Harry Melling (‘The Pale Blue Eye’) on ‘trying to subvert and challenge’ perceptions of Edgar Allan Poe [Exclusive Video Interview]

“I remember the first time I heard of Poe was on a ‘Simpson’s’ episode,” recalls Harry Melling, with a smile, of how he learned about the famed American writer Edgar Allan Poe. In director Scott Cooper’s new Netflix film “The Pale Blue Eye,” the actor takes on the challenge of portraying the iconic poet and short-story writer. While he remembers having previously read “The Tell-Tale Heart,” he explored “most of” the works in Poe’s vast catalogue to prepare. He relied most heavily on the early poem “Tamerlane,” which he says “gave me a real insight into how he saw himself as a very intellectual poet.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.

To tackle the daunting task of playing such a towering figure of American literature, Melling dug into research. He shares that he initially felt, “I need to read everything. I need to read as much as possible,” including “his earliest stuff… which is very different to his later stuff.” The actor’s investigation into Poe’s life story yielded valuable results as he felt biographers were “very contradictory,” which he says added to the “mythology” and “mysticism that, constantly in my mind, shrouded this character.” The performer believed those differing accounts, plus Cooper’s screenplay and Louis Bayard‘s original novel, gave him permission to “create stuff to find a new version” of the writer. He says he and the director were “trying to subvert and challenge” the common perceptions of Poe.

WATCH our exclusive video interview with Scott Cooper, ‘The Pale Blue Eye’ writer-director

Set in 1830 in Hudson Valley, New York, “The Pale Blue Eye” centers on a murder investigation at West Point, where a well-known detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) teams up with young cadet Poe to try to solve the crime while fear and more wrongdoing spread through the Academy community. Melling calls working so closely with the Oscar-winning Bale “a joy,” describing him as “the most generous actor I’ve ever worked with.” He commends his director Cooper, too, as “very delicate, intuitive, specific.”

During the shoot, Cooper led the actors through very harsh weather conditions, as the film shot in winter when temperatures often dipped below zero. Melling said this challenging facet of production was beneficial in the sense that “you’re confronted with the reality of what these characters would have been going through… the brutality.” Watching the film as an audience member, he says he felt “a harshness in the air” and, thanks to cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, “you feel the cold” through the screen.

SEE ‘The Pale Blue Eye’ trailer: Netflix provides first look at Christian Bale thriller with Harry Melling as Edgar Allen Poe

Although Landor and Poe make an unlikely pair, Melling thinks Poe is immediately drawn to the detective because “he knows how smart he is and wants to show this man how clever he is,” noting that this young Poe is driven by his “arrogance.” As their relationship develops, though, the actor stresses, “What Poe searched for his entire life was a sense of belonging and home, and I think in a way it’s that, that he realizes could be in this man.” In one scene between just the two characters, the “Queen’s Gambit” star gets to delve deep into Poe emotionally. “You just try and be as truthful as you can, really,” observes the actor of his process, continuing, “That’s the golden space of acting, when you’re not thinking about it too much.”

Melling is joined on screen by a plethora of well-known actors, including Gillian Anderson, Lucy Boynton, Robert Duvall, Toby Jones, Harry Lawtey, Simon McBurney, Timothy Spall and others. “They make you better. They elevate you into a different space… You just have to raise your game to meet them,” shares the actor of the experience of working across from so many notable and “gifted” performers. He concludes that in the end, “Everyone was so willing to create something special.”

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