Backstage with... Christian Bale and The Pale Blue Eye cast on humanising Edgar Allen Poe

He's known as a master of macabre, for pioneering the short story in the US and is credited with inventing the detective fiction genre.

But perhaps far less is known about the gothic writer Edgar Allan Poe as a person.

Now, a new film about the poet is looking to change that. The Pale Blue Eye - based on the book of the same name - explores the period of Poe's life when he found himself at the US Military Academy. The movie imagines the young writer teaming up with a detective to investigate a series of murders.

While Poe is played by Harry Potter star Harry Melling, Christian Bale plays the lead veteran detective Augustus Landor, and the starry ensemble cast also includes Gillian Anderson, Timothy Spall and Lucy Boynton.

But as filming started in November 2021, Bale told Sky News' Backstage Podcast that, despite being part of a big cast, he largely spent his time off-camera on his own.

"It was still right in the middle of COVID," he explained.

"I think they were being really draconian with me - like they wouldn't let me see anybody, because everybody was getting ill at some point, but they were like, 'man, if you get ill the whole production has to stop'."

"So they were like 'get back to your room and stay in your room' - and I did!"

The film is a murder mystery, so only when it's over does the viewer realise the breadcrumbs that have been left for them along the way in terms of figuring out whodunnit.

Bale, who is also one of the movie's producers, says, as an actor, it makes for an interesting challenge.

"I would give Scott [Cooper - the film's director] some variation, some choices he could have in the edit room," Bale said.

"Scott is always very meticulous and really very precise in what he wants and he tends to be exactly right, so he doesn't experiment too much.

"But, with this, because it was such a particular balancing act, I tried to give him a few variations and I think he really nailed it."

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Poe isn't the main character, but the film explores the literary trailblazer in a setting most people aren't aware he was ever in.

Gillian Anderson told Sky News' Backstage Podcast that's one of the things that made the film attractive to her.

"It was interesting to dive into something that had such a strong element of gothic thriller-esque, but at the same time, an origin story about somebody who wouldn't normally be in that kind of circumstance.

"The fact that he was at West Point [the military academy] for a period of time - what does a person who is an artist, who is so different from what you might normally find at West Point and the rigidity of West Point, what do they do under those circumstances?

"I think that that threw into light a whole other side of Poe that I hadn't really even thought about before, which I found fascinating," she told the podcast.

The actress plays Mrs Marquis, the wife of the doctor who performs an autopsy on one of the murder victims. The character is a real oddball and Anderson admits that it's good fun to play someone so strange.

"It's very freeing - I remember feeling that a few years ago I did Blanche in [A Streetcar Named Desire at the National Theatre] and there's something about Blanche that you just feel like you could do almost anything. It just feels that you can give all of those bits that you've restrained in yourself to another character.

"It was similar with Mrs Marquis, I think, because she's so unpredictable, and what we see in the film is real eccentricity and quirkiness.

"To be able to push that to varying levels on a day is enjoyable."

Poe also comes across as odd at times.

Melling, who plays him, says that while preparing for the role he found himself engaged in some curious behaviour himself - rehearsing lines in his local cemetery.

"Very respectfully, I should add," he told Backstage.

"But yeah early on, I was reading a lot about Edgar being obsessed with the dead with death and the occult, and I thought, you know, I'm just going to head to the graveyard with my book and see what comes to me.

"And it slowly became a routine of going to the cemetery, and reading a bit, and just going through some of the things he says, and just slowly building up that world for him and how he thought. It was just a very early sort-of building block phase to getting to Edgar."

Melling says he also set off on a deep dive in terms of researching the writer.

"What I found really useful was his early life - losing both his parents, being adopted, moving to London, then moving back to Virginia," he said.

"All of that stuff about being a bit of a nomad early on explained a lot in terms of what Scott Cooper's script was doing with this character, who was constantly trying to invent himself a persona as the young poet.

"But there's only so much you can take research I think… and also people have such a fixed idea of who Edgar is. It was very interesting to go back and work out, 'okay, who is this person before we get to this idea of this icon, this American writer of the macabre and the dark?', and that was a really interesting exercise for me."

Melling's co-star Lucy Boynton agreed the script certainly sheds new light on Poe.

"[The film is] exploring the person behind the reputation and facade that we're aware of," she told Sky News.

"I think I've realised I hadn't really questioned what he, what the person behind all of that work and kind of gothic forefront, would be, so it was really beautiful to see Harry's interpretation of that but also just the exploration of this script of the sensitivity behind the strength of that work."

The Pale Blue Eye is streaming on Netflix.

Hear our review in the latest episode of Backstage - the film and TV review podcast from Sky News.