An Armenian director who’s worked out of Canada since the early ’80s, Atom Egoyan has gained enormous critical respect while only flirting with mainstream popularity. Perhaps best known for The Sweet Hereafter, which was nominated for director and screenplay Oscars, Egoyan continually produces timely, socially conscious films that show a deep concern for humanity. His new movie, Adoration, is all of those things and more. It’s about Simon, a boy who invents a history of his late father that makes him out to be an international terrorist. This deception sends ripples through every aspect of his life and beyond in very real, believable ways.
I sat down with Atom Egoyan in the Fairmont Hotel, next to an intimidatingly beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge, to talk about Adoration, technology, and keeping things human. He wore glasses that looked like two monocles fused together, a sharp suit, and spoke softly.
Can you talk a little bit about the casting? I thought Scott Speedman was really excellent.
Scott [Speedman] was an interesting choice because I’d written it originally for an older character and Scott read the script and wanted to audition and I said, “you know you’re just too young for the person that I had in mind,” but he insisted and insisted and when he finally came up for an audition it was so moving. Suddenly I thought, oh, this man who’s given up his 20s to raise this child instead of his 30s, and that just seemed a lot more powerful. So that was one of those rare situations where an actor insists on something and they will convince you and move you in a way that you hadn’t expected.
In the movie, Sabine [Arsinee Khanjian‘s character] wears a lot of disguises. Disguise is very interesting as a politically subversive tool and a terrorist tool. Do you think that, given that, our domestic disguises don’t get due attention?
Oh that’s a good question. What I find interesting with her character is that she’s clearly ethnic but she’s able to use her ethnicity and play that up and use that as a camouflage. She’s able, perhaps because of her training as a drama teacher, to understand the role of mask. It is a way of infiltration, clearly. There’s something threatening about it but it’s also absurd as well.
Then there’s what you allow yourself to believe about yourself. The film is embedded with that on a number of different levels. There are the physical disguises that we wear and then there are other disguises as well. The disguise of victimhood, for example. There’s this group of people who attach themselves to Simon’s story and use it as a way of mourning an event that never even happened.
Your movies have a tendency of showing multiple narrative threads that often connect in ways we maybe don’t see coming. There are catastrophic events in the world all the time. Do we have a tendency to forget how these things are sometimes connected?
Yeah. There’s a fear I have with the conclusions that there’s something really glib about them and you want to avoid that at all times. You want to address that as much as these things may connect in a macro sense, there’s always the complexity of human beings which can challenge and confound those connections in ways you might not anticipate and that’s what I’m trying to address. First and foremost, human beings are infinitely unpredictable and the things that motivate our actions are not things that we completely understand. I’m not trying to be clever about it. I expect so much of the viewer. I just want them to be involved in all of the different levels of how that question might be addressed and how that connectedness might work.
(Egoyan’s 1994 film) Exotica is an interesting example because using the place, the club, where people are drawn to and where everyone is watching each other in this kind of structured, designed way, a kind of Panopticon. It’s about the gaze. And that’s where the word “Adoration” comes from really, it’s about a fervent gaze on something that’s concentrated and devotional in a way. But a lot of what happens in this film [Adoration] is based on a gaze we never really see.
Do you have another film in the works?
Yeah. I finished shooting it. It’s called Chloe. I didn’t write the script. It’s about a middle-aged woman who thinks her husband’s having an affair but he keeps denying it so she hires a young prostitute to flirt with him and report back to her, and it starts a very strange relationship and she starts to become quite dependent on these stories. Julianne Moore. Liam Neeson playing the husband. And Amanda Seyfried playing the prostitute. So it’s a different type of movie.