An interview with Neil Jordan -- We talk with the man behind ''The Butcher Boy''

By Dave Karger
Updated April 24, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • Movie

Scenes of defecation and dismemberment. Sinead O’Connor as a foul-mouthed Virgin Mary. A psychotic 12-year-old boy named Francie. And oh, yeah, we’re talking about a comedy. Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy — based on Patrick McCabe’s 1992 novel about a freckle-faced lad driven to murder — is already eliciting love-it-or-walk-out-of-it responses. But for the 48-year-old Irish writer-director of Mona Lisa, The Crying Game, and Michael Collins, it’s just that killer instinct at work.

EW: After seeing this movie, are people going to think you’re insane?

NEIL JORDAN: Maybe. I showed the script to some people in Hollywood, and a lot of them said, ”Why are you doing this?”

EW: Is it true that you didn’t initially want to direct The Butcher Boy?

JORDAN: I wasn’t sure. I read the book and thought there’d be a great movie in it. But I was very busy. So I hired Pat McCabe to write a draft, and he kind of avoided the book. So I began to write the script myself. And that’s when I heard the voice of the kid, you know? And then I was hooked, so I decided to direct it. What was good was that Francie always imagined himself as a B-movie or comic-strip hero, so [the book itself] is cinematic.

EW: The film contains a lot of controversial Catholic imagery. Are you religious?

JORDAN: I was brought up by priests — who tried to get me to sit on their knee, of course. I was told that the sky was full of these figures that look down on you and watch your every move. I was taught they spoke to you. I was an altar boy. But no, I’m not a practicing Catholic. It kind of all went away without any particular trauma.

EW: How did you arrive at Sinead O’Connor for the Virgin Mary?

JORDAN: People were saying that because I cast Sinead as the Virgin Mary I was being irreverent, which I wasn’t. She’s just appropriate. She looks like those statues, she’s got that bone structure, that beautiful simplicity.

EW: Were you concerned about the public outrage over her destruction of the Pope’s picture on Saturday Night Live in 1992?

JORDAN: I was, a little bit. That was a cheap shot, wasn’t it? But…I can’t change history. I suppose only somebody who’s obsessed with issues of spirituality would do something like that.

EW: You seem to walk the line between commercial and art-house films.

JORDAN: I don’t want to get on this career path of making bigger and bigger and bigger movies, which seems to be the logic of the whole industry. I had a bad [big-studio] experience a while ago with [the 1988 Steve Guttenberg-Daryl Hannah ghost comedy] High Spirits. I shouldn’t have gotten involved with it. It became a mess. The [studios] seem to do a lot of these huge event movies with young directors. I think they do that because these movies are not so much directed as made by committee. You’ve got to make films out of an individual sensibility or there’s nothing there.

The Butcher Boy

  • Movie
  • R