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

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.