William Moseley can now be seen in the19th century horror film, "Raven's Hollow." Photo courtesy of Shudder
NEW YORK, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- The Chronicles of Narnia, The Royals and Medieval actor William Moseley says he leaped at the opportunity to play Edgar Allen Poe in Raven's Hollow because the film shows the American author as he's never been depicted before.
Premiering Thursday on Shudder, the film introduces the 19th-century literary titan as a young, clean-cut West Point cadet who makes a gruesome discovery while on a training exercise in upstate New York.
He and his men head to the titular town to investigate and find the locals guarding a secret that involves a terrifying, bird-like monster.
Elements of some of Poe's best-known works, including The Raven, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Tell-Tale Heart, are woven into the story.
Melanie Zanetti, David Hayman, Kate Dickie and Oberon K.A. Adjepong co-star.
Moseley said he wasn't that familiar with Poe's biography or his work before he started the project.
"I only knew the picture of him looking quite mad, which I think everyone knows and I had a rough idea that he had a fairly eccentric life and he was somewhat of a mad genius," the 35-year-old British actor told UPI in a Zoom interview Monday.
"I read the script and realized that he was a gentleman, that he was very well-educated, very well-read, an incredibly good orator, a military man. I thought, 'Well, this is completely different than what I'd imagined him to be.' So, I jumped at the chance because I thought it would also change other people's perceptions of him."
Once he was cast, he said he dove into the author's disturbing romantic poems and tales.
"I downloaded all of the audio books that I could get," Moseley recalled. "I listened to the story of his life and I learned as much as I could. I was fascinated by him. When you hear his poetry, it's so beautiful. It manages to find a rhythm in the words. ... He created imagery and atmosphere."
While the central story of Raven's Hollow is a suspenseful, fictitious one, the cast and director did their best to root it in the recognizable, physical world.
"It was important to everyone involved that Edgar feel like a real person, so they kept the story grounded in reality despite the supernatural aspects," Moseley said.
"We didn't want him to feel like a larger-than-life character at this point. He was just a guy out with his cadets who came upon a dead body and wants to get to the bottom of it."
Poe aficionados will see the writer's morbid curiosity in the film and be able to understand how that might have led to his famously macabre literature later in life, the actor noted.
"Really, they could have left. Probably everyone would have been fine," Moseley said of Poe and the other cadets.
"Seeing a corpse hanging [and] blood, there is an enjoyment he gets out of it that, obviously, leads to a precarious situation. That's the only place where we played with the little bit of madness in him."
Poe also is starting to develop an opium habit in Raven's Hollow, which could make viewers question whether he is a reliable narrator.
"Obviously, he is going through some kind of experience, so does he ever really see the raven? Does he not see the raven? Is the raven really there?" Moseley pondered.
"It's all down to the audience's idea of who Poe is. I play it real, like this raven was really there, was really terrorizing the town, that it really did hurt his friends. I played it as grounded as I possibly could, but, of course, it is there for interpretation."
Shooting the film during the coronavirus pandemic in Latvia helped the actors understand the isolation their characters were experiencing.
"We were really out there on our own. The weather was not great. It was cold, then we were doing COVID [protocols,]" Moseley remembered.
The production was not all gloom and doom, however.
"We were young men, though. We were having fun. We were always chatting and laughing. We had a great time," the actor said, noting he and his co-stars got to ride horses, sword fight and handle old-fashioned, flint-lock guns.
He was as curious as anyone else to see how the animated creature would look when it was finally fully revealed in the closing moments of the movie.
"This is not, obviously, a big-budget film. I've worked on the Narnia films, which had hundreds of millions of dollars to make Aslan come to life and the beavers come to life," Moseley said.
"When I worked on the film with a much less budget, I wondered how they were going to make this raven work because I know how expensive it can be," he added. "I thought it looked amazing. I thought the creation of the raven in a Gothic sense was quite eerie, and I think they drew from the Italian plague doctors when there was smallpox in the old days. It's quite a weird, haunting image. For me, the raven worked."
Because the monster was added into the film later, Moseley had to react to literally nothing in scenes in which he confronts it.
Luckily, he said, he is good at using his imagination -- expertise he developed while working on the Narnia fantasy films in his youth.
"That was a key skill I learned as a child -- how to act with things that aren't there and how to make it feel as natural as possible," he said.
Poe died under mysterious circumstances in 1849 after years of substance abuse. He was 40.