When did you first meet Liam Neeson?
I know when I met Liam for the first time. Do you remember that movie, “Excalibur”? I wrote part of that, but I wasn’t credited. I didn’t get credit for it. I was a friend of [director] John Boorman’s at the time, and I did a doc. He had me around the set, and I made a documentary on making the movie. And that was the first time I came across Liam Neeson.
That was basically your film school, right? Great movie, by the way.
It was a great movie, wasn’t it? Yeah, I couldn’t afford to go to film school. I’m Irish. They didn’t make movies in Ireland at the time. I was a writer, John read my work, and he asked me to write a script with him which I did, which he could never get going. It was called “Broken Dreams.” And then John said, “Look, I’m doing this movie called ‘Excalibur.’ Would you go through the script with me?” So we began to go through the last draft of the script with John, and I think it was a 300-page script. I began doing some editing, some writing on it.
And then “Star Wars” came out, and I saw “Star Wars.” I said, “John, John, we can get this all down to an absolutely workable nut.” And he says, “No, I’m off to shoot the movie now.” I was going, “You can’t, you can’t, you can’t! We haven’t finished yet.” But he did.
I think John really wanted me around to bounce ideas off, so he proposed that I make a documentary on the making of the film, which I did. And that’s the only reason I ever learned about filmmaking. I never wanted to make a movie. I showed John that documentary recently. John is now 90, and he’s got movement issues and stuff like that.
So I rented a little cinema in Dublin, and I showed John that documentary, which he’d never actually seen. He was just incredibly moved by it. He was kind of crying. It was a very moving experience, actually.
That is very lovely. I’m going to circle back to “The Company of Wolves.”
That is a beautiful movie. Such a vision. It’s a broad question, but where did that come from? Just the colors in that movie are so lavish.
Oh, that was the weirdest movie. That was the weirdest film you can imagine. I mean, [writer] Angela Carter was somebody I knew. Angela sent me a short version of a little radio play she’d written on a short story, and I read it. She wanted to make a movie of it. It was too short. But she had a book called “The Bloody Chamber,” which is her version of traditional fairy tales turned on their heads with a very savage and neo-feminist kind of spin on everything.
I said to Angela, “Look, if we construct this Russian doll kind of template for a movie…” — within the film, somebody’s telling a story, and within that story, somebody else tells a story, that kind of thing — I said, “Maybe we’ll be able to combine a lot of your other fairy tales in the script or in this thing.” Strange thing to say.
Anyway, I went over and began to work on it, and we came up with a script called “The Company of Wolves,” which is wonderful. The grandmother was a storyteller, and she weaved in and out of all these fairytales and stuff like that. It was an insane script. Stephen Woolley, who wanted to make his first movie as a producer, managed somehow to get the money to make it.
Those werewolf transformations hold up beautifully.
They all had to be done for real. There was no CGI available to us. There was latex and people pulling latex and latex constructions, and a ridiculous amount of people doing the puppetry behind what the camera sees. But I had a wonderful designer, Anton Furst, who went on to win an Oscar for “Batman” with Tim Burton and all that sort of stuff. We built this imaginary forest and this imaginary kind of village in this forest, and we somehow managed to get the money to make the movie, and people let us make this crazy movie.
It’s hard to imagine it would happen these days, but maybe it would. All of the inventive stuff at the moment seems to happen in horror, doesn’t it? Ari Aster, and the really interesting movies that are coming out generally belong to the zone of fantasy and horror these days, don’t they? It’s where directors can let their imaginations go insane, as I did in that film.