He rides on horseback while wielding a gun, tracks down a serial killer, drinks (heavily), and composes morbid short stories when he's not trying to save the girl. He is Edgar Allan Poe, action hero. Or not.

 

"He's not an action hero, per se," says John Cusack, who stars as this swashbuckling -- yet still dementedly anguished -- Poe in the new thriller "The Raven." "Based on what we know of the man and his stories, it's not a stretch to think of him trying to solve a mystery."

 

Cusack realizes this take, whereupon literature's favorite depressed and dark writer follows a serial killer whose murders are very similar to those described in his most famous stories ("The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Masque of the Red Death," "The Premature Burial" and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," among others), uses some poetic license. But this "mashup" version, as Cusack defines it, is what attracted him to the role in the first place.

 

"A straight biopic would be boring -- I love this mashup," says Cusack with a slight gleam in his eye. "Poe was fascinating and multifaceted, but where the real drama comes in are the stories -- his glorious stories!"

 

And, really, a biopic still wouldn't be true to the man who Poe is, Cusack theorizes. "It would only be an amalgamation of what you think his life would be," he claims, since so much mystery still surrounds the life and death of the writer. Cusack says he and director James McTeigue "figured we could paint a clearer picture of who and what he was when he becomes a character in his own stories."

 

The star claims this mashup approach is very "Poe-esque." "He writes about guys who are going crazy. He writes about dreams within dreams. ['The Raven'] is very Poe."

And really, if you are an actor and don't want to portray one of history's most fascinating and layered characters -- no matter how you decide to present it in a major Hollywood blockbuster -- you should probably just retire. "Yeah, it's time to give up," Cusack agrees. "How can you say no to Poe?"

Cusack's ticks




Cusack spent much of our interview talking about the idiosyncrasies of Poe, bouncing between his alcoholism, his writing, his loves (and the subsequent tragic deaths of those loves) and his addictions. But the actor also revealed his own tick: Puffing on an electronic cigarette, which he smoked throughout our conversation. When asked if he was trying to quit smoking, he said, "I actually quit 10 years ago." So why the electronic variety? "This?" he questioned with a glance at his fake smoke. "I just think this is cool," he said. And then puffed away.

Revamping history




"The Raven" is one of the first in a new cross-genre in film: famous figures in history put in fantastical situations. Now on Netflix Instant Play, you can check out "FDR: American Badass!," in which a vengeful Franklin Delano Roosevelt rides a "wheelchair of death" to stop the world from werewolves who carry the polio virus. In theaters this June is the hotly anticipated film adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith's 2010 novel "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," which features our 16th president slaying vamps while abolishing slavery. Also in production are two films fictionalizing the life of Leonardo Da Vinci: "Leonardo Da Vinci and the Soldiers of Forever," which showcases the artist as a Renaissance-era Indiana Jones, and "Leonardo," which is about "Da Vinci's quest to stop Renaissance Europe from returning to the Dark Ages," per Variety.