“The Eclipse,” opening in theaters Friday, is not your everyday ghost story. Rather than relying on the usual jostles and shocks, a sedate sadness permeates writer/director Conor McPherson’s affecting story of a widower writer (Ciarán Hinds) haunted by apparitions as he begins a tentative new romance with an author named Lena (Iben Hjejle). amNewYork spoke with McPherson, a noted playwright, and Hinds, a veteran actor who has worked with some of the biggest names in the business.
What’s the appeal of framing the idea of a ghost in a more abstract way than normal?
Conor McPherson: The ghosts in the film are deliberately not explained explicitly … In the movie it’s like the apparitions could be a manifestation of what Michael is unable to process, which is causing him great trauma, or it could be coming from the beyond like some kind of premonition. It depends on your personality watching the movie, what you want it to be. What we did want it to be was definitely scary. This is not just kind of an eerie thing or an interesting thing. It’s something that is having a major impact on him emotionally.
What does the real life idea of a ghost, or a haunting, mean to you?
Ciarán Hinds: Ghosts and dreams and nightmares, they all come from some place. Dreams and nightmares and subconscious and things going on there we can’t really fully understand, and sometimes you have a dream that’s so pleasant you’re taken to a beautiful place. You have a smile on your face and you don’t want it to end and the next second there’s this ------- insane ---- coming down through your brain unbidden and it’s just taking you to an awful place, a dark place. The idea of playing with this psychologically, where Michael Farr in the story he’s unbalanced, his equilibrium is gone, he’s not solid on the earth because of his grief, his remorse, that’s not fully played out. So his emotions are already in a heightened state.
What’s significant about the fact that the three main characters, the third being antagonist Nicholas (Aidan Quinn), are all writers?
CM: What’s interesting about the story is there are different levels of writers. You have Michael, who is a very private guy, writing down his stuff and yet would never really have the self-confidence to show it to anybody. Then you have Lena, who makes a living as a writer but claims to Michael that she doesn’t really think her stuff is very good, and she’s not very happy with it and doesn’t like to perform it in public. Then you have Nicholas, played by Aidan Quinn, who’s just an unfettered egotist who success and fame has unleashed him that he doesn’t have to pretend to be anything but exactly what he is. … You have those levels of artist, if you want to put it that way, and how they struggle with their own self-consciousness.
Are there days that each of you in your own artistic lives have felt more like Michael, or Lena, or Nicholas?
CH: I think sometimes through the work we do, that certainly as an actor we’re asked to do, there are some days where you feel very like Michael Farr. Like, “I don’t know if I should really be here,” sometimes. … And then there [are] other times, you’re asked to do roles that come into you, because in everything traces of what you do hangs around you. … When you’re there, because of what they give you to wear, how people look at you, you start to feel in a different place again.
You’ve gone into a different place psychologically and therefore your work comes from a different base level. It changes all the time, for me anyway.
CM: I think that would be the same for me. There are times you just feel, “What am I doing? Why would anybody want to show any interest in it at all?” And at other times too, when you are in moments where it seems like you are on the verge of [being] “successful,” that’s not very comfortable either, because you don’t feel like I’ve maybe achieved what the people think you have in a way. So I think it’s a constant war, a constant battle with self-confidence, all of this stuff. And it can be very, very surreal.