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INT: Egoyan #1

07.22.2003

Part 1: Getting to Know Atom
Part 2: Let's Discuss Ararat

Interviewing Oscar nominated writer/director Atom Egoyan was a particularly sweet treat for both Indiana Sev and myself since we are both major film fans, aspiring screenwriters and Canadian-Armenians, much like the lauded filmmaker. Egoyan's latest film entitled ARARAT was one of the first "major" studio releases to touch upon the seemingly untouchable subject of the Armenian Genocide, a tragic historical event which occurred in 1915 and which the Turkish government still denies to this day. The ARARAT DVD comes out today, the 22nd of July, 2003.

It's obviously a "heavy" topic for any film, so we decided to leave the more serious matters for the second part of our one-on-one interview with the director, and first try to get beneath the surface of a man who is best known for creating artsy, deep, symbolic and emotionally resonant pictures that don't necessarily translate into big bucks at the box-office (EXOTICA, THE ADJUSTER, FELICIA'S JOURNEY, etc...) Egoyan was recently chosen as one of Time Magazine's Global 100 (a roster of young leaders for the new millennium-- citing him as one of the most important film artists working today) and earned Oscar nods for both his writing and directing efforts in 1998's THE SWEET HEREAFTER.

Knowing all that, we decided to loosen up the interview by asking him what he did in his spare time, what filmmakers/actors he enjoyed himself and many other "getting to know" type questions below. Keep reading if you want to find out how DIRTY HARRY, Egoyan's meeting with Martin Scorsese, HAPPY GILMORE and my attempt to sway him to check out THE RULES OF ATTRACTION integrated themselves into our conversation.

Incidentally, we met Mr. Egoyan in the lobby of a swanky hotel, expecting to see him moping around with a pipe in his mouth and a blazer draped over his dark mood, but instead found a joyous, bouncy, unpretentious, down-to-earth man who was almost the exact opposite of what you would think, having seen his films. Dressed in black from top to bottom, as were we, the interview was one of the most pleasant ones that we've ever experienced. He had an open character, an outgoing personality and an inquiring mind of his own (check out all the questions he asks us as well...cool). In other words: one class act!

ATOM EGOYAN

Q: First of all, thank you for taking the time to meet with us?

A: My pleasure.

Q: Do you still have any actors/actresses who are on your wish list?

A: Oh yeah, there's a lot. I'm a huge Gene Hackman fan. I'm also really fascinated by Nicole Kidman, which is why I'm dying to see DOGVILLE, which I hear was really great. I think Gene Hackman can do anything.

Q: Yeah, I know you like THE CONVERSATION a lot.

A: Yeah, yeah. I think we're in a really interesting time though, I mean, we're at a point where we can go back to actors who we liked historically and generate them again. Which I find a little disturbing, but also fascinating.

Q: Who are some of your favorite contemporary filmmakers?

A: I really admire Lars Von Trier, I like Todd Haynes…I think Mark Pellington is also really interesting. He did…ARGYLE ROAD?

Q: ARLINGTON ROAD?

A: Yeah, yeah. But I've seen a lot of his earlier films as well. He also did THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, he's a very interesting filmmaker. I like Gus Van Sant. I really liked GERRY…I must be the only person in the world. Pedro Almodovar is another favorite of mine. TALK TO HER was great.

Q: (laughs) What about P.T. Anderson?

A: I really love his work. MAGNOLIA was just brilliant. And I liked PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE as well. I was surprised that Adam Sandler didn't get more attention for that film. That was a really amazing performance. The phone booth scene in Hawaii…the anger that he was able to generate was really impressive.

Q: It's funny that you mention Adam Sandler, since we also had a "cute question" about whether or not you'd ever watched an Adam Sandler movie, and if so, if you liked it?

A: I had to early on because of Sarah Polley. I had a fight with her and she ascertained that he's one of the most important figures in the world of cinema, so as a result...I had to watch HAPPY GILMORE.

Q: That's one of his best ones.

A: Yeah, I liked it. And actually, I really respected what he did in PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE and thought it was a great performance. He's interesting, he's an interesting actor. One of the things about having a kid is that you end up seeing movies that you wouldn't see otherwise, which is why my one of my favorite recent films is TOY STORY 2.

Q: Great movie.

A: I thought they did an amazing, amazing job.

Q: What about some of your own personal favorites of all-time? Films that we might not expect to see on that list…like TOY STORY 2, I suppose.

A: Yeah, there's a lot of films that you would expect to see on the list, but the ones you wouldn't be stuff like…DIRTY HARRY.

Q: Ooooohh…

A: I think Segal is a great director. And that film was really important…

Q: (Indiana Sev turns to JoBlo) It's in your book, right?

JoBlo: You bet.

A: I just think that scene in the football field…

Q: Yeah! When the camera pulls back all the way to the sky?

A: Unbelievable. And what happened to that actor? (Andrew Robinson who played Scorpio)

Q: Yeah, the psycho guy, right?

A: That must have been one of the best incarnations of evil ever.

Q: He was just plain nuts. No good reason either.

A: Like when he asked that other guy to punch him out, the black guy with the gloves? Crazy. To me, the best indication of the films that you love the most are the ones that you bought when the dvds first came out, and the first dvd I got was JESUS CHRIST: SUPERSTAR. I love that film. I think it's one the best films…entertaining kind of films, that you could watch over and over again…DIRTY HARRY, THE CONVERSATION. And then of course, all of these European art films. BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK is a great film, with Spencer Tracy. That's one of my favorite films.

Q: I'm a pretty big fan of Hollywood history, the Oscars and all that, and I was wondering if you could pinpoint one of your favorite memories from your 1997 Oscar night?

A: Yeah, for sure. I think the most extraordinary moment was on the red carpet and realizing how many different identities I held. I mean, I was walking down the carpet and there were all these Canadian journalist saying "how does it feel to be here as the first Canadian director for a Canadian film?" and answering all that. And then there were these Armenian journalists who were saying "how does it feel to be here as the first Armenian director nominated?" and answering that. And then just as I was about to enter into the door, there's a black journalist who said "how does it feel to be here as an African filmmaker?" and I just stopped and thought about it for a second and I realized, "Oh yeah, I was born in Egypt!"

Q: (laughs) So everyone was pulling you under their wings…a lot of pressure that night…

A: Oh, it was incredible. It was actually enjoyable because you kind of knew that you weren't going to win, it was going to be TITANIC, but I'll never forget the very interesting moment of when they were announcing Best Screenplay, because TITANIC wasn't nominated and there was this moment where Walter Matthau kind of tripped over the word and I thought he had taken like 10 seconds before he blurted it out and said Curtis Hanson (for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL). But when I looked at the tape later on, it was like a brief moment (snaps his fingers). But for me, it was like suspended in time. It was like the incredible feeling.

Q: So it was a good experience?

A: It was an amazing experience! You also realize that it is so unlikely, I mean it was this wild ride. It wasn't in the cards for that film, right? I think it was really because at the end of the year, suddenly, the NEW YORK TIMES and the L.A. TIMES quoted it as the "Best Picture of the Year", and it was right around that moment that the Academy was going out to see the movies, so it just sort of…rode that wave.

Q: That was a good year too, L.A CONFIDENTIAL…

A: Yeah, I love that film.

Q: Switching gears, do you ever see yourself making any one of these genre films: science-fiction, musical or comedy?

A: Musical? That's an interesting question because the book that's the basis of my next film skirts with that ("Where the Truth Lies"), although not flat out. Science-fiction was never part of my upbringing, I was never really a science-fiction geek. There were a couple of science-fiction films which had a huge influence on me like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY…

Q: Of course…

A: I also really loved the film MINORITY REPORT. I thought that was brilliant. I've come to really appreciate Steven Spielberg. I was kind of dismissive about him at a certain point, but here's a guy, who in one year, makes MINORITY REPORT and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN

Q: Yup, impressive…

A: Yeah, and A.I. is also fantastic. He's really at the peak of his form, you know? Comedy, I've love to, and I think there's a comic element in all of my movies, it just hasn't ever been brought far out. I think that's actually one of my regrets about ARARAT, I thought that there might be more possibility for humor around the making of the film, in the relationship between Greenwood and Bogosian's characters, but we lost it because of its subject matter…it just couldn't hold that.

Q: I had a few laughs with THE ADJUSTER.

A: Yeah, yeah…

Q: And CALENDAR as well. I really didn't expect that and I was even laughing out loud in certain parts.

A: I think the humorous moments for me are quite spontaneous and you just need to allow for a structure in which that can happen. There's a real science to a certain type of comedy, but some of the best moments from artists are the ones genuinely generated, so you just have to allow that to come forth. Are you guys interested in filmmaking?

JoBlo: Great question! Actually, I've written about four screenplays myself and Indiana here has written one. I've also got a MBA which I one day hope will help me hone my skills into that of a film producer. We have lots of close Montreal friends who are also in the "business".

A: That's really fascinating. And you guys do this for a living?

JoBlo: I started the website as a hobby back in 1998, but it turned into this much bigger thing as more and more people visited the site every day, to the point where we have over 40,000 people on there every day now, including some actual Hollywood folk.

A: Really? And when did you know that things were getting better?

JoBlo: We usually see it through the traffic numbers, but being as I never leave my room, I couldn't really gauge it until I got to the San Diego Comic Con in 2000 and people actually recognized me. It was sort of surreal. The coolest thing that's happened to us so far (other than meeting Atom Egoyan, of course) was Kevin Smith writing a foreword to my book and Steven Spielberg actually acknowledging our site at the MINORITY REPORT press junket in NY last year. Very, very surreal. Made my parents damn proud.

A: I know what you mean. I remember being at a Miramax function and Martin Scorsese…

Q: Wow!

A: …yeah, Martin Scorsese being introduced to me and saying something about having seen SPEAKING PARTS and enjoying it and saying that he liked it better on the screen, as opposed to tape. And I was just thinking, "Wow, he saw my film on tape AND on screen!" Bizarre. I was also invited to meet Nicole Kidman backstage of her London show of "The Blue Room" and she mentioned how much she loved THE SWEET HEREAFTER. It's always interesting to me to see how long certain films last or how many people have actually seen them.

Q: That's very cool. We don't keep you too much longer, so we'll just end it off with a couple more. Do you ever read your films' reviews?

A: Yes, I read some from time to time and I'd be lying if I said I didn't. It's interesting what some critics have said this time around, those that liked many of my past movies and didn't quite understand what I was trying to do with ARARAT. It's still fascinating to see the response some of my films get worldwide. I'm hoping ARARAT has a lasting effect on people and that they'll be able to go back to it and re-visit it over and over again. It's strange, some films get lost when enough attention and coverage isn't put on them initially. Luckily, ARARAT doesn't seem to be falling into that category of film.

Q: What does Atom Egoyan do to "have fun and relax"?

A: Music. I listen to a lot of music. Read books.

Q: Do you watch a lot of television? Sports?

A: I used to watch hockey when I was younger, but not anymore.

Q: Did you see Michael Moore's BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE and his speech at the Oscars?

A: Yeah, I really liked that movie. I thought what he said back-stage after his initial speech was more interesting than what he said on stage though. He seemed more focused and comfortable. It was interesting seeing the movie in Toronto (laughs), the movie has moments that are set near there and it's funny to see the image of the city as seen in the film. It's not quite that way in reality (referring to "complete" safety impression the film gives of the city, no locked doors, etc.)

JoBlo: I loved that film also. I chose it as my 2nd favorite of last year.

A: What was your favorite?

JoBlo: THE RULES OF ATTRACTION by Roger Avary.

A: The guy who co-wrote PULP FICTION, right?

JoBlo: That's it. It's a very cool movie, but not for everyone. It's based on a novel by Bret Easton Ellis.

A: Hmmm….

Q: Okay, I think that's about it for us. Thank you very much for your time here today…it was greatly appreciated.

A: You're welcome and thank YOU for the book.

JoBlo: Enjoy. Oh and by the way…can I be a big-time geek and ask you for a picture with me?

A: Of course.

JoBlo: Thanks!

Part 1: Getting to Know Atom
Part 2:  Let's Discuss Ararat
Source: JoBlo.com

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