Cirque Experience: We meet Irish novelist Neil Jordan

One of Ireland’s most successful authors and filmmakers, Neil Jordan discusses his superb new novel Carnivalesque, his upcoming TV series Riviera, and the 25th anniversary of his classic film The Crying Game.

“I always wanted to write a totally fantastical story set in Ireland but I didn’t know what it was – it’s the kind of thing I’ve done in movies rather than in fiction, like in The Company Of Wolves,” muses Neil Jordan.

The author is seated with Hot Press discussing his career and latest literary effort Carnivalesque. The book tells the story of a young boy, Andy, who on visiting a hall of mirrors in a circus gets trapped within, leaving a reflected imposter to assume his identity. He is later rescued by the carnival folk, who adopt him as one of their own.

These parallel identities echo Kevin and his mysterious double Gerald in Jordan’s earlier work Mistaken. What brought him back to this?

“I suppose I’m fascinated by the idea of the changeling,” he notes. “I began reading a lot of myths and so on and I thought, ‘, I’m just going to see how many scraps of legends I can feed into this’, and they just accumulated really.”

Jordan bestows his carnie characters with many magical traits, an inability to grow old being one. Is mortality something with which he’s preoccupied?

“No, not really,” he says. “I have made two vampire movies so… would it be hell to be forever young? Would it be hell to be outside time? Would

it be heaven to be outside time?”

What do you think?

“I think it would be a kind of heaven actually!”

Best-known as a scriptwriter, Jordan had a book of short stories under his belt before his first screen project, 1982’s Angel. Which of the two disciplines does he prefer?

“Writing scripts is much easier,” he asserts. “Writing a novel is a long, long slog and it’s very isolating. Writing is not only hard work – it is sometimes baffling work. When you start something you don’t know what it is, you’re waiting for the story to tell you what it wants to be. In this case, I started with a kid walking in to a hall of mirrors in a circus. I had no idea there would be a family, I had no idea there would be an exploration of the mother in the family... you kind of ask the material to tell you things.”

Jordan’s preferred writing mode has certainly brought him the most success, most notably The Crying Game, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Indeed, he has just returned from a special screening in London.

“I never watch the movies I make and I had to watch it in London – suddenly I feel the need to make a film again!” smiles Neil. “It was really interesting how well it was received. There was an audience of about 600 people in the National Film Theatre and it seemed very fresh and contemporary. Though people have become so aware of gender issues now. It was immediately obvious to me when we first encounter Jaye Davidson that this is someone happily being a transvestite. Even if you know that it gives an added dimension to the story I think.”

This year also marks 35 years since the release of Angel. How has the industry evolved since then?

“I don’t know... I think it’s about to change back again, I have a feeling” he ponders. “For the past ten years, it has been very hard making movies because of the internet and file-sharing and the explosion of Netflix etc. But I think it’s beginning to get more interesting. I don’t know why I think that… probably because I want to make a movie again in September!”

Another more imminent project for Neil is the Sky Atlantic series Riviera, which screens in May.

“Paul McGuinness just wanted to make a movie called Riviera in the Riviera, and that was the beginning and end of the idea,” he explains. “He had asked some people to sketch out little treatments and one of them was something to do with rock and roll or buskers. I said if I think this will be an interesting story, I will get involved, so I came up with a story which is the basis of the series.

“It’s about huge wealth, nothing like originally intended. I came up with a story about these massive fortunes built on criminality. It’s a story about an enormously wealthy family centred around the second wife of a Greek financier who is blown up on a yacht. She gradually finds out that this world of villas, the Cote D’Azur, penthouses and private jets is built on money laundering. It’s about the reality that behind every huge fortune there can a horrible amount of criminality.”

Jordan worked with John Banville on the script.

“I wrote the first two scripts with John,” he says. “John is great, I’ve worked with him many times before, we’ve known each other for years. I didn’t direct this because they wanted to go in a snazzy televisiony direction, so I wrote the story and originated the characters, but I didn’t direct it.”

And is there a new novel in the offing?

“I really want to make a few movies,” declares Jordan. “I have done a version of The Drowned Detective (his last novel), which I think I will make if I can get the financing. It will be set in Eastern Europe.” Any actors in mind?

“Someone good. A star!”

Due to the nature of his work, the author and filmmaker spends a large portion of his year overseas. In the current climate, how does he feel about his country of birth?

“It’s getting very distressing living here,” suggests Jordan. “All these buried bodies. Can I get out of here please?! I live half here and half abroad. Mainly when I move away it is on a movie project. I spent five years in Budapest doing The Borgias, and I spent a lot of time in Los Angeles making various movies in the ’80s. The movie I’m hoping to make is in New York.”

Given the precarious nature of movie funding, he declines the offer to expound on his next venture. But are there any particular actors with whom he would like to work?

“I’d love to do another movie with Jodie Foster,” replies Jordan. “I’d like to do other movies with people I’ve worked with before actually. I’d like to work with Brad Pitt again. Stephen (Rea – frequent collaborator) says we have to do one more before we find it impossible!”

Carnivalesque is out now, published by Bloomsbury Circus.

 

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