Last week Neil Jordan’s Byzantium arrived in limited theaters, and we had the opportunity to chat exclusively with the acclaimed Irish filmmaker about his involvement in the project, how it related to his previous films The Company of Wolves and Interview with the Vampire, and more.
Written by Moira Buffini, Byzantium (review here) stars Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Caleb Landry Jones, Danny Mays, Jonny Lee Miller and Tom Hollander. The story follows a vampiric mother and daughter who are traveling through a quiet countryside in an effort to find shelter and safety away from the human world around them.
Check out the highlights of our exclusive interview with Jordan below, and look for Byzantium in limited theaters now!
Dread Central: What was it about Moira’s script that engaged you as a storyteller, and how did you end up attached to Byzantium?
Neil Jordan: The script was sent to me, and I thought that it was just brilliantly written; that was immediately engaging for me. I thought the relationship between the two female vampires who were a mother and daughter was fascinating as well, their existence being so interesting in the fact that they were endlessly wandering from one place to the next. That was something I could easily imagine, them with their sleeping bags in hand, trying to find somewhere they could hide. That’s not a story I see being told very often in cinema, and the way that Moira wrote these characters was incredibly fascinating.
Dread Central: Is the process any different for you when you’re working from someone else’s script compared to when you’re working off of your own material?
Neil Jordan: I do normally write my own stuff, but Moira’s voice in this story was quite distinctive and I could see how important this story and these characters were to her. Moira spent so much time with them so she was the one that knew them so well. The only real intrusions I made into her story were constructing some of the origin myth of the vampires and some of the Irish touches, but only because Moira wanted to re-invent the creature to a certain extent because certain elements of the story that worked well in her play just wouldn’t work in the feature film version.
Dread Central: There are definitely some parallels between Byzantium and Interview with the Vampire and maybe even a little bit between this and (The) Company of Wolves- how conscious were you of that before you came on board?
Neil Jordan: Yeah, some of those similarities did resonate with me a bit in a way. I definitely noticed that there were many familiar elements from movies I’ve made also in Byzantium, but none of it was presented in a way that ever felt redundant for me at all. Moira’s story was very much like a twisted fairy tale, like The Company of Wolves was, but wholly different if that makes sense since this was about vampires, and that story was about wolves.
But it is interesting to me that I’ve done so many projects in these types of environments or with these fantastical characters, and it’s not something I really think about too much- I really don’t understand why I gravitate towards these types of stories, but I do. I would say, though, that the least attractive element to me about this film was that it was about vampires because I had made Interview with the Vampire so I didn’t want to do something I had already done before. I thought that maybe it was time to revisit the creature because vampires had been done to death and we’ve seen them become something entirely different over the last few decades. They weren’t scary anymore and they weren’t interesting anymore, but the way that Moira wrote them in the script was a different take than we’ve been seeing the last few years so that’s ultimately what made me decide to sign on.
Dread Central: Let’s talk about your leading ladies in Byzantium- they both were really great. What did you see in Gemma and Saoirse for their respective roles?
Neil Jordan: Well, they’ve got totally different energies, which is what I wanted most for these characters. Saoirse’s approach for Eleanor was very watchful and guarded because she’s a naturally pensive person, almost like she’s observing everything quietly around her. Gemma was completely different- her performance almost had a sense of urgency to it. Gemma’s character was just in your face; she’s sexual and emotional and such a physical presence. It was wonderful to work with two people who have totally contrasting energies that also complement each other very well. I was a fan of both actresses going into Byzantium and a much bigger fan after working with them.
Dread Central: Going back to Interview with the Vampire for a moment- looking back at everything that has happened in the last 20 years, how surprised are by the film’s continual fanbase and support?
Neil Jordan: Well, what’s interesting with Interview with the Vampire is that when it came out, the critics didn’t like it at all. It didn’t get a free ride by any means and it took the last 20 years really to come to be seen as a great movie that sort of started a new age of vampire films. It’s very strange to me; I always thought that we made a good movie and that Anne’s book was great, but at the time it just seemed like the critics were happy to write us off. I think it’s really interesting.
I do think that the story around a movie when it’s released is rarely the full account of that story’s impact so you have to wait over a period to see what’s good and what’s bad and what endures in people’s minds. If you’re a filmmaker whose movie comes out and everyone trashes it, you shouldn’t lose too much heart over it. If there’s something good in there, it will come out eventually. Not all movies succeed – obviously not all of my movies succeeded – but there are often bits and moments in films that are extraordinary, and those are the bits that endure over time and continue to connect with audiences over time.
On the run for murder, two young “sisters” arrive penniless at an English seaside town. Clara is a fiercely modern woman who has her eyes on the future and no time for the past. Teenager Eleanor is shy and innocent. Yet, they both hide the same secrets: They are really mother and daughter, and they are both … vampires!
Eleanor is exhausted by 200 years on the run and desperate to settle down. But little does she know that her mother has been protecting her all of the years from their own kind, “The Brotherhood”. To escape them, they must either blend in or continue running away. But just as they think they may have escaped, their past rapidly catches up with them.
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