Not to be confused with the upcoming entry into the Twilight saga, The Eclipse is a slow-burning ghost story that opens at E Street this Friday. Set in the picaresque town of Cobh, located on Ireland’s southern coast, The Eclipse is story of Michael Farr (Ciarán Hinds), a widower who haunted by terrifying apparitions. He must cope with otherworldly visitors while he contends with two novelists in town for a literary convention. For writer/director Conor McPherson, the low-key film is also a second collaboration with Hinds – the two previously worked together on the Broadway run of McPherson’s play The Seafarer. McPherson has dealt with the supernatural in his previous work, but The Eclipse is a change of pace for Hinds, who normally portrays powerful characters such as Julius Caesar, Satan, and even Aberforth Dumbledore. The pair sat down to talk to me about their previous collaboration, the movie’s ambiguity, and how to win a drunken brawl.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqTO48onuC8
BYT: You’ve collaborated on theater projects in the past. How does working on a film differ?
CM: When you’re working on a play, you spend weeks in a room with the same people. You know that show Big Brother? It’s like that. You go in every day and try to get deeper into the script, so when it’s time to perform on stage, all that rehearsal makes the actors ready to go. Directing a play is like being a coach – you want to help everyone get to that place without interfering too much. With film, each day is very different. You’re hoping you’ll capture some beautiful moment, so you don’t think about the big picture until the end. So they’ve got very different rhythms. It’s no less intense, but it’s always great when you get on with your cast. There’s no mistrust or suspicion – you can be really open and suggest they try different things.
To what extent did you the movie’s ambiguity with the cast?
CM: Oh, in great detail! Through discussion, we became confident we didn’t have to settle on one thing. Like life, the movie can be open-ended and even a bit messy. Everyone was coming at [the script] from their own lives and personalities, which allowed it to have a sense of openness.
CH: Of course, it’s also the way Conor wrote it. Sometimes we’d shoot rehearsal to time constraints, so we wouldn’t over-think the dialogue and precisely how it should be spoken. Instead, we’d try to create the atmosphere and truth of that circumstance, of that time in the rhythm of the piece.
Ciarán, how did you get involved with the project?
CH: On Broadway, we were working on a play Conor directed called The Seafarer. Towards the end of rehearsals he mentioned a little script he’s working on. He asked me to read it and tell him what I think. I remember looking at it and noticing it’s really short.
CM: Maybe forty pages.
CH: Yeah, it was really thin! I also remember reading scenes and asking myself, “How the hell did he get from here to there?” But because I knew Conor and his plays, I knew he could fill these gaps. There’s so much in Conor’s headspace, psychologically and philosophically, that [these gaps] would fill once we began working together. Meat and vegetables would be put into the soup, if you follow. I agreed up because of the script’s mystery and an element of trust.
Were you surprised when you were asked to play a character worlds away from Mr. Lockhart? [ed. note: Mr. Lockhart is the Devil]
CH: Yeah, I was. Lockhart obviously has issues with the world. He still feels he was wronged when he was kicked out of paradise, you know? He’s had to live with that rejection ever since, so there’s rage in him. It’s there below his polite facade. And then you have Michael Farr, who’s a small-town woodworking teacher. But like everyone, these characters have feelings, needs, a capacity to suffer. It’s all in there, just from different extremes. Michael is definitely a gentler type, but in the end he comes to blows as well. Like Lockhart, he’s also capable of rage.
The fight scene was surprisingly funny.
CM: Fights, in my experience, tend to be very very messy. They’re not really like the way they are in films. People tend to slip and bang their heads in ways they’re not supposed to. We wanted to recreate the weird messiness. So poor Lena (Iben Hjejle) gets hit in the face, and Michael isn’t afraid to fight dirty. He grabs the guy by the balls because he’s thinking, “I’ve got to get out of here! I’ve got to grab him by the nuts!” It’s what he felt he had to do [laughs] even it is kind of funny. Also, the depths of panic in desperation in Aidan Quinn‘s character bring an comic element. He’s so out there, without any logic.
CH: Especially when he says [in a drunk voice], “I’m not drunk.”
CM: Right. Sober people never have to say that.
There’s a supernatural element in The Eclipse and your other work. What about it appeals to you?
CM: I find it really exciting – more exciting than real life, probably. I’m intrigued by the possibility there’s something more to our lives than THIS. But when I ask myself, “Well, what is THIS?” So for me, ghosts represent everything we struggle to understand, what we can’t quite get our heads around. They frighten us, attract us, intrigue us. It seems natural that ghosts should be in stories. For any story I write to make sense, it has to have a supernatural element or else I don’t really get it.
Was there a supernatural element in the story by Billy Riche?
CM: Well, he’s a good friend of mine and a terrific playwright. When he was writing a book of short stories, he would email them to me as he finished. When he sent me [The Eclipse], I called him up and said, “You know, this could be a little film,” and we began working on it. The story had a literary festival and a love triangle, but there was no supernatural element. In the original story, the character Ciarán plays is married with children. It’s the story of man looking to break out from the confines of his family, and the woman who comes to town is a catalyst for that. So when my wife read that screenplay, she said,”In a story, you can get inside a person’s head, but on a film, you’d just watch him longing to break out of his life. He fixates on this woman, and even if it’s real, would we still like him?” She’s the one who suggested I get rid of his wife. As a widower, Michael i’s a far more sympathetic character. After my wife made that suggestion, I saw how the screenplay could move in an entirely different direction.
Was it challenging to play a character who’s so inward and reserved?
CH: Well, recently I’ve had a history of playing characters who aren’t exactly megalomaniacs, but have certain authority about them. The Devil and Julius Caesar are iconic roles, yet they’re still three dimensional. Earlier you were talking with Conor about theater versus film, and how the director is a coach who instructs. Unlike a play where my job is not to share and perform, my job in a movie is to help the camera pick up little things about my character – whether it’s authority or loss.
How important is the Ireland setting to The Eclipse?
CM: We set it [in Ireland] because that’s where we live. It’s what we know, and where we’re the most comfortable. Setting the film in America would feel like a cynical career move. Location is hugely important. When you look at people in a painting, surroundings are as important as the figures themselves. For example, I told my location manager Michael needs to live in a quite a big, old house. If he lived in a nice suburban home, there wouldn’t be as much atmosphere. Because we placed him in a house with big windows and high ceilings, it created the possibility of scary creaking noises. Some audiences complained, “Well, how is it a schoolteacher could have a house like that?” That doesn’t matter to me because it’s his house.
Good point. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me!
CH: No, thank you!
CM: Don’t mention it.
The Eclipse opens at E Street this Friday. Go check it out!