Dear John, I’ve really changed

In Atom Egoyan’s ‘Chloe,’ Amanda Seyfried has the scary power of a young Bette Davis

Dear John, I’ve really changed

Photograph by Everett Collection

Atom Egoyan has a knack for casting actresses on the cusp of adulthood in roles laden with sexual intrigue. In Exotica (1994), a 17-year-old Mia Kirshner skirted taboos as a stripper in a schoolgirl kilt. In The Sweet Hereafter, an 18-year-old Sarah Polley played a girl damaged by a bus accident, and an incestuous relationship with her father. In Felicia’s Journey (1999), Elaine Cassidy starred as a pregnant Irish teen befriended by a sexual predator. And in Where the Truth Lies (2005), as a young journalist unravelling a murder, Alison Lohman joined a steamy ménage à trois with Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon. For all four actresses, these were pivotal roles, and dramatic rites of passage.

But Egoyan has never conjured a performance as electrifying as the one unleashed by Amanda Seyfried in his sleek new erotic thriller, Chloe. Nor has he cast someone whose career has taken off with such velocity before the movie’s release. When Seyfried auditioned for Chloe, in 2007, she had attracted some notice as an airhead in Mean Girls (2004), and for her regular role as a disaffected Mormon daughter in the HBO series Big Love. But she was not widely known. Although she had co-starred with Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia!, that movie wasn’t out yet when Egoyan cast her, and no one knew how huge it would be. Since then, after heating up the screen as the foil to a carnivorous Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body, and scoring a box-office hit as the heroine of Dear John, Seyfried, 24, has become Hollywood’s new It Girl.

“She told me Chloe was the last role she got on her qualities as an actress rather than being a star,” says Egoyan, who now hopes her celebrity will give his film a boost. “Dear John has a very different pedigree. I don’t know if even half of its audience would go see a movie like Chloe—America’s very weird about sex. But my fingers are crossed.”

In Chloe’s title role, Seyfried is worlds away from the nurturing sweetheart in Dear John’s chick-flick romance. She’s a hooker on a perverse mission. Catherine (Julianne Moore), an upscale gynecologist married to a professor (Liam Neeson), hires her to tempt her husband after she suspects he’s having an affair. Chloe reports on the progress of her seduction, regaling Catherine with the most intimate details in sessions that escalate into verbal foreplay—until the two women become involved. When Catherine tries to end the liaison, Chloe latches onto her, and her family, with an obsession that becomes alarming.

Seyfried goes through uncanny, shape-shifting transformations—from fragile hooker, to smooth seductress, to scary femme fatale. “It’s a story of mad love,” says Egoyan, “and I felt Amanda was perfect to play that. There’s something frail about her, something that’s not entirely resolved.” He looked at hundreds of actresses before settling on Seyfried. “They were all pretty and talented—and possessed of a certain type of performance that I knew wasn’t going to change. She was the only one who seemed volatile and unpredictable.”

Born in Pennsylvania—her mother is an occupational therapist, her father a pharmacist—Seyfried worked as a model from 11 to 17 while training as a singer with a voice coach. A natural blond with bee-stung lips and vast blue eyes, she’s beyond pretty. But what makes her so compelling onscreen is the prospect of danger that looms in those long-lashed Bette Davis eyes.

“There’s something very icy about them,” says Egoyan, who agrees she does resemble a young Bette Davis. “It’s unsettling. There’s something jarring about her, even in repose.” He cites a scene in which Chloe breezes into the gynecologist’s office, shocking her with an unannounced social call. As she’s briskly shown the door, Chloe eyes the camera with a chilling, enigmatic gaze. That was Seyfried’s bold idea. She also had no compunction about performing a nude sex scene with Moore. During the Toronto film festival, she told me it was less distressing than her lingering French kiss with Fox in Jennifer’s Body—which “was kind of creepy because it went on too long.”

Off the set, Seyfried is known for her unnerving candour. “She has a wicked sense of humour, and doesn’t have any guard,” says Egoyan. “It’s disarming,” At a Chloe press day in Manhattan this week, he told Seyfried to take a cue from Moore and try to maintain some distance. “Amanda has a funny way of cutting to the chase,” he adds. “I’ll never forget the first time she met Liam Neeson in New York. She looked at Liam and said, ‘So, would you pay to f–k me?’ He was so taken aback, he pretended he didn’t hear it.”

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