Ciarán Hinds on The Eclipse, Ghosts and Being a Director's Actor
As noted here last month when he joined Movieline for a round of My Favorite Scene, Irish actor Ciarán Hinds is known to work frequently. OK, a lot. And this week, the face you know from scores of high-powered indies (including There Will Be Blood and Margot at the Wedding), studio blockbusters (Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Race to Witch Mountain) and a TV watershed here or there (Rome) stars in his first leading role in The Eclipse. Writer-director Conor McPherson's genre-bending tale present Hinds as Michael Farr, a widower dealing with grief, single fatherhood, a clinically depressed father-in-law, a hyper-jealous prick (Aidan Quinn) going after a mutual love interest (Iben Hjejle), and ghosts. Or so Michael thinks -- and so the viewer thinks, thanks to McPherson's exquisite cocktail of atmospherics and jolts and Hinds's vulnerability to phantasmagoria of what may (or may not) be his own making.
In a free-wheeling interview with Movieline, Hinds spoke about how to act in a ghost story, the spookiest legends of Ireland, watching Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis build There Will Be Blood from scratch in eight weeks, and a few spoiler-ish insights about playing a Dumbledore in the next Harry Potter film.
This is a different project for you: You're the lead now, and you're out promoting it. I know you've promoted some of you're previous films, but--
I haven't! I've never traveled to promote anything I've been in. I've only been to about two or three premieres. The way I work, I do bits, and then I'm off to something else, whether it's theater or another project. For this, I'm actually working on something I don't have a huge role in, so I have gaps in between in London. They thought it was important that I come out with Conor to talk about it. It's a small film. This is the first time I've gone whistle-stop, city-to-city. Funny enough, you think, "Oh, that'll be nice. I'll get to see something." You get to see that much. [Pinches his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.] Sometimes you don't realize how tired you are at the end of the day. It's very weird, because we talk and we sit, and then you think, "Where did the time elapse, anyway?"
Got it. Well, maybe I should start, then, by saying I made the mistake of watching this at home, alone, in the dark, before I went to bed. And... it freaked me the hell out.
Did you have a similar impression at all while making it?
It's funny you say that, because watching it at home on a DVD -- I'd wondered about the experience of that. I've only seen it in the cinema. The idea of seeing it on a [big] screen really does hold up because Conor uses landscape a lot. He doesn't use that many close-ups, where in television they use a lot. You don't see their whole bodies. But he creates an atmosphere of people's bodies and how they relate. And then the audience, when they get jolted up or find something funny, that shared experience is quite nice. But it's good to know that watching it at home it's still scary.
Oh my God. "Who's that coming down the stairs? Are they going to knock on my door? Is it actually someone? I don't even know!"
Yeah. I think it's because Conor is such a fine writer; he's talking about serious issues that concern him. Time, space, things we don't know. The idea of visitation from a thing, or our emotional history, guilt and grief. There's a whole mixture of stuff. I think he uses the imagery quite sparingly. It's not relentless. But even from the beginning, there's something like, "What's that at night?" It's strange, completely. Also, to suggest that the main character is slightly unbalanced since he lost his wife, and that kind of grief is bottled up? Everything's just... off. You hear things. You're a bit more sensitive because of your emotional recall. Your emotions are heightened. You hear things that you wouldn't, normally. Suddenly, you're in a slightly different position, becoming more attentive, more alert. Even things that like the sounds of pipes in the house. You're like, "What's out there?"
How did that impact you when you were making the film? Did you take that head space home with you?
Uh... no. I think it's important not to. You'll wear yourself out for when the work needs to be ready. Grief is exhausting. When you learn -- maybe through my age or experience -- trying to harness the energy, whatever it is, muted energy or a concentration to find yourself in a place? You try to use it for when it's really necessary and can arrive. Having to work with Conor in theater and now on film, the idea is that the camera will find that grief -- that truth. It's not about presenting it or going out and sharing it. It's about letting it be there honestly as much as you can. The camera will pick it up. With Conor, there wasn't a lot of direction and stuff. He said, "I hired you because I think you have something in you, and when you look into yourself, you'll be able to find something to go on this journey. If I need something at certain times, I'll suggest them or talk about them."
Another interesting thing about this film is how it genre-hops from love-triangle potboiler to a drama about grief--
And then it's a ghost story!
Right? What did you make of that when you read it the first time?
When Conor first presented the script to me, it was quite thin. Obviously it was in development, and it was quite crazy: "How did we get to there?" But knowing Conor and his writing, there are bits that may not necessarily be there now, but are cooking in the head and will be addressed. We will work them out together. I didn't have any bother trusting that it would be a journey well worth going on, wherever it led to. In the end we're both quietly thrilled it has a life. You make a small film, and there's backing from three Irish companies. One of them is Irish TV, so you know that they'll show it. But the fact that it goes to a festival and now has this life? Going into the cinema? When you see it on the screen, you say, "That's what we made it for."
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