Known for exploring and probing modern man and woman’s latent, sexual desires and habits, Atom Egoyan trudges through familiar terrain with Chloe, a sexually charged study of an affluent gynecologist fixatedly investigating her husband’s possible infidelities. A remake of Anne Fontaine’s 2003 film Nathalie…, Chloe is a portrait of a woman falling apart at the seams. Profoundly suspect of her professor husband’s extracurricular activities, Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) hires a striking, doe-eyed prostitute named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to seduce and tempt him, hoping to confirm his adulterous inclinations. Slant caught up with Egoyan to discuss how this remake landed on his doorstep, what he thinks of Sarah Polley stepping behind the camera, and the most difficult moment of his filmmaking career.
First off, how do you pronounce your name? Do you pronounce it “Á-tom”?
Yeah, you know what, I’m used to so many pronunciations: “A-dam,” “A-dám,” “Á-tom.” Whatever you like…your name, I know.
What was it about Anne Fontaine’s original film Nathalie… that intrigued you so much?
You know, it wasn’t so much Fontaine’s film—because I saw that originally and never thought of doing a remake. It was really Ivan Reitman who thought of doing a remake and optioned it, and developed this really quite extraordinary script with Erin Cressida Wilson. That is how the project came to me; I met up with Ivan and it went from there. The premise is kind of classic, the idea of tempting your spouse’s fidelity through some trick comes from Shakespeare. It is used a lot in these certain guises, and [this story] is very unique because it is about a woman tempting her husband’s fidelity, and also, in a very extreme way; most people wouldn’t go to a prostitute, they would go to a private investigator. There is a sense she is looking for something more; she doesn’t actually want to know whether or not her husband is having an affair, she wants to know who he becomes when he is having an affair. It shifts into the whole world of who are we really to each other, even in close relationships and marriages. What are the secrets we are telling each other? How is it that we are behaving with strangers differently than the people we are closest with? Those are all really interesting questions.
It is interesting, the kinds of obsessions these characters have. I watched Felicity’s Journey for the first time last night…
Yeah, it’s there, with Bob Hopkins…that’s an interesting [comparison]. My favorite reading of that film is if you haven’t read anything about it at all. You think for a long period of time he’s a timely catering manager helping out this young girl, and then you realize there’s something else going on. That’s what makes it horrifying. There is a set of rules and behaviors that you are prepared to accept in tune with your own expectations; and to have those challenged, which happens with these two women [in Chloe], is very interesting territory.
Chloe was somewhat crafted within the constructs of genre filmmaking, more so than Nathalie… Was that naturally how you wanted to sculpt Chloe’s journey and her transformation?
Well, I think the genre, first and foremost, is melodrama, where the characters are really expressing their deepest emotions in a very—sort of talking out their feelings—unfiltered way. And it’s kind of this psychological thriller, and by that I mean, something becomes quite volatile, unexpected. In this case, it’s Chloe’s love for Catherine; the last thing she would have expected is that she would fall for her.
How did Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson get involved?
With Liam, I did a play with him at the Lincoln Center about a year and a half ago in New York, and we had a really wonderful experience. He said let’s do something again, and I just tossed [the Chloe] script on his lap, and I said let’s do this. I don’t know if it’s a role an actor of his stature would have responded to normally, but because we had this relationship, he committed, and that was amazing. With Julianne Moore, I’ve just been wanting to work with her since I first saw her in the early ’90s. I think she is an extraordinary actress and this seems like a perfect role: Catherine is someone who is identifiable, even though she is incredibly controlling and calculated. I still wanted her to be sympathetic, and Julie is one of the few people who could really pull that off.
And what about Amanda Seyfried?
That was an exceptional situation. We cast her before she was famous; she was cast before Mamma Mia came out, and she was just the best actress we saw. We did the rare thing of asking her to be in it before anyone knew she was Amanda Seyfried. She keeps saying this was the last film she has ever been cast as an actress as opposed to a star. We were just lucky; from the moment she walked into the room, there was something exceptional about her.
How would you describe the Canadian film community?
Beleaguered, struggling, very talented and committed against all odds. I mean it’s tough making Canadian films, because you’re up against the incredible machinery of the Americans. Chloe is actually an American film, but it’s the first foreign-financed film that’s using Toronto as a location as Toronto. It feels like it’s a piece of my other films, but it’s obviously very different; it’s using American stars, and I would say it’s American-produced.
Do you go have drinks with Cronenberg?
There is something collegial [about the Canadian film community], there is no question about that. David is of a different generation, but we’re close. My best friends are all filmmakers. We started working on each other’s films when we were really young; we still are close to each other.
What do you think about Sarah Polley stepping behind the camera? Did she show signs of her interest in filmmaking on your film sets?
I think there are actors who concentrate on their work, and there are actors who are watching the camera and who are watching the decisions of the director. If you are one of those actors, then you have a front row seat. With Sarah, she has worked with some of the best directors. I helped produced her film; it was obvious to me that she was so curious about what the director was doing. It never surprises me when actors make great first features because that is what they are wanting to do and they learn it so well. I think Away from Her is an amazing first feature from her, and now she’s working on her second one.
What kind of place do you think the auteur filmmaker has right now within today’s theatrical climate?
It’s rough right now. On the other hand, it’s much less expensive to make a film, and there are all sorts of possibilities to make a film and actually get it distributed; you can make a film for the fraction of the cost before and also get it globally distributed to the Internet. The question is how do you create a focus around it, and that’s where festivals become really important. The people who are programming these festivals and making those decisions are really the gatekeepers of things for beginning filmmakers.
As a director, how do you manage the predicament of trying to keep your film afloat when something tragic happens to one of your actors, like Liam?
It was the hardest experience I had to deal with professionally. Liam was a hero and came back and finished the film. That’s all I really can say about it; it was very tough.
What is your next film project?
Well, I also do opera and theater, so I could tell you what I’m doing with opera and theater. But film, I’m writing and there are lots of scripts I’m sort of looking at.