Conor McPherson's Total Eclipse
The award-winning playwright discusses his new film about the supernatural, The Eclipse, starring Ciaran Hinds and Aidan Quinn.
THEATERMANIA: Ghosts come up in so many of your plays and films, such as The Weir and Shining City. Do you believe in them?
CONOR MCPHERSON. I think of ghosts as a manifestation of people's unfinished business, something seen at times of great stress. It's a bit like tuning into a radio signal from some other time if you're open to it. We live in this giant mystery of an infinite universe and we're here for a very short time with the consciousness that we're going to die. To me that's living in a supernatural predicament, so I need ghosts in my stories simply to reflect what I think life feels like. I'm not someone who writes about politics or social issues. I'm always writing about the unknown, it's the most instinctively natural thing for me. I suppose that's my struggle.
TM: The film stars Ciarán Hinds and also features Jim Norton in a cameo, both of whom you have worked with more than once. Is it important to you to work with people you know?
CM: It's just great working with people that you know and that you're friends with, because an underlying trust is there. Before we did The Seafarer on Broadway, Ciarán and I had sort of worked together on an evening of one-act plays at the Dublin Theatre Festival. He was in a Brian Friel play and I had a play of my own there, so we spent some time together even though we weren't actually working together per se. He's not only one of the finest actors working today, but he's also one of the warmest, nicest, most gentle and generous people I know, anyone you ask will say the same. I think that lovely warmth in his personality does shine through in The Eclipse, but it all comes from him as a human being. It's not like me directing him and saying: "OK Ciarán, be nice now."
TM: How exciting was it for you to have your film open at last year's Tribeca Film Festival?
CM: Tribeca was actually our first screening and we didn't know yet if the film was any good. But the audience response was amazing. During the Q & A afterwards, people were talking about their own experiences with bereavement and we realized we'd tapped into something. But you don't think about that when you're in the day to day madness of trying to achieve your film.
CM: Oh, I don't really think like that. Whatever is happening, I just write. So when an idea comes and lodges in my brain, I can't get rid of it until I write it. But it's the demands of that particular story that decide what it's going to be. If it feels like it needs an intimate atmosphere in front of a live audience, then it's going to be a play; if it needs the freedom to have no dialogue -- and you can't do that onstage -- then, it has to be a film. We always say if there's going to be a stillness on stage you have to earn it. But it would be crazy for me to say "I'm moving into films!" The film business is such an unpredictable world, and films cost so much to make. They can take years to put together and they may still not happen at all or not in the way you want. But I'm happy to say The Eclipse is exactly the film I wanted to make.