Conor McPherson’s Eclipse is part love story and part ghost story, about a widower named Michael Farr (Ciarán Hinds) who isn’t sure if he’s having terrifying nightmares or if his house is actually haunted. Thanks to a literary festival taking place in his hometown, he has the chance to consult with Lena Morelle, a supernatural-fiction writer (Iben Hjejle, High Fidelity), to whom he’s immediately drawn. Hinds explains the subtle emotions behind his character’s visitations.
Q: The idea for this film came together while you were working with Conor McPherson on Broadway, in The Seafarer.
A: Conor’s work often has a supernatural, otherworldly element to it, and his friend Billy Roche had written this short story called “Table Manners” — and, as usual, I can’t figure out for the life of me why it has that title. But Billy asked Conor what he thought, and Conor was taken by the story — how this character Michael Farr thinks he can escape his small-town mentality when he comes across this writer who he becomes obsessed with. But Conor’s wife, Finola, said it was hard for the audience to identify with Michael. And she was right, because you get into his head in the prose, but, with film, you need some sort of feeling.
Q: And so he became a widower.
A: And then the journey is sort of punctured by grief. He’s trying to bottle it up — he’s got kids, he’s got a job — but he’s blocked. It’s not as sharp as it would be normally, but grief is running all around. And added to that is the guilt from his father-in-law, which is very subtle, and how he says, pointedly, “Don’t ever let them put you in a home,” as if Michael had put him there, but he hasn’t. It’s as if he’s saying about his daughter, Michael’s late wife, “There’s nothing worse than losing a child, and you should have saved her.” So there’s this sort of bile and rage that’s coming from somewhere.
Q: Do you think Michael’s visitations are truly supernatural or more manifestations of his guilt and grief?
A: Either way, the whole thing is so strong, and we can see it’s like a panic attack, these things that hit you sometimes. You’re overcome by emotion and you wonder, “Where the hell did that come from?” Sometimes it’s out of our control. But when the moments of supernatural arrive, you know it’s not about shock value but more about the possibilities of things beyond our ken. That’s why he’s attracted to Lena at first, because it starts with, “I’ve read what you’ve written, and they make a funny kind of sense to me, and I want to know if you can explain this.” He broaches the question about ghosts, and then it becomes more of an idea that he’d like to spend more time in her company. I think it begins genuinely.
Q: It seems less stalkerlike that way.
A: He’d be a very different person if he weren’t grieving the loss of his wife; he wouldn’t have been likable. I’ve worked a lot with Noah Baumbach, and he doesn’t make it easy to like his characters, but the stories are funny and witty and there’s an edge to that kind of humanity. Todd Solondz doesn’t make it easy to like his characters, either. These are people with problems, but they are people.
Q: Even the pedophile that Dylan Baker played in Happiness, whom you revisit as a character in Life During Wartime?
A: Somehow, it’s part of humanity, the sprawl that we all are. Life During Wartime, it’s ten years later, and all the characters are theoretically the same people, but they’re played by different actors, in a different mind-set. We’re not doing impersonations of what they were. That would be futile. And Todd wanted it to stand on its own. There’s a kind of fated desperation, with Allison Janney as Trish, trying to have a chance with this man, and Shirley Henderson as Joy, forever doomed to float through Earth looking for some kind of love.
Q: Speaking of Moaning Myrtle, you got to become Aberforth Dumbledore for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. What was that like?
A: When they told me I would be playing this grumpy old guy who runs the pub and there’s goats, I was like, “Where are we going with this?” There’s really only one scene, where Harry, Ron, Hermione — of course they know Dumbledore’s gone, but something breaks, a shard of mirror, and they see in that that it’s not quite Dumbledore, it’s his brother. And he comes in and there’s a lot of exposition about his childhood. “Whatever you think about my brother, there are things that were not all good.” And it’s just that moment. They shoot out of order because it’s all based on people’s availability. It takes fourteen months to film the whole lot, with all those people. So I don’t know where that moment comes in as far as the whole story goes. I hope they get to the fights right after!