We're used to seeing Toronto disguised as another city. In Chloe, Atom Egoyan's new film, Toronto is almost a character unto itself. It's shot in a way to accentuate the city's modern lines, not hide them.
"I'm really aware of it as a filmmaker, how much Toronto will actually act like a prostitute," says Egoyan on the phone from British Columbia, where the Cairo-born filmmaker was raised. "People will come in and spend a lot of money pretending it's something else."
This is an important point in a film about a professional escort. Amanda Seyfried is the titular pro, hired by Catherine (Julianne Moore) to seduce her husband David (Liam Neeson), who Catherine suspects of being unfaithful. Set against locations including the Royal Ontario Museum, Yorkville, Queen Street West, Little Italy and the tony district of Rosedale, Toronto is more than recognizable---it's beautiful.
"It's also a city with great arteries," says Egoyan. "The arteries of the streetcar rails and the arteries of the ravines. I wanted to use both of those systems."
Based on a 2003 French film, Anne Fontaine's Nathalie, Chloe was adapted and reimagined by producer Ivan Reitman and Secretary screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson. It's yet another of Egoyan's pictures that delves into both human sexuality and a crime drama, thematic threads that can be traced back through Felicia's Journey, Where the Truth Lies right back to Exotica. But is it his interest in desperate characters or in genre experiments that keeps him coming back to this material?
"I think it's true that for someone making art films, or auteur films early in their career, the closest popular genre has to be crime drama. It explicitly sets up the notion of an investigation. It piques a certain degree of curiosity and involvement on the part of the viewer. You can say The Sweet Hereafter had a huge legal element in terms of investigation. Maybe it's been there since Speaking Parts."
Egoyan says he's interested in negotiating a dialogue with the viewer on how characters situate themselves. The inherent mystery of any meeting between two people: What's being negotiated.
"But any act of crime involves people breaking rules, going outside the parameters of how society allows them to behave. That element of transgression is interesting because it talks about need. Why do we need to do that? Sometimes there is a sexual component. Once you suppress it that has other consequences."
In casting two American women and a leading man born and raised in Northern Ireland for a story set in Toronto also brings up certain questions. "That's the nature of Toronto," Egoyan says. "There are people from everywhere. There was no attempt to try and explain that they would be born and raised in Toronto."
Chloe is perceived as one of Egoyan's more "commercial" projects, and as a result he's receiving an "onslaught" of scripts and books to read, but he's happy to take his time deciding what to do next.
"I have the advantage of writing and producing my own stuff," he says, evenly. "I've written a couple of scripts since Chloe, but they're not necessarily films I'm going to make. Sometimes I just write because I enjoy writing." He admits it's easier to get a project made if it's an adaptation of a book or a remake of a film that's already known in the culture. "But then you have to ask yourself why it needs to get made."