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Interview: Luke Evans & James McTeigue from “The Raven”

Baltimore Poe fans got a real treat on this year’s anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death; actor Luke Evans and director James McTeigue from the film The Raven came to town to honor the scribe by laying a wreath at Poe’s graveside.  They also took the time out of their incredibly busy schedules (Luke Evans is shooting The Hobbit, and James McTeigue is in pre-production on his next film, Message from the King) to sit down and answer a few questions.

So now we all know what Musketeers films James really enjoys, and where to find Luke when he’s not filming (hint: you can get in for a song….)

Poe's gravesite: Poe House curator, McTeigue & Evans

* Did you film in Baltimore?

James: We did not film in Baltimore because 1840 Baltimore where the film is set doesn’t obviously exist anymore and y’know fire in Baltimore destroyed most of what would have been left [of the original buildings]  so we actually filmed in Budapest which in some ways was kind of liberating because there’s lots of architecture, a lot of research before we went and then through some art directin and visual effects and matte paintings we were able to re-create Baltimore.

* What’s it like being here now?

James: It’s great to be just before here we were down in Fell’s Point, which is the closest approximation to y’know where some of our story is set….By the harbor you’re always hearing bells & gulls y’know.

Luke: Walking down the cobblestones where the trams used to be, where the old police station [still stands], the emblems on the walls and you think God…if you’re a big drinker this is where you’d hang out, your stomping grounds if you were like Poe.  And people who were people of the night hanging out in these bars where all the dark souls of Baltimore would have been.  So it was quite on the anniversary of his death, 162 years later, which is basically where our film is based around the final 5 days of his life or thereabout.  it’s very very nice, yeah. I’ve flown in for one day just to see it.  so yeah I’m intrigued just to see his grave and to be in the catacombs of Westminster.

* How much history did you try to incorporate? I know it’s mostly fictional, but how much of his life and how he actually was did you incorporate with the fictional setting?

James:  A decent amount actually.  It is a bit of fiction, I don’t pretend that it’s a biography or biopic of his life, but if you know anything about Poe, there’s facts woven throughout the film.  One of the things that attracted me to the story was I got to show the facts and Poe’s [facts] and got to know Poe’s stories.  the film ostensibly becomes Poe in the middle of one of his own stories and so that was like uh,… So if you know anything about Poe you’ll see lots of things about his life.  And if you know anything about his stories, you’ll see alot of things from those stories too.

* About your character, Luke?

Luke: Well yeah, as an actor you do a period movie such as this with characters such as Edgar Allan Poe, there’s quite bit of data you depend on about the character and Baltimore and the period in which he lived & what he went through.  There’s incredible biographies I went through about Poe.  Even though my character is fictional, it really informed my character.  I was able to play Emmet Fields based on Poe and his life and sort of people he knew and places he frequented.  I was able to use all of that to inform my character, so it was a really interesting job.  And that’s why I relish doing period films.  they’re all special and their factual because you can go and just immerse yourself in history, and I knew a bit about Poe and obviously he’s the Godfather of murder stories, detective stories, science fiction, the guy’s…he’s the Godfather of a lot.  I can say much more about him now than I could then.

* [To Luke] What drew you to the role of Detective Fields?

Luke: I remember reading the script, I got sent it.  You know the actor story “I got sent the script, I read the script”, but it was a great story.  I could see how cleverly the writers had married the life of Poe and his real things that were going on his life and the real people that were in his life. And then fictionalized the final days of his life when no one none of us, he disappeared for 5 days then was found in a park in Baltimore, hallucinating in someone else’s clothes.  To me, it’s intriguing now, 162 years later.  Which says something doesn’t it? It says something about the man, his legacy and his talent.  All of that was a magnet for any actor, so I was very lucky.  Then I met James in London and we connected.  That was it really…the rest is history (laughs).  A lot of night shoots!

* How hard was it to bring 1800’s Baltimore to life in Eastern Europe?  Any special effects?

James: Yeah, I think the location stuff that we shot in the streets Budapest which was not dissimilar to what I found in the research.  And then I got the production designer to change the signs get rid of things and in the opening of the film I found this street that looked a lot like the rowhouses I found in Fells Point ,and at the bottom of that street even though it was actually shot just outside of Belgrade, I put the Baltimore harbor down at the end of the street.  So it, y’know, a bit of trickery I guess?  Then there were other places, other streets that we shot, carriage scenes…through the production design of Rodger Ford, it came to life.

Luke: James worked with an amazing costume designer, an Italian, Carlo Poggioli, who dressed us in some exquisite costumes.  As an actor it’s the final skin, the final layer of the character especially when you’re doing period scenes.  It’s an incredibly important part of the building of the character.  And I remember seeing John Cusack for the first time; it was cold and it’s just, “Heeey!”  It’s the final bit, seeing him ready for the cameras.  It was just so beautifully done and there was so much attention to detail.  The authenticity when it came to the costumes and the period…you’re there.  You’re in Baltimore.

James: Luke’s character, he’s slightly buttoned up, and so talking of the costumes he was “buttoned up” (both laugh).  Yeah, VERY smartly dressed.

Luke: Yeah!

James: The tale of Poe, I tried to sort of be correct to the period, you always try to bring some [of that feeling] to the costumes too.  It feels good; it’s true, it really is the final skin that brings the character to life.

* Luke, if I were to as you about a particularly daunting or challenging moment during filming of The Raven, what would come to mind?

Luke: Oh it was an intense shoot, I’ll tell you that.  When you do a movie about such dark subject matter, the murders are very gruesome.  Poe’s stories even now are quite eyebrow raising, you know?  He wasn’t one to veer away from the telling it as it was and being as gory as they were.  So we dealt with a lot of very bloody, gory murder scenes, and then I got shot in the shoulder in one scene.  Obviously I’ve never been shot. (both laugh) Know what I mean?

But it seems like that, where you have to start to imagine how it would feel and you know, I’m sure you know this, you don’t shoot it once, you shoot it ten, twenty times at different angles at different positions, so things like that are always very hard because you need to be consistent and that’s the level you have to stay at for the rest of the day.  that scene where — well I don’t want to give a great deal away but somebody has their throat slit — just to put yourself in that place, your heart’s pounding.  So things like that are challenging.  You want to believe, all those things are really happening You want to feel like you’ve been shot in the shoulder and the pain, to actually have a bullet in your shoulder.  Because at the time my character doesn’t really want to stop, he’s so close to capturing this killer so he carries on whit this bullet in his shoulder and then the hardest thing of all was having to extract it. (chuckles)  The following day I had a voice that was about two octaves lower! (both laugh)

* So there’s some gruesome stuff then?

James: There’s justice to the Poe stories.  What we’re saying is that if one of the stories is like “The Telltale Heart”, you know the character carving up that person and hiding them under the floorboards.  If you’re doing The Pit and the Pendulum, the man’s trapped in the dark not knowing what’s happening to him.  if you’re doing “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” it’s about an orangutan getting into somewhere and slitting some-one’s throat.  So the killer is putting a twist on all those stories, so obviously you know we don’t have an orangutan…. (laughs)  So you have all those moments.  And with Luke’s character you have to drop them into those moments.  Yeah, there’s pretty gruesome stuff that our detective comes up against.  [Emmett], he’s like confronted with it on a daily basis.  It’s very real for the detective.  Whereas Poe is this guy who’s writing about all this stuff, so when [Emmett] comes up against Poe he’s like “well, I’m dealing with it, and you’re writing these fictional stories about it…

Luke: [Emmett]’s *blaming* [Poe]….

James: Blaming [Poe]….

Luke: …and that’s where you meet these two people in the film.  In Field’s mind, in his mind he’s very repulsed by this man.  He’s making entertainment from what I have to do for a daily living.  He’s almost blames Poe.  If he hadn’t written dark, vulgar gory stories maybe this killer wouldn’t have been going around Baltimore killing all these people.  And it’s a very interesting dynamic.  You see how these two minds, coming from complete opposite social spectrum’s, have to come together and work together.  Time is of the essence, there’s a great tempo to this film, it never stops.  There’s a pace that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

* [To Luke] Did you grow up with John Cusack films?

Luke: Yeah!  I did!

* So, what was it like to finally work with him?

Luke: It’s um…oh, for any actor to work with anybody that you respect, you can’t believe it sometimes.  I”m in a very lucky position; it’s happened to me a couple of times in the last 3 1/2 years since I’ve been doing films…. I feel very luck to again experience not just seeing somebody act but to work off them.  John is a great actor, and he comes at any role, he comes at you with such ease and style.  He puts his stamp on it and he does that with Poe.

* [To Luke] Can you talk a little about The Three Musketeers?

Luke: Well yes, whaddaya wanna know?  (laughs)  There’s three of us….

* Well, you’re Aramis….

Luke: I’m Aramis, yup, and it’s a re-telling of Dumas’ story.  We’ve brought it up to the 21st century Paul W.S. Anderson has re-imagined the story.  The classical narrative is obviously very strongly told in this story.  He’s added airships to it.  There’s a fantastic cast of, I mean everybody knows the tale I was brought up with it.  All those characters are still there.  We have some great baddies, and some great good guys and a great cast.  And what’s great is it’s a family film.  We follow D’Artagnan…. It’s incredibly fun and on top of all that Cameron AVATAR technology which brings it to life in a way you’ve never seen before.  Not talking about swords in your faces, but there’s locations we’ve shot really really vivid and beautifully detailed film.  And very fun.

James: Those Richard Lester films are something to see….

Luke: Oh yeah!

* So you get to do the “All for one, one for all”?

Luke: “All for one, one for all”, all that!  We did that film before I did this; from Germany to Budapest.  From 17th centry to the 19th… But then I was wearing tights!

* [To Luke] The Three Musketeers, this detective, The Immortals, The Hobbit; are you thinking about giving up your day job & going full swashbuckle?

Luke: I don’t know, I mean I’m making a living doing the funnest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  And the fact that I can do this for a living?  Well, it’s a dream, it’s a dream.  And I don’t ever take any day for granted.  Hey, the catacombs of Westminster’s not boring!  This is the joy of what we do.

* What’s your favorite Poe poem?

James: It’s hard to go past “The Raven”, right?  I mean it’s pretty classic, although “Annabel Lee” is pretty great.  There’s a couple of really great ones in the movie, by the way.  “The Raven” is so….(pauses) Yeah, I would say “The Raven”.

Luke: Yeah, me too.  We had a voice coach on the film and the first thing she gave me was a gift; on CD were the poems being read by amazing actors and actresses.  I’d fall asleep to it…actually I would’t fall asleep to it because that’s the worst thing to do, having to fall asleep to those poems!  I’d hoped in the first couple of weeks to get into character and feel the period and getting into the role, I’d read [“The Raven”] before going on set.  I’d just read it.  It would be a great way to just, falling into that place and into Poe’s mind.  It’s a crazy mind.  (chuckles)

* [To James] Do you film with the DVD in mind?  It’s such a different way to film from 15-20 years ago.

James: The DVD’s dying, that’s the reality of what’s happening in home entertainment I guess.  Basically your cable box is where it’s going.  You always have EPK now, so that always becomes a part of the DVD or part of the filmic extras.  You know always filming there’ll be scenes that won’t make it into the final cut…. I dont’ think you especially film things for the DVD but you kinda know in the back of your mind that there’ll be things that end up on the DVD or on the extras.  I wish the DVD wasn’t dying but I guess it is, it’s the reality of how it evolves.

* [To James] Speaking of technology, you have a very particular style with movies like V For Vendetta.  How did you adapt for a period piece?  did you make any major changes, technology upgrades or to your own personal style when approaching this movie?

James: well, I know obviously a lot of people are saying to shoot digital, but this film I thought lent itself to film, to shoot on film.  And no, ultimately I’m trying to make a piece of entertainment.  Yeah, I want to put my own stamp on it…I didn’t make any sort of particular kind of thing to upgrade it.  I definitely tried to make it in a fashion I though was accessible but also spoke to Poe and his stories and the way he would imagine it to be.  Hopefully.  So there’s a certain darkness to it, but it’s not heavy.  hopefully it feels like at some point it feels like you’re in one of his stories.

* The trailer looks great!

James:  Yeah you know the fun part is to have this killer who s taking Poe’s stories, putting a twist on them like that.  That’ was fun and also great to be able to have the stories brought to life on film, but because the large part of Poe’s stories that have been made have been like sort of one story at a time.  They’ve done The Fall of the House of Usher.  [The Raven] had multiple stories, so that was a fun bit to do, rather than stuck like Murders in the Rue Morgue was stuck.  I got to touch on many of these stories.

* The screenwriter’s name on this is Shakespeare?

James: Yeah….  (laughs)

Luke: You feel it might be a mistake….

James: And Ben Livingston, I presume.  Yeah it’s pretty brave to write a story about Poe and be named Shakespeare, you know?

* I saw that in the credits and I was like “am I reading this right?”  I want to make sure it’s right before I bring it up at the interview….

James: Yeah, we should have said their names were Hannah Poe and Ben Poe…. (laughs)

* What are your thoughts on 3D?  Do you think it’s the future?

James: I don’t think it’s like the advent of sound, you know when the talkies came around it was like this quantum leap in filmmaking.  All of a sudden people talk.  I think that 3D lends itself to certain stories.  The Three Musketeers is one (motions to Luke).  And you know Avatar is another one.  Some of the Pixar things.  I think there are certain stories that benefit from it.  (pauses) But I probably don’t think it’s everything.  I think you’ll still have both mediums, I don’t think it’ll ever become  [all] 3D.  I heard the other day that when the kids go to see 3D movies they hate — at the moment — they hate wearing the glasses.  My friend was telling me that they watch it in fuzzy….Watching this fuzzy environment!  So I don’t thin it’ll entirely take over.  I’m excited to see what Baz Lurhman does with a story like The Great Gatsby.  I mean if there was any film that wasn’t gonna be in 3D, it’d be this one (both laugh).  But obviously he has like a different approach and maybe you and I’ll see that movie, we’ll be totally surprised.  I’d love to see The Three Musketeers in 3D.

Luke: I have 5 films in the Avatar technology now.  The Hobbit, which is what I’m doing right now, is in that technology.  But we’re shooting it with more frames so that we can speed up action shots.  Stuff like that which has never been done before.  I agree with [James], kids sometimes have a problem with the glasses and stuff and the way 3D is moving forward it’s not about “the roller coaster Disney”, like you stand and you fall over and there’s the screams.  It’s not like that anymore….. It just enhances the visual, basically.  And that sometimes is only appreciated by an adult or a teenager because they’re appreciating the whole thing, they don’t want things poked in their faces or get covered in water with something splashing on them.  those things i think are sort of dying out when it comes to the art form of this new 3D.  it’s very definitely in it’s place in movies.  Definitely enhances the movies.  I mean I’ve seen what it’s doing, it’s very very special.  but I often go to cinema and watch a movie and I have the option of seeing it in 3D and 2D.  And quite often I choose 2D because I like it.  I think it will never die out.  It’s definitely always gonna be there to stay.  Certain films just don’t need to be in 3D.  this film didn’t need to be in 3D.  It’s stunning as it is.  So yeah, I think it’s there but I don’t think it’ll take over.  It’ll level off soon I think.  Right now like crazy; everybody’s sensationalizing it.  And it’s great but it definitely not gonna kill off any other [medium].

James: The great thing about 3D is it becomes an immersive experience.  I think that’s kind of what they’re going for at the moment.  But you know the truth be told, kids watch things on multiple screens at once, so I think the most important thing — and it’s the way that films have always been — have a great story, that’s what gets you.  Having said all that, I’d love to make a 3D movie.

* [To Luke] Who are you playing in The Hobbit?

Luke: I’m playing Bard the Bowman.  In 3D! (laughs excitedly)  With dragons.

* Luke, fans are dying to know; are you going to sing again in movies anytime soon, or are you hoping to?

Luke: I would love to.  I would love to.  It was my first love, my first passion I spent 9 years making a living out of doing it on the West End stage and I miss it.  I don’t ever stop singing, I’m always singing.  But it would be nice to marry the two careers I’ve had.  And you know musical films seem to be here to stay, and when the timing’s right and the budget’s the right one and the role is right, I am 100% definitely gonna do it.  Just waiting for the right project to come along….

James: He’s just trying to break out of the karaoke bars…. (laughs)

Luke: Flexing my voice!  (laughs)

James: Halfway through filming party on The Raven, he had a karaoke [night].

Luke: Everybody said, “oh no, not gonna do it” then…. That list was as long as my arm! (laughs) Everybody was up singing, everything was great.  Really great.

James: He had a band at the wrap party, he took the mike….

Luke: I can’t help myself!  It’s always there, but I never get to do it, so whenever I get the chance.  I did on this film.

A great big thank you to Luke Evans & James McTeigue for taking the time to chat, and for coming to Baltimore to honor Poe.  The Raven hits theaters on March 9th, 2012.  ‘Til then, check out the trailer over at Apple; it’s just the thing to get your Halloween month started!



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