Opening this weekend is director James McTeigue‘s (V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin) The Raven. If you’re not familiar with the film, the story takes place in 1840s Baltimore where a series of grisly murders appear to have been inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe (played by John Cusack). Poe and a detective (Luke Evans) must team up to find the killer before he takes out the woman Poe loves (Alice Eve). The film also stars Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Brendan Gleeson. For more on the film, here’s the trailer and 40 images.
Last week I did an exclusive phone interview with Luke Evans. We talked about how he got involved in The Raven, his research, what it was like to work with John Cusack, the graphic violence in the film, how much changed during filming, his process as an actor, his favorite movies, and more. In addition, with Evans currently filming Peter Jackson‘s The Hobbit in New Zealand, we talked about how that’s been going, how long he has been filming for and when he wraps, filming on the RED Epic in 48fps, and future projects like Amateur American and more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
Luke Evans: Very well, very well.
Where are you right now?
Evans: I’m in New Zealand and it’s 10:30 Thursday morning.
Evans: That’s really crazy.
I usually try to start every interview off with a fun question. I’ve asked you the Karaoke question before, so I will not do that. My new question I’ve been asking people is: Do you have a favorite movie, a favorite director, and a favorite actor? Or if not one favorite, do you have some favorites?
Evans: Yeah I do have some favorites. I don’t have one specific favorite. I do have a few. You want me to name them to you I suppose?
Well, if you don’t mind, yes.
Evans: Well, directors: Quentin Tarantino’s a big one. Spielberg. All the biggies. Clint Eastwood. And actors: Anthony Hopkins, Leonardo DiCaprio, ah God, the list goes on. It’s very difficult to categorize a couple of names, you know.
Evans: And movies is a hard one. I’ll leave the movie one out ‘cause that’s just too difficult.
I understand. How did you first get involved with The Raven? Was it a project you went after, or did it come after you?
Evans: No it was something that I was aware of. I’d read the script, they’d sent the script. It was cast by two lovely ladies in London, who had cast me in my first ever film, Clash of the Titans. Elaine Grainger and Lucinda Syson were the casting directors in London and they’d cast me in two other movies and this was it, this was the third movie of the batch that they’d cast me in. So that’s how I was brought on board. To meet James, I was in London for a few days between shooting Immortals and Three Musketeers. And, yeah, I went and met him and got myself on tape, and the rest happened after that.
Evans: Well what’s great about when you do something that has an essence of history or factual evidence or anything like that, which this movie does, even though it’s a fictionalized story of the last five days of his life, they are talking about a real person. There is so much information and fantastic biographies out there on Poe, and obviously his work. So I had plenty of reference. I read some of his more famous works and I read a fantastic biography, Peter Ackroyd’s Poe: A Life Cut Short, which is fantastic, just really, really great.
Talk a little bit about working with John Cusack. Did you guys develop a rapport off set? Were you able to enjoy hanging out?
Evans: Yeah, we were. John’s such a versatile actor, he’s worked on everything. He does comedy, drama, thrillers; he can turn his hand to any sort of genre. When he took on the role of Poe, you can see from his performance in the film that he really did his work and he did a huge amount of research on the character of Poe and his personality and in the way he spoke and all the idiocracies that made up Edgar Allen Poe. And as an actor—I still think of myself as new to this film business, it’s only been like 3 and a half years, maybe 4 years—to be able to be able to work opposite somebody like John is a gift. It’s just a gift. It’s like sitting in a Master class and watching how slight nuances in their performance can change the whole scene. So for me it was a real pleasure to work with him. The guy is great on and off the screen. We had great dinners when we weren’t working, good chats. He’s a real great guy. I hope we get to work together again one day.
One of the things I admire about the film is there is some blood and guts, especially with the fact the Poe wrote a lot of pulp, he was a blood and guts guy. There is always the PG-13 neutering of a lot of different stuff. Are you happy that the rating is an R and that they are not shying away from blood in the film?
Evans: I think it’s absolutely essential, out of respect for Poe’s work, that this fictionalized story of those murders were told in the graphic portrayal that they have been. I think that it would have been such a—it would have been dishonorable if we had done anything but make it an R and allow people to squirm in their seats.
When you first got the project, I would imagine the script looked a certain way. And then obviously when you’re on set, things change during the rehearsal process, or things change on set. Can you talk about, with your character, how much changed, if anything, from when you first got involved to what audiences are going to be able to see on screen?
Evans: Not a huge amount, not a huge amount changed. I think the only thing that might have changed slightly during was just the emotional journey that my character took and where we took him. Myself and the director, James, talked an awful lot about how his character is juxtapositioned against the Poe character, and how one is still a straight man and who’s trying to keep the crazed, incensed Poe character on the straight and narrow, trying to keep him from losing it and not being able to be an asset to finding this killer. After that, I don’t think the script changed a huge amount while we were working on it. Obviously as the film goes on your character develops and sometimes things need to be tweaked and certain lines don’t really benefit the character anymore, so yeah they will sort of edit as we were going along, but nothing crazy.
A lot of people like the Clint Eastwood method of two takes, and some prefer the David Fincher method of fifty takes. What do you prefer for the amount of takes, and what are the most you’ve ever done?
Evans: Oh, I think I’ve done about 30-35 takes in one go. You know, sometimes the scene needs that amount of takes, often action shots and fight sequences need a lot of takes because you’re moving so fast and the camera has to follow you and has to be in a certain angle when the blade flies or the arrow flies, and if it does work exactly, take after take, they’ll finally get it. And when they do the cutting they’ll find one. I understand, certain scenes have to have a lot of takes. As an actor I think it’s quite nice to have a handful of takes, because you don’t want to do it once or twice, I think once or twice sometimes is quite terrifying because you don’t really feel like you’ve given them what you want. I like a handful of takes where you can try it a couple times and change a few different things. Lets find a level ground in the middle there.
You mentioned at the beginning when we first started talking that you’re in New Zealand. Lord of the Rings are some of my favorite films of all time, and I am so, so excited to see Peter Jackson’s take on The Hobbit. How has it been going for you and how exciting it’s been for you to be involved in such a production?
Evans: It’s been immensely exciting. It feels like all the work I’ve done so far has been building up to this job and to work with the master himself on a project which has been his baby since a long time ago. I feel very lucky to be here, you know. I’m watching this being made, and then watching Pete do his thing. Because you only have to read any articles about the boys who were in the first 3 movies and how they talked about the experience being in New Zealand and working with Pete and the long period of time that you spent here. I was just very jealous of them, in a healthy way, but it was something I was envious of. And now I’m here, and now I’m actually one of those boys. I’ll always remember this as one of those experiences in my life. It’s been fantastic, absolutely fantastic. We’re here ‘till July, so I’ve still got a few months left, some insane, tense months as well. So, yeah, it’s been great.
When did you arrive in New Zealand? Because I know you’re in both parts, was this one of these things where you’re committing to being there for eight months, have you been able to leave? What’s this production schedule like?
Evans: I’ve been here since last August; I arrived August the 1st last year. But, you know, on a movie of this scale there is a lot of down time, so I’ve had chances to go home a couple of times. But this block, I’ve been here since February and I’m here ‘till the end, so this is the longest stretch for me.
I’m not sure if you’re a film nerd like me.
Evans: It’s the first time it’s ever been done. And it’s, well, even if you’re not a nerd you can absolutely see the difference, it’s extraordinary.
Have you been looking at any of the playback on any of the monitors? Because one of the things I think casual fans will not realize what 48 frames a second does is reduces the motion blur. Have you seen any of the action without the motion blur and what does it look like through your eyes?
Evans: Yeah, I’ve seen myself in action and it’s incredible. It really is. It’s the closest to your own eye speed that we’ve ever seen on screen. And it takes a little while, when you first put the glasses on, to just appreciate what it actually is that’s going on. Because you’re eyes are not deceiving you, there is no blur. It’s absolutely so effective, especially for the lack of blur, which is something that we’ve always had to deal with in shooting in 3D, and now we don’t. So, yeah, we’re making history with technology as well as with film.
You have a few other things; you filmed Ashes and No One Lives and you might be doing The Amateur American. Can you talk about these other films and what you might have coming up after you wrap on The Hobbit?
Evans: Well, there are those movies, they are the ones that I know will be definitely coming out. Amateur American is definitely there and I’m very interested in it, but there are several other projects which have come to me in the last six months that I’m now focusing on as well. But right now, I finish in July and then I’ll make my decision. I’ve still got three months left, it’s a long time, and then we’ll work out from there where I want to go. There’s a few things floating about now, just working out the next step, the correct step to make as an actor after doing a movie like The Hobbit. I think I’ll probably do some down time, first of all, just to acclimatize back to the real world after I leave New Zealand.
In the last few years your career has taken a huge trajectory upwards, being in a lot of high profile projects, can you talk a little about what it’s been like for you? For most people it might be like winning the lottery.
Evans: Yeah, you could say that, because it was never really part of my plan to be in films, it was really sort of a dream, like a dream job. When it happened and the ball dropped and started rolling very fast, it too a few jobs before I took a breather and sort of put everything into perspective. It has been an incredible last few years of my life. My friends back at home are still in shock as to where I am and what I’m doing and that it actually is happening to me and not somebody else. But, no, it’s brilliant, it’s brilliant, it is like winning the lottery, and I’m having the best time. I mean who wouldn’t? This is the best job on the planet.
The Raven opens tomorrow at theaters everywhere.