Atom Egoyan is straddling the worlds of opera and film these days.
The director is bringing his Chinese opera, “Feng Yi Ting,” to the Lincoln
Center Festival in New York next month, after it premiered to critical acclaim
at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston earlier this summer. But he won’t actually
be in New York when it comes: he’ll be on set for his new film, “Devil’s Knot,”
about the West Memphis Three case, which begins production soon.
“I was just doing camera tests with Reese [Witherspoon] this morning and
looking at all the locations and the last-minute casting. That swirl which is
filmmaking,” Egoyan said recently in an interview. “I was doing ‘Salome’ around
the time I was finishing ‘The Sweet Hereafter,’ so that was the last time the
two worlds kind of collided, but that was a long time ago. Normally there’s some
sort of a buffer.”
In “Devil’s Knot,” Egoyan will reinterpret the story of the West Memphis
Three — the famous case of three Arkansas teenagers who were convicted in 1994
of killing three boys. They claimed innocence while spending 18 years in prison,
but were set free last August after agreeing to an Alford Plea — when a party
accepts a guilty verdict while maintaining innocence. The stunning
turn-of-events came after new DNA evidence found at the crime scene excluded the
three men as the source.
Egoyan says his film will be a work of fiction based on these true events,
and that “Devil’s Knot” will focus on two other characters: the mother of one of
the murdered boys, played by Reese Witherspoon, and the private investigator who
worked for the teens’ defense team, played by Colin Firth.
There have been many recent documentaries on the extraordinary case, drawing
support for the West Memphis Three from celebrities including Johnny Depp,
Metallica, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. But
Egoyan takes on the first feature film on the subject, calling the West Memphis
Three “a piece of American mythology now.”
Speakeasy caught up with the director to discuss the film — his first since
“Chloe” in 2009. Read the edited transcript below, then check back in soon for
more on Egoyan’s opera, “Feng Yi Ting.”
You cast relative unknowns to play the teenagers in the West Memphis
Three, compared with Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon. Why?
It’ll be an interesting mix, right? I was looking at a lot of people in their
20s and there was just a really different feeling than actual teenagers. That
was an important part of the choice, to preserve. It was an intense search.
Did you look at well-known actors to play the teens?
Yeah. And they’re really prized roles, we had the major agencies all
presenting actors. There was sort of another way to go with the casting, but we
made this decision and I’m excited about it.
Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin (two of the real-life West
Memphis Three) are co-producers. What will be their level of
I think it’s really just to give their blessing to it. They read the script
and they’re prepared. I just think it’s a really important spiritual connection
and also allows them to own some of their own story.
There have been documentaries about the West Memphis Three recently
but this is the first feature film.
They’re part of the story. I mean what we’re focusing on is the two other
characters – the mother of one of the boys who was killed, and this private
investigator who was working for the boys’ defense team. It is a fiction based
on reality of course, but I consider the West Memphis Three story a piece of
American mythology now. After four documentaries and the way that story has
persisted, it has become a story that I think will be looked at and
reinterpreted because it is one of the most exhaustively examined pieces of
crime and certainly a murder story outside of a celebrity of president. I can’t
think of any other story that’s been unsolved, which remains at some level
mysterious, and also which has been subject to such scrutiny. You go on the
Internet, and it’s kind of amazing, these sites that are devoted to every piece
of testimony, every piece of evidence. It has lingered in the American
consciousness in a certain way, and I think it’s ripe for dramatic retelling, a
reinvestigation that’s not bound by the orthodoxies of documentary.
It’s been a few years since your last feature film. Why have you
It has been time with opera, theater. I’ve also written a new film of my own
which I’m planning to shoot right after this. On a personal level, our son – it
was our last year with him before he went to university, so I just wanted to
have that time. When you plunge into a film, as I am now, you really do leave
your life behind. I wanted to enjoy that last window with him.
Comment section is open and...as usual...the supporters are mixing up another batch of Kool-Aid.