Born in 1950 in Sligo, Ireland, Neil Jordan began his career as a writer. His first book of stories, Night In Tunisia (1976), won the Guardian Fiction prize. Since then he has published seven novels, The Past (1979), The Dream of a Beast (1983), Sunrise With Seamonster (1994), Shade (2005), Mistaken (2011), The Drowned Detective (2015), and Carnivalesque (2017). In 1982, Jordan wrote and directed his first feature film, Angel, and has written, directed, and produced more than 15 films, including Company of Wolves, Mona Lisa, The Crying Game, Interview With the Vampire, Michael Collins, The Butcher Boy, The End Of The Affair, In Dreams, Breakfast on Pluto, Ondine, and Byzantium. His latest film, Greta, starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Isabelle Huppert, is in theaters through Focus Features from March 1. Neil Jordan has also written, directed, and produced three seasons of the television series The Borgias, with producer James Flynn and Showtime. His films have been honored with numerous awards worldwide, including an Oscar (Best Original Screenplay), BAFTA’s, Golden Globes, a Golden Lion from the Venice Film Festival, and a Silver Bear from Berlin.
My room is littered with them. Or more to the point, I suppose, my laptop. Scripts begun, finished, half-finished, touted, dreamed about. The weird thing is, when thinking about them, I can imagine an alternative universe. An alternative me, I suppose – where every one of these reached the screen, and the ones that reached the screen are now clogging up my room.
Some of them, then, in chronological order:
Written with the great John Boorman. It was the first time I was ever paid, I think. He had read a book of short stories I had written and phoned me. He asked me to meet him in Ardmore Studios and he basically became my film school. I remember a dusty Rolls-Royce sitting outside a large bunch of sheds in the Wicklow Hills, which I learnt were film stages. I thought it was the most romantic thing.
We worked with this mad fantasy for weeks – about a magician in a post-apocalyptic world that has become unbearably clogged with detritus. The magician learns how to make things actually disappear. Gradually unclogging the landscape. He then learns how to make people disappear – a phenomenon that creates crowds of people desperate to travel to somewhere other than the unbearable planet where they live. Rather wonderful and crazy. John tried to finance it for years and failed. He is now in his nineties. I sometimes wonder if I could have made it.
After I had made Mona Lisa, Alberto Grimaldi came to me with this book, by Dashiell Hammett. Bertolucci had toyed with it, and moved on. I wrote a script, full of hard-boiled nuances and retribution. Even scouted locations with my designer at the time, the late, wonderful Anton Furst. We flew up to Butte, Montana, where Hammett had worked as a Pinkerton detective and where he set the book. It was full of abandoned copper mines and signs from the Anaconda Copper Mining Company saying – “Land Poisoned, Keep Out.” Interesting, as Hammett named his town Personville, which the locals mispronounced as “Poisonville.”
Alberto couldn’t interest a studio, and was about to lose the rights to the book. So he hired an Italian director to shoot the cheapest possible version of the entire film and destroyed the negative. So I’m sure he still has the rights.
There was another skeleton in the closet, though. The film had already been made, transplanted to Medieval Japan by Kurosawa: Yojimbo. And I don’t think anyone could have bettered that.
Children of Light
I spent some time with the novelist Robert Stone talking about how his Hollywood novel might be turned into a movie. It was intriguing and very, very dark, with an actress heroine who turned her addiction issues and her schizophrenia into something like religious ecstasy. Set on a bilious film shoot in Baja California. They are shooting a version of The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Her equally addled former lover – the screenwriter – turns up and begins to stir trouble. I remember a scene on a mountain of mud where the two lovers acted out a biblical scene of Gadarene swine. It was far too intelligent and scabrous a book to have anyone back the idea. But I would have done it just to spend more time with Mr. Stone, who is sadly no longer with us.
When my daughters were younger, we watched a lot of Shirley Temple and Judy Garland movies. Meet Me in St. Louis, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm …
I wrote a story for them which they begged me to turn into a movie, so I wrote the script. About a child star in some whizz-bang Flash Gordon future, trawling the universe searching for her lost father, who was a comedian last seen entertaining intergalactic troops, trying to reconquer a planet ruled by runaway toys. Even wrote the songs and lyrics, with titles like “The Night The Toys Took Their Revenge”:
Oh dolly, what’s that in your hand?
It looks very much like a knife
Oh teddy bear, why do you stand
As if you had taken a life?
For Mummy lies dead in her bed
And Daddy’s been drowned in the toilet…
R-rated kid’s stuff, I suppose.
The Vampire Lestat
After making Interview With the Vampire, I was commissioned to write a sequel, based on Anne Rice’s sequel novel. I wrote it and had a lot of fun in 17th-century France, a younger Lestat trawling the last days of the Ancien Régime with a commedia dell’arte troupe. He observes the revolution, envies the efficiency of the guillotine and turns his dying mother into a vampire. Tom Cruise, though, didn’t want to reprise the role.
The Borgia Apocalypse
I wanted to finish the Borgia series, but felt there wasn’t enough material for 10 more episodes. So wrote a two-hour movie, where the whole family eventually consumes itself. In blood, betrayal and infamy. Would still love to make it, but Showtime was in the business of making series, not movies.
A script I still might make. About an Irish traveller (gypsy) who gets involved with a criminal family to finance his sister’s boxing career.
I’ve never managed to shoot a film in and about the city I grew up in. So I wrote this script, a portmanteau journey through the lives of various characters in the city. Nothing to do with James Joyce. A plot involving a series of revenge killings carried out a brother and sister – two survivors of institutional abuse. Every character we meet is haunted by the past. Very, very grim. And maybe I’ll someday make that too.
Saxo the Grammarian’s Hamlet
A very bad title, I know. Which could be improved. The Danish Idiot? But everyone should read the Danish original of the story Shakespeare based his Hamlet on. And realize, if he was working for Marvel at the moment, he would have been so fired.
It’s a beautifully elemental drama of revenge. Like an origin story for a superhero. The young (very young) boy Amleth’s father is killed by his uncle, who assumes the kingship and marries his mother. Amleth’s response to this trauma is to pretend to be an idiot – an early, drooling Danish version of PTSD. He sits by the enormous fireplace in the castle, unable to speak, making strange toys out of discarded bits of wood and metal. Everyone, of course, thinks he has lost his marbles. Until he comes to manhood, and we realize these strange toys make a series of weapons with which he kills the lot of them.
And, of course, becomes something like a manga warrior, the regicidal revenger …
No soliloquies. No gravedigger. No Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I don’t even think there is an Ophelia.