Neil Jordan is an academy award winning (The Crying Game – Best Original Screenplay) film and television director from Co. Sligo. Previously a UCD Student (Irish history and English literature) and best known for films such as The Butcher Boy, malady The Crying Game, Michael Collins and Interview with the Vampire, Jordan talks to Ciara Murphy of the College Tribune about his new television series, The Borgias, his most recent book; Mistaken, his new film Byzantium and what it means to be Irish.
Speaking about making the transition from film to television, Jordan admits that it was lack of money rather than original intent that lead him to make the move; “I had written The Borgias as a film, and found it impossible to finance. So when a cable series was suggested, it seemed exciting to me.
I began expanding the script, and placed back all of the possible scenes I had cut, to get it down to feature length. Then the possibility of a large, 40 hour long film emerged.” Jordan, one of many film directors making his way to the small screen, Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann and Gus Van Sant to name but a few, admits that there are some advantages to working on television. “The cable series format is actually better for some types of material – historical fictions, for example. Also, cable is the only place at present where challenging writing is even considered. The world of movies is shrinking by the minute. A lot of people are flocking to cable series, actors, writers, directors, because of this.”
Not only content to delve into the worlds of film and television, Jordan is also an accomplished author (The Past, Shade) with his recent book, ‘Mistaken’ getting great reviews among the press. One of the main comments that re-occurs in relation to ‘Mistaken’ is the book’s accurate portrayal of Dublin as a place, and of Dubliners as people.
When asked if he strived to always stay true to Ireland, and representations of Ireland, Jordan stated that he did not but that he “wanted to paint a portrait of the world of my youth. I don’t really remember this priest-ridden place everybody writes about.
The city I grew up in was one of the most elegant places in the world. Its gradual destruction began in the 70’s.”
Not only represented in his literary works, Ireland, and Irish issues are a common theme and backdrop for his most famous cinematic works. In films such as ‘The Butcher Boy’, ‘The Crying Games’ and ‘Michael Collins’, Irish history and culture is an important backdrop. Rather than attempting to constantly frame Ireland and ‘Irish-ness’ in a certain way Jordan believes that “what’s more important is to write what’s true.
I don’t think artists should try to represent anything in particular.” One could argue that this is the reason why his work is so successful both at home and abroad. Jordan creates work in a way that is both true to the people he is representing but timeless in a way that generations and nationalities all across the globe can continue to enjoy.
When asked if he preferred Irish actors, or did he try to include Irish actors as much as possible he stated, “Irish actors are perennially good.” One of the special and enjoyable aspects of Jordan’s work is his ability to make accessible, what could be seen as inaccessible.
One of his most famous films, ‘Michael Collins’, brought the story of the Easter Rising and the Irish Civil War into the sitting rooms of a new generation. I asked him was he conscious of this and if so was it difficult to tick the boxes of what makes a great, entertaining film and also remain true to a history that is precious to so many.
Jordan replied that “Michael Collins was a very specific film, as much about the presence of violence in Irish political culture when I made it, as in Collins’ time. I wanted to tell a very specific story there, about a man who built an armed force, and found it almost impossible to de-commission it.
To make an interesting film about historical events, one has to choose one’s themes, and stick to them. If I had made a cable version of that story, as I’m doing with The Borgias, I could have included much more material, many more themes. But the film I wanted to make was about the subject of political violence, the reasons for it and the consequences of it. What was interesting about the experience was the public dialogue it gave rise to.”
Jordan’s time in UCD was important in framing his literary background, when asked, if he thinks the education he received in UCD allowed him an avenue into the successful career he has today, he responded that “There was a great history department then, and a really rigorous department of English. The creative end of things was not really considered, which is the big change from then to now.”
When asked what advice he would give to students presently who would like to follow in his footsteps he stated that “The cultural world is changing so rapidly, it is really hard to say.
The Internet is changing everything, book publishing, film production, music and journalism. I would say, find some way to grapple with that, and keep culture alive.”
Jordan’s most recent production ‘Byzantium’ delves into the fantastical land of vampires and is a return to the supernatural.
This is not the first time we’ve seen Jordan deal with vampires and the supernatural, in ‘Interview With The Vampire’ we saw Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas and Irish actor Stephen Rea take to the big screen for what was a huge success.
When asked if he liked getting away from making realist films and getting his teeth (pardon the pun) into something a little more supernatural? He responded that “I think my interest in the supernatural comes very specifically from my Irish background. Stories from beyond the grave, so to speak. When I grew up, the culture was full of them.
The Gothic, non-realist tradition in Irish literature is so strong. It is only recently that the realistic novel has emerged in Ireland, as a force to be reckoned with.”
Irish artists are truly something that we are proud of.
Despite the difficulties we are all facing now, Irish people always seem to remain invested and proud of their own culture and their own artists.
One of the most important questions I asked Jordan if Ireland still inspired him creatively. His response; “The problem, and the beauty of Ireland, is that one is forced to live in one’s mind. The paralysis that Joyce spoke about in Dubliners is still a force everywhere. The country is so small. The only escape is through one’s imagination.”