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Edgar Allen Poe lives again on PBS

Tony Award-winning and Emmy-nominated actor Denis O’Hare stars as Edgar Allan Poe in “American Masters — Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive.” (Photo courtesy PBS)

Fans of Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) are excited about Denis O’Hare, portraying the notorious late author in a new PBS “American Masters” documentary, “Edgar Allen Poe: Buried Alive.”

A literary icon, Poe wrote over 100 short stories and poems, like “The Tell Tale Heart,” “The Pit and The Pendulum” and “The Raven.”

At the Television Critics Press Tour, O’Hare talked about his experiences with reading Poe. “I knew a fair amount because I was a strange child, and so I think I had read, by the time I was 12 or 13, almost all of the most horrific stories…I also was in love with Vincent Price at the time.”

The Tony Award winning and Emmy nominated actor didn’t know Poe by his literary criticism, which Poe was also known for.

“I didn’t know about how well embedded he was in the actual world of literature and magazines at the time,” said O’Hare. “I did know about a lot of his poetry, and oddly enough, I didn’t know ‘The Raven.’ I knew ‘Annabel Lee,’ because it was such a beautiful poem and so rhythmic…I was a tortured poet at 12, and so I was writing my own poetry.”

O’Hare continued: “Poe is one of our great American treasures as much as Whitman or Thoreau or Emerson or someone like Katherine Mansfield. He is a great literary figure, and I would hope that this production would help people to understand the large scope of his literary output, that it wasn’t simply these Gothic tales, that he had a much broader impact. People like Charles Baudelaire, who modeled his poetry after him. Dickens knew him. He was famous in France. He was famous in England. ”

Poe created the detective fiction genre, with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

“Every single procedural cop show to this day, including Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, owes a debt to Edgar Allan Poe,” acknowledged O’Hare.

A veteran actor, O’Hare was recently seen on NBC’s “This is Us” in a relationship with William (Ron Cephas Jones). He played a gay vampire in HBO’s “True Blood,” and has appeared in films like “Milk” and “Dallas Buyers Club.”

O’Hare was slightly challenged by Poe’s enigmatic nature. “It’s funny. As an actor, I tend to over-research, but you can’t really over-research with him (Poe) because you don’t get a consistent character. But as a friend of mine always said, human beings aren’t consistent. Only characters are consistent. He’s a wonderfully complicated, contradictory person.”

He added: “He’s hard to categorize because he was so inconsistent. When I look at his poems and really, really drill down to the poems, those are sort of his heart and soul, and they’re obviously not completely accurate. They’re aspirational what he wants to be, but his yearnings are pure, naive, positive in many ways, but his idea of what love should be, and just beautiful. They’re childlike in the best possible way.”

Wearing the hair, makeup and growing a mustache made O’Hare feel more like the literary icon.

“You could say I’m a hair and shoe actor. If you get those things right, then you know you’re home,” he quipped. “In this case, it was a mustache and hair actor.”

O’Hare grew a mustache “knowing” he didn’t want a fake one. “Those drive me crazy. And my eyes are sunken enough that that worked. Then we had a brilliant wigmaker, Joe, who was just truly brilliant, and he made me this fantastic wig. And then, you just tweaked the eyebrows a little bit, and you get that constantly worried, anxious look that was sort of his hallmark. He’s an extraordinary-looking person. The way he photographed was, I thought, revelatory. You can see the haunted aspect in his eyes. I think that’s just crazy. So I hoped to emulate rather than impersonate.”

Written and directed by filmmaker Eric Stange, the documentary combines dramatized reenactments of Poe’s life with readings of his imaginative, Gothic horror tales.

Much has been talked about Poe’s mysterious death, which to this day, remains uncertain.

“The mystery around Poe’s death is the least of it,” said Stange. “The real question at the heart of this film is why Edgar Allan Poe continues to be one of the most popular writers in the history of Western literature – and one of the most misunderstood.”