Guest of Honour sat down with Solzy at the Movies for a roundtable interview during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Writer-director Atom Egoyan participated along with actors David Thewlis, Laysla De Oliveira, and Luke Wilson.
Atom, can you talk about reasoning behind giving Guest of Honour a non-linear structure in terms of the story?
Atom Egoyan: That’s just the way I write. Given the subject matter and the prismatic, sort of effect of these memories, and how these different timelines and times in these characters’ life collide, it just feels very natural to write it that way. And as David [Thewlis] said, it’s not necessarily the final form of the edit because the editing continues that process of writing. Because these films are done with a smaller budget, I have a lot of freedom to shift that. All those personal films like Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, Calendar, and Adoration, they’re made in this space where I don’t need to deal with test screenings and kind of people’s desire to—I did have one test screening, I remember, for Exotica when it was finished. It was a marketing screening and the distributor said, “Can we put the last scene in the beginning and have a voiceover that describes what she’s going through?” I was going, “Yes, you could, and it will make it clear that it would eviscerate the film. It would have no interest creatively.” I feel similarly with this. We’re in those different spaces right down to the point where I think at the very end, when we’re seeing Jim do his last inspection, there are surprises that I’m just realizing now—we haven’t really even we talked about it but we’re talking about that smile on your face and it’s a memory of her. I also think it’s that moment that you decide that you’re going to have your funeral with this priest.
David Thewlis: Now you tell me that!
Atom Egoyan: It’s kind of interesting because I was watching the other day. What is giving you the sense of peace? It just feels like it’s clearly your last inspection and clearly this moment where you’ve just arrived at some idea, and it’s given you some comfort. I think it’s the fact that, oh, he has the narrative. Maybe it’ll be communicated through him. Now, he doesn’t know that specifically perhaps—he can’t plan it though he plans everything else. He’s very manipulative. That suddenly struck me. I love that the structure allows you to kind of keep painting those things and that you work with music and sound and wonderful performances to kind of just keep it alive during the process and keep discovering things. I do enjoy when I work for hire on a script that’s not mine because the actors are always discovering things within that but it is a blueprint, and you’re following that. A film like this is really a work in progress all the way through. It’s just like finding that script that’s going to get you the minimal amount of financing you need and attract the actors you need to be in that space where you can just keep molding.
Can you talk about your process in preparing for the role?
Laysla De Oliveira: We had a lot of rehearsals with Adam, which was very great. Atom and I—we improvised scenes that weren’t in the script. He would ask me questions as Veronica so we were able to really dive in deep there. He’s great—he would cut out articles for me to read and just so available. Anytime I’d have a thought, I could shoot a message his way and he would do the same so there were a lot of conversations that happened before we went into actual shooting, which made shooting a lot easier, because we really knew what we were going to do by the time he yelled action.
Luke Wilson: Now, for me, playing a priest, I come from a Catholic family and my grandparents were kind of daily churchgoers and kind of my parents weren’t the same way. I’ll just occasionally these days just go into a church for some peace and quiet or just to check out the architecture in different towns. But yeah, other than that, I just kind of thought about playing a priest in terms of a therapist, a psychiatrist, or someone in a town that people go to with their problems either with questions or they want to get something off their chest. I just found that that’s kind of what I tried to hang my hat on in terms of an idea to think about. This is a person that people go to with things they wouldn’t tell their sister or wife or husband and I just found that very interesting. I tried to think about what kind of what kind of demeanor someone like that would have.