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To most New Yorkers, writer Conor McPherson is best known as a playwright His The Seafarer
earned him Tony nominations for best play and best director. McPherson is also however an accomplished filmmaker, having previously written and directed two films that have woefully not been imported to the U.S., Saltwater
(2000) and The Actors
His third film, The Eclipse
, returns to The Seafarer
’s themes of confronting one’s mundane responsibilities through the supernatural. Widower Michael Farr (Ciarán Hinds) meets horror author Lena Morelle (Iben Jhejle) while volunteering at the Cobh Literary Festival. The two form a tentative relationship but connecting with one another is difficult thanks to the return of Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn), famous author and Lena’s ex. Matters become even more complicated when the ghost of Michael’s father begins to haunt him, though he has yet to pass on. (Read Henry Stewart's review here
.) He spoke to the L on the eve of his film's U.S. premiere, at Tribeca.
You co-wrote The Eclipse
with fellow playwright Billy Roche, adapting it from his original source material. What was working with him like and how did you two come together on this project?
Billy had been emailing these short stories the had for this book (Tales From Rainwater Pond
). There was this one story called “Table Manners,” based around a guy volunteering for this literary festival who falls in love with this poet. In the story, he’s married and has kids but as I was working on it with my wife (musician Fionnuala Ni Chiosain, who composed the film’s score), she told me “Women don’t like that kind of stalking, obsessive type if he’s married. So we got to kill his wife.”
As soon as she said that, I thought, “Well, if he’s lost her, then he must be haunted,” which in a way, added an element of the supernatural. So Billy and I worked on the first few drafts of it together and then I finished it.
Having worked with Ciarán recently in The Seafarer
, do you feel that when you adapted his character from Roche’s story that you wrote it with him in mind and if so, how?
I certainly wrote the last four or five drafts with Ciarán in mind. I also knew that I wanted to keep his dialogue very short, not the kind of dialogue you’d have in a play. If I kept it short, it’d allow the acting and themes to breathe. I could probably film Ciarán doing quite a lot without saying anything and it’d still be pretty intense and cinematic.
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You’ve also said previously how you feel directing for the stage and for film are fundamentally different in that you feel the director has more influence over an actor’s performance than the actor himself. How did that affect the way you worked with your actors for this film?
Well, I think when you’re directing a play, you’re kind of like the coach of a sports team. You build up your players’ stamina and develop the game plan. It’s a very athletic exercise because it’s a very exhausting thing. In a way, you’re like a cheerleader and a coach and you’re trying to scare them and direct them and all that. In a film, you’re like a hunter looking for all these little moments and it only has to happen once.
Also, in the theater, I think the audience has to concentrate much harder than they do in film because it’s hard to hear, it's hard to see. You’re really staring hard at this thing and I think concentrating so hard takes the audience into a communal trance. In a film, it’s like a dream that somebody dreams for you. You just sit back and everything you see is exactly what you’re supposed to see. Those are the fundamental differences to me right now. You have to be aware of them as you can’t really apply the rules of one to the other.
Could you talk about what informed the look of the ghost in the film? Was it horror films?
The big influences on the style of it were films like The Exorcist, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey
[SPOILERS) Well, y’know the scene where he’s looking at his wife in bed and she’s changed? [END SPOILERS] They were just such impressive cinematographers, those guys. They were such a big influence on me as picking the right lens is so important. In the past, I’ve shot stuff using long lenses; I’ve always liked long lenses. I saw that Kubrick used these huge wide lenses so I tried that for this film and it really gave the film a great scale and scope. All those were big influences on me and I hope that they’re taken as an homage and not a rip-off.