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The Eclipse is a small, brooding Irish film that defies genre. Adapted from a short story by writer Billy Roche, it is, as director and screenwriter Conor McPherson says, "a love story, it's a ghost story, it's scary but it's moving, it's funny." Ciarán Hinds, the award-winning Irish actor of the stage and screen, stars as Michael Farr, a mourning widower with two small children and pipe dreams of being a writer. He helps organize and volunteers at a yearly literature festival in the small town of Cobh, and while he helps out a visiting author, Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), he thinks he's found someone who might understand just what he's been going through. Morelle writes about the supernatural, and unfortunately, Farr has been experiencing a bit of that in his life, or so he suspects. She, however, is involved with another visiting author, Nicholas Holden, played by Aidan Quinn, and he's not about to give her up.
McPherson and Hinds talked to TribecaFilm.com about this Irish arthouse gem, which won Hinds the Best Actor award (sponsored by Delta Air Line) at last year's Tribeca Film Festival. Read on for more about McPherson's interest in the supernatural, the film's interweaving of genres, and Hinds' technophobia.
Conor McPherson: We met about 10 or 11 years ago, actually. There was an evening of one-act plays in Dublin that we were both involved with during the Dublin Theater Festival that year. Ciarán was in a play written by Brian Friel, and I had written a little play as well. There were three plays in one evening, [and] although we were meeting at the theater every night and stuff like that, we weren't actually working on the same thing, but we saw each other's work. I saw Ciarán's play maybe about 10 times; I loved it... I knew at that time that... Ciarán's a great actor I'd love to work with. The opportunity presented itself a while later to work on The Seafarer.
TribecaFilm: Shining City and The Seafarer [two of McPherson's Broadway plays] and The Eclipse all have this kind of spooky, supernatural element to them. What attracts you to that element, that genre?
CM: I've always been really interested in it. Ever since I was a kid, I was always interested in ghost stories. I always found them very exciting. And as I grew up, I was interested in it sort of philosophically because in stories, I think supernatural elements really help to pitch the characters against the unknown, which is what I suppose a lot of life is... We're living in the mystery, trying to make our way as best we can. And for me, framing stories with supernatural elements really makes the drama quite deep somehow, takes it to a place [where] you don't know where it's going to go. So I just love all that; it's very intriguing to me. It's great fun, and audiences like ghosts and things like that too. It's something that I've found there's often [a] real hunger for.
TribecaFilm.com: Do you think it's an Irish tradition?
Ciarán Hinds: Sort of, yeah. There's a lot of the history, the mythology of Ireland, with banshees and Druids and—
CH: Fairies. And people still outside Cushendall down in the Country Antrim [believe there] is the fairy hill... I think it's called Tieveragh. That's the hill of the fairies. People are still talking about it. But also then because of that history of legends, of places and stuff, you would approach it with a little bit of the possibility that things might go on in the dark. Your imagination is a powerful instrument.
TribecaFilm.com: Ciarán, do you want to talk about the story, and how you got involved and about your character?
CH: Conor passed me the screenplay, one of the drafts, when we were rehearsing The Seafarer, just to have a look at, to see if it tickled my fancy, I suppose, or did I feel anything for it, which I did, but I was confused because it's quite a mysterious little piece. [It's not clear] when you look at it how you get from A to B to wherever the journey takes us, but I knew somewhere in that that Conor, because he's such a thoughtful and thought-provoking person, would be questioning all this while he prepared on it and then when we worked on it... It's funny, about these ideas of what you choose to do and what you're asked to do, because I suppose a lot of people [would think], "Michael Farr, oh, he's a loser. He's just a loser. He's a small-town teacher. He's not great; he hasn't done anything really exciting with his life."
But I think the humanity that Conor wrote into him and that awful sense that we all have sometimes of dread and how we bottle it up and pretend things are all right but inside sometimes we're dying, and also the idea of huge emotional responses to terrible, terrible things that happen to us, mostly losing the ones closest, nearest and dearest to us, the big human issues and how try to present that honestly inside the structure of the story... That's really what [attracted me]—to make an attempt and try to discover that. So it was important that I try and offer something up in that dimension, because when Conor introduces all that other stuff that's around us, the supernatural, the imaginative play of space out there... it was important somehow that people in the audience could believe these people, that they were real [people] trying to deal with stuff. It wasn't melodramatic... It was people connecting. So it was a great adventure to go on; what the result of it is, we don't know... But I have to say I like it.
CM: Plays depend so heavily on dialogue; that's their heartbeat. Cinema depends on pictures, really, so that's the huge big difference. I think a lot of playwrights that you see make films, they're pretty dialogue-heavy, and I have done that in the past myself, and there's nothing wrong with that—a lot of great movies are like that—but I think with this one, I really wanted to try and to just really play to what's unique about cinema and how to tell a story purely cinematically.
The sense of time that's in a film is very different [than] the sense of time that's on stage. On stage, it seems very compressed, somehow; cinema does something different with time. It can slow time down, speed it up... Before I made this film, I hadn't been involved in any movies for about seven years and I just took that time just to really contemplate all that while I was working on a lot of theater stuff, but really just always in the back of my mind thinking, "Next time I make a film, I'm really gonna make a film which is pure cinema."
So with this one, I think on many levels it tries to do that, in terms of the preparation that went into the cinematography and the design and the music, and... playing with the melding of cinema genres. It's a love story, it's a ghost story, it's scary but it's moving, it's funny. To try and make all of the language[s] of cinema talk to each other in a way that maybe comes up with something that's new and fresh as well, so there was no lack of ambition of what I was trying to do.
We had very meager resources, but I think one of the strengths of that is that you know everybody who's working on it is there because they're really interested. It's not because anyone there [is] going, "Oh great, where's my check?" Everybody was giving it 200%. I think you can see that in a lot of the scenes in the movie and especially in a scene like where they fight and stuff like that. Everybody's just totally committed.
CH: I know, and it came as a surprise to me, winning the Best Actor at Tribeca... Conor was here still because he was promoting the film at what, three or four screenings during the Festival, and I came to the first one because I was in the theater in London and I was on a four-day break [for] the play I was in, and it was great to see it then and dash back to work, and then I got this very strange and rather welcome news.
TribecaFilm.com: That was the first time, I think, that we ever had a Skype award acceptance. That was very funny.
CH: I'm a technophobe. Robert Walpole, the producer who's worked with Conor before, got in touch with him and said, "Does Ciarán have a computer?" And Conor said, "Yeah, but he doesn't really know how to use it." But I was in a hotel room somewhere and then they set this up. But I still don't know what happened.
TribecaFilm.com: I can remember seeing your face on screen. It was funny.
CM: It was weird. Suddenly Ciarán Hinds was there [on the screen].
TribecaFilm.com: Conor, you were there at the ceremony, right?
CH: Well, he was picking up the award.
CM: Yeah, no one told me they were going to do [the Skype acceptance speech] because it was supposed to be a "surprise" but it was just really weird... But it was great. It was a real honor. We were absolutely chuffed.
TribecaFilm.com: Did Tribeca help launch the film, do you feel?
CM: Completely, completely. I mean, the thing is when you make an independent film, first of all, it's like, are we going to get it made? And then you make it and it's like, oh God, is anybody going to see it? [laughs] And you sort of go, oh, well, we [will try to] get it into a festival, and then you get into a good festival like Tribeca, you're like, oh wow, some people will see it.
And then when you're there—while we were here, Magnolia Pictures picked up our film for US distribution and... it was great, and everybody was very excited about it, so in a sense, there's so many hurdles you can fall at, fall flat on your face, but at the moment we're still managing to keep going... Every one of those hurdles, it just means that a few more people will see your movie. That's very gratifying. At the moment we're in as good a situation you can be with an independent movie.
The Eclipse opens March 26 in limited release. Watch the trailer here. Visit the official website for more information. You can also read a Q&A with McPherson and Hinds from a recent screening at Tribeca Cinemas here.