Neil Jordan put his signature on vampire film

INTERVIEW WITH THE DIRECTOR

November 13, 1994|By Allen Barra | Allen Barra,Special to The Sun

Neil Jordan won a Best Screenplay Oscar two years ago for "The Crying Game." He will not win his second for "Interview With the Vampire." Best Director, perhaps. But Jordan's name, which along with Anne Rice's was on an early print of the film under "screenplay by," is not on the print at theaters all over the world. "It's a thing with the Writers Guild," is all Jordan will say.

However, Neil Jordan's signature is on every frame of "Interview With the Vampire." He underlines it in a scene where a journalist (Christian Slater) asks a 200-year-old vampire (played by Brad Pitt) about the powers popularly credited to vampires. "The vulgar fictions of a demented Irishman," Pitt replies with a wry smile.

The line, of course, refers to the creator of the modern vampire story, Bram Stoker -- like Jordan, a Dubliner whose mother hailed from Sligo. It's also Jordan's offhand way of taking a bow for

bringing the Great White Whale of modern movie properties to the screen.

Anne Rice's novel was first published in 1976, and over the next decade and a half, it would defy the efforts of an array of producers and screenwriters to turn it into a film. Then it was offered to an Irishman whose only recommendations would seem to have been an art film called "Mona Lisa," an even less-seen art film titled "The Company of Wolves" and a slim novel, "Dream of a Beast" -- but "Wolves" and "Beast" happened to be favorites of "Interview With the Vampire" author Anne Rice. A year later, after the most controversial casting decision in modern movie history -- "Top Gun" Tom Cruise would play Pitt's predatory mentor, Lestat -- and a swarm of troubled-production stories, Neil Jordan delivered his film, and a beautiful terror was born.

*

"It's a shame about Oprah," says Neil Jordan, referring to the talk-show host's freak-out at a "Vampire" screening that culminated in a prayer circle designed to exorcise the demons that Jordan's (and Rice's) demented minds had called forth. "I don't mean to sound flip, but prayers wouldn't do much good with the vampires in this movie. You can't chase Lestat away with a cross, you know? I think that's basically what's upset some people about the film: It gives you the sheer horror of a world where vampires exist without the comforting homilies of movie Christianity. This isn't Bram Stoker or Stephen King."

Jordan says that attraction to Rice's high-Gothic tone is one of the reasons he chose to do the film. "In the past, to gain supernatural powers, the hero always had to pay some kind of price -- you know, the Faust thing. What's great about Lestat is that he doesn't pay any price. He has no remorse at all for what he must do to survive. He's relentless and has no soul left to trade; he's really one of the most terrifying figures in modern literature."

Neil Jordan looks a bit younger and seems a bit older than his 43 years. He does not dress to make an impression; like the attire of his Dublin compatriot Jim Sheridan (who almost got thrown out of a New York premiere of his own film, "In the Name of the Father"), Jordan's might charitably be described as ranging from casual to tacky.

The undercurrent of self-deprecating humor in the "demented Irishman" line is typical of Jordan. His calm, melancholy smiles are usually tight-lipped, and when confronted with questions he doesn't want to deal with, he'll shrug, grimace and say, "I don't want to talk about that." Questions that draw this response are invariably about his private life -- for instance, his five-year relationship with actress Beverly D'Angelo, with whom he made "High Spirits" and "The Miracle."

Jordan was born in Sligo and raised in Dublin; his grandfather, mother and sister were all painters -- "a painterly family," as he says (his father was a teacher).

First stories

Jordan was 25 when his first collection of stories, "Night in Tunisia," was published, causing ripples of reaction throughout an Irish literary scene that is small by the standards of the United States or Britain, but which takes its literature seriously. The grand old rebel of Irish letters, Sean O'Faolain, called the title story, about a young Irish jazz musician obsessed with learning Charlie Parker riffs, "one of the most remarkable stories I have read in Irish storytelling since or, indeed, before Joyce."

"I'm a literary person," Jordan explains, "and my technique as a film director is an extension of my technique as a writer. I'm aware that the term 'literary' has a pejorative ring to a lot of critics here -- they associated it with 19th-century English novels and 'Masterpiece Theatre.' But I'm talking about the kind of 20th-century literary technique which has a fluid, jazz-like quality. I decided a long time ago to take the most outrageous chances with narration. What did Godard say? 'I like beginnings, middles and ends, though not necessarily in that order.'

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