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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When dark, gothic thriller "The Raven" debuts in U.S. theaters on Friday, it will mark the return of actor John Cusack to more serious roles from recent forays into comedy with "Hot Tub Time Machine" and the sci-fi adventure in "2012."
Cusack portrays famed American writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), who is known for macabre tales such as "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and poems like "The Raven."
The fictional film tells the story of a serial killer who commits grisly murders based on Poe's stories and then kidnaps Poe's love, Emily (Alice Eve). With the murders piling up, Poe teams with a detective (Luke Evans) to capture the killer and get Emily back before she becomes a victim, too.
Cusack said the movie is just one of several he has coming up that show the dark side of humanity. He spoke to Reuters about playing Poe, living in the underworld and, among lighter subjects, his fondness for Twitter.
Q: How do prepare for playing someone as mysterious as Poe?
A: "Mentally it was immersing yourself into his stuff - reading his poetry, his letters, biographies. I was reading his stories at night during the shoot so I had all that stuff working in my brain."
Q: What did you do to physically prepare for the role?
A: "Since he was destitute and an alcoholic, I tried to get as gaunt as I could. I got down to a weight I was before high school, which is real thin. I felt kind of skeletal. I tried to do it the smart way but it still was a little bit of a bender. I just fasted and drank coffee."
Q: The story takes place in Baltimore, where Poe lived for a time, but you shot in Belgrade and Budapest. Why those cities?
A: "It was perfect for Poe. It was winter. It was black. It was cold and intense. I didn't sleep and felt like a vampire."
Q: You must have wanted to move to something light and funny after wrapping 'Raven.'
A: "Strangely, I stayed in the underworld all year. I shot 'The Paperboy' with Nicole Kidman. (Filmmaker) Lee Daniels made a sick movie (about the investigation of a death row inmate.) Then I shot 'Frozen Ground' about an Alaskan killer."
Q: Are you trying to exorcise some personal demons here, or are you just a glutton for punishment?
A: "It's weird, but I didn't choose any of them. They chose me. I wasn't going to turn down a chance to play Poe. Otherwise you should just retire as an actor because c'mon, that's a great character. He's so crazy and eccentric and out there. Usually roles like that go to the guy with the biggest box office."
Q: You're not exactly new to the movie business. You don't think you have box office clout?
A: "It's all about who is writing the checks and putting the movies together. It's a weird thing. If people like this movie, I'm going to become a good idea again. It's literally that simple. You come in and out of vogue. If you stay around the game, sometimes it comes your way. I got a good one (with 'The Raven'). You have to ride the business, have thick skin and be grateful that you're still around. The Irish, we're pretty stubborn. We're hard to kill. We don't die easy. We keep going and we don't quit."
Q: Along those lines, you've worked with just about everyone in Hollywood. What have you yet to accomplish?
A: "Doing different kinds of art forms. I'm not a good painter, but I throw paint around. Maybe writing in different forms, but I'd have to be disciplined. When you write films, you never have to stop because you get it good enough for the day of shooting but you can still tweak it. And you're still tweaking when you're editing. So I'm always getting it just pregnant enough to happen, but it would be good discipline to try and finish a book and say: 'Okay, this is it.' I'm not there yet."
Q: You recently joined Twitter. Do you like social media?
A: "I like having direct access to people who are interested in what I'm interested in without having to go through the filters of all these other people. If you like what I say about art and culture and politics, then you can follow me and I can introduce you to writers that I've read throughout my life that have impacted me. People want to know what I like in music because I did 'High Fidelity' so I can turn people on to Bob Dylan's 'Theme Time Radio Hour,' which a lot of people don't know about. I like sharing with people."
Q: You starred in the disaster flick "2012." Now that we're in the year 2012, should be preparing for the end of the world? Are we all going to die?
A: "No, I think we're going to be stuck with each other a little while longer."
Reporting By Zorianna Kit; editing by Patricia Reaney