We were fortunate enough to have a few minutes to speak to the legendary director about his latest film BYZANTIUM.
Neil Jordan has been directing feature films for more than twenty years. His body of work includes some deeply loved cult favorites like THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, ONDINE and MONA LISA, as well as films that have been both critically praised and commercially successful like INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE and THE CRYING GAME. The list of actors he’s worked with and genre’s he’s worked within is dizzying and TD is grateful to have had an opportunity to speak with the distinguished Irish director about his new film BYZANTIUM for a few minutes. (Watch for the review to be posted later today).
TD: It’s really nice to talk to you, thank you for taking the time.
NJ: It’s good to talk you. You work for the website called Truly Disturbing do you?
TD: Yes, I do.
NJ: OK, so it’s a horror movie website, is it?
TD: Yeah, that’s mostly what we cover.
NJ: Well, this movie isn’t really a true, gore found delight, is it?
TD: No, it’s not quite a traditional horror movie, that’s for sure. I got to see it last night and I was really impressed. I really enjoyed it. It does cover enough of the ground with the supernatural and vampires that it’s something we’d want to cover.
NJ: Well good.
TD: After seeing it, and reading some of your other interviews, there were a few questions I wanted to ask. The majority of the films you’ve directed have also been films that you’ve written. BYZANTIUM was written by Moira Buffini. From what I understand you made just a few suggestions to the structure. Was there something specific about the screenplay that made you want to direct it even though you didn’t write it?
NJ: Yeah, there was. When I read the screenplay, the strange thing was that there were so many elements in common to other films I’d made. It was set in an abandoned seaside town, it kind of went from the present to the past. It was about a young girl trying to tell her story and it was about vampires. The least attractive element to me was that it was about vampires because I’d made INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE all those years ago, you know. But, I thought maybe it’s time to revisit the creature. The one thing it did do is to, kind of reinvent the myth on how you become a vampire.
TD: That was something really interesting about it.
NJ: Yeah, I think that was more interesting. It’s an actual choice on people’s part. They actually have to go out of their way to find this place, this island. They have to… embrace their own death really, you know? That was interesting to me.
TD: BYZANTIUM weaves together so many of the themes and ideas that had been part of your earlier films, but it’s something that at the same time is new and different from the ways you’ve done it before. It presents them in a pretty complex way in the way that they’re kind of interconnected. Do you feel that was something in the source material or was that something you really focused on bringing to the film?
NJ: The potential for all that was in the source material, that’s why I decided to make the movie in the end. It was very odd, very strange. I deliberately did not involve myself in the writing of the script. Normally, if it’s a Hollywood movie I normally go through and make a pass myself. There were some slightly archaic and difficult pieces of dialog and speech, but I said to myself, “This is a really interesting writers take on these things. I’m just not going to interfere with that. I’m going to do what a director does in this case.” I really did respond to the elements that were common to the films I’ve done in the past.
TD: The story evolves in a way that is somewhat unconventional, in the beginning it seems like it’s going to be a story of two people on the run and then expands to this almost mythic proportion. It seems like that’s the kind of thing, that as a storyteller and director would be really fun and/or challenging. Was there anything specifically more fun or challenging in bringing all of that to the screen?
NJ: Yeah, well it was really challenging because we hadn’t got a lot of money, but yet we had to deliver these elements that were visually very strong. The most interesting thing stylistically was the person in the past. That character’s lived in the grungy present day world, the equivalent of Coney Island, but exists in the past as well. There can be two visual styles for that, even a different camera style. the way the camera moves and the way the same landscapes are filmed. It’s a directors dream really to be given that opportunity.
TD: That was one of the things I really enjoyed and felt myself responding to. I hadn’t even really put it together until I was thinking about it after. The way that it was filmed differently depending on the time period really gave it depth because it went beyond being just different costuming. It felt like it really contributed to the story.
NJ: Thank you.
TD: In your earlier films, you have had these same themes, but they’ve been a little bit more immediate. The films had more of a sense of urgency or were more confrontational. As you’ve gone on, they’ve become more contemplative. Do you feel like that is true, and what about your approach to film making changed might account for that?
NJ: You mean it’s a bit slow, don’t you think? (Laughing)
TD: No. No, I don’t actually mean slow. BYZANTIUM moves along at a good clip, but your earlier movies were a little more controversial and they seem to take a lot more of the content and the material in a way that was specifically asking the audience to wrestle with different ideas.
NJ: I see, I see. I followed the script really, you know. I followed the rhythms of Saoirse Ronan’s dialog and the way she delivered the story. I did what a director does. I followed the rhythms of the actors. I was aware that a lot of the elements of my movies have come together in this.
TD: That was something I wanted to ask about as well. Looking at your body of work, the list of actors you’ve worked with is amazing, often before they’ve become faces and names recognizable to the general public. I wanted to know if you have something you specifically look for when your casting or is it based on the script and each role?
NJ: No. It’s always based on the film and the role. I was lucky enough to get Gemma Arterton and Soairse Ronan for the two main characters. They’ve got totally different energies. Soairse’s watchful and guarded and she’s pensive and observing and meditative in a way. Gemma’s urgent and in your face and she’s sexual and she’s emotional and confrontational. It was wonderful to work with two people who have totally contrasting energies. I was just lucky because so many people wanted to be in this film. Caleb Landry Jones put himself on tape for me and I saw it in the casting directors office. Then Sam Reilly came on board. I supposed they all responded to the parts and how they were written.
TD: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. I’ve always enjoyed your films and I appreciate you giving us the time today.
NJ: Thank you as well.
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