In directing horror Byzantium Neil Jordan finally returns to horror after a long hiatus. Having given us a wicked tale of werewolves in The Company of Wolves and adapted Anne Rice’s best selling epic vampire novel Interview with the Vampire Jordan rewrites all the rules in Byzantium crafting an amazing movie that is both tragic, beautiful, bloody and brutal just as a vampire film should be.
We where lucky enough to talk to him about making Byzantium, working with the all star cast including Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley and Jonny Lee Miller and his return to horror.
Love Horror: How did you get involved with Byzantium?
Neil Jordan: The script was sent to me by Stephen Woolley, who had seen the original production of the play. It immediately reminded me of other films I had done, Company of Wolves and Interview With the Vampire, The Miracle.
Love Horror: The film was adapted from a play by Moira Buffini, in what way did the story change from the original and what are some of the difficulties adapting something from stage to screen?
Neil Jordan: It was strange, because while in the first screenplay, the fact that they were actually vampires was left kind of muted, yet the origin story was presented as real. My main contribution was the bring some of the horror elements to the forefront, and rework the origin story.
Love Horror: Byzantium is shot beautifully and has a real ethereal almost fairy tale quality to it, heightened by the look and the locations. How did you go about filming and realising a story that spans such a vast period of time and how complex was the production?
Neil Jordan: I had a great camera man, Sean Bobbitt. And a great designer, Simon Elliott. We chose the locations very carefully, and had to plan the visual template since there was very little money.
Love Horror: There is a great balance of violent action, haunting horror and tense drama in Byzantium, do you enjoy making horror films and do you think they give you freedoms not found in other formats?
Neil Jordan: The reason I have made so many films in the horror/fantasy genres is because they allow me construct images and environments that are the stuff of dreams and nightmares. They also give one the opportunity to question what is real and what is not.
Love Horror: The cast you have collected together is a real raft of British talent not only with the two leads Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton but in the supporting roles too such as Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller, Daniel Mays and Tom Hollander. How did all these amazing actors become involved in the film?
Neil Jordan: Everyone wanted to be part of this film, for some reason. Gemma had read the script when I read it, Soairse loved the part of Eleanor. Sam, Johnny and Danny, similarly.
Love Horror: The relationship between Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton is so captivating and complicated and full of conflicting emotions. How did you work with them to create the characters and prepare for the roles?
Neil Jordan: I find if you cast a film correctly you have very little to tell the actors. Soairse and Gemma just went for it in their different ways. Saorise played it very internally, and Gemma very physically.
Love Horror: Byzantium really rewrites the rules on vampires giving a refreshing new spin on things much needed now the genre is so over populated. Was it important to you to be different from other vampire movies including your own and did you draw inspiration from anywhere at all?
Neil Jordan: I think you need a reason for a vampire movie to exist after the current glut of them. I imagined this as a feminised version of Interview With the Vampire. I also welcomed to opportunity to re-invent the way one becomes a vampire.
Love Horror: It is such a wonderful idea in the film that Eleanor keeps writing her story and then destroying it, as an artist yourself do you identify with the urge to create purely for creations sake as a cathartic tool or do you feel the need for an audience for your art?
Neil Jordan: I keep writing things and tearing them up. But its more difficult to tear up a macbook than a printed page. I think one should write things from the gut for them to be any good, or to reach any audience.
Love Horror: And finally what do you have lined up next and will you be returning to horror again anytime soon?
Neil Jordan: I’ve quite a few things going. But the most immediate is a ghost story I’ve written, I suppose.
Love Horror: Thank you so much for your time and your answers.
Byzantium is out now on Blu-ray and DVD