Atom Egoyan on Beckett's Eh Joe

Film and theatre director Atom Egoyan reflects on his productions of Samuel Beckett's work

In an interview with Roger Ebert's Journal, filmmaker Atom Egoyan discusses his fascination with Samuel Beckett's television play, Eh Joe:
[...] I did a play with [Liam Neeson] at the Lincoln Centre about a year and a half ago. It was a very curious piece. It's an adaptation of a play that Samuel Beckett wrote for television called Eh Joe. And about two and a half years ago, the Gate Theatre in Dublin asked me to present something for Beckett's centenary. I'd done a film version of Krapp's Last Tape with John Hurt about ten years ago, and they asked if there was another play I would like to do - and I remembered this piece for television because it's an amazing work.

It's a man in a room listening to the voice of a woman tormenting him for thinking that he could ever forget her. And it's a beautifully written piece of text for female voice. And Beckett asked for a single camera gesture, a television camera, moving closer and closer to this man's face through the course of this monologue. And at the time, of course, and even still, a film camera could never extend a shot for that long. But a television camera could. So it was done for BBC television in the '60s and forgotten about as a piece of text.

It always stayed with me because I love this idea of the camera gesture lurking and focussing as the text intensified. So, I proposed, then, the idea of doing it as a stage piece, and we presented it at the Gate with Michael Gambon playing the man in the room and Penelope Winton was the woman's voice. And it was so successful it moved to the West End in London, and Liam had seen it there. When it was invited to the Lincoln Centre, Michael didn't want to come to do it, so Liam was approached and he attached himself. And you can't think of two more different faces than Michael Gambon and Liam Neeson, but, he was riveting. It was actually really interesting as a study of a star's close-up, because this piece ends up being the most extended reaction shot in history. He doesn't say a word. He's just listening and listening.

Atom Egoyan
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