Interview with Neil Jordan for BYZANTIUM

We talked to director Neil Jordan about his return to vampire movie making; BYZANTIUM

Irish director NEIL JORDAN returns to the vampire genre, and the West of Ireland, with ‘Byzantium’. Starring Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton, ‘Byzantium’ is being hailed as a companion piece to Jordan’s classic ‘Interview With A Vampire’. Paul Byrne sinks his teeth in. Gently.

Familiar territory here – not only geographically but spiritually too. A comfortable fit then, or does each and every new film fill you with dread and sleepless nights?
Neil Jordan: No, no, this was very difficult to do, because it’s quite large, and we didn’t have quite enough money to make it, you know. But it worked out well in the end though…

References have been mentioned – the Byzantium Hotel sharing some visual DNA with Blade Runner’s Bradbury Building, Eleanor’s red cloak harking back to ‘Don’t Look Now’.
NJ: ‘Blade runner’? No, but there were references. I hadn’t written the script myself – it was sent to me – nor had I seen the original play, but there were so many familiar things from other films that I’d done, you know. The abandoned seaside town, the fact that it was a girl trying to tell her story, the fact that there were vampires… there were so many things.
The red hoodie that she wears, that’s not a reference to anything. It’s just that she looked good in that hoodie. If it’s a reference to anything, it’s ‘The Company Of Wolves’. And I just found this wonderful hotel in Hastings, which was pretty cool, and pretty great, really. It had this wonderful lift. So, it was more a matter of me fleshing out the script with things that made sense to me, given that I hadn’t written it myself, you know. But I think Moira, the playwright, when she wrote it, I think she was influenced by ‘Interview With A Vampire’, stuff like that.

People are viewing ‘Byzantium’ as a companion piece to ‘Interview With A Vampire’, or is the presence of vampires again the only real connection?
NJ: This is totally related to ‘Interview With A Vampire’. The female leads here, Clara and Eleanor, they’re like female versions of Louis and Lestat. One kinda loves being what she is, and one feels burdened and questioned by it. One is all action and forgetfulness, the other is all memory and pensiveness, you know what I mean? The only thing that put me off when they sent me the script was the fact that they were bloody vampires. There’s been so many vampire movies in the last few years. The fact is, even if the two women here were just pretending to be mother and daughter, fleeing various crimes, the way Moira had written it, it still would have been a lovely character study.

You’ve always struck me as someone who’s an artist first and foremost, very removed from the high-fivin’, bare-chested, leading-lady-banging world of Michael Bay. Or maybe there’s a Don Simpson gene lurking in the dark shadows, bursting to get out? Do you enjoy the celebrity side of this business?
NJ: No, I don’t really enjoy being recognised, other than when it comes to getting my stuff read. There’s a better chance of something I write being read and it then being made simply because I have a name. I wouldn’t like to be starting out now trying to get something made, but if I have a project that costs under fifteen million dollars, it’s probably likely that I’ll be able to get it made. I don’t know, some of those superhero movies they make in Hollywood are quite good. The problem is, they’re the only movies they’re making these days.

You had just stepped back into the mythological world of the vampire with your novel ‘Mistaken’, so this kind of story seems to be in your blood. Or do you feel the need to fight what may be considered a typical Neil Jordan film?
NJ: No, I’m kinda saying there is a character to a Neil Jordan film, and I’ll stay with that for a while. For a while, I did enjoy making a different kind of movie, just because there were movies that I hadn’t made before. Sometimes, I used to take things because they were so unlike anything else I’d made, but they kinda end up being the same. But, let’s face it, ‘Byzantium’ is right down my alley. It’s about shadows, it’s things that are hidden, and it’s about time, about what it means to be alive, and stuff like that…

Given your ups and downs at the box-office, is the commercial potential for a project something that keeps you awake at night? Or do you leave that to producers to worry about?
NJ: Yeah, you’re always faced with the same problem, you know. In many ways, the bigger the director’s name is, the more the problem is dumped on his shoulders. The problem with making an independent movies nowadays is, you can get them made, but then you’ve got to go around the festival circuit to establish the distribution, and all that. It can get very tiresome, but I wouldn’t give up hope. Seriously. I’ve got a few movies that I really want to make, and I think it will be possible for me to make them. So, it’s not over yet, and I don’t think it’ll ever be over. It’s just changing, you know.

You seem like a homebird when it comes making movies – shooting ‘The Miracle’ and parts of ‘Michael Collins’ in Bray whilst you lived there, and now shooting two films down around Castletownbere, where you have a home…
NJ: No, it’s nothing to do with that at all. It’s just to do with the fact that I know a series of specific locations that would suit a particular movie. It’s just to do with visual things really. Initially, Moira had written the sequence that happens in Ireland in the 18th century, that was originally going to be shot in Morocco, and we couldn’t afford to do that. So, I just asked Moira to look into vampire legends based in Ireland, and see if there was anything there that sparked her imagination. And that’s really my contribution to the film – the island, the blood, the waterfall, and all that sort of thing.
I just knew the locations that it could be shot in. The huge black rocks against the waterfall, you won’t find that anywhere else in Ireland. I suggested the location scouts go down there. I do love Castletownbere, but I don’t shoot down there just because of that. I wanted to shoot this down there because the locations fitted what eventually we’d written like a glove.

Do you know where you’re headed next?
NJ: Well, I have to finish the ‘Borgias’ – I’ve been doing that for four years. That’s pretty much my day job. I’ve written another movie script, but it probably won’t be in Ireland. That will have to wait for another script, further down the line…

BYZANTIUM is at Irish cinemas from May 31st

Words: Paul Byrne