Neil Jordan Bites the Big One
Is there any way to satisfy audiences who've been waiting years for the movie version of Anne Rice's novel Interview With the Vampire? Writer-director Neil Jordan thinks so, and he has some surprises in store--like his notion that the vampires are just another "dysfunctional family."
Neil Jordan is in pain. I think it's his neck. The Irish filmmaker pulls himself wearily from the couch and tries to get the kinks out, but it's a lost cause. After a year and a half of work on Interview With the Vampire, Jordan looks in need of a full body rubdown and a couple of weeks on some island--like, maybe, Ireland. Can you blame him? The director of small independent films like Mona Lisa and The Crying Game, Jordan is now playing in a very different league. Interview, based on Anne Rice's morbidly hip modern gothic novel, is a $50 million Warner Bros. production starring Tom Cruise, one of the most eagerly awaited and controversial films of the year--a fact not lost on the filmmaker. "It's all work over here, isn't it?" he sighs, padding across the carpet barefoot to find his smokes. If directing Interview has thrust this quiet movelist-turned-moviemaker deep into the machinery of the high-stakes Hollywood game, he's there by choice. Despite his low-key demeanor, Jordan is an ambitious savvy guy who knows very well the benefits a European filmmaker might gain by succeeding here.
Sure, a betting man might not might have picked Jordan for the job after looking at the stats, which say Jordan's two previous films for Hollywood studios-- We're No Angels and High Spirits--were both bombs. But Interview co-executive producer and major player David Geffen presumably saw more than just the numbers when he offered the job to Jordan, who, it turns out, not only knows all about the game, but has some definite ideas about how to play to win.
Having spent the last several days in Los Angeles screening the results for Geffen, Warners, et al., Jordan admits, "I'm exhausted." It must have been a nerve-racking week for him, I suggest sympathetically, but he's suddenly on guard, as though I've suggested that the film has somehow slipped out of his grasp. "No, not really nerve-racking," he says carefully. "Just tiring. The support we get from the studio is very good, and they obviously love the movie." Though nothing is obvious about this film, given its twisted 17-year path to the screen--during which time everyone from Sting to Cher was said to want the leading role--Jordan's too smart to be anything other than extremely upbeat on the record. He's clearly had enough, thank you, of the bad press that has dogged this film from the beginning of production, most of it centered around author Rice's claim that Tom Cruise was all wrong to play Lestat, the head vampire.
"I mean, people do like to make a fuss, don't they?" Jordan says about the intense media scrutiny. "We made the film, didn't say anything, and the fuss just grew and grew and grew." And how. Jordan and the producers decided to run a closed set--no journalists allowed--but that didn't thwart such cloak-and-dagger antics as TV tabloid video cameras poised on rooftops, seeking out Cruise in vampire drag. Meanwhile, Rice and her readers were screaming for a boycott of a film that hadn't even been shot yet. It's the latest movie to test that old Hollywood saw which goes, "Any publicity is good publicity."
Just how much of all this was a shock to Jordan? "I've never had to confront it before," he replies. "It was quite extraordinary." Though he remarks, "We were a bit removed, working down in New Orleans and then in London and Paris and San Francisco," he concedes that the effects of all the Cruise condemnation did filter through to the star himself. "It wasn't easy for him with all this public stuff. It was hurtful, very hurtful." From the melancholy tone of Jordan's reply, it seems clear that Rice has pushed this man too far. At one time, they were mutual fans. And now? "I haven't spoken to her since all that started," he says. "I don't think [what she did] was appropriate. It's an unkind thing to do, really. You're talking about hard-working people, human beings, aren't you? And it's not fair--you can say things to people's faces but not to the press ... I didn't consciously reject her. I just thought, well, I'll make the movie and [complete] it and see her when it's finished."