I think there's a bit of him in anybody who is creative. Carl Jung said everyone has a shadow that's like a living archetype of them, which is where all of your creativity, your sexuality, your anger, fear and shame are housed. That's the portal you're creative from. Poe became that shadow archetype for the whole culture. He gave voice or vision to all of their collective shame, anguish and torment. He was like the patron saint of the doomed.
Later, in different cultures, you see Kurt Cobain and he's so tortured. All of a sudden, everyone flocks to him. He's not a happy guy, Kurt. But it's because we can all relate to him. So of course I can relate to him. I can relate to the abyss and all that.
We all know we're damaged and fucked up. We're human. Some artists just admit it in a more graphic way, and we're grateful to them.
It sounds like you really took to Poe.
It's nice to be able to talk about trying to figure out ideas like this. The source material is so deep that you can think about it a lot. We thought about it a lot when we made it. But you're still getting to play around with brilliant material that's so loaded and juicy. So it's a lot easier than making a movie and saying, "I wanted to be really good when I jumped over that bus."
It's more enjoyable for me to talk about getting into that head space than it is to talk about myself.
It's a smaller role. The main role is the butler who worked in five different administrations. Nixon is one of them. But it will be fun.
You signed on to "The Butler" after working with Daniels in "The Paperboy," which just got into Cannes. What's Lee like as director?
He didn't take his foot off the gas pedal. He's an intense director. We had a really great time. It was sort of like the Poe thing. It wasn't pleasant, but it was exhilarating. It was nasty. My character inflicts a lot of damage on people.
"The Raven" bring up a debate still relevant to today: whether an artist should be held responsible if their art inspires acts of violence. Where do you stand on that?
I think "The Raven" prophesizes the obsession with crime, the obsession with celebrity, the obsession with fame. But I think a real artist -- and I think Poe was a real artist --- has to explore his vision purely. Even though he was calculated when he was writing that stuff, he created all these new genres. I think used the language of the subconscious and he was putting that into his stories. The language of the subconscious is violence, grotesque, lurid and sexual. I don't think you can ask artists to censor their expression.
Did playing Poe take a toll on you?
When I got back I was real thin and real fucked up.
What did you do to ger ovet it?
Ate and stopped thinking about doom. It was good to get out of Serbia.