Magazine article Screen International

Neil Jordan, Byzantium

Magazine article Screen International

Neil Jordan, Byzantium

Article excerpt

Ian Sandwell talks to Neil Jordan about the making of Byzantium, out this week in UK cinemas.

Marking Neil Jordan's return to the vampire genre since 1994's Interview with a Vampire, the appeal of Byzantium to the director might not be what you expect. "The only thing that put me off doing this was that it was about vampires, really," notes Jordan.

Instead, what attracted Jordan to the project was Moira Buffini's script, based on her play A Vampire Story. "[Producer] Stephen Woolley sent me the script and I knew nothing about it," recalls the director. "Normally, I'd look at the script and do another pass at it, but the voice was so distinctive and not necessarily feminine at all, but it's only a woman that could have written it. Her sense of the 18th Century mould of storytelling was so specific that I didn't want to interfere with it."

An atmospheric thriller, Byzantium centres on two mysterious young women, Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), who take refuge in a rundown guesthouse. Eleanor finds herself drawn to outsider Frank (Caleb Landry Jones) and unwittingly tells him her secret: that she was born in 1804 and drinks human blood to stay alive.

Jordan is full of praise for his leading stars. "Gemma's a wonderful actress. She's kind of unique as she'd never done that respectable middle class thing in movies. I don't think she's used enough," explains Jordan. "Saoirse, I've wanted to work with for a long time. She's an amazing presence and an amazing talent. They both wanted to do the film, so that's great."

Yet, the production wasn't without its difficulties, particularly when it came to finance, which meant that Jordan and Woolley had to think on their feet. In order to fulfil a section where Buffini had echoed Polidori (who wrote one of the first vampire stories in English literature), the filmmakers had picked locations in Morocco before the money fell through.

"In that version, one got lost among the ruins of ancient Greek culture and was bitten by this strange snake," recalls Jordan. "I said to Moira, just look into the Irish versions of the same legend because every culture has their own version of the undead, and we began to explore them and she became terribly excited. …

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