TORONTO — Atom Egoyan had an unusual ally in helping to find the intimacy at the core of his new erotic drama Chloe — a harsh Canadian winter.
The titular character is a young prostitute hired by a doctor to seduce her university professor husband.
The music professor’s close relationship with his students, especially the female ones, has his wife doubting his fidelity.
The prostitute, played by Amanda Seyfried of Mamma Mia, reports back to the doctor, played by Julianne Moore, after each encounter.
A perilous relationship between two women ostensibly sharing pieces of the same man ensues.
The script called for a romantic and seductive setting — springtime in San Francisco, Egoyan said Monday in an interview promoting the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it had its world premiere.
What the audience sees on the screen is Toronto in the grip of winter.
Snow is piled on curbs and characters speak through frosty clouds when they’re not taking refuge inside.
“At first I was going, ‘Am I crazy? I’m shooting a film in Toronto in February and I’m trying to make it look sexy?’ ” said Egoyan.
“In fact, it helps you. There’s something very romantic about the very cold exterior and these very warm places that people retreat to and have these very intimate conversations.”
Moore, who called the shoot earlier this year “shockingly cold,” said she “absolutely” agreed that the bitter outside temperature helped feed the sensuality of the movie.
“It’s a very interior piece emotionally too,” Moore said in a separate interview.
“It’s about the nature of intimacy and how you share things, the stuff that’s maybe not out in the open.”
The film marks a departure for Egoyan. It’s his first work to hit the big screen in which he didn’t pen the script personally.
Egoyan became Canada’s foremost independent filmmaker by crafting non-linear tales that didn’t move from point A to B in their storytelling.
His most celebrated works are his most challenging, such as Exotica” and The Sweet Hereafter.
“It was a really different process,” he said of making Chloe.
“Liberating, inasmuch as you know the storyline should work.”
The “structural risks” he took in other films weren’t necessary for Chloe, a genre piece that, Egoyan hopes, avoids being formulaic.
“I think I resist formula really obviously in my own films because (they’re) not really based on any sort of genre at all,” he said.
“In this one, I hope I’ve been able to bring some of the tone of those films into a more linear story.”
The Egoyan sensibility is definitely present in Chloe.”
Egoyan makes films about human behaviour, said Moore, who shares a number of erotically charged scenes with Seyfried — an actor more than 20 years her junior.
“This is really tricky material and in somebody else’s hands could be sensationalistic or prurient,” said Moore.
“With Atom, you know it’s not going to be.”
Liam Neeson, who plays Moore’s husband in the movie, became interested in the script when Egoyan was directing him in Samuel Beckett’s “Eh, Joe” at the Lincoln Center in New York City.
The actor suffered a devastating tragedy while shooting “Chloe” — his wife Natasha Richardson died after hitting her head when she fell on a Quebec ski slope.
Neeson returned to the set shortly afterward to complete his role.
“That’s a testament. He’s just an exceptional actor,” Egoyan said.
“I think because of that theatrical background and that sense of professionalism he was able to come back and just finish the job.”
The film has a distributor in “every country in the world except the U.S.,” Egoyan added.
“We have offers from the U.S. We want to get the best possible offer we can get. That’s pending. It’s going to happen.”
“Chloe” is scheduled to open in Canadian theatres during the December holiday period.