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“I wouldn’t have my career if it weren’t for TIFF”: Atom Egoyan on his new opera-inspired film, Seven Veils

The director, whose latest film premiered last night at TIFF, spoke to us about his relationship to the opera, collaborating with Amanda Seyfried and the challenges of summoning erotic energy

"I wouldn't have my career if it weren't for TIFF": Atom Egoyan on his new opera-inspired film, Seven Veils
Ulysse del Drago

In many ways, Atom Egoyan’s latest film is a blast from the past. In 1996, the then-newbie director was approached by the Canadian Opera Company to direct Salome—Strauss’s sexually charged, disturbingly violent 1905 masterpiece about the death of John the Baptist. Egoyan’s version was controversial (some critics objected to the explicit rape scene) and one he would rework with multiple stagings over the next three decades. Fast forward to February of this year, when Egoyan directed yet another rendition of Salome at the Four Seasons Centre—only this time, he was also filming a movie. In Seven Veils, which premiered at TIFF last night, Amanda Seyfried plays Jeanine, a director who steps in to helm a staging of Salome under traumatic circumstances. In her desire to excel, she bumps up against ghosts from the past and creative guardrails of the present. 

It’s not the first collab for Egoyan and Seyfried, who also worked together on 2009’s Chloe. Here, Egoyan talks about the creative reunion and why he understands Seyfried’s decision to skip the festival this year amid the SAG-AFTRA strike.


You’re best known as a movie director. Have you always been an opera buff on the side? I was never an opera geek, but I was obsessed with Jesus Christ Superstar growing up, so the idea of a biblical story set to music was ingrained in me. When I was approached to direct Salome back in the mid-’90s, I started listening to it and felt a connection—particularly with the libretto, which is based on the play by Oscar Wilde and deals with themes of desire and frustration. Obviously, the opera has been around for hundreds of years, but my version was the first one that imagines the final “Dance of the Seven Veils”—the scene in which Salome is raped by her father’s friends—as a flashback, performed behind a curtain as a shadow dance. It was considered radical and provocative at the time, and there was a lot of criticism. I toned down some of the violence for the remount we did in 2002, and I’ve done so even more over the years. Two years ago, when the COC asked if I would do it again, I started thinking about this character who was wrestling with some of the same things that I’ve dealt with.

Just to clarify: you directed Seven Veils the movie while also directing the opera within the movie for a live audience? Yes. The opera ran for two weeks in February at the Four Seasons Centre, so the production that you see in the movie—including performances by world-famous opera singers—is all real. It meant that we had to do most of the shooting in a two-week period, which was a challenge.

You mentioned this character—the artistic director, Jeanine, played by Amanda Seyfried—who also struggles to live up to previous stagings of Salome. To what extent is her experience based on yours? Like Jeanine, I understand what it’s like when you try to get performers to do things a certain way and come up against resistance. I’m a director who likes to explain things a lot. I tend to get very excited about a line or a gesture, and I want to transmit that enthusiasm to actors, which can happen physically. Amanda and I have worked together before, so I think some of her character’s physicality might have been based on me, but you’d have to ask her about that. Her character is tortured by this idea of living up to the previous production: Will she be able to summon the erotic energy?

You’re Atom Egoyan—if there’s one thing you can do, it’s summon erotic energy. In regards to a lot of my older work, I think I was always playing by the rules and I was always respectful, but we didn’t have intimacy coaches on set—there was nothing drawn up. It raises the question: Would the work have been the same with these other people involved? I think it’s great that the industry has introduced intimacy coaches as a form of self-regulation, because we know that there are people who take advantage. The woman who plays the intimacy coach in the movie was also our intimacy coach on set.

But, in the movie, Jeanine seems to bristle against what she perceives as a creative restriction. Right. There’s a question raised about whether she witnessed and experienced abuse when she was on the set of the same show years earlier. So, is this an example of a traumatized person transmitting that onto other people? There is that moment with the understudy, when Jeanine is running her fingers through his hand. She’s trying to create a breakthrough moment, but he’s clearly uncomfortable—and imagine if she were a male director and he was a woman.

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You mentioned that you and Seyfried have worked together before. Would it be too much to call her your muse? Is muse even a term we should be using in 2023? I think it’s an outdated term. My wife, Arsinée, would always cringe when people called her my muse, even though my wife did inspire many of the things that I wrote. After working with Amanda on Chloe and then seeing her in The Dropout, I thought, She’s one of the best actors around. So, when the script was finished, I was hopeful that she would like it. We had promised we would work together again, and this was the right project.

Before The Dropout, a lot of people knew Seyfried best as the ditz in Mean Girls. Were you happy to see her talent so widely recognized? Oh yeah, totally. She was so amazing—and that voice. She would do the Elizabeth Holmes voice on set for us.

Seyfried is not at TIFF to promote the movie. Despite being granted a waiver, she has said that it “didn’t feel right.” Was that disappointing, particularly with some other stars doing the festival circuit? I think that people are missing a nuance. There is a waiver, but there’s also an interim agreement between the production and SAG-AFTRA, which is the gold standard and what actors like Adam Driver are operating under. We are a Canadian film operating under a Canadian union, so we would never sign an interim agreement with an American union. I know Amanda was torn. We just screened the film for her in New York, and she’s super excited about it, but in the end, I think she didn’t want to come here and just answer questions about the strike.

On the plus side, without all the movie stars, the spotlight is finally on Canadian directors! Well, hopefully it’s on Canadian talent. Rebecca Liddiard, who plays Clea, is an amazing talent. Vanessa Antione, Lanette Ware, Mark O’Brien, Douglas Smith—they’re all Canadian union members, and they’re going to be on the red carpet. 

Do you agree that the strike could present opportunities for CanCon? Fingers crossed. The reality is that I wouldn’t have my career if it weren’t for TIFF, and I wonder if young Canadian directors have been getting the same attention as I got in the ’80s, when there was so much excitement around Canadian cinema. It’s hard to break through when you have so much energy around the American star system.

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Your movies tend to be quite heavy, and Seven Veils is no exception. Do you ever finish a project and think, You know what, next time I’m going to do a rom-com? I mean, if the right story came along… I’m a big fan of comedy. I love movies like Bridesmaids—Kristen Wiig is just the best. But, as a director, you have to feel like you are the absolute best person to do the project. There are a lot of films that I’ve loved watching, but I don’t know if I’m the one for the job.

I like the idea of a semi-erotic Canadian Bridesmaids. Maybe bring in Sarah Polley, Arsinée and Amanda Seyfried. Maybe they’re remounting a production of Jesus Christ Superstar and they’re all auditioning for Mary Magdalene.

Coming to TIFF 2026… Ha, right.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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