The film Byzantium — in which I was lucky enough to be cast — was directed by master storyteller Neil Jordan and stars Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton among others. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Blood-Sucking Red Riding Hood
In this first clip from Neil Jordan’s Byzantium, I’m the guy in the flannel shirt who, as usual for me, has no clue about what’s really going on, in this case with Saoirse Ronan and her little blood-red riding hood.
And here’s the trailer:
Vampires vs. Tricky Dick
Byzantium features vampires. For those of you keeping score at home, I’ve now had two gigs in vampire films in the past year (the other being Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows). By itself that’s fairly unremarkable given that vampires keep trending. But what’s up with me being cast in two shows featuring Richard Nixon (namely Nixon’s the One and a Doctor Who episode)? Well, for me anyway, vampires and Nixon are trending equally. Will there be a convergence of the two on my horizon, a politico-horror thriller called Dracula vs. Tricky Dick? Cast me, I’ve got experience! And speaking of Byzantium, the Nixon White House must stand as one of the most byzantine administrations in history. The horror, the horror…
Flying to Byzantium
To shoot my bits for Byzantium, I flew to Ireland, which seemed fitting since I primarily associate “Byzantium” with the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. This association is more than a passing one I think. After rereading Yeats’ Byzantium poems with vampires on my brain, I can see that vampires and Yeats share a focus on immortality. Obvious? Sure. But interestingly they share a very similar concept of immortality. It’s not the immortality of artists who long for their works to live on. It’s an immortality of corporeality. Think I’m reaching? Check out the second stanza of Yeats’ “Byzantium” and tell me his “superhuman” isn’t a vampire.
Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades’ bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.
“Do you like being food for the immortals? Do you like dying?”
…says Louis (aka Brad Pitt) in Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles directed by Neil Jordan.
Yeats clearly doesn’t want to die, and is, I think, looking for some kind of supernatural, vampire-like salvation. In “Sailing to Byzantium,” Yeats pleads for a personal transfiguration:
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
No, I don’t think I am mistaken, not about vampires and Yeats. Check it:
- In Mistaken, a novel published by Neil Jordan in 2011, a boy grows up next door to Bram Stoker’s house in Dublin and is haunted by both a vampire and doppelgänger.
- Yes, Bram Stoker is Irish, and yes, fellow Dubliner Yeats, only 18 years younger than Stoker, knew Stoker and read Dracula.
- Yeats, Aleister Crowley, and allegedly Stoker were members of the occult Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
- Besides Dracula, Yeats also read about vampires in Joseph Ennomoser’s The History of Magic and supposedly had plans to visit Dracula’s original castle.
- The Yeats poem “Oil and Blood” could be read as a warning, and perhaps wish fulfilment, that those trampled on and forgotten by the chosen still have life in those lips (poetic or otherwise) and might come back to bite someone.
In tombs of gold and lapis lazuli
Bodies of holy men and women exude
Miraculous oil, odour of violet.
But under heavy loads of trampled clay
Lie bodies of the vampires full of blood;
Their shrouds are bloody and their lips are wet.
That’s Show Byz!
Okay maybe I am stretching the truth a bit in search of a story, but that’s show biz.
And since the film version of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is out in 2012 (produced by Tim Burton), I have to ask whether Yeats the vampire ever encountered Lincoln (who, in the story, apparently became a vampire after his assassination). According to my family tree, Lincoln is my seventh cousin… Cousin Abe, make me a vampire!
Istanbul Was Constantinople…
Constantinople Was Byzantium.
The infectious and oft-covered song Istanbul (Not Constantinople) doesn’t tell the whole story. The city was also once called Byzantium. That was over 1,500 years ago. So if you’ve got a date in Byzantium, she’ll be waiting in Istanbul. And if she’s still alive after all this time, she’s a vampire.
You think I’m just making a pun, but as if all this talk of vampires wasn’t enough, the werewolf (or lycanthrope) actually was a subject of Byzantine mythology and medicine. And that brings us full circle back to Neil Jordan and The Company of Wolves.
But I’m no American werewolf in London — though I am an American actor in London. Scared?
This blog post has gotten byzantine in itself! Time to escape the labyrinth and ground myself back in the ancient city that started it all…
Ground myself? The byzantine web beckons me no matter where I go…