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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.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.