The world premiere of Irish playwright and director Conor McPherson's new film will take place at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday, April 24.
Based on a short story by his friend and fellow Irish playwright Billy Roche, “The Eclipse” stars Aidan Quinn and Ciaran Hinds.
Although the plot of “The Eclipse” was conceived by Roche, the supernatural elements that give the new film its occasionally eerie atmosphere were introduced by McPherson.
Based in and around an Irish literary festival, the film follows Michael (Hinds), a widowed teacher who works as a volunteer at the festival. To his surprise he finds himself becoming increasingly obsessed with a woman writer participating in it.
Says McPherson, “I introduced a supernatural element into ‘The Eclipse’ because that’s where I felt I would comfortably know where the heart of the film was. In a way it was a mixture of our two writing worlds colliding in a nice way. It’s been a total labor of love.”
To offset sad sack Michael, Quinn plays Nicholas, a successful, full-of-himself American writer who comes to lord it over the Irish festival. Nicholas is the kind of fiction writer whose books are seen in huge airport displays.
“All of his books are made into movies, you know?” says McPherson. “But he feels he’s a fake, he feels he’s a phony, and maybe he’s in a midlife crisis of some sort. He’s married, but he’s fallen in love with a writer called Lena (Iben Hjejle) who writes supernatural stories. He’s inveigled her to come to this festival because they’ve had a little fling in the past and he wants to reignite it.”
Meanwhile, Michael has been seeing ghostly apparitions and is too scared to tell anyone about them.
“He’s seeing things that are very frightening and he’s not sure if he’s going crazy, and he’s too afraid to talk to anyone about it. He’s a widow and he’s bringing up his two kids and he feels maybe he can talk to this writer Lena about it because she writes stories about ghosts. But Nicholas becomes very suspicious of him and the friendship that’s developing between Lena and Michael.”
Says McPherson, “Quinn is playing the kind of role I’ve never see him do before. He’s really comic in it, but it’s always cringe worthy and believable. He’s a total contrast to Ciaran Hinds’ character who’s essentially a sort of broken figure who’s trying to restart his life. We really sort of root for him and we really want him to get out of this dreadful psychological mess that he’s in, that he can’t tell anyone about.”
Quinn recently told IrishCentral how much he enjoyed playing against type. “I got to play a real out and out narcissistic American a**hole, which was great,” he said, laughing. “It’s a scenery-chewing role. I’m a very famous, pompous writer who’s trying to shag everything that moves. Full of my own intellectual brilliance and constantly complaining that nothing in Ireland works right, you know?”
The film’s finished now and McPherson is in London getting it ready for its debut screening on April 24. “We’re at that technical end of making the print now and making it look as beautiful as possible. It’s been completely absorbing, exhausting and enjoyable.”
Asked if he’s given any thoughts to upcoming awards, he is humility itself again.” With a play you can still f*** up on the opening night. But with film, unless the projector breaks down, you have a lot more control over the experience. We’ll see what happens.”
“I know there are lots of writers and directors who avoid first nights completely,” he said.
“There’s some who go to the bar. But I’m always there watching at the back of the theater. At least that way if something goes wrong and the actors are freaking out, I’ll be able to tell them it was fine, the audience didn’t notice a thing.
“You’ve got to be there for your team. You can’t do that if you’ve been stuck in a pub somewhere drinking the whole time.”
McPherson, 38, swears he’ll still have the first night jitters, but he’s immensely proud of the finished film.
“Because of my previous experiences I was not sure if I would ever make another film, to be honest. So I took a long time to decide what one I wanted to do. I decided if I were ever going to it would be something I put my soul into and could absolutely stand over. That’s really where I am now with ‘The Eclipse’,” he says.
“The Eclipse” was a labor of love for all involved, McPherson says. With a paltry €2 million budget, which in film funding is less than nothing, and with its top flight Irish cast and crew participating for very little, it still took McPherson and Roche five years to get from the first draft to the shooting stage.
“The reason it took so long was because first of all we were filming in Ireland, and that’s just not that interesting to the big money people in London and Hollywood,” he says.
“They want to know who’s starring in it, and so if you’re not really part of that commercial world and you don’t want to be it can get tricky. But the great advantage for me, because we were completely under the radar, was that we had total freedom.”
McPherson’s last foray into filmmaking was what he calls “a sort of Hollywood experience.” The 2003 film “The Actors”, starring Michael Caine, “got developed through DreamWorks and then ended up at Miramax, and it took an awful lot of time to get through the people who have to be responsible because they’re paying for it.
“I realized that’s not the way I work best. I’m not great at the big committee meetings. You can very easily get knocked off course.”
The immediacy of playwriting had spoiled McPherson. He had no patience for the nonstop distractions that accompany trying to get a new script financed and filmed.
“Plays are very much a writer’s medium, and if you’re a good writer you can get your play on and it will happen. It’s not such a huge financial big deal trying to get the money to do it,” he says.
“When I first started doing plays we started performing them in rooms over pubs, you know? I always had that very kind of can-do attitude, you know? So what if the Abbey Theatre doesn’t want to do my play, we’ll do my play, you know? That was always the way it was.”
The Irish have a strong track record at Tribeca. Last year Eileen Walsh picked up the Best Actress award for her leading performance in Declan Reck’s “Eden”, while the Oscar nominated short “New Boy”, based on a short story by Roddy Doyle, also picked up an award.