Harry Melling Interview: Pale Blue Eyes

Harry Melling discusses how to bring a young Edgar Allan Poe back to life in Scott Cooper's historical fiction murder mystery Pale Blue Eyes.

Scott Cooper's The Pale Blue Eye is a riveting film that makes the most of its story twists, historical roots and haunting atmosphere. Based on Louis Bayard's novel of the same name, Pale Blue Eyes is a murder mystery in which Detective Augustus Lando must solve with the help of a young cadet named Edgar Allan Poe A gruesome murder at West Point. Director Scott Cooper has been anticipating Pale Blue Eyes for a long time, as he's been planning to make the film with Christian Bale (Augustus Landor) for over a decade.

Complementing Bell's Landau perfectly in the film is Harry Merlyn as a young Edgar Allan Poe. While Poe is known today as the master of horror, the young man seen in "Pale Blue Eyes" is more relaxed, more prone to romance and fantasy. In fact, it's implied that the events of the film help shape Poe into the writer he eventually becomes. Merlin's riveting rendition of Poe is certainly the film's high point, transforming a mature master into a gracious apprentice.

Harry Melling on Screen Rant Inhabiting the role of Edgar Allan Poe, working with Christian Bale and Scott Cooper, and filming in cold weather.

Harry Melling on The Pale Blue Eye

Screen Rant: First, what drew you to this role and how did you prepare for it? Have you read Louis Bayard's novels? A bunch of Edgar Allan Poe?

Harry Melling: I had a bit of time before starting, which was great because that's not always the luxury you have. I tried to read as much as I could - Louis Bayard's novel, [and] also things that Poe wrote himself. Certainly, [I read] his earlier stuff more so than his later stuff, which is very different actually. Then, I would read as many biographies as I could about him. That was a two-month quite intensive period of just reading, really, and then I went back to the script. I soon figured out that much like Louis Bayard's approach to writing the novel, which was a fusion between historical fact and then fiction, which was the narrative, I had to attack Poe in the same vein by fusing those two things. [I had to] give myself room enough to play, to have fun, to enjoy him, but also to use whatever nuggets of information I could to try and explain why this young man turned into the poet we now know - [who] we think of when we say Edgar Allan Poe.

Is there anything you learned from him that most affected your performance?

Harry Melling: Yeah. He had a very nomadic early life. I think he, constantly throughout his life, was searching for a sense of home and belonging, and that was certainly true in his early life. He was orphaned from a very young age, and then his benefactor John Allan took him under his wing. They moved to England for a while, and then went back to Virginia, and so he had a very nomadic, sporadic life. I think that sense of finding roots within the world was something he constantly strived for, so that was an interesting insight into who this man might be early on in his life, certainly. Someone who's definitely trying to find a sense of home. I think probably that's why he has such an intense relation with Landor, because I think in that character, he finds his sense of home, in a sense.

Much of this movie is pretty bleak and grim, but when there's levity, it usually comes from you in the form of lines, romance, or something like that. Was it a challenge to play all of this while staying consistent with the overall tone of the movie?

Harry Melling: I don't think so. It's all there in the writing, so for me, it was a case of just doing what Scott had written. In terms of worrying about how it fits into this story, I kind of had to let the film worry about that. I had such a strong sense of who he should be, and what he should be, and it was all there in Scott's words. And, Scott was really relishing the fact that we could have fun with this character. He's such an iconic figure that we can subvert that early on, and we can challenge the idea of who he is. When you have a director that just says, "Go for it. Lean into that stuff, enjoy it," then you just do, and you know that this character is going to be an interesting maybe counter to the darkness [and] the harshness of the film. I think certainly we do get there with Edgar, but I know early on in the film, he's very much an enthusiastic person. Also, it's nice because Landor and Poe are so different. They're the absolute opposites in terms of their energies, but in a certain way, they're both outsiders and there is this incredible bond. I often find those relationships that take me by surprise are often the ones that mean the most in a strange way. I think that's definitely true to Landor and Poe.

I was talking to Scott Cooper the other day, and I thought it was insane that he would sit back and do nothing about it in order to do this movie with Christian Bale. How did you come in and get right into the dynamic of those two who were already close collaborators and friends?

Harry Melling: It's kind of great. They do have a shorthand because they've worked with each other for so long, and they're really close chums as well. [But] at no point did I feel outside of that group. I was very much welcomed into it and brought along this incredible journey. Scott is such a brilliant, careful, specific director. He's so gentle. Every single direction he gives you is very clear, and is very specific, and he gently sort of navigates you through the scenes. I like that way of working, personally. I like the quietness on set, and that focus, and Scott certainly had that abundance.

He also talks about how difficult it was to shoot, simply because of the weather and circumstances. I Have to ask - how warm are those cadet uniforms? Is it that bad?

Harry Melling: It was so cold! I mean, Kasia (Walicka-Maimone), who did the costumes, is a genius. All of the outfits were hand-stitched, and they were exquisite, exquisite costumes. But my word, there was no sense of heat technology going on there or anything. It was bitterly, bitterly cold. But in a way, talking about it now, and thinking back on to those moments, I kind of loved it. You're immediately confronted with what these characters would have gone through, For me the whole experience was very much - it was all there. The costumes are there, the locations were all there, and the conditions were there as well, and you just put yourself there and [you don't] have to use too much imagination. You're not looking to green screens, trying to invent a whole landscape. It's just sort of effortless, which is wonderful.

Scott also said he found you because of your work on The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which is of course great. When you choose a role, do you ever think about where it leads?

Harry Melling: I never think of a role and what it might lead to for me. I know some actors are very strategic in terms of what they choose. For me, whenever I've engaged that part of my mind, it's always backfired. That strategic part has always backfired in some way, so I try not to listen to that voice. I just like to see what's presented to me, and see if I feel that I can offer something to that. If I can, then I will present something to a director, and if that resonates, then great - we're away. But I try not to [think] too many steps ahead of where I am.

Finally, is there a favorite Edgar Allan Poe piece of yours that you keep looking back at while doing this?

Harry Melling: There were two, actually. There was The Pit and the Pendulum, which is where someone is sort of stuck in a pendulum as it's swinging down, lower, lower, lower. [That] kind of felt like the whole journey for Edgar. Something's coming, we're not quite sure when or at what point it's going to attack, even though it's there. Also, The Raven, just because for me, it's his most succinct poem. I would love to say one of his early poems, but to be honest, they're really tough going. I mean, my word. Every single line has like a page worth of a footnote to explain what one word means. It's really dense stuff, so it took me a while to go through. In a way, it was a lovely insight into how highly he saw himself as a poet, but I'd say The Raven and The Pit and the Pendulum were two that I definitely kept coming back to.

About The Pale Blue Eye

West Point, 1830. On a gray winter morning, a cadet was found dead. But tragedy turns brutal when the body arrives at the morgue and the young man's heart is found deftly removed. Fearing irreparable damage to the fledgling military academy, its leader turns to local detective Augustus Lando (Christian Bale) to solve the murder. Thwarted by the cadets' code of silence, Landor enlists the help of one of their number to pursue the case, an eccentric cadet who despises the rigors of the military and a penchant for poetry - a young man named Edgar Allan Poe Man (Harry Mellin).

Check out our interview with Light Blue Eyes actor and writer-director Scott Cooper is here.

Next: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: All 6 Endings Explained

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