The Pale Blue Eye Director Scott Cooper On Writing For His Closest Pal, Christian Bale [Exclusive Interview]

This is a pretty full-package movie. You got a murder mystery, a buddy comedy, and this gothic horror tale.

Thank you, Jack. It’s a film that I’ve wanted to make for quite some time. I spent my formative years in Virginia, much like Poe spent his. My father taught English and literature, and there’s a lot of Poe in my house.

After I made my first film, “Crazy Heart,” my father said to me, “Wow, I’ve read the most ingenious novel in which a young unformed Edgar Allan Poe is a cadet at West Point, and he’s at the center of a detective story,” which of course he bequeathed to us.

I read it and I thought, wow, this really could make for an interesting film. It allows me to make a whodunit, this father-son love story, and then ultimately an Edgar Allan Poe origin story because we’re so entrenched in what we think we know about Poe from his work, from “The Raven” and “Tell-Tale Heart,” “Premature Burial,” a man who’s obsessed with the Satanic and the occult, or someone who is driven by paranoia.

But what I’m saying is that we’re taking this young unformed Poe, who’s warm and witty and humorous, and by all accounts a great companion as he was thought to be at this age. Then the events in this film inspire him to become the writer he became, that bequeathed to us. It’s a real challenge, but one that I thought would maybe play against the tropes of what we think Poe ultimately is or who he is.

We’re both from the DMV area, and if you grew up around there, you heard a lot of stories about Edgar Allan Poe. The image we have of him is obviously legendarily doom and gloom, but you really show this childlike curiosity.

[Those stories are] not really how Poe was. All the research that I’ve done through his journals and spending time at the Poe Museum in Richmond, well before this film, and understanding that Poe was really rootless and he was always in search of companionship because he was an orphan from three years old, and he had a very difficult relationship with John Allen, his benefactor from Richmond. He was always looking for a connection. He found that in this film with Augustus Landor, Christian Bale’s character.

You grew up in a very cinematic part of the country. How did the environment you were raised in inspire you as a filmmaker?

Incredibly so, incredibly so. Because all of my characters’ surroundings tell as much about them as the character itself. Much of that is owed, I think, to where one grows up and where one spends his most formative time. Whether it’s the Blue Ridge Mountains, which I grew up, or if it’s in pastoral Charlottesville, the Richmond area.

Living in Virginia and growing up in Virginia is kind of a double-edged sword, because it’s an incredibly beautiful state populated with wonderful people, but it has a very tragic past, as we know. Both in our incredibly horrendous treatment of the Native Americans as well as our past of slavery.

It’s a land in the Civil War that is soaked in blood and tragedy and sin, and I’ve never forgotten that, which I try to somehow weave into my work, hopefully in subtle ways. But there’s no question that we’re all surrounded and motivated, I think, by where we grow up, and ultimately the people that we meet and that really shape who we become. I think it’s incredibly important and certainly an important part of my films.

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