Ondine: Interview with writer/director Neil Jordan

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Neil Jordan is the writer-director of "Ondine," starring Colin Farrell, which will be released June 4 by Magnolia.

As 2007 came to a close, Neil Jordan found himself in Los Angeles, a writer/director caught amid the uncertainty of the Hollywood writers strike, preparing a studio film that looked like it would be postponed. Without a foreseeable end to the strike, Jordan decided to head home to Ireland to work on a new screenplay.


“I had this idea for a story of a fisherman who catches a girl in his nets. I wasn’t sure where it would go, but I just decided to write it,” he says. “So the story of Ondine evolved from that first image: a fisherman who finds a body in his nets that seems to be dead but turns out to be alive. There was something in those initial images that suggested both a fairytale and an awful, harsh reality. I just let the ideas go where they would.”


Colin Farrell immediately agreed to play the lead role (the fisherman Syracuse), which proved to be the crucial piece of casting. “We needed a considerable budget,” says Jordan. “So we basically needed Colin to get the film made.”  With Farrell on board, Jordan set out raising finance for Ondine.


Shooting in Castletownbere


Making the movie in Castletownbere was important to Jordan for a number of reasons. For one, he knew the place intimately so that every location in the screenplay existed in real life. “On the recce when people found that scenes matched up with real life locations they were surprised, but it wasn’t a coincidence. I wrote it that way.” The other major factor was the rugged physicality of the Beara peninsula. “I wanted the film to be about the landscape, for it to have a very intimate relationship with landscape,” says Jordan. “Of course it could have been filmed where I come from, in Connemara or in Sligo, but Castletownbere is a real, working fishing town and quite a bit away from the tourist trail. It has its own identity, its own industry and its own internal life.”


Creating a Character with Colin Farrell


When thinking about casting Ondine, Jordan believed that Farrell was perfect for the part of Syracuse. “I don’t think Colin has been truly explored as an actor,” he says. “When I saw Colin in Tigerland, which was the first thing I saw him in, I thought he was absolutely marvelous. He then did a lot of big movies and became a star. It was almost like acting wasn’t demanded of him as it was largely action features he appeared in. It was so refreshing to see him do that film with Martin McDonagh, In Bruges, because you saw somebody returning to his roots.”


“At one point I told Colin his character could have Dublin roots but he wanted to go the whole way and I’m glad that he did,” says Jordan. “It was really brilliant to work with him as an actor because his commitment was extraordinary and beyond acting in a way.”



Stripping Down


For Jordan, Ondine is a personal project and a break from big budget studio productions.“Sometimes circumstances force you to strip down your aesthetic to the bones and reinvent yourself,” he says. “Sometimes large is great, sometimes small is even better. I think that the worst thing you can do is repeat yourself.”