Investigating Sex with Atom Egoyan

Investigating Sex with Atom Egoyan (photo)

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Since his 1984 directorial debut “Next of Kin” and throughout his long and twice Academy Award-nominated career, Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan (“Exotica,” “The Sweet Hereafter”) has regularly and artfully explored familial and marital dynamics through the filters of disconnection, struggle and cultural identity — personal motifs that reflect his Egyptian birth to Armenian parents. However, those filters are surprisingly absent in his richly entertaining character portrait-cum-erotic psychodrama “Chloe,” which not only marks Egoyan’s first remake (based on the 2003 French film “Nathalie…”) but his only feature scripted by someone other than himself, “Secretary” writer Erin Cressida Wilson.

Julianne Moore stars as Catherine, a respected gynecologist who is convinced her ever-flirtatious professor husband (Liam Neeson) has been cheating on her. In a bold and impulsive move, she hires a high-class call girl named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to test her hubby’s fidelity through seduction, then report back to her in lurid, XXX-plicit detail. The bond between these women soon builds to an intensity neither of them expected, until their relationship and the perceived love triangle begins to spin out of control. I spoke with Egoyan about jealousy, shooting sex scenes and why the film is decidedly not “Fatal Attraction” redux.

“Chloe” seems to stand apart from the rest of your work thematically and stylistically, especially since you often utilize a non-linear structure and this film doesn’t. Might my perception have something to do with the fact that someone else adapted the screenplay?

Oh yeah, that was a huge part of it. It was one of the first times I saw a linear script that I felt was complex enough that I could attach myself to it and stay interested. I knew if I found the right actors and was able to set it in the place that I wanted to, that it was something that would remain challenging for me and more than keep my curiosity. The psychology, what’s going on here, is so layered. There are so many things that are going through these two women’s minds. It was a great experience, and far less lonely than writing and directing a non-linear script where you’re constantly thinking of the structure as you’re shooting. The plan here was pretty clear: to be able to draw the performances that were needed to sustain the full potential of what this movie’s about.

03252010_Chloe7.jpgI’m intrigued that you say “lonely.” When you write and direct, I take it you’re in a bit of a bubble?

Absolutely, because very often it’s only when my team sees the final version that they get what the film is about. [laughs] That’s just the reality of it. These scripts are quite schematic, and the actors trust me because sometimes their emotional trajectory is not following a linear logic. It’s a risk! Some of these films work and some of them don’t work because it’s alchemy. You’re not quite sure how these pieces will fit. While this structure, as I say, is tried and true. Even though it’s very different in tone from the French original, the story has been told and you know it can work if it’s performed right.

The direction we took it, which is very different in the second half from the original, had to be carefully calibrated. We knew what the emotional steps were to get us to that point. We were constructing the film around the performances, the way it was shot, and the music. We knew where we were headed. That’s not so often the case with one of my movies. Something like “Adoration,” the actors had to trust that the emotional resolutions that they were reaching were pitched at the right temperament from the way I was directing, as opposed to something they chart themselves. That’s really different. It’s risky.

How did you approach the material in terms of style and design?

From the moment we started this film, the motif of glass was really important. Catherine, who suspects her husband’s having an affair, hires a young prostitute to flirt with her husband and report back as to how open he is. So Catherine’s world is very much about glass as windows, about looking through windows, trying to control her life and the lives of the two men closest to her, her husband and her son. The house she lives in, the offices she works in — they’re all set up as observation posts. She’s looking at her family as though they’re in an aquarium. That was how we established her world.

Chloe, on the other hand, is glass as mirror. From the moment we see Chloe, she’s looking at herself in the mirror. Whenever we’re introduced to her, it’s usually through a reflection. That governed an entire approach to the shooting, where we’re very aware of these different boxes of glasses the two women intersect through.

03252010_Chloe5.jpgAs a filmmaker who regularly explores eroticism, how do you shoot a sex scene so that it dramatically registers with an audience?

You said it right there. You approach it like you would any dramatic scene. You make sure that the actors understand what’s going on in their head because it’s not a cliché to say that the most erotic muscle we have is the brain, so we are able to understand how they’re locating or dislocating themselves. You don’t direct those scenes, tonally, any differently than you would a dramatic scene, because that’s what they are. I’m not making a switch.

It’s so funny that many people ask, “How do you direct those scenes?” To me, the worst thing you can do is shift the nature of your conversation with the actors. That would be very alarming. You make sure you’re continuing this dialogue about who they are. What’s their story? Why are they in this place? What are they hoping to find or get out of this moment? All those essential questions that inform any director-actor relationship.

A director might not be changing their methods, but the actresses are the ones who bare themselves. For example, Amanda Seyfried acts confidently in her nude scenes, so there’s no way to tell if she had to overcome any shyness. Did she seem game for whatever you asked of her?

Sure, as long as you set parameters that you make sure they’re comfortable with, and you stick to that. You don’t surprise them on set. You don’t suddenly ask for more. You agree on what’s going to be seen, and you choreograph the scene accordingly. You’re making sure it’s well designed. If possible, you storyboard it. Then they’re totally game.

The worst thing that happens sometimes is that they appear on set, they’re prepared to do what was discussed, and then the director suddenly imposes something else. That creates panic. I’ve heard of that happening, and it’s not fair to anyone involved. You have to be very specific of what’s required, and make sure that’s understood before you enter into this agreement. Amanda was drawn to this role, and you’re not going to play a sex worker and not expect to explore sexuality. That’s going to require some degree of exposure.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.