For Canadian director Atom Egoyan creating Where the Truth Lies offered a challenge of constructing something that was almost a genre film but not quite. In wrestling with musician/composer Rupert Holmes’ novel of the same name, he takes a story that plays on the conventions of the classic comic/singing duo and turns it on its head.
The L Magazine: Are your characters in Where the Truth Lies mythic?
Atom Egoyan: Yes, I think that the very fact that they’re on a telethon and a duo, yes, that question will come up. I think it’s also a distracting question because there is something about the dynamic of any duo, going back to Laurel and Hardy, Cheech and Chong, Abbott and Costello. We don’t have duos anymore. It’s part of our popular culture that has faded away. There was this Freudian construction about it regarding “ego” and “id.” There’s always this person who’s impulsive and who has unleashed another character that tries to civilize them. It’s a recurrent theme. I wanted to make [them] mythological. I wanted to make them an amalgam of many different acts. By virtue that it’s a telethon, people are going to think of Martin and Lewis. It seems to me that that would be distracting. Given what the drama is about, for people to think whether or not this might have happened would be disruptive.
The L: Did you intend to push the envelope with nudity?
AE: Unwittingly, I pushed the envelope because I did not expect an NC-17 rating. I just think that that was a shock. It’s an R-rated film, but the MPAA gave it an NC-17, but appealed and we actually made changes, [which they were insistent on]. I didn’t want to push the envelope that much, but it happened. It’s now unrated, so you’re going to see the original version. In terms of the nudity issue, it’s not one of those situations where you can convince someone of [it being] dramatically essential, but it is. The erotic lives of these characters are an essential part of the dramatic construction of the piece. I think that, from the first discussions I had with the actors, I made that really clear. It’s something that they have to feel comfortable with. I try to make them as comfortable as possible, as well — there are storyboards and [I tell them] what will be shown and won’t be shown. It’s a question of, once the actors know what the parameters are, it’s a dramatic scene like everything else.
The L: In terms of the nudity, what were your toughest moments in the movie?
AE: People always ask me if I get turned on or excited while I’m shooting. Most of the time, you don’t, but then, occasionally, you do. In this case, I know why because there was this once scene with two women in a very theatrical setting and it was really inspired by a “Penthouse” fantasy that I had when I was around 14 or 13. Because of the setting of the film, I felt that part of it allowed me or gave me license to reconstruct the exact feelings that I had when I used to watch or look at those magazines. So, that was interesting. Most of the time, when you’re shooting an erotic scene, there’s almost something surgical about it. Then, occasionally, (laughs) if you set it up in a certain way, and there is a feeling that is a feeling going on in the set, you can lose yourself there. That’s interesting as well.
The L: How did the actors feel about it?
AE: I think that love-making and sex [are] very creative [acts] by their very nature. You have to allow yourself to believe something and you have to transfer yourself into another place. It’s not different from them acting out the scene like bees. Those lines and the blurred nature of those places [are] always fascinating to me. The scene that we’re talking about is actually about manipulation. There’s a scene when Vince (Colin Firth) constructed a scene. We find out, the morning after, that it’s a completely constructed scene. That idea of exploitation and the idea of being manipulated is actually part of the scene itself. So that we could actually go there and not censor ourselves. Also because we had an observer — this character who is orchestrating it all, who is watching it unfold, who becomes the viewer, in a way.