In “Breakfast on Pluto,“ director/screenwriter Neil Jordan revisits themes he’d dealt with previously in his Oscar-winning “The Crying Game”: terrorism and transvestitism.
Speaking with a gentle Irish lilt– and sprinkling his comments frequently with “you know?,” as though seeking assurance you’ve understood his intention—Jordan says he wasn’t sure he wanted to address those issues again.
“It wasn‘t transvestitism as much as terrorism that I wasn‘t sure I wanted to come back to. When you do movies like “The Crying Game” and “Michael Collins,” you’re accused of lots of stuff,” says Jordan. “Not so much in the US, but in Britain, things get distorted and, basically, you’re accused of having bad intentions. I didn’t want that, you know?”
MERIN: How did you become involved with the project?
JORDAN: When Patrick McCabe’s book was published, I bought the rights. I’d worked with Patrick on “Butcher Boy,” and appreciate his imagination. “Breakfast” isn’t as structured as “Butcher Boy,” but I wanted to see where a screenplay would take us. My Dreamworks deal enabled me to pay Patrick to write a script. It had wonderful things, but Dreamworks thought it was insane. I rewrote the script, but began thinking I mightn’t want to do another film involving terrorism. So, I made different film, then wrote a novel. Early on, I attached Cillian Murphy to play Kitten, however, because “Breakfast” is a movie where the central character’s performance is the entire film.
MERIN: How’d you select Cillian, oft associated with sinister roles, to play ultra-femme, sensitive-but-tough and naïve-but-wily Patrick “Kitten” Braden?
JORDAN: Cillian’s screen test was extraordinary. It was the scene in Kitten’s peep show, where the Father (Liam Neeson) visits him. Cillian’s test made me realize there’s far more emotion in the script than I’d imagined. He was determined to play Kitten. While I was doing other projects, he kept after me to make “Breakfast”– before he got too old, he said.
MERIN: Cillian’s gorgeousness as Kitten is fascinating. Was it important that he be able to pass as a woman?
JORDAN: It was more important that he captured the character’s soul. He could even have been as butch-looking as Vin Diesel—because Kitten’s not pretending to be a woman, not trying to fool anyone. He’s just a deeply effeminate man—and there were many during the 1970s, who dressed in glam rock gear. Even footballers and wrestlers. David Bowie built an entire career doing various androgynous persona, including women, didn’t he? That was the period. really. The Village People and Freddie Mercury’s deep identification with gayness came later. Kitten was just a more extreme version of what was around him during the 70s.
MERIN: In “Breakfast,” plot and character pivot on harsh political strife– the troubles and terrorism. Yet these seem incidental to Kitten. Your almost oblique approach to politics frees audiences to contemplate social issues. What issues concerned you?
JORDAN: They’re specific to Ireland. I wanted to be accurate– historically, and to my own memories. Then, when Irish society seemed ready to throw off shackles from the past, this repressive theocracy and a political battle from centuries ago put a blight on people’s development. Kitten grows up in a tiny village that’s deeply Catholic in a deeply hypocritical way. The movie isn’t anti-Catholic, but Kitten grows up in a context where his unwed mother’s pregnancy disgraced her, where the father couldn’t step forward. At age 17, he struggled to survive monstrosities—including strident politics he faced as his best friend identified with the IRA, as it was then. Patrick survived in a world that wouldn’t allow him to be himself by becoming Kitten. In that, he’s not dissimilar from anybody in a harsh, dictatorial society that insists ‘thou shalt be THIS.’ There’re universal journeys people relate to, if they’re shown accurately.
MERIN: They say “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Is there truth to that?
JORDAN: Yes. Kitten would agree, too– then ask “why not use perfume spray?” “Crying Game” looked at what’s beneath the surface of a seemingly monstrous character. “Breakfast” examines how Kitten addresses political violence– issues of life and death. The innocence with which she handles them is perhaps the only correct perspective. In other words, nothing justifies the taking of people’s lives, really. That’s what Kitten says, and what I believe myself.
MERIN: Kitten seems to live through pop songs. Is the soundtrack part of the film’s dialogue?
JORDAN: Yes. I chose songs that fit the story, songs Kitten would have remembered and identified with. Songs evoke memories, don’t they? You remember where you were and what was happening when you heard that song. I do, anyway. I think popular songs are kind of a clearwater pool into which you can put any reflection– you attach your feelings to them.
MERIN: But couldn’t that backfire? Instead of songs pulling people into the film, might they stimulate personal flashbacks?
JORDAN: Yes, if you used “All You Need Is Love” or something as familiar. But we didn’t. We couldn’t afford to, and I wanted songs with half-buried memories– you remember but didn’t really know them, and when you listen, you find them moving and wonder why you hadn’t realized that before.
MERIN: You’ve said you’ve yet to make a film about modern Ireland. What do you mean?
JORDAN: Ireland’s changed. The IRA’ve poured concrete over their arms and decommissioned themselves, which is extraordinary. With one of the world’s fastest growing economies, we’re faced with problems of quick richness. But there’s consciousness that’s grown out of our past poverty and colonial situation– we’re the first European country to commit seven percent of our wealth to third world causes. Ireland’s a bit troubled by success, but the political violence has stopped– apart from the Reverend Ian Paisley.
“Breakfast on Pluto”
Directed by Neil JORDAN and Patrick McCabe
Opens November 18, 2005