoy it for entertainment’s sake.

Question: Is this film along the lines of Sleepy Hollow where there’s some fun to it? Or is it straight horror in terms of tone?

McTeigue: I would say it’s more like a film like Seven. That film uses the seven deadly sins as a motif and it’s about two people working out what the killer’s next move is. This is two disparate characters trying to come together to get inside the mind of a killer and see what story he’ll do next. Whether they can break down these complex clues he leaves to catch him.

Evans: There is horror in it and it’s got a strong narrative with some complex characters as well, which I think is important, although the murders are gory and vivid, there is a strong narrative which is important for the characters journeys.

McTeigue: Poe has definitely sense of humor in the movie, too. And his stories have a macabre sense of humor, that’s apparent in the film.

Question: What do you do to differentiate this from being something like Sherlock Holmes and the Holmes/Watson dynamic?

McTeigue: For me, personally, no dis to Sherlock Holmes, watching Robert Downey, Jr. being comedic for two hours, you sort of get lost in that. Sometimes Jude Law wasn’t calling him Sherlock and I was forgetting I was watching a Sherlock Holmes movies. [laughs] We’re a much different beast to that. It’s not as comedic as Sherlock Holmes. There are parallels there, they’re period and we’re period, and there are two central characters, but we’re about as close to Sherlock Holmes as Transformers is.

Evans: Also, I think, the relationship between those two characters, you might think it’s like Holmes and Watson, in the movie they spend a lot of time fighting against one another because one doesn’t respect the other. The journey is completely different. They have to find common ground to speak civilly to one another.

Source: Ryan Turek, Managing Editor