Jordan is born in County Sligo on February 25, 1950. His first book, Night in Tunisia, wins a Somerset Maugham Award and the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1979. He also wins an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Crying Game (1992).
Jordan is educated at St. Paul’s College, Raheny. Later, Jordan attends University College Dublin, where he studies Irish history and English literature. He is raised a Catholic and is quite religious during the early stages of his life. Regarding his current beliefs, he states that “God is the greatest imaginary being of all time. Along with Einstein‘s General Theory of Relativity, the invention of God is probably the greatest creation of human thought.”
When John Boorman is filming Excalibur in Ireland, he recruits Jordan as a “creative associate.” A year later Boorman is executive producer on Jordan’s first feature, Angel, a tale of a musician caught up in the Troubles, starring Stephen Rea who subsequently appears in almost all of Jordan’s films to date. During the 1980s, he directs films that win him acclaim, including The Company of Wolves and Mona Lisa, both made in England. The Company of Wolves becomes a cult favorite.
As a writer/director, Jordan has a highly idiosyncratic body of work, ranging from mainstream hits like Interview with the Vampire to commercial failures like We’re No Angels to a variety of more personal, low-budget arthouse pictures. He is also the driving force behind the cable TV series The Borgias.
Unconventional sexual relationships are a recurring theme in Jordan’s work, and he often finds a sympathetic side to characters that audiences would traditionally consider deviant or downright horrifying. His film The Miracle, for instance, follows two characters who struggle to resist a strong, incestuous attraction, while The Crying Game makes complicated, likable characters out of an IRA volunteer and a transgender woman. Interview with the Vampire, like the Anne Rice book it is based on, focuses on the intense, intimate interpersonal relationship of two undead men who murder humans nightly, accompanied by an equally lusty vampire woman who is eternally trapped in the body of a little girl. While Lestat (Tom Cruise) is depicted in an attractive but villainous manner, his partner Louis (Brad Pitt) and the child vampire Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) are meant to capture the audience’s sympathy despite their predatory nature.
In addition to the unusual sexuality of Jordan’s films, he frequently returns to the Troubles of Northern Ireland. The Crying Game and Breakfast on Pluto both concern a transgender character, both concern the Troubles, and both feature frequent Jordan leading man Stephen Rea. The two films, however, are very different, with The Crying Game being a realistic thriller/romance and Breakfast on Pluto a much more episodic, stylized, darkly comic biography. Jordan also frequently tells stories about children or young people, such as The Miracle and The Butcher Boy. While his pictures are most often grounded in reality, he occasionally directs more fantastic or dreamlike films, such as The Company of Wolves, High Spirits, Interview with the Vampire, and In Dreams.
The critical success of Jordan’s early pictures lead him to Hollywood, where he directs High Spirits and We’re No Angels. Both are critical and financial disasters. He later returns home to make the more personal The Crying Game, which is nominated for six Academy Awards. Jordan wins the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the film. Its unexpected success leads him back to American studio filmmaking, where he directs Interview with the Vampire. He also directs the crime drama The Brave One starring Jodie Foster.
Jordan also writes and directs the Irish-made film Ondine (2009), starring Colin Farrell and Alicja Bachleda-Curuś. He also directs Byzantium, an adaptation of the vampire play of the same name starring Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, and Jonny Lee Miller.