Transcript: Atom Egoyan | Oct 01, 1996

(Rhythmic string and wind music plays)

In animation, a word in pink slides by against a gray background as hands paint strokes using paintbrushes, play a piano, and touch as in a ballet performance.

The title of the show reads “Dialogue.”

The title of the episode pops up against an image of a make-up assistant giving finishing touches to Richard Ouzounian’s makeup: “Atom Egoyan. Film Maker.”

Richard and Atom sit on metal chairs in a movie studio.

Then, Richard appears facing the screen. He's in his late forties, clean-shaven, with short side-parted blond hair. He's wearing rounded glasses, and a striped beige mandarin-collared shirt.

He says I'M RICHARD OUZOUNIAN.
WELCOME TO
DIALOGUE.
FANS OF WORD GAMES
SHOULD ENJOY THIS ONE.
TAKE THE MAN YOU'RE ABOUT
TO MEET, ADD ONE LETTER,
FUDGE THE SPELLING
A LITTLE BIT,
AND YOU CAN REARRANGE
THE LETTERS OF HIS NAME
TO SPELL AN
ENIGMA, TOO.
AND THAT'S QUITE
APPROPRIATE.
BECAUSE FOR YEARS, HE'S BEEN
MAKING FILMS THAT DELIGHT,
STIMULATE, SOMETIMES
INFURIATE, AND ALWAYS
FASCINATE, THE CANADIAN
AND WORLD VIEWING PUBLIC.
THIS
DIALOGUE
IS
WITH ATOM EGOYAN.

Atom is in his late thirties, clean-shaven, with tousled wavy dark brown hair. He’s wearing glasses, a dark gray jacket and a black t-shirt.

He says HI.

Richard says HI.

Atom says WHILE YOU WERE SAYING
THAT, I WAS THINKING
OF REARRANGING YOUR NAME
IN SOME ARCANE WAY,
BUT IT DIDN'T
COME TO ME.

Richard says I DON'T THINK YOU CAN
DO IT WITH OUZOUNIAN.

Atom says OKAY.

Richard says NOW, I SAID
YOU'RE AN ENIGMA,
BUT I HAVE THIS FEELING,
WE'VE NEVER SPOKEN BEFORE
TODAY, BUT HAVING
SEEN YOUR MOVIES,
I HAVE A SENSATION
THAT I KNOW YOU.
NOW, IS THAT THE
KIND OF FEELING
YOU WANT ME TO
HAVE OR NOT?

Atom says OH, OOH, THAT
HORRIFIES ME.
YOU PROBABLY KNOW
ONE SIDE OF ME.
I WAS ACTUALLY IN
ONE OF MY FILMS,
THE ONE WE SHOT IN
ARMENIA, WHICH WAS MY OWN
WORST NIGHTMARE OF THE
PERSON I MIGHT BE.
SO WHEN PEOPLE SEE ME,
AND HAVE SEEN THAT FILM,
THEY HAVE SOME ACCESS TO
A VERY DARK SIDE OF ME,
WHICH I TRY AND
ALLEVIATE BY JUGGLING
OR DOING SOMETHING
FRIVOLOUS.

Richard says IT'S NOT THAT I WANT TO
IMPLICATE YOU IN THE ROLES,
OR ACCUSE YOU OF
BEING A VOYEUR.
I'M THINKING OF THEMES
AND CONCERNS THAT,
A MAN FOR WHOM FAMILY
IS A DIFFICULT THING,
BUT A VERY
IMPORTANT THING.
A MAN WHO SOMETIMES FEELS
THAT HE DOESN'T BELONG
IN THE SOCIETY HE'S IN, OR
IN THE BACKGROUND HE'S IN.
THOSE ARE THE
SENSATIONS I GET.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Atom Egoyan. Film Maker."

Atom says YEAH.
WELL, I THINK THERE ARE
TWO REASONS TO PRODUCE
ANY WORK OF ART.
ONE IS EITHER TO CELEBRATE
THOSE THINGS THAT
YOU FEEL MOST COMFORTABLE
AND JOYOUS ABOUT,
AND THE OTHER ONE IS TO
SOMEHOW DEAL WITH THE THINGS
THAT YOU'RE MOST
SUSPICIOUS AND FEARFUL OF.
AND I THINK A LOT OF
THE WORK THAT I'VE BEEN
ATTRACTED TO IS DEFINITELY
DEALING WITH THE LATTER.
SO THAT DOESN'T DENY THE USE
OF HUMOUR OR THE ENJOYMENT
LEVEL OF IT, BUT I THINK I
AM ATTRACTED TO THE THINGS
THAT, IN MY OWN WORST
FANTASY OF MY POSITION
IN THE SOCIETY, I MIGHT
FIND MYSELF SITUATED IN.
SO I FEEL QUITE
ASSIMILATED.
AND I THINK I CAME HERE
AT A YOUNG ENOUGH AGE
THAT I WAS ABLE TO BE ABSORBED
INTO A VERY ANGLOPHONE CULTURE,
VICTORIA, B.C., YOU
CAN'T GET MUCH MORE
ANGLOPHONE THAN THAT.
BUT THERE ARE OTHER
SIDES TO MY EXPERIENCE,
WHICH ARE STILL
WITHIN MY MEMORY.
I REMEMBER NOT
SPEAKING ENGLISH.
I REMEMBER HAVING TO
LEARN THE LANGUAGE.
I REMEMBER FEELING EXCLUDED
FROM CERTAIN THINGS.
I REMEMBER VERY DISTINCTLY
WHEN MY PARENTS TOOK ME
TO SCHOOL, OR NURSERY
FOR THE FIRST TIME,
THEY HAD TO TEACH THE
INSTRUCTOR WHAT...
IF I ASKED FOR A PIECE
OF BREAD IN ARMENIAN,
OR I WANTED TO GO
TO THE WASHROOM,
WHAT THE DIFFERENCE
WAS BETWEEN THE TWO.
AND I REMEMBER ASKING
FOR A PIECE OF BREAD
AND BEING SHOWN
TO THE WASHROOM.
SO I REMEMBER THOSE
SORT OF DISPARITIES,
AND KIND OF THE ABSURDITY
OF WHAT LANGUAGE COULD MEAN
OR NOT MEAN IF IT
WAS MISHANDLED.
AND WHAT IT MEANT
TO BECOME A MEMBER,
A FUNCTIONING
MEMBER OF A SOCIETY.
BUT ON THE OTHER HAND, I
FEEL QUITE COMFORTABLE
WITHIN THAT SOCIETY
NOW, OBVIOUSLY,
AND I FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE
WITHIN THAT SOCIETY
THAN I DO WITHIN MY
OPEN COMMUNITY,
OR CERTAINLY
GOING TO ARMENIA.
I FELT MORE OF AN
OUTSIDER THERE.

Richard says YOU WENT THROUGH A LOT
OF CHANGES TO GET TO THAT PLACE.
I REMEMBER READING WHERE
YOU SAID ONCE THAT YOU WENT
THROUGH A PERIOD WHERE YOU
REFUSED TO SPEAK ARMENIAN.
YOU WERE IN
ARMENIAN DENIAL.

Atom says SURE.
I MEAN, 'COS WHEN
YOU'RE A KID,
YOU JUST WANT TO BE
LIKE EVERYONE ELSE.
YOU DON'T WANT TO
BE MARKED AS BEING
DIFFERENT IN ANY WAY.
SO I WENT THROUGH A
PERIOD OF HATING MY NAME,
AND I WENT THROUGH A PERIOD
OF BEING EMBARRASSED
BY MY PARENTS' ACCENTS,
AND BEING EMBARRASSED
BY THE WHOLE SORT OF
FEELING IN MY HOUSE,
JUST THE FACT THERE WERE
STRANGE SMELLS, I MEAN,
THE SPICES IN THE HOUSE
SMELLED DIFFERENT.
AND THERE WAS STRANGE
LOOKING FURNITURE,
AND STRANGE REFERENCES.
AND I JUST WANTED TO
BE LIKE ANY OTHER KID.
AND YOU ONLY COME TO
APPRECIATE THE THINGS
THAT DEFINE A CULTURE
MUCH LATER IN YOUR LIFE.
UNLESS YOU'RE RAISED
WITHIN A COMMUNITY.
I MEAN, I THINK THERE IS
THAT OTHER EXPERIENCE
WHERE AS A CHILD YOU'RE
RAISED TO BE VERY, VERY
PROUD OF YOUR HERITAGE
BECAUSE YOU'RE
WITHIN A COMMUNITY.
AND THAT WASN'T MY
EXPERIENCE, THOUGH.
MY PARENTS MADE A CONSCIOUS
DECISION TO BE IN VICTORIA
BECAUSE THAT WAS AWAY
FROM THE COMMUNITY.
AND THEY DIDN'T WANT TO BE
IN THAT TYPE OF GHETTO.

Richard says IT'S INTERESTING THAT
OF ALL THE PLACES,
AN ARMENIAN FROM EGYPT
GOES TO VICTORIA, B.C.,
WHICH IS SO
UNLIKE EVEN CANADA.
ESPECIALLY VICTORIA IN
THE LATE '60s AND '70s,
HADN'T YET GOTTEN THAT
NICE KIND OF SLEEK,
TOURISTY PATINA
IT HAS TODAY.

Atom says NO.

Richard says IT WAS VERY COLONIAL.

Atom says OH YEAH.
I MEAN, IN SOME WAYS,
IT'S THE LAST OUTPOST
OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE.
AND I THINK THAT'S
EXEMPLIFIED, CERTAINLY,
BY THE EMPRESS HOTEL,
WHICH IS WHERE I WORKED
FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS.
AND I THINK IT'S THE ONLY
PLACE IN THE WORLD WHERE YOU
COULD GET AWAY WITH HAVING A
BAR CALLED THE BENGAL ROOM.
AND YOU WOULD ACTUALLY
HIRE EAST INDIAN WAITERS
TO DRESS IN COLONIAL GUARD AND
SERVE THE GENTRIFIED OLDER
ENGLISH GENTLEMEN WHO USED
TO FREQUENT THE PLACE,
AND NO ONE WOULD BLINK.
I MEAN, THAT WAS
JUST ACCEPTED.
AND FROM A VERY YOUNG AGE,
FOR REASONS LIKE THAT,
I WAS ATTRACTED TO THEATRE,
AND ATTRACTED TO THE MORE
HEIGHTENED APPROACH TO
LIFE, TO THE GROTESQUE.
I THINK VICTORIA HARBOURS
THAT AND NURTURES THAT,
TO AN EXTENT.
AND YOU'RE RIGHT, IT HAS
CHANGED DRAMATICALLY,
BUT THERE WAS A TIME
WHEN, FOR INSTANCE,
THERE WAS A WHOLE MILIEU
THERE WHERE PEOPLE SPOKE
WITH ENGLISH ACCENTS,
EVEN IF THEY HAD NEVER
BEEN TO BRITAIN.
I MEAN, IT JUST WAS AN
ACCEPTED WAY OF LOCATING
YOURSELF WITHIN THAT
PARTICULAR SOCIETY.

Richard says ALL THOSE YEARS YOU SPENT
THERE BEHIND THE SCENES,
WORKING IN THE
LINENS AND THINGS,
AND YOU SAW ALL THESE LITTLE
OLD LADIES TOTTERING IN
TRYING TO GET ONE
LAST TEA BEFORE DEATH.

Atom says AWFUL, AWFUL CRUMPETS.
REALLY BAD CRUMPETS.

Richard chuckles.

Atom continues I SAW THIS ALL FROM
BEHIND THE SCENES.
WORKING AT THE EMPRESS WAS
JUST FASCINATING BECAUSE YOU
KNEW IT WAS THIS MONOLITHIC
EMPIRE THAT PRESENTED
THIS VIEW, BUT TO SEE HOW
IT WAS ALL CONSTRUCTED,
AND HOW WOBBLY IT
ALL REALLY WAS,
AND HOW BADLY THE
TEA WAS PREPARED,
AND HOW BADLY THE
CRUMPETS WERE PREPARED,
AND TO SEE IT GO THROUGH
THESE SWINGING DOORS
INTO THIS OTHER WORLD WHERE
PEOPLE WOULD LINE UP
AND PRETEND IT WAS
SOMETHING THAT IT WASN'T.
IT WAS VERY CLEAR
THIS WAS ALL BASED
ON A VERY FALSE PREMISE.

Richard says NOW, YOU WENT TO TORONTO,
THEN, VERY YOUNG,
TO GO TO UNIVERSITY.
WHAT DID YOU THINK
TORONTO WAS GOING TO BE?

Atom says WELL, BEING RAISED
ON THE WEST COAST,
TORONTO WAS THE BEACON.
IT WAS THE PLACE YOU WENT
TO PURSUE ANY SORT
OF CAREER IN THE ARTS.
AND I THINK IT'S DIFFICULT
FOR ANYONE FROM TORONTO
TO GET A SENSE OF THAT,
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE
RAISED ON THE PERIPHERY.
AND IT'S ALSO DIFFICULT
FOR PEOPLE IN TORONTO
TO UNDERSTAND THE
ANGER THAT THAT BREEDS
AT A CERTAIN POINT, AS
WELL, FROM THE WEST.
THAT'S CHANGED AS WELL.
I THINK VANCOUVER HAS REALLY
COME INTO ITS OWN A BIT.
CERTAINLY A LOT MORE
THAN IT USED TO.
BUT THERE WAS THIS FEELING,
ESPECIALLY IN VICTORIA,
THAT YOU HAD TO LEAVE.
AND VANCOUVER
WASN'T FAR ENOUGH.
I THINK, IF YOU WERE
GOING TO MAKE THAT MOVE,
THEN YOU WOULD HAVE
TO MOVE TO TORONTO.
AND THAT'S WHERE I WAS,
CERTAINLY, WHEN I WAS 18.
I REMEMBER IN THE GREATER
VICTORIA PUBLIC LIBRARY,
THERE WAS A SECTION ON
CANADIAN PLAYWRIGHTS.
AT THE TIME I WANTED
TO BE A PLAYWRIGHT.
THAT'S REALLY WHERE
MY HEART WAS SET ON.
AND I REMEMBER READING ALL
THE PAMPHLETS FROM CANADIAN
PLAYWRIGHTS CO-OP, AND
HAVING THIS FANTASY
OF TORONTO, AND THIS
WAS THE PLACE WHERE
THINGS REALLY HAPPENED.

Richard says WHAT KIND OF PLAYS DID
YOU WRITE IN THOSE DAYS?

Atom says I WROTE A LOT OF
PLAYS WHEN I WAS A KID.
AND THEY WERE PERFORMED AT
VARIOUS DRAMA FESTIVALS,
AND THEY WON ALL
THESE AWARDS.
AND I WAS REALLY, I
THINK, AN UNBEARABLY
PRETENTIOUS LITTLE
TWERP WHEN I CAME HERE.
IF I WAS TO MEET
THE PERSON I WAS,
I WOULD JUST NOT BE ABLE
TO BE IN A ROOM WITH HIM.
SO I REALLY FELT I KIND OF
HAD THEATRE UNDER MY BELT,
SO IT WAS TIME TO MOVE
ON TO OTHER THINGS.
SO WHEN I CAME TO
TORONTO, I STUDIED -
IT WAS TO STUDY
MUSIC, CLASSICAL GUITAR,
WITH ELI KASSNER HERE,
AND ALSO TO STUDY
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AT
THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO.
AND THERE WAS
A THEATRE CLUB,
AND I SUBMITTED A PLAY,
JUST OFFHANDEDLY THINKING,
OF COURSE, I CAN
DO THIS, AS WELL.
AND THEY REJECTED IT.
AND AT THAT POINT, I
WAS JUST DEVASTATED.
BECAUSE I THOUGHT,
OH, MY GOD,
I'M OBVIOUSLY
NOT THAT GOOD.
AND I REALLY WANTED
TO DO THE PLAY.
AND THERE WAS
THIS FILM BOARD.
AND I THOUGHT, WELL,
I'LL MAKE IT AS A FILM.
AND IT JUST WAS
AS SIMPLE AS THAT.
THE EQUIPMENT
WAS THERE.
AND I EXPERIMENTED WITH
SOME SUPER 8 FILMS
WHILE I WAS IN VICTORIA, BUT
IT JUST GOT ME VERY EXCITED
BECAUSE IT WAS ALSO OUT OF
THIS FEELING OF ANGER THAT -
AND THIS IS A
STRANGE THING,
AND I LOOK BACK
AT MY EARLY 20s,
AND I THINK OF ALL THE
EFFORT I PUT INTO MAKING
FILMS, AND WRITING,
DIRECTING AND PRODUCING
THESE FILMS, I
MEAN I COULD HAVE,
IF I WAS REALLY DEVOTED TO
IT, PRODUCED MY OWN PLAYS.
BUT SOMEHOW, I WAS ALWAYS
WAITING FOR SOMEONE ELSE
TO ACCEPT ONE OF
MY PLAYS.
I ALWAYS NEEDED THAT APPROVAL
FROM AN ARTISTIC DIRECTOR.
SO I REMEMBER,
WHEN I GRADUATED,
I WAS INVITED TO THE SIX
PLAYWRIGHTS UNIT AT TARRAGON.
AND IT WAS THE FIRST
YEAR URJO HAD THAT UNIT.
AND I WAS REALLY HONOURED
BY THAT, AND EXCITED,
BUT I DEVELOPED
A PLAY, AND THEN,
IT WAS JUST A MATTER
OF WAITING FOR EITHER
TARRAGON, OR THE
TORONTO FREE,
OR THEATRE PASSE
MURAILLE TO ACCEPT IT.
AND I NEVER EVER THOUGHT
OF JUST GOING OUT
AND PUTTING IT ON MYSELF.
BUT WITH FILMS, THAT SEEMED
TO BE THE ONLY ROUTE.
THERE WAS NO ESTABLISHED WAY
TO GO IN THE EARLY '80s
FOR AN INDEPENDENT
FILMMAKER.
WE WERE IN THE MIDDLE OF
THE TAX SHELTER YEARS.
THERE WAS NO MODEL.
YOU COULD NEVER IMAGINE
WANTING TO MAKE A CANADIAN
FILM UNDER THAT
PRETEXT, YOU KNOW,
AND HAVING SOME FORGOTTEN
AMERICAN STAR COME UP
AND BE IN A TERRIBLE MOVIE.
THERE WAS NO FANTASY
AROUND IT FOR SOMEONE
WHO WAS REALLY SETTING THEIR
SIGHTS IN AN AMBITIOUS WAY.
SO I JUST STARTED
MAKING THESE FILMS.
STARTED AT U OF T
WITH THE FILM CLUB,
AND THEN BY THE
TIME I GRADUATED,
I REALIZED THAT'S WHAT
I REALLY WANTED TO DO.
AND I LOVE THE CAMERA.
I REALLY LOVE THE FACT THAT
THE CAMERA CAN PARTICIPATE.
THAT THERE WAS THIS THING
WATCHING THE ACTION.
AND YOU COULD EITHER
TAKE THAT AS A GIVEN,
YOU COULD USE IT AS
A RECORDING DEVICE,
OR YOU COULD INCORPORATE
THAT INTO THE ACTUAL DRAMA.
WHO WAS CONTROLLING THAT?
OR WHO WAS THAT
EYE REPRESENTING?
AND IT'S A VERY POWERFUL
GESTURE, THE GAZE.
AND IN A LOT OF MY DRAMAS,
THERE'S A MISSING CHARACTER.
AND THAT CREATES A
DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE.
SO IF THE CAMERA BECAME
THE SPIRIT OF THAT
MISSING PERSON, IT PRODUCED
AN ALCHEMY WHICH WAS REALLY
QUITE FASCINATING,
AND QUITE RESONANT.
AND THAT, I REALIZED,
WAS WHAT I WANTED TO DO.
REALLY GIVE VOICE
TO THAT INSTRUMENT.

Richard says SO MUCH IN THE FILM IS
ABOUT PEOPLE WHO WATCH.
THEY EITHER WATCH
MOVIES, YOU KNOW,
OR THEY WATCH VIDEOS, OR
WHEN YOU GET TO
EXOTICA
THEY WATCH OTHER
PEOPLE DANCING.

Atom says RIGHT.

Richard says AND TO HAVE A WATCHER
WATCHING THE WATCHERS,
DO YOU EVER WONDER IF YOU
ARE DISTANCING YOURSELF
BY ALL THIS VOYEURISM?

Atom says WELL, THAT'S
AN INTERESTING -
WHEN YOU JUST SAID THE
WATCHER WATCHING THE WATCHERS,
THAT'S ACTUALLY THE TITLE
OF A NOVEL BY DERMOT,
WHO WAS ANOTHER PERSON WHO
WAS A HUGE INFLUENCE ON ME.
AND I THINK THAT IS WHAT THIS
CENTURY HAS BECOME ALL ABOUT.
I THINK VERY FEW
OF US CAN SAY,
AND REFLECT ON EXPERIENCES
THAT WE KNOW ARE PURE AND
UNADULTERATED BY
IMAGES THAT WE'VE SEEN
OF THAT SAME EXPERIENCE.
I MEAN, WHEN YOU NOW SAY
TO SOMEONE I LOVE YOU,
I MISS YOU, HOW CAN YOU
NOT FILTER ANY OF THESE
FEELINGS THROUGH ALL THE
OTHER TIMES YOU'VE SEEN
A CHARACTER ON TELEVISION OR
IN THE MOVIES, OR ON STAGE,
SAY THAT SAME THING?
I SHOULD TAKE AWAY
STAGE, BECAUSE STAGE
IS A FUNDAMENTALLY
DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE.
BUT WHEN YOU WATCH SOMETHING
ON TELEVISION, OR ON FILM,
THOSE IMAGES ARE TRANSMITTED
QUITE EFFORTLESSLY.
THEY ARE ABSORBED INTO
YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS,
AND THEY BECOME PART OF
THIS HUGE COMPOSITE GRID
OF EMOTIONALITY THAT YOU REFER
TO IN YOUR DAY-TO-DAY LIFE.
SO TO ME, I'M REALLY
INTERESTED IN SITUATING
MY CHARACTERS IN
THAT LANDSCAPE,
WHERE THEY ARE QUITE
SOMETIMES COMPLETELY
DEADENED BY THAT
EXPERIENCE,
AND OTHER TIMES THEY
ARE TRYING TO FIND
THEIR WAY OUT OF IT.
AND THE CHALLENGE FOR ME IS
REALLY TO FIND A BALANCE
BETWEEN THESE IDEAS
ON A FORMAL LEVEL,
AND MAKING THEM
DRAMATICALLY INTERESTING,
AND GIVING THEM
SOME SORT OF...
THEY HAVE TO BE
IDENTIFIABLE.
IF I THINK IF I LOOK AT
SOME OF MY EARLIER WORKS,
I MEAN, I JUST
WAS GOING TOO FAR.
AND I REALLY, NOW, WANT TO
CREATE DRAMA WHICH ADDRESSES
THESE THINGS, BUT IS NOT
JUST ABOUT THESE THINGS.
THERE HAS TO BE SOMETHING ALIVE
AND BREATHING WITHIN THAT.
I THINK I FOUND THAT BY
CHANCE IN ONE
OF MY FIRST FEATURES
CALLED,
NEXT OF KIN,
THEN I SORT OF REACTED
AGAINST THE NATURALISM
OF THAT, AND I WENT INTO A
MUCH MORE FORMALISTIC AND
DETACHED TYPE OF WORK
WHICH I'M NOT REALLY HAPPY
WITH AT THIS POINT.
IT'S NOT WHERE I AM.
YOU'RE CONSTANTLY
EVOLVING.

Richard says WHAT'S INTERESTING,
I WAS THINKING,
IS THAT THE MOVIE WHICH
HAS GOTTEN THE BIGGEST
PUBLIC ACCEPTANCE
SO FAR,
EXOTICA,
ALTHOUGH VERY ACCESSIBLE,
HAS, IN A WAY,
THE MOST REMOVED
SET OF CHARACTERS.

Atom says ABSOLUTELY.

Richard says
FAMILY VIEWING
AND
THE ADJUSTOR
START WITH
SITUATIONS WHICH, ALTHOUGH
NOT EXACTLY CONVENTIONAL,
ARE EASILY
ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE.
THEY CAN SAY, YES, I
UNDERSTAND PEOPLE WHO HAVE
HAD RELATIONSHIPS
LIKE THAT,
OR SITUATIONS LIKE THAT.
BUT THE WHOLE WORLD
OF
EXOTICA
ISN'T,
IT'S STRANGE.
IT'S THE OPENING MONOLOGUE,
YOU HAVE TO WONDER WHAT
BROUGHT SOMEONE
TO THIS POINT.
AND WHY DO YOU THINK PEOPLE
THEN RESPONDED TO IT?

Atom says IT'S FUNNY, I WAS LISTENING
TO
CABARET
THE OTHER DAY.
AND I WAS
THINKING, YOU KNOW,
STORIES THAT ARE SET IN
PLACES WHERE PEOPLE GO
TO FIND ENTERTAINMENT
HAVE A NATURAL HOOK.
BECAUSE THERE IS THE WHOLE
SENSE OF WHAT PEOPLE ARE -
THERE IS A SHOW INVOLVED
WITHIN THE SHOW.
AND THAT'S ONE OF THE THINGS
THAT I THINK IS REALLY
ATTRACTIVE ABOUT
EXOTICA.
THE OTHER THING IS PEOPLE
REALLY DO LIKE TO BE CHALLENGED.
THEY REALLY DO
LIKE TO BE LOST,
AS LONG AS THEY TRUST THE
PIECES WILL COME BACK TOGETHER,
AND THERE WILL BE SOME
SORT OF EMOTIONAL REWARD.
AND I THINK
EXOTICA
WAS
THE FIRST FILM THAT I MADE
WHERE PEOPLE WERE
PREPARED TO TRUST THAT.
IN A LOT OF THE OTHER FILMS,
I JUST FEEL THAT PEOPLE
ARE JUST NOT REALLY PREPARED
TO TRUST WHAT I'M UP TO.
ESPECIALLY, WITHIN
MY OWN COMMUNITY.
PEOPLE HAVE TAKEN A LONG
TIME TO FIGURE OUT
WHAT I'M UP TO.
MAYBE BECAUSE I
HAVE, AS WELL.
I COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND
HOW PEOPLE MIGHT HAVE BEEN
TURNED OFF BY
SOME OF MY FILMS,
AND MAY CONTINUE TO BE
TURNED OFF BY SOME OF MY FILMS.
I ALSO UNDERSTAND WHY PEOPLE
MAY FETISHIZE THE FILMS
AND OVER-RESPOND TO THEM.
YOU TRY, WHEN YOU'RE
DEVELOPING A VOICE,
JUST TO REMAIN SUSPICIOUS
ENOUGH OF YOUR OWN MOTIVATIONS,
AND ALSO DEFINE WHAT IT IS
THAT REALLY MOVES YOU,
AND NOT WHAT YOU THINK
SHOULD MOVE YOU.
AND YOU TRY TO DEAL
WITH YOUR OWN DEMONS,
AND YOUR OWN FANTASIES.
EXOTICA, CERTAINLY, TO
CREATE A CLUB LIKE THAT,
TO MAKE IT WORK, IT
HAS TO BE A PLACE
THAT YOU WOULD
LIKE TO BE IN.
AND THAT'S ONE THING, TO
BE HONEST, THAT CLUB
IS MY FANTASY OF WHAT ONE OF
THOSE CLUBS MIGHT BE LIKE.
AND THEY NEVER ARE.

Richard says NO.

Atom says AT A VERY EARLY POINT, WHEN
WE WERE LOOKING AT STRIP CLUBS,
THEY ARE DEPRESSING, AWFUL
PLACES, FOR THE MOST PART.
AND I JUST COULDN'T IMAGINE
SETTING A WHOLE FILM
IN A STRIP CLUB WITHOUT IT
BEING UNSPEAKABLY BLEAK.

Richard says SO IT'S INTERESTING
BECAUSE THERE IS ONE IN
MY NEIGHBOURHOOD IN RIVERDALE
WHERE I LIVE, QUITE NEARBY,
AND AFTER I SAW
EXOTICA,
I STARTED WATCHING -

Atom says SAME ONE - JILLY'S?

Richard says YES.

Atom says THAT'S WHAT I
MODELLED IT OFF OF.
AND JILLY'S IS ONE OF THE
BETTER CLUBS IN THE TOWN.

Richard says BUT AFTER I SAW THE
MOVIE, I STARTED WATCHING
THE CLIENTELE GOING IN, AS
I GO BY IN THE STREETCAR,
AND I THOUGHT, FUNNY, I
DON'T SEE BRUCE GREENWOOD
ANYWHERE HERE.

Atom says NO, YOU WOULDN'T.
YOU WOULDN'T SEE
BRUCE GREENWOOD.

Richard says BUT THAT WAS A
CHOICE, WASN'T IT?
YOU WENT FOR
SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

Atom says YES.
BECAUSE I THINK, AS I
SAID, AT A CERTAIN POINT,
YOU HAVE TO EXAMINE -
IN ALL THE FILMS,
I'M ALWAYS TRYING
TO HEIGHTEN IT.
LET'S SAY WITH
THE ADJUSTOR,
THESE PEOPLE LIVE
IN A MODEL HOME.
A MODEL HOME IN THE
MIDDLE OF A DEVELOPMENT
THAT'S BEEN DESERTED.
AND THERE IS A THEATRICAL
SIDE TO ANYTHING I DO
THAT WILL ALWAYS BE THERE
BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT
MY FIRST LOVE WAS,
YOU KNOW?
I WAS NOT A CINEPHILE
FROM AN EARLY AGE.
I WAS A REALLY DEVOTED
READER OF THEATRE.
THERE WAS ONLY SO MUCH
THEATRE I COULD ACTUALLY
SEE IN VICTORIA, BUT
I READ VORACIOUSLY.
AND I HAVE A HUGE
COLLECTION OF PLAYS.
AND THOSE ARE THE THINGS
THAT I REALLY DRAW FROM.
I LOVE WHEN THINGS ARE JUST
TAKEN TO THAT NEXT STAGE.

Richard says YOU KNOW, IT'S AMAZING
HOW THINGS HAPPEN.
YOU TALKED ABOUT HOW YOU
WANTED TO BE IN THEATRE FIRST,
AND OF COURSE YOU MADE
YOUR REPUTATION IN MOVIES,
NOW, YOU'RE RETURNING TO
LIVE ENTERTAINMENT,
BUT NOT TO THE
THEATRE, TO THE OPERA.
IN FACT, TO THE CANADIAN OPERA
COMPANY TO STAGE
SALOME.
NOW, HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?

Atom says IT HAPPENED IN A VERY
PRACTICAL WAY BECAUSE
RITESH BATRA
ASKED ME TO.
AND I WAS JUST SO
THRILLED BY THE IDEA.
I THINK
SALOME
IS AN
EXTRAORDINARY PIECE OF MUSIC,
AND IT'S ALSO A TEXT
BY OSCAR WILDE.
AND IT'S ALSO, JUST IN
TERMS OF THE TYPE OF OPERA
I'VE BEEN ATTRACTED TO,
LET'S SAY,
LULU, OR
VOYTEK,
WHICH ARE EXPRESSIONISTIC
MUSIC DRAMAS BASED
ON A THEATRICAL TEXT.
IT'S THE MOTHER
OF ALL OF THOSE.
IT IS A PROTOTYPE OF
WHAT 20TH CENTURY OPERA
WAS TO BECOME.
SO I FELT REALLY,
REALLY EXCITED.
AND SO I SAID, YES.
AND NOW, OF COURSE,
I MEAN, I'M JUST,
I'M BOTH THRILLED
AND TERRIFIED.
IT'S NOT A
NATURAL BRIDGE.
EVERYONE GOES, OH,
YOU MAKE MOVIES,
OR THERE'S AN OPERATIC
SENSE IN THE MOVIES
THAT YOU MAKE.
IT'S NOT A
NATURAL BRIDGE.
I THINK IT'S SUCH AN
ENTIRELY DIFFERENT WORLD.

Richard says ALTHOUGH THERE IS
SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
I HAVE TO SAY, IF YOU
CALLED UP CENTRAL CASTING
AND SAID, FIND ME AN ATOM
EGOYAN OPERA, AND SAY,
WELL, HERE'S ONE ABOUT A
WOMAN WHO SEDUCES PEOPLE,
AND EVERYBODY
WATCHES HER USE SEX.
AND IT TIES IN THEMES
OF LOVE AND DEATH
AND ALL OF THOSE THINGS,
AND THERE IS MYSTERIES AND
STRANGERS AND PEOPLE WHO
AREN'T WHAT THEY SEEM TO BE.

Atom says YEAH, EXACTLY, EXCEPT -
IMPULSIVELY YOU'D THINK THAT
WOULD BE THE IDEAL MARRIAGE.
BUT THERE ARE THINGS I'VE
HAD TO SORT OF WRESTLE WITH,
WHICH IS, IN FACT,
THE REASON WHY THAT OPERA
HAS BEEN GIVEN - IT'S NOT
TAKEN ENTIRELY SERIOUSLY.
THERE SEEMS TO BE SOMETHING
ABOUT IT WHICH PEOPLE SORT OF
RESPOND TO IT AS BEING
JUST SORT OF, IT'S LIKE,
IS IT KITSCH OR IS IT ART?

Richard says YEAH.

Atom says AND IT SEEMS THE WHOLE
DECORATIVE AND DECADENT
SORT OF TRADITION
THAT IT COMES FROM,
THAT WHOLE TURN
OF THE CENTURY,
THAT WHOLE PERIOD WHERE YOU
HAD THIS BODY OF WORK
THAT COULD NOT HAVE
EXISTED EITHER BEFORE
OR AFTER FREUD, WHEN ALL
THESE IDEAS WERE IN THE AIR,
AND YET THEY WEREN'T
REALLY RESOLVED.
AND PEOPLE WERE STILL
TRYING TO - IT TAKES YOU
SOMEWHERE, BUT IT DOESN'T
QUITE ANSWER A LOT OF QUESTIONS.
AND THAT'S WHAT MAKES
IT QUITE UNWIELDY.
AND MY CHALLENGE HAS
BEEN TO TAKE THIS TEXT,
AND DEAL WITH IT
QUITE SERIOUSLY.
LIKE, WHAT IS
IT REALLY ABOUT?
AND IT'S ACTUALLY
NOT ABOUT EXOTICISM.
IT'S ACTUALLY NOT
REALLY - I MEAN,
IF YOU USE THAT AS
YOUR APPROACH INTO IT,
I THINK YOU CAN
ONLY GO SO FAR.
BUT IF YOU REALLY ADDRESS
WHAT IT SEEMS TO BE ABOUT,
WHICH IS RAGE
AND HYSTERIA,
AND WHAT MAKES PEOPLE
ACT IN THAT EXTREME WAY,
AND YOU TRY AND
ROOT IT IN THAT,
AND YOU USE THESE INCREDIBLE
MUSICAL PASSAGES,
NOT AS A WAY TO EMBELLISH
THE DECORATIVE SIDE,
BUT RATHER AS A WINDOW INTO
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THESE PEOPLE,
THAT IS TO SAY THE
DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS,
WHICH IS EIGHT MINUTES LONG.
IF YOU ACTUALLY STAGED THAT
JUST AS A DANCE PIECE,
THAT'S ONE THING.
BUT IF YOU ACTUALLY USE IT
AS A BACKDROP IN WHICH
TO CHOREOGRAPH SOMETHING ELSE,
I DON'T MEAN TO GIVE AWAY
WHAT I'M DOING, IT JUST
SEEMS THERE ARE ALL
THESE WINDOWS IN IT
WHICH CAN LEAD TO MAYBE
A WAY OF REINTERPRETING
THIS WORK.
AND TO KEEP THE
BIBLICAL SCOPE OF IT,
BUT NOT TO MAKE IT
LITERALLY SET IN THAT
BIBLICAL TIME, WHICH
IS SO REMOVED FROM US,
AND JUST SEEMS
SO ABSURD.

Richard says WELL, IT GETS INTO
CECIL B. DEMILLE LAND,
TEN COMMANDMENTS.

Atom says EXACTLY, AND THAT'S THE
PROBLEM WITH
SALOME,
AND HAVING SEEN A NUMBER
OF PRODUCTIONS NOW.
IF YOU JUST REWORK THAT
CECIL B. DEMILLESQUE
SORT OF PAGEANTRY
OF IT ALL,
THERE IS NOT A LOT TO
REALLY INVEST YOURSELF WITH,
EXCEPT FOR, OF COURSE,
THE MUSIC IS GREAT.
AND THAT'S MY FEELING,
IS THAT, I MEAN,
WHAT AN INCREDIBLE
GIFT, TO BE GIVEN
THIS EXTRAORDINARY
PIECE OF MUSIC,
AND THIS REALLY
PROVOCATIVE DRAMA,
AND THEN BE ASKED
TO WORK WITH THAT.
I'M SO USED TO SORT OF
STARTING WITH A BLANK PAGE.
AND YET, IT TERRIFIES ME.
I HAVE NOT DIRECTED
ANYTHING FOR THE STAGE SINCE
I WAS DIRECTING THINGS AT
THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO.
AND SUDDENLY TO BE
PUT INTO THE O'KEEFE,
OR THE HUMMINGBIRD CENTRE,
OR WHATEVER IT IS CALLED NOW,
IS JUST A BIT OVERWHELMING.
BUT I FEEL THE
SUPPORT TEAM IS GREAT.
AND I REALLY DO FEEL IT IS
GOING TO BE A PROVOCATIVE
AND REALLY UNUSUAL SHOW.

Richard says I'M CURIOUS.
ARE YOU GOING
TO USE ANY FILM?

Atom says YEAH.
THERE ARE PROJECTIONS,
THERE IS FILM,
AND I'M WORKING WITH A
REALLY GREAT COLLABORATOR,
PHILLIP BARKER, WHO IS
DESIGNING A LOT OF THE VIDEO
AND FILM PROJECTIONS.
BECAUSE IT IS ABOUT
PEOPLE WATCHING.
IT'S ABOUT PEOPLE, AND
PEOPLE WARNING OTHER PEOPLE
NOT TO WATCH, AND WHAT THE
DANGERS OF WATCHING ARE ABOUT.
SO WHAT DO YOU DO?

Richard says ARE THERE JOHN
THE BAPTIST VIDEOS?

Atom says WELL, AGAIN, I DON'T
WANT TO BE SPECIFIC,
BUT WE CERTAINLY ARE USING
VIDEO QUITE EXTENSIVELY.
AND WE ARE USING IT
AS A WAY THAT NARRABOTH
AND THE GUARDS
KEEP SURVEILLANCE.
FOR INSTANCE, IN
THE BEGINNING,
WHEN THERE IS REFERENCE MADE
TO NARRABOTH ON THE PAGE
LOOKING AT THIS PARTY, AND
NARRABOTH IS LOOKING
AT SALOME AT THE
DINNER TABLE, WELL,
HE WILL NOW BE LOOKING AT AN
IMAGE OF HER THAT IS BEING
PROJECTED ON A VIDEO SCREEN
FROM A SURVEILLANCE CAMERA.
AND THE CAMERA,
AS AN INSTRUMENT,
IS WORKED INTO THE
DRAMA MUCH MORE.
SO WHEN PEOPLE ARE TALKING
ABOUT THE DANGER OF WATCHING,
AND THE
DANGER OF LOOKING,
IT'S THE DANGER OF
FETISHIZING SOMETHING,
AND TAKING IT
OUT OF CONTEXT,
AND REMOVING IT FROM
WHAT IT REALLY IS ABOUT.
AND THEN, OF COURSE, THAT
JUST REALLY ECHOES QUITE
PROFOUNDLY, I THINK, SORT OF
THE MORE RELIGIOUS THEMES,
AND THIS IDEA OF THE
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
THE OLD TESTAMENT AND
NEW TESTAMENT VALUES,
AND THIS IDEA OF A
TRANSITIONAL TIME.
BECAUSE IT'S ALL TO DO
WITH PEOPLE HAVING TO -
IT'S ALL TO DO WITH
THWARTED DESIRE, RIGHT?
YOU HAVE THE PAGE WHO
IS DRAWN TO NARRABOTH,
WHO IS DRAWN TO SALOME,
WHO IS DRAWN TO JOCHANAAN.
YOU HAVE THIS STRING.
AND NO ONE IS SATISFIED.
NO ONE WILL RECEIVE
A RECIPROCAL GAZE.
AND WHAT THAT
PUSHES PEOPLE TO DO.
AND THE PASSION WITH WHICH
THEY HOLD ON TO AN IDEA
WHAT IT IS THEY ARE
SUPPOSED TO EXPECT.
TO ME, IT'S VERY, VERY
MOVING WHEN SALOME SAYS
AT THE END, “IF YOU
WOULD HAVE LOOKED AT ME,
YOU WOULD HAVE LOVED ME.”
IT'S SOMETHING
WHICH HAS, I THINK,
FOUND A VERY STRONG
EMOTIONAL RESPONSE IN ME.
SO IF I CAN TRANSLATE SOME
OF THAT ONTO THE STAGE,
I THINK IT'LL BE
REALLY THRILLING.

Richard says ONE OF THE PROBLEMS THAT
FACES EVERYBODY WHEN THEY
DO OPERA IS, OF COURSE, YOU
KNOW YOU'VE GOT A SPECIFIC
THINGS TO DEAL
WITH LIKE MUSIC.
PEOPLE HAVE TO BE HEARD.
PEOPLE CAN'T SING NOTES
IN CERTAIN POSITIONS
AND EVERYTHING.
BUT YOU'RE USED
TO, IN A MOVIE,
PEOPLE CAN DO ALMOST
EVERYTHING YOU WANT,
WITHIN HUMAN REASON,
OR YOU CAN EDIT IT
TO MAKE IT LOOK THAT WAY.
DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE TO
GO IN WITH A CERTAIN
ELEMENT OF COMPROMISE?

Atom says I GUESS IT'S A STRANGE
PROCESS BECAUSE WHEN
YOU'RE DIRECTING AN OPERA,
YOU SUBMIT THE DESIGNS,
AND YOU HAVE TO HAVE A
PLAN MONTHS AND MONTHS
BEFORE YOU ACTUALLY GET
TO WORK WITH SINGERS.
AND I'M DEALING WITH THAT
ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS
WHERE WE WANT TO GO AHEAD
WITH CERTAIN SCENIC ELEMENTS,
BUT AS TO WHETHER
OR NOT THE SINGERS
WILL FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH
THOSE SCENIC ELEMENTS,
WE DON'T KNOW.
FOR INSTANCE, IF YOU
WANT TO SUSPEND A SINGER
ON A TRAPEZE, IS SHE
COMFORTABLE WITH THAT?
CAN SHE ACTUALLY SING WHILE
SHE IS SWINGING IN THE AIR?
OR CAN SHE RUN HER HAND
ACROSS A CERTAIN AREA
TO PRODUCE A LIGHTING EFFECT,
AND FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH THAT?
NOW, WHEN YOU'RE
WORKING IN A FILM,
YOU WORK THOSE THINGS OUT,
AND YOU CAN RE-CHOREOGRAPH
AND RE-BLOCK, BUT IT SEEMS
WITH A SHOW THAT'S AS
TECHNICALLY AMBITIOUS
AS
SALOME
WILL BE,
THERE ARE THINGS YOU HAVE
TO MAKE A DECISION ABOUT,
AND PRAY THE SINGER CAN
ACCOMMODATE THOSE NEEDS.
BECAUSE IF NOT, I THINK
THERE IS BOUND TO BE CONFLICT.
AND I THINK THE
SINGERS, OBVIOUSLY,
ARE COMING WITH
A LOT OF BAGGAGE.
MANY OF THEM HAVE SUNG
THESE PARTS IN VARIOUS
PRODUCTIONS
AROUND THE WORLD.
AND IF YOU WANT THEM TO
CHANGE AN INTERPRETATION,
YOU PRAY THEY ARE GOING
TO BE OPEN TO THAT.
THAT YOU'RE GOING TO BE
ABLE TO MAKE THEM TRUST
WHAT YOU'RE DOING.
IT IS COMPLETELY
UNKNOWN TO ME.
I CAN SEE YOU'RE LOOKING AT
ME, AND YOU'RE THINKING,
OH YEAH, I KNOW WHAT
HE'S GETTING INTO.
BUT I REALLY DON'T.
I HAVE TO BE
VERY OPTIMISTIC.
AND ESPECIALLY IF THIS
PRODUCTION IS TOURING,
IT'S GOING TO OTHER CITIES,
SO THE CAST WILL BE CHANGING.
AND YOU HOPE THAT THERE
WILL BE A CONSISTENCY.
AT THE END OF THE DAY,
IT'S REALLY ABOUT FINDING
A PLACE THAT PEOPLE FEEL
EMOTIONALLY CENTRED IN.
THAT THEY CAN REALLY INVEST,
AND IDENTIFY AND TAKE
A RISK BASED ON WHAT
THEY FEEL WILL BE
AN EMOTIONAL PAYOFF.
AND IN THE SMALL AMOUNT
OF TIME I HAVE WITH
THE SINGERS, THAT'S WHAT
I HAVE TO, I SUPPOSE,
IMPART ON THEM.

Richard says IN THE END, REALLY,
WHETHER IT'S AN OPERA,
OR IT'S A MOVIE
OR WHATEVER,
IT'S ABOUT MAKING
A CONNECTION.

Atom says AND TRUST.
IT'S ABOUT TRUST.
SO WHEN YOU'RE DOING
SOMETHING FOR THE FIRST TIME,
YOU HOPE PEOPLE ARE
GOING TO BE ABLE TO TRUST
WHAT YOU'RE UP TO.
I MEAN, WHEN I'M
MAKING A NEW FILM,
OR WHEN I'M
CASTING A NEW FILM,
ALL I HAVE TO DO IS SHOW
PEOPLE MY OTHER FILMS,
AND THEY'LL EITHER LIKE WHAT
I'VE DONE OR NOT RESPOND
TO IT OR NOT, AND TRUST
ME BASED ON THAT OR NOT.
WHEN YOU'RE WORKING
IN A NEW MEDIUM,
IT'S A BIT OF A RISK.
BUT THAT'S ALSO EXCITING.
I THINK THAT'S ALSO
HOPEFULLY EXCITING.

Richard says IT'S EXCITING TO ME.
I'M SURE IT'LL BE EXCITING
TO EVERYBODY ELSE, AS WELL.
ATOM EGOYAN, THANK YOU.

Atom says THANK YOU.

Richard faces the screen and says FOR
DIALOGUE, I'M
RICHARD OUZOUNIAN.
GOOD-BYE FOR NOW.

Music plays as the end slate reads “Dialogue.”

A production of TVOntario. Copyright 1996, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Atom Egoyan