Jordan was born in County Sligo, the son of Angela (née O'Brien), a painter, and Michael Jordan, a professor. He was educated at St. Paul's College, Raheny. Later, Jordan attended University College Dublin, where he studied Irish history and English literature. Of his religious background, Jordan said in a 1999 Salon interview: "I was brought up a Catholic and was quite religious at one stage in my life, when I was young. But it left me with no scars whatever; it just sort of vanished." He said about his current beliefs 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 was filming Excalibur in Ireland, he recruited Jordan as a "creative associate". A year later Boorman was executive producer on Jordan's first feature Angel, a tale of a musician caught up in the Troubles, starred Stephen Rea who has subsequently appeared in almost all of Jordan's films to date. During the 1980s, he directed films that won him acclaim, including The Company of Wolves and Mona Lisa, both made in England. The Company of Wolves became 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 was 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, followed two characters who struggled to resist a strong, incestuous attraction. Interview with the Vampire, like the Anne Rice book it was based on, focused on the intense, intimate interpersonal relationship of two undead men who murder humans nightly (although the pair never have sex, they are clearly lovers of a sort), 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 the remake of The End of the Affair, two people (Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore) engage in a love affair that will end as suddenly as it started, with both not wanting its end.
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 (played by Jaye Davidson and Cillian Murphy, respectively), both concern the Troubles, and both feature frequent Jordan leading man Stephen Rea. The two films, however, are very different, with 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 led him to Hollywood, where he directed High Spirits and We're No Angels; both were critical and financial disasters. He later returned home to make the more personal The Crying Game, which was nominated for six Academy Awards. Jordan won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the film. Its unexpected success led him back to American studio filmmaking, where he directed Interview with the Vampire. He also directed the crime drama The Brave One starring Jodie Foster.
Neil Gaiman announced during his The Today Show appearance on 27 January 2009, that Neil Jordan would be directing the film of his Newbery Medal-winning book The Graveyard Book. Jordan also wrote and directed the Irish made film Ondine (2009), starring Colin Farrell and Alicja Bachleda-Curuś. He also directed Byzantium, an adaptation of the vampire play of the same name starring Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton and Jonny Lee Miller.
In 2011, Jordan's next feature was announced as Broken Dream and featured Ben Kingsley and John Hurt.
Jordan has five children: Anna and Sarah from his marriage to solicitor Vivienne Shields; Dashiel Jordan and Daniel Jordan from his current marriage to Brenda Rawn and Ben, from a relationship with architect Mary Donohoe.
Jordan lives in a house in Dalkey, which is a part of the larger town of Dún Laoghaire.Guardian Fiction Prize and Somerset Maugham Award for Night in Tunisia (1979)
Nomination Golden Globe Best Original Screenplay for Mona Lisa (1987)
Academy Award Best Original Screenplay for The Crying Game (1993)
Nomination Academy Award Best Director for The Crying Game (1993)
Nomination Golden Globe Best Director for The End of the Affair (1999)
2004 Irish PEN Award
Angel (1982) - Also Writer
The Company of Wolves (1984) - Also Writer
Mona Lisa (1986) - Also Writer
High Spirits (1988) - Also Writer
We're No Angels (1989)
The Miracle (1991) - Also Writer
The Crying Game (1992) - Also Writer
Interview with the Vampire (1994)
Michael Collins (1996) - Also Writer
The Butcher Boy (1997) - Also Writer/Executive Producer
The End of the Affair (1999) - Also Writer/Producer
In Dreams (1999) - Also Writer
Not I (Short film) (2000)
The Good Thief (2002) - Also Writer/Executive Producer
Breakfast on Pluto (2005) - Also Writer/Producer
The Brave One (2007)
Ondine (2009) - Also Writer/Producer
The Borgias (Television series) (2011–2013) - Also Writer/Executive Producer
Night in Tunisia (1976, short stories)
The Past (1980)
The Dream of a Beast (1983)
Sunrise with Sea Monster (1994)
The Drowned Detective (2016)