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Though not a painter like his grandfather, mother and two sisters, Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan inherited the same artistic sensibilities and opted for a camera instead of a brush to create the visually rich canvasses of his always-complex pictures. After finding some success as the author of moody, turbulent short stories, Jordan was discovered by director John Boorman, who hired the young writer as a creative consultant on "Excalibur" (1981) and later funded his first feature, "Angel" (1982). He transitioned to Hollywood with a couple of misfire comedies - "High Spirits" (1988) and "We're No Angels" (1989) - that sent him packing to Ireland. Back on his home turf, he wrote and directed the lyrical coming-of-age drama "The Miracle" (1991), which found him in his non-comedic comfort zone. Free to indulge his passion for unconventional love stories underpinned by issues of violence and death, Jordan directed "The Crying Game" (1992), which earned him an Academy Award and the fine distinction of creating one of the most notorious plot twists in cinema history. Returning to Hollywood, he directed the more commercially successful "Interview with the Vampire" (1994) before helming a long-held passion...
Though not a painter like his grandfather, mother and two sisters, Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan inherited the same artistic sensibilities and opted for a camera instead of a brush to create the visually rich canvasses of his always-complex pictures. After finding some success as the author of moody, turbulent short stories, Jordan was discovered by director John Boorman, who hired the young writer as a creative consultant on "Excalibur" (1981) and later funded his first feature, "Angel" (1982). He transitioned to Hollywood with a couple of misfire comedies - "High Spirits" (1988) and "We're No Angels" (1989) - that sent him packing to Ireland. Back on his home turf, he wrote and directed the lyrical coming-of-age drama "The Miracle" (1991), which found him in his non-comedic comfort zone. Free to indulge his passion for unconventional love stories underpinned by issues of violence and death, Jordan directed "The Crying Game" (1992), which earned him an Academy Award and the fine distinction of creating one of the most notorious plot twists in cinema history. Returning to Hollywood, he directed the more commercially successful "Interview with the Vampire" (1994) before helming a long-held passion project about the titular divisive Irish hero, "Michael Collins" (1996). Along with such other acclaimed works as "The Butcher Boy" (1997) and "The Good Thief" (2003), Jordan, at his best, delivered provocative films that combined a stylistic freshness with pensive philosophical, social and sexual dimensions.
Born on Feb. 25, 1950 in Sligo, Ireland, Jordan grew up in Clontarf, near Dublin Bay, and was raised by his father, Michael, a teacher, and his mother, Angela, a painter. Forbidden to watch television and only allowed to attend the cinema twice a month, Jordan found solace in literature, though he proved to be a slow learner in school. Following his attendance at a local primary school in Clontarf, he advanced to the private Roman Catholic secondary school, St. Paul's College in Raheny, a northern suburb of Dublin. On the move again, Jordan attended University College at the National University of Ireland in Dublin, where he studied medieval literature and history. He also fell into the orbit of the drama society, but remained largely an outsider. After graduating in 1971, he had difficulty finding a job and was forced to work as a laborer, though he wrote short stories at night. A couple of years later, he joined forces with fellow classmate and future director Jim Sheridan to put on plays in and around Dublin, including "Journal of a Hole" and "Oedipus Rex." Also around this time, Jordan brought in some extra bread playing saxophone and banjo for a band called Eilis.
But through it all, Jordan remained singularly dedicated to his writing. He eventually published his first short-story collection, Night in Tunisia (1976), which led to writing for television and radio, along with his first novel, the decades-spanning drama The Past (1980). Eventually, director John Boorman - who was impressed with Jordan's stories - hired him to be a creative consultant on "Excalibur" (1981). Even more beneficial, Boorman asked him to helm a documentary about the making of the Arthurian drama, which in turn led to financing Jordan's directorial debut, "Angel" (1982), a dark and brooding crime thriller about a saxophone player who becomes a killer himself when tracking down a deaf girl's murderers. "Angel" marked the first of many collaborations with Irish actor Stephen Rea. It also served as Jordan's first brush with controversy, when Boorman decided to fund the film while also serving as the chairman of the Irish Film Board, which provided a portion of the money. Angry critics charged Jordan and Boorman with conflict of interest, even though the latter had decided to resign his chairmanship prior the board's decision to fund the film.
Meanwhile, after a haunting and notably Freudian revamping of Little Red Riding Hood with "The Company of Wolves" (1984), Jordan broke through with "Mona Lisa" (1986), an absorbing tale of obsessive love between a mob flunky (Bob Hoskins) and a high-end prostitute (Cathy Tyson) that transformed the career of the little-known Hoskins and garnered the director his first real international recognition. The film brought Jordan offers to work in Hollywood, and he eventually directed the supernatural comedy, "High Spirits" (1988), a huge flop, that in hindsight, was perhaps better off not being made at all. His experience on the remake of "We're No Angels" (1989), which packaged Robert De Niro and Sean Penn in a script by David Mamet, proved to also be a disappointment, leading to a return to Ireland, where he tackled the difficult subject of mother-son incest in "The Miracle" (1991), based on his award-winning story "Night in Tunisia." Though it received mixed reviews, the film nonetheless reinvigorated Jordan's creativity while also foreshadowing the greatness that was to come.
For his next film, Jordan delivered a clever mixture of politics and sexual intrigue in "The Crying Game" (1992), an independently made political thriller that almost failed to find distribution, but was picked up by Miramax and became a stunning cultural and commercial success. Teaming once again with Rea, Jordan spun the tale of an Irish Republican Army kidnapper (Rea), who captures a British soldier (Forest Whitaker) in order to trade him for one of their own, only to fall for the soldier's girlfriend (Jaye Davidson). Intriguing and full of surprises, "The Crying Game" possessed one of the most talked-about plot twists in the history of film. Finally earning the recognition he deserved, Jordan pulled in an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay after a total of six Oscar nods. Jordan returned to Hollywood triumphant and used his newly acquired clout to land the plum assignment of adapting Anne Rice's tricky bestseller, "Interview with the Vampire" (1994). Once he landed the cast he wanted - Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas and the controversial choice of Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat - Jordan delivered a film thematically consistent with his earlier work: a dank, downbeat tone meshed with sexuality and metaphysical musings. The result garnered mixed if generally favorable reviews and performed well at the box office.
Thanks to his new association with Warner Bros., Jordan was able to realize his most cherished project, which had gestated for more than a decade. The epic story of "Michael Collins" (1996) had frustrated filmmakers for nearly four decades, with individuals from John Ford and John Huston to Robert Redford and Kevin Costner attempting to bring a biopic based on the life of the IRA leader and still-controversial Irish icon to the screen. Full of action and period detail, "Collins" drew comparisons to "The Godfather" (1972), though there were inevitable issues when both English and Irish audiences found fault with its interpretation and condensation of historical facts. Celebrated cinematographer Chris Menges volunteered to lens the movie, providing the rich earth tones and mobile camera work that the director's vision demanded. Meanwhile, Jordan had wanted Liam Neeson for the title role ever since completing the screenplay in 1983, despite the actor's then-low profile. Once the film came to fruition, Neeson justified this undying faith, generating his strongest notices since "Schindler's List" (1993). All told, "Michael Collins" demonstrated impeccable detail to time and place, while becoming one of the highest-grossing movies in Ireland's history.
Jordan next directed "The Butcher Boy" (1997), a dark psychological drama about a disturbed young Irish boy (Eamonn Owens) who begins having visions of the Virgin Mary (Sinead O'Connor) while working as a butcher's assistant, which leads him down the path to murder. Unfortunately, his next film, "In Dreams" (1999), proved a muddled and overblown affair in its story of a woman (Annette Bening) linked through psychic thoughts to a serial killer (Robert Downey, Jr.). That same year saw him tackle the remake of the Graham Greene novel "The End of the Affair" (1999) for Columbia Pictures. A love triangle set in wartime England, it starred Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore and Stephen Rea, and offered Jordan the opportunity to intriguingly examine a romance from two points of view. After directing his own one-act play, "White Horses" (2001), for the Gate Theater in Dublin, Jordan delivered an atmospheric remake of Jean-Pierre Melville's "Bob le Flambeur" (1955) with "The Good Thief" (2003), an engrossing crime drama about a rumpled con and recovering heroin addict (Nick Nolte) striking up an odd relationship with a young prostitute (Nutsa Kukhianidze) while plotting a major heist at a Monte Carlo casino.
Following another literary endeavor in the form of the haunting novel Shade (2004), Jordan revisited the world of the IRA and gender-bending, directing "Breakfast on Pluto" (2005), a wry, charming, but bittersweet tale about a transsexual prostitute (Cillian Murphy) trying to stay true to herself, while old friends return to town on potential dangerous business. He underwhelmed audiences and critics with his next film, "The Brave One" (2007), which depicted a game Jodie Foster as a soon-to-be-married woman who turns vigilante plunging herself into a world of unrelenting violence in order to find the attackers who killed her fiancé (Naveen Andrews). Jordan next helmed "Ondine" (2009), a dark fantasy drama about an Irish fisherman (Colin Farrell) who nets a woman (Alicja Bachleda) he believes is actually a mermaid after good fortune starts coming his way. Not one to stay still for long, Jordan also published the literary thriller Mistaken (2011), an Irish-set tale that led to various awards and accolades in his cherished homeland.
In a rare turn to television, Jordan created and executive produced "The Borgias" (Showtime, 2011-13), a historical drama chronicling the infamous Borgia family, led by the scheming Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons), an ambitious clergyman who bribes his way into the papacy to become Pope Alexander VI. While writing for the show, Jordan also helmed the pilot, which earned him an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series. Although some assumed that Jordan would distance himself from "The Borgias" once the show was up and running, he remained heavily involved with the ongoing intrigue of the series, writing every episode of the first season and much of the second season. He also directed the first two installments of season two, while other trusted and like-minded helmers such as Jon Amiel, Kari Skogland, David Leland and John Maybury helped to carry the series into its third and final season.
Opting to return to both feature films and the realm of the supernatural, Jordan next unveiled "Byzantium" (2012), a gothic period piece focusing on the tumultuous lives of two beautiful vampires (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan). Right around the time of the movie's American release in June 2013, Jordan wrote and directed the last two episodes of "The Borgias," bringing one of his most significant artistic endeavors to an end.
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"Neil is enigmatic. He's not cut out of a mold that we're used to dealing with in the American film business. He's got a lot of layers to him, and the publicity industry here doesn't know how to deal with that." --producer Art Linson, quoted in American Film, January 1990.
Speaking of the restless, antic days of Ireland in the 1960s during which he grew up, Jordan noted in American Film (January 1990): "It was a time a lot of us rebelled from, a generation of rebels. We grew up so much with talk of 'The Troubles' and we finally came to realize that 'The Troubles' was unfinished business, and that it would stay unfinished until people began changing their attitudes. The ideal of much of my parents' generation was that Ireland was a kind of pristine Gaelic culture that would be untouched by the outside world--and the Catholic Church did much to enforce this attitude."
"I'm a literary person, and my technique as a film director is an extension of my technique as a writer. I'm aware that the term 'literary' has a pejorative ring to a lot of critics here--they associate it with something like Merchant-Ivory and 'Masterpiece Theater'. But I'm talking about 20th century literary technique. I can't stand the usual kind of English fiction--you know, 'She was bored with the day's trivialities,' that sort of thing--I decided a long time ago to take the most outrageous chances with narration. I refuse to use devices that would let anyone think they were getting the story too easily--I want to get beneath that level of understanding, stir things up a bit. What's wrong with someone walking around days after they've seen or read something and then realizing, Oh, so THAT'S what that's about? Why does instant gratification in the arts have to be important?" --Jordan quoted in American Film, January 1990.
"The validity of the Scorsese comparison is flatly denied by Jordan, partly out of pride, partly out of respect. But the connection is there. Similar motifs surface in each of their movies. Fetishized women, cheap music, spoiled Catholic imagery. Solitary males reisting the tug of old bonds--the urban neighbourhood in Scorsese, the peasant soil in Jordan.
The Catholic angle is the most direct link; upfront in Scorsese, religious symbolism creeps into Jordan's films like an insinuating presence. The blades of an unseen police helicopter at the end of 'Angel' scouring the littered earth like a pentecostal wind; distant flames peeping through the legs of a King's Cross whore in 'Mona Lisa'." --Steve Beard in Arena magazine, Spring 1991.
"I make no apology [about 'Michael Collins']. 'Yesterday's terrorist is today's statesman.' ... To me the film shows the attempt of one character who was engaged in warfare and who tried to replace warfare with politics, and that is the continuing story of the relationship between Ireland and Britain, definitely. I don't have to justify that." --Jordan quoted in Variety, October 1996.
"Making a film is a strange experience because before the cameras start rolling I've got the entire movie mapped out in my head. The actual shoot is a vast logistical exercise that involves interminable periods of waiting to see what, in a sense, I've already seen. Intellectually it can be draining, but you must stay rigorously focused on your original vision of the film. Making a film involves 2000 voices saying, 'It should be this, it should be that,' and if you listen to them you're screwed." --Jordan to Kristine McKenna in the Los Angeles Times, March 29, 1998.
"I don't want to get on this career path of making bigger and bigger movies, which seems to be the logic of the whole industry. I had a bad [big-studio] experience a while ago with [the 1988 Steve Guttenberg-Daryl Hannah ghost comedy] 'High Spirits'. I shouldn't have gotten involved with it. It became a mess. The [studios] seem to do a lot of these huge event movies with young directors. I think they do that because these movies are not so much directed as made by committee. You've got to make films out of an individual sensibility or there's nothing there." --Jordan quoted in Entertainment Weekly, April 24, 1998.
"The fairy-story elelment that Neil brings to his work, even in such realistic films as 'Mona Lisa' is extraordinary. It allows you to read lots of different symbolism and layers into his films that, I think, aren't really in the work of his contemporaries.
"If you look at his second feature, 'Company of Wolves', it obviously wasn't as technically mature as his recent films. But if you look at the ideas and themes ranging through that movie, they're very much the kind of things that Neil is dealing with in 'Butcher Boy' and 'In Dreams' and even 'Interview With the Vampire': stories within stories, the meeting of legend and myth with fact. I personally feel that Neil is one of the few auteurs from Europe who has been able to make films in Hollywood--and certainly not have them turn into Hollywood films." --producer Stephen Wooley to Bob Strauss of the Boston Globe, January 17, 1999.
Remembering his directorial debut on "Angel/Danny Boy": "It was pure, absolute terror. I had no idea that you had to communicate your private thoughts to the 200 people on the set. I was walking up and down a beach with Chris [Menges, the cinematographer], looking for the precise location to do a shot. We'd walk 200 yards to the left, look around and say, 'No, this isn't good.' Then we'd walk back to where we were before, and I'd say, 'No, this isn't good.' I looked up suddenly and saw this enormous procession of vehicles on the promenade above, and everywhere I was walking, they'd follow ...
"I just shot what I wanted to see, really. And sometimes it was disconcerting for the actors. We would be shooting a dialogue scene with two people, and I'd say, 'I think I want to see a close-up here,' so I'd shoot the close-up of one actor, and not shoot the other one ... I think literally every foot that I shot ended up on screen." --Jordan quoted in Premiere, March 1999.
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