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Director Atom Egoyan on Chloe

The director discusses his steamy thriller starring Amanda Seyfried, Julianne Moore, and Liam Neeson.

Atom Egoyan


Atom Egoyan is known for his dramas about intimacy and the nature of truth, whether familial or sexual. Films like The Sweet Hereafter and Adoration feature young people teetering on the edge of becoming adults and facing up to the effects of their actions, whether that might be lying, in the case of Adoration, or the pressures of telling the truth, as in The Sweet Hereafter. Egoyan's films, which often feature the themes of voyeurism and its intersection with technology, also deal frankly with sexuality, as in 1994's Exotica, which is centered around a strip club.


In Chloe, which was adapted from the French Anne Fontaine movie Nathalie... by Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus), Amanda Seyfried plays the title character, a glossy young prostitute in Toronto. A chance meeting in the bathroom of an expensive restaurant leads to a strange relationship between Chloe and Catherine, a gynecologist played by Julianne Moore, who suspects her husband is cheating on her. On a whim, Catherine hires Chloe to see if her husband David (Liam Neeson) is tempted by the young woman. However, as Chloe regales Catherine with stories about her meetings with David, the relationship between Chloe and Catherine becomes far more complicated than either could have imagined.


The Canadian director sat down with to talk about doing the legwork when it comes to researching high-end call girls, young actors on the brink of adulthood, and how to naturally stage a sex scene. I understand the producers contacted you once the script by Erin Cressida Wilson was done. Why do you think that your style of movie making fit so perfectly with her script?
Atom Egoyan:
We had anticipated it, Erin and I. I knew her work for a long time—knew her plays, knew her erotic stories, I certainly knew her screenplays, so we had discussed doing something at some point, but what I really have to give credit to is Ivan Reitman's decision to approach me... He loved Exotica and it stayed with him all these years, and he wanted something in the mood of that film in this. And after meeting him, I said, "You do understand a lot of Exotica's mood is based on the kind of non-linear approach to the script and all these other elements?" And he said, "Yeah, I know about all that, but I just like the way the frames looked." I think Ivan's really specific; he's a director himself.


I'll be honest with you. I saw Nathalie... when it came out in 2003, and it would never have occurred to me to remake it, but [Ivan] saw other possibilities in that film and he secured the rights and he developed this really amazing screenplay with Erin, so it's a really classic case of a producer developing a project in a very creative way.


Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore in Chloe Amanda Seyfried has said that you did most of the research for the research of Chloe as a character, as far as legwork and talking to women who work as high-end prostitutes, and then you worked with her describing who Chloe is.
Atom Egoyan:
I'm not, you know, I'm not familiar with hiring a woman for sex, but it occurred to me that in this time if you were to do that, you would probably do it through the Internet. There are so many escort services, and there are so many ways in which you can make contact anonymously so I needed to ascertain that... the cliché of the hotel bar existed... I couldn't do that in Toronto because I'm visible but I came here [to NYC] actually, and someone had told me about a particular hotel and I went to that hotel, and that night there didn't seem to be any [prostitutes]—nothing that I saw. So I went to the bartender and chatted with them for a while, and told them, though they must have been cocking their eyebrows [because I said] I was doing research for a movie, but he said, "If that's what you're looking for, this is the place tonight where one seems to be," and I went to another hotel, and it was, sure enough, it was all around me, and then it was a question of, how is contact made? And then details about how much it would cost... I just think with any film, you need to be able to make sure that it exists in a real world. In a film like Exotica, the reality of most strip clubs is they're really depressing and not places you'd want to be, necessarily, so the decision to kind of make that into a really beautiful club was a conscious decision to make it different from what you would normally find. That being said, the mechanics of the lap dancing and the restrictions about touching, all that was very carefully researched at that time. It might have changed since then, in the mid-'90s. So this is, as far as I can tell, a story that could take place now. The very first shot, if I'm not mistaken, is Catherine in her office with a woman in stirrups, and Catherine brushes off this woman's concerns about having an orgasm, which I found very interesting in relation to the rest of the movie.
Oh yeah, I think it's incredibly telling. She's just someone who thinks she can control anything—[an] orgasm is just a series of muscular contractions, nothing more, nothing mysterious about it. So forget about any emotional projection... She does it in this way that seems very kind of normal and together, and it's not. She's not. I think she's going through a crisis of being able to assert and understand who she is. As we find later on, she thinks she's disappearing, and she feels that she's lost any sort of erotic contact with her husband, so she hires a surrogate to reestablish that. She could hire a private investigator if she really wanted to find out whether or not her husband's having an affair, but what she really wants to find out is what her husband is like as a sexual being and that's why she's so attentive to those stories and then why she can't just turn it off.


Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore in Chloe The story telling is fascinating, because at first it seems masochistic of Catherine and then it becomes about having a proxy. In a lot of ways, Catherine and Chloe are sort of doubles; Chloe has the youth and the sexuality, and Catherine has the power and the grace and the grown-upness that Chloe wants.
Well, what Chloe wants is someone to respect her. What Chloe wants is to tell her story and to have someone listen, and... once she starts doing that, it overwhelms her. She can't believe how powerful that is, because most of the time she's paid to be forgotten about, and for her to have an experience with someone in a room and have that person just leave and then to get on the phone and have Catherine appear and retell that story... It's a very moving experience for her. Any love relationship is about being able to tell your story to someone who listens to it in a unique way, and that's what happens with both of them for unexpected reasons. I think what happens that's a tragedy is that Chloe forgets what the parameters are, because it becomes so compelling for her to talk. Right, the blurring of boundaries.
It's inevitable, I think, right? I think it's tough work. It's really tough work, and I admire it. I admire people who are able to do that work. You have this knack for getting very powerful performances out of young actresses. What's your secret?
It's casting, and it's being able to intersect with a certain role at a certain point in a young person's life. It's not just young actresses; I think there are a lot of young men as well, like in Adoration or Ararat, [or] really early films like Family Viewing. I'm interested in that point in one's life [when] there is a kind of assertion of who you are and who you think you might become, and what are the forces that determine that. So these young people who are on the cusp of either a literal adulthood or a moment where they take full responsibility for their lives are [in] a very interesting period for me. And so if you can intersect and find someone who's actually wrestling with those issues in some way, or not—I mean, I think Amanda's a pretty balanced and pretty happy person, so it's something you sense. We auditioned a lot of young actresses, and the moment she walked into the room, she was clearly Chloe and was what we were looking for. At the risk of sounding prurient, how exactly do you stage such a natural-looking sex scene?
What makes it feel natural are the performances and the fact that they're treated as dramatic scenes, so the parameters are set, you're very clear about what you're going to shoot, you assure the actors that they're going to look great or not great if the scene needs that as well, and then you treat it as a drama. You don't suddenly shift your directorial style because it's a sex scene. You actually are using the same criteria... And they're actors, so they're used to using their bodies to express feeling, so they're instruments as well, and they know that, that that's part of what they're doing. You cannot shoot a sex scene without preparation. That's disastrous, or it's just not very interesting. [To say], "Okay, just make love"—no, you don't get a scene like that if that's the approach. And I think it actually flips actors out as well... This one is actually really specifically staged because we just defined what the parameters are—what's going to be seen, what's not going to be seen. And also what are the dynamics of what's going on in those scenes, like, what is being transferred mentally and how do you shoot it in a way where you have access to both those faces. So there are technical considerations as well. That's a very vulnerable position for an actress, especially emotionally the contrast of Chloe's youthfulness and Catherine's very envious of that and here they are, naked, together. That must be very scary.
I think it is, yeah, but I think Julie is fearless about that sort of thing, like when she thinks that's what the scene needs her to do, she'll do that. The whole drive of the character is that she wants to be young again...
That monologue that she gives about what she feels about being at that point in her life, it is very vulnerable. That's vulnerable for her to say that as well—that she feels old.


Chloe opens in limited cities on March 26. For more on Chloe, visit the official website.


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