Q&A: Neil Jordan

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In a two-decade career both in and out of Hollywood, Neil Jordan has made some highly original films ("The Crying Game," "Interview With the Vampire") some highly political films ("Michael Collins," "Breakfast on Pluto") and just some highly unusual films ("The Company of Wolves," "In Dreams"). The Irish-born director has come to the Toronto Film Festival with "Ondine," a whimsical fable starring Colin Farrell about a fisherman's unlikely relationship with a woman he believes to be a mermaid. THR's Steven Zeitchik caught up with Jordan ahead of the screening of his new film.

The Hollywood Reporter: You've directed some moody and dramatic movies in your career, but you decided to go lighter this time.

Neil Jordan: (laughs) So you're asking why didn't I make something that was dark and complex? I wanted to make a fantasy without any of the fantasy elements -- a fairy tale that merges with the real world. It's insanely romantic and ludicrously happy, and quite real.

THR: Why did you decide to go more upbeat?

Jordan: I think I just I wanted to cheer myself up. The economy had collapsed, and I felt I needed a little bit of that.

THR: You've also made a lot of movies about your home country. How does this one reflect your native culture?

Jordan: It's something Yeats or Oscar Wilde might have written, but in cinematic form. Every culture has a story about a woman who comes out of the ocean and can live on the land for seven days or seven years. They have children who are seals or something else, and then they have to go back.

THR: Do you think there's a larger lesson to learn then?

Jordan: Ultimately it's trying to tell a story of human survival, a whole series of life coincidences and how does one survive them.

THR: You're also adapting a Neil Gaiman novel, "The Graveyard Book," which takes you in an even more supernatural direction. Did you feel like "Ondine" prepares you for that?

Jordan: It's kind of the same direction. Neil has taken "The Jungle Book," taken that structure and added a community of ghosts and fairy tale. I think with Hollywood films now the challenge is to find something really original, and with "Graveyard Book" Neil has come up with something truly original. It reminds me a little of "Interview With the Vampire."

THR: You mention Hollywood. You've had a complicated relationship with the studio system, making movies both within and outside it. What do you think of what Hollywood is taking on these days?

Jordan: Is Hollywood taking on anything these days? What did the New York Times just write? Auteur is French for unemployed? Seriously, though, filmmaking is changing in ways I don't think anyone's in control of or understands, and then there's the credit crunch and the global recession on top of that. And I think audience tastes are changing too

THR: What are the implications, then, for storytelling?

Jordan: I think the more money you spend, the less opportunity you have to be original. When you spend 200 million dollars, it's tough to get material that unfolds naturally because you have to worry about all the quadrants you have to reach.

THR: But there's an upside too, no?

Jordan: It's changing in ways that are exciting too. The real problem is distribution structure. The movies that brought me to Hollywood like "The Crying Game" are harder to get made. If you were taking 'Crying Game' out now almost none of the companies that might buy it would be left. I don't know where they've gone all of a sudden. But I (and my colleagues) must continue to make films. We have to. We have no other skills.
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