Neil Jordan, Interview

The Irish filmmaker chats with Den of Geek about his new vampire film, Byzantium, as well as the cancellation of The Borgias. He also reveals who from Interview with the Vampire he wanted to see drawing blood again.

Nearly 20 years after directing one of the most iconic vampire films ever unearthed, Interview with the Vampire, Neil Jordan has returned to the world of the Undead. In Byzantium, Jordan tackles another childhood vampire, one who is stuck in an eternal loop of traversing the world with her guarded mother. It is an intriguing premise that is brought to life by a talented cast that includes Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton as the lead nosferatu, as well as Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller, Tom Hollander and Caleb Landry Jones. We had a chance to sit down with the Irish filmmaker whose eclectic filmography includes The Crying Game (1992), Michael Collins (1996) and Breakfast on Pluto (2005). During the interview, we discussed everything from vampires and literal bloodbaths to the potential future of Jordan’s newly ended Showtime series, The Borgias.  Den of Geek (DoG): I wanted to ask as a fan who grew up with Interview with the Vampire, always one of my October favorites, what attracted you to return to this Undead material? Neil Jordan: Oh, it was the script really. I was doing a series called The Borgias and I invested myself very heavily in that. I wrote almost all of them and I directed two every season and I had to supervise them. Somebody sent me the script and it was based on a play by Moira Buffini, but the script had so many elements connected to other movies I made it was kind of weird. It was set in an abandoned seaside town. It was between the present and the past; it involved somebody attempting to tell a story, to their own story, so it was about storytelling; it was about two women; and it was about vampires! That was the least attractive thing about it for me actually, if you want to know the truth. But then it was kind of a female version of Interview with the Vampire in a strange way. A companion piece in a way, you know?  DoG: I can definitely see that where you have one vampire who very much embraces this fate and one who is more reluctant. It is also your third supernatural film if we count High Spirits. Do you find yourself, if not vampires, attracted to these kind of macabre ghost stories? Jordan: I love stories that are about proving the real world is not all there is. That’s why I did The End of the Affair. Poor Ralph Fiennes thought he had a rival lover who turned out to be a non-existent being who definitely doesn’t live in this world, whether he exists or not. And The Crying Game was about how Stephen Rea thought this woman was the most beautiful creature in the world and turned out to be a man. I love stories where your preconceptions about the world are kind of turned on their head. I suppose the supernatural stories I have done are kind of like that.  DoG: Getting back to Interview one more time real quick, there is some overlap as Claudia is a child who will live forever, as is Eleanor in Byzantium. I am sure you saw a connection, but was that a theme you wanted to revisit? Jordan: A little bit, yeah. In fact, after I cast Saoirse [Ronan] and Gemma [Arterton], the only lingering doubt I had in my mind was I would love to have worked with Kirsten Dunst as some kind of vampire again. But she was kind of too old for the young part and too young for the old part. And she was married [laughs]. Besides, I had two great actresses in those roles. DoG: They were both excellent, but it would be great to see Kirsten again play a vampire.  Jordan: Yeah, it would be.
 DoG: One question I had going through my mind during this film is whether you view Eleanor as a child who IS literally living forever or whether she is a woman trapped in a child’s body forever. Jordan: Oh, I think she is an adolescent living forever. She is a teenager who’s living forever, which is a nightmare, isn’t it? Try handling those zits for 200 years. Imagine having all those turbulent adolescent emotions for 200 years. DoG: There has to be a reason she is attracted to Frank [a local teenage boy in the film]. Jordan: Yeah! [laughs]  DoG: You really play with the mythology of vampirism in this movie. I don’t recall seeing any fangs and the vampires can walk in the sunlight. Is this a conscious choice to get back to vampire folklore? The kind that inspired Bram Stoker? Jordan: Well if you look at Bram Stoker, if you look at Dracula, he could walk in the daylight. He needed a coffin to sleep in. He had to send his coffins ahead of him, didn’t he? DoG: Yes. Jordan: But he wandered around London society. He appeared as a human being. I think all of those little things that we have are things movies developed. The fact that they can’t see themselves in mirrors, the fact that they can’t walk in the daytime, the fact that they are terrified of the light, they can be burnt by the light; all that stuff. That’s all kind of Hollywood invention, I think. If you go back to the vampire stories, which Moira [Buffini did]. She went back to a fragment that was written by Lord Byron and she went back to the first vampire story in the English language by a guy called John William Polidori, who was Byron’s physician. In both of those, the way you got turned into a vampire was by wandering around in a Byzantium graveyard and you got bitten by a strange creature. That’s what attracted me to the movie. That is why I felt like it might be worth making, because it gave me the opportunity to reinvent the whole argument of it all. That was my main contribution. I didn’t write the script. I didn’t want to interfere with what the writer had written. The main contribution I had was on the one hand, the thumbnail thing [a talon that grows from the vampires’ thumbs] and the origin myth. The fact that to get turned into a vampire you had to go to an island off the west of Ireland with this strange stone hut and encounter [a demonic version of] yourself or something like that.  DoG: That is actually one of my favorite sequences in the movie. When Clara, Gemma Arterton’s character, is bathing in rivers of blood in the waterfall, was that fake blood on the set for that waterfall or did you change that digitally in post? Jordan: No, that was her in a freezing waterfall that we had actually turned red. It was this enormous waterfall in the west of Ireland…and we had climbers dump dye in to turn it red. It is very effective. We had to do a little bit of digital tweaking to make it slow and fall, but we didn’t do it deliberately. We did do it for real.
 DoG: Is this sequence based on any sort of folklore or mythology— Jordan: No. No, it was out of my diseased imagination. DoG: Well, that is a great new origin for vampires. Jordan: Thank you (laughs). I hope they use it again.  DoG: In many ways this is not so much a vampire story as a puzzle box narrative between a mother and her daughter. As a storyteller, can you relate to that impulse of needing to tell a story? For it to get out in the world? Jordan: Yes, I can completely relate to the fact—what I found intriguing was they were so close in age. I thought that was a very clever trick of the writer. Basically the mother gets turned into a vampire at the age—she gives away her child and soon after that she turns into a vampire. So, let’s say she’s 20. Then when her daughter reaches the age of 16, she turns her into a vampire. So, although they are mother and daughter, they have to live with each other as if they are two sisters in a way and they have to pass themselves off as sisters, because they are trying to escape this brotherhood. Bit nasty. They don’t like women.  DoG: No they do not. There’s obviously the misogyny element, but do you think there is anything unique to their disdain for women? Jordan: Why do they disdain women? WELL, it is the 17th century, isn’t it? What does Samuel Johnson say? ‘To see women give a sermon is a bit like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs.’ It is fascinating to observe, but it’s not very elegant or not very believable or whatever he said. DoG: I was just curious as to why three men want to spend eternity with only other men. Jordan: Oh, you mean for sexual reasons? Maybe there is, we don’t know. They wear very nice clothes, don’t they? They seem to enjoy each other’s company [laughs].