Confronting deep themes like spirituality and betrayal

Interview / Neil Jordan

Irish film director Neil Jordan has had to defend his personal vision against conventional Hollywood wisdom for much of his career. His latest effort, "The End of the Affair," based on a Graham Greene novel, is no exception.

"They wanted me to cast some young hot stars," Jordan recalls with a shake of his head. "But that would have utterly changed what the film is about."

British actor Ralph Fiennes stars as a tortured intellectual, Maurice Bendrix, who has a wartime affair with the wife of a civil servant, played by Oscar nominee Julianne Moore. Jordan ("The Crying Game" and "Michael Collins") is well known for dealing with mature themes such as faith and betrayal, and duty versus passion.

"Young actors," Jordan says, "couldn't have handled those sorts of emotions."

What interests him are the conflicts that these mature adults must navigate.

"The basic thrust of the book is to confront all the characters with a fact beyond their comprehension," says Jordan - namely the presence of spirituality in everyday life. "Those are the stories I'm drawn to, the ones that have inexplicable forces at work in people's lives." After all, he says, "We don't really know the big answer, do we?"

Beyond that, Jordan maintains, "We live in a post-religious world where definitions of spirituality are nonspecific," he says, adding that interest in spirituality is at an all-time high, just not the sort affiliated with religious denominations. "All those labels aren't so necessary anymore."

How to stay true to himself while dealing with greater commercial opportunity is an ongoing struggle in Jordan's career. What was essentially an art-house film, "The Crying Game" (1992), rocketed him to international fame, winning him an Oscar for his screenplay.

The New York Daily News dubbed Jordan "one of the world's most brilliant and bravely unconventional directors," while The New York Times hailed him as "one of a kind."

A rueful smile lurks on his lips as he recalls the stumbles he took in the wake of that film. Suddenly, Hollywood came calling with big budgets and stars and his next two films, "Michael Collins" and "Interview With the Vampire," were disappointments both critically and at the box office. But he has not given up on reaching a wide audience. He simply does it with what he calls his eyes wide open and a firm belief in his personal vision.

Jordan began his career in Dublin working with a number of colleagues who've since moved on to Hollywood, such as actors Liam Neeson and Patrick Bergin. But he steadfastly maintains his home base in Ireland. "You can't lose touch with what moves you," he says.

"I don't live here because Hollywood isn't a place, it's simply an economy," he says. In a creative sense, "Hollywood has won, because they've been given the globe. They're sort of like [ancient] Rome."

The financial conglomerate that runs the entertainment industry "has no conscience," Jordan says. But "the great thing about it is they're not tied to a government."

Jordan wonders if the recent accord in Northern Ireland bringing a historic peace between nationalists and unionists will affect that deep well of sadness in the Irish psyche, which he says has provided a stimulus for artists. Perhaps answering his own question, he adds, "There are many ways to be Irish."

The breakthrough moves him because it mirrors his desire to show people in all their complexities, laying judgments about them aside. "The two sides have agreed to see each other's point of view," he says. "That's a first in history."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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