TORONTO-The hero of Neil Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto, Patrick aka "Kitten", cheerfully dismisses political and personal dramas as "serious, serious, serious". But Jordan himself is, well, a pretty serious guy, and Pluto is a pretty serious film.
Although it's set in the literally explosive world of Northern Ireland in the 1970s, Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview With the Vampire) says that part of why he wanted to make Breakfast on Pluto, which opens in Vancouver on Friday (December 23), was to explore the angst of a post-9/11 planet. "We've been through these kind of irrational eruptions of violence taking innocent people's lives in Ireland many, many times. And I thought at least I've now got some perspective on these issues. So maybe this movie could be a little metaphor about surviving in times of violence. The only response to violence in my life has been humour."
Sitting on the patio at the Hotel Intercontinental just after the film's North American premiere at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, Jordan explains that despite the androgyny of the lead character, he doesn't see Pluto as the successor to his gender-bending thriller The Crying Game. For him, it's a stylistic spin-off from The Butcher Boy-which was also an adaptation of a Pat McCabe novel.
Jordan met McCabe while making The Butcher Boy and became a friend and fan. "I like his brain. I think he's one of the most interesting writers in Ireland." Jordan says he read Pluto when it came out, optioned it, and had McCabe do a draft screenplay before taking it over himself to address concerns he had about the story. "The book is much more brutal-too brutal, in a way-and the story elements of the novel weren't quite finished," Jordan says. "One of the things that attracted me to this story was actually that it's on the side of the angels. The central character's kind of a secular saint."
In Pluto, the saintly Patrick (Cillian Murphy) is a waif in the true Dickensian sense. The bastard child of a priest (Liam Neeson), abandoned on the doorstep of a family, Patrick quickly realizes he has no interest in even pretending to act masculine and reinvents himself as Kitten. His friends-including a boy with Down Syndrome-are quickly entangled in the Troubles, and Patrick sets off on an odyssey through a seedy and violent world to find the mother he never met but who he knows is the perfect woman.
"I kind of took the book as a starting point for what the film could be and made it much more about how one character transforms a very brutal world into something through a persona that she adopts herself. And that this persona allows her to maintain her innocence, innocence that turns out to be a stronger weapon than all the weapons that are thrown at her. That was my intention, anyway."
Jordan started his career as a novelist himself-and still writes books-but it's film where he feels most at home. "I wrote books, but I always wanted to make movies. I just didn't know any way in which an Irish person could do that, because there was no film tradition whatsoever. In fact, the first movie I made I think was the first feature film made there in 30 years. Angel, it's called."
Part of what inspired Jordan to focus on film was feeling hemmed in by his country's rich literary history. "I was born in Yeats country and grew up in Dublin, which is James Joyce country. So every place I lived in seemed to have been mythologized out of existence by either Yeats or Joyce. So when I actually started making movies and thinking in terms of movies, it was like a blast of fresh air. You know, nobody's ever done this. Nobody's ever pointed a camera at an Irish field. Nobody's ever driven through Dublin with a camera in the front seat of a car. So it was great. I really found something very liberating about it."
He took up directing because after he wrote his first screenplay, he told the producers that if they wanted to make the film they had to hire him to shoot it. "And they went, 'Oh, whoa, what have you directed?' I said, 'Nothing.' And eventually they said, 'Okay,' probably because they wanted to do the script so much."
As for how he started writing, Jordan explains, "I had no alternative really; it was the only thing I could do. It was either do that or become a bum. I am serious, actually. I was seriously unemployable."