Sunday, May 20, 2012
The Raven seems like a love-fest for anyone who’s an Edgar Allen Poe fan… what preparations did you undergo to ensure you played Edgar Allen Poe as close to what he might have been like, even if the character was fictionalized?
When you read Poe’s works, you see how prophetic he was, how many genres he invented and the many styles he was capable of. You see the comic side of him, someone who's taken the comedy and heightened it to be fantastic. Once he gets caught up in his own genre, you can go back to his letters and pull the language. That just felt like a great thing to do. We felt for sure we didn’t want to do his little moustache, because we wanted to stay away from the Charlie Chaplin postage stamp thing. As much as I love that, I thought it would be limiting. And because he was dirt poor and an alcoholic, I got as gaunt as I could, I got down to about 190 pounds, which is below what I was in high school. Then you just immerse yourself into the material, all of his letters and writings, and get into that spook house vibe.
With so many references to so many Edgar Allen Poe mysteries, how did you (the cast and the crew) ensure to keep the fictionalized tale of The Raven (the film) close to the original script? Were there occasions where you decided to experiment and deviate… considering these were timeless Poe mysteries you’ll were dealing with?
The Raven is a fictional adaptation of the life of Edgar Allen Poe, and brings to life the world of Poe’s poems and short stories, combining it with multiple elements of classic thriller movies. The basic idea was to portray Poe as more of a character in one of his own stories to get a whiff of his imagination. By having Poe become a part of his stories and then having to deconstruct his own story, you get to hear Poe on Poe. It was exciting to replicate Poe’s work and bring to life some brilliantly horrific moments from his murder mysteries. We have used some of Poe’s works like ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ ‘The Pit’, The Pendulum’ and ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ to an extent that they depict the dark perceptive world of a writer, by taking viewers through his work. It took some amount of adapting and trying out different ideas in order to get to the essence of Poe convincingly.
You seem to have a passion for roles that are extremely different and a penchant for the supernatural. Does The Raven indulge in the supernatural element that defines many of Poe’s works… and was inspiration taken from the celebrated poem itself? Also, what leads you to these films?
Aren’t we all attracted to the abyss? It’s poetic. Who doesn’t like Halloween, the day of the dead, the supernatural, ghouls, the underworld, dreams, and nightmares? It’s an interesting character and headspace to explore. It’s not something I want to stay in but it’s nice to visit it. The Raven does bring a certain supernatural element in its delivery. It skews the barriers of fantasy and reality. It is riddled with fictional stories, while containing factual information about Poe’s life. The symbol of the raven serves as an obvious but satisfying metaphor throughout the movie, shadowing the death of the characters in a role that’s similar to its symbolic function in the poem. The poem’s central theme is also replicated through Poe’s own life in the film. I think it’s more luck of the draw that I am getting darker roles these days. I also think it’s easier to make [a] smart, dark thing than a smart and more comic thing. For some reason, recent comedies have gotten more simplistic, when I don't think they necessarily have to be that way. But that's okay. It's okay for things to come in shifts.
India will be seeing The Raven after most of the world and so the reviews are already out. The surprise element, if any, in the film, is not necessarily going to be its selling point. What do you, as someone who played the role of Edgar himself, feel makes this film a must-watch?
I think the reason why people should go watch this film is so that they can enjoy a piece of mystery as it existed in Poe’s writing. If watching this film makes you go back to read his works, we would have succeeded in creating what we wanted in the first place. This is a film which will appeal to lovers of goth, suspense thrillers and detective fiction. Shanghai was a film we’d hoped to see in India, how was the experience working with a largely Asian cast, shooting in Thailand and working with Gong Li? To do something that has a big budget, with a great director and actors and to work with a script that has that quality and level of writing and production design is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I got that with Shanghai. My co-stars in the film were ‘the greatest artists from Asia’ and it was an honour to work with them. It was the first time I shot in Asia and didn’t get the chance to explore Thailand because of a busy shooting schedule but I did enjoy the warmth of the Thai people. I would really come back for the people. They seem to be incredibly generous, warm and loving people so it’s very nice to be around them. The crews are magnificent and everybody I’ve met in my brief time off has been lovely. My Shanghai co-star Gong Li was part of my cinematic introduction to China. I was an admirer of Gong Li for so long... A role like this and to work with such great actors is a rare honour. She is such a nuanced performer like a Mona Lisa, with a very subtle way of conveying how the character feels. She's a very complicated and intricate performer. You have to pay attention to not just her lines but her body movements and subtle gestures five seconds before and after those lines.
From playing the role of America’s most loved poet and detective writer, your next film sees you play the role of one of the country’s most dangerous serial killers — how do you adapt from roles like Poe to that of Robert Hanson?
For the role of Robert Hanson in The Frozen Ground, I based my portrayal of evil on crocodiles I’d seen on safari in Africa. To prepare for the dark roles that I play in The Raven, The Frozen Ground and The Paper Boy (where I play a death row inmate), I did Jungian shadow exercises and meditations designed to delve into parts of the subconscious you most want to hide. It helped to tap in to my dark side in interesting ways.
The poet theme seems to run strong and Adult World also sees you in the role of the poet? Are you inspired enough to actually start penning your own verse?
These kinds of roles seem to find me. That’s may be because I do a bit of writing and people think that I am a perfect fit for such literary roles and will be able to understand them better. I have written lyrics for the songs in my film War, Inc so yes; I have some experience of writing in that sense.
Serendipity was your last romantic and India still largely considers it to be the best romantic film ever made — will we see that side of you in any films to come?
If I get offered to do a movie about relationships and think it can be good, then I have no problem working on a romantic film. Let’s see when I can do that kind of role again.
Have you watched any Indian cinema, apart from mainstream Bollywood films? Bollywood being the industry that churns our most Hindi language films from the city of Mumbai? If so, what do you think of Indian cinema?
Unfortunately I have not seen any films from India yet to be able to comment on them.