Muse and wife of director Atom Egoyan, Arsinee Khanjian has managed to appear in all of the filmmaker's projects without being typecast into narrow, predictable roles. Bearing the kind of strong, dark features that lend themselves to her portrayals of enigmatic women of character, Khanjian has proven herself to be one of the screen's more compelling actresses, enlivening the films of both her husband and those of such directors as Olivier Assayas.
Born in 1958 to Armenian parents living in Lebanon, Khanjian was raised in Beirut. Due to the country's dangerous political situation, her family moved to Montreal when she was 17. Strongly encouraged by her family to get a good education, she studied theatre in French at the Conservatoire Lasalle and received an undergraduate degree in Spanish and French at Concordia University. It was while she was pursuing her master's degree in political science that Khanjian met future husband and creative partner Egoyan at an audition for his feature debut, Next of Kin (1984). Cast in a starring role in the drama -- which centered on a young man's search for his heritage and identity -- Khanjian moved to Toronto and finished her M.A. at the University of Toronto. She worked as an administrator for the Ontario Arts Council until the mid-'80s before quitting to pursue acting full-time; throughout the rest of the decade, Khanjian continued to appear in lead and supporting roles in Egoyan's films, doing particularly memorable work as a near-catatonic hotel maid in Speaking Parts (1989).
The next decade brought with it increasing recognition and acclaim for Khanjian, who, in addition to starring in Egoyan's films, was also making a name for herself on television and the stage. She benefited from the increasing amount of international attention being paid to her husband's work, turning in well-received performances in both The Adjuster (1991) -- which cast her as a film censor with some kinky pastimes -- and Calendar (1993), an uncharacteristic comedy in which Khanjian played a translator opposite Egoyan. In 1994, the prize-winning success of Egoyan's Exotica at Cannes helped to introduce the actress to a wider audience; her portrayal of a pregnant strip club owner in the dark, labyrinthine film was strong enough to allow her to stand out from a talented cast that also included Elias Koteas, Don McKellar, and Mia Kirshner.
After a turn as a distressed and very naked hotel room occupant in Olivier Assayas' widely acclaimed Irma Vep (1996), Khanjian played the grieving mother of a young boy killed in a bus crash in Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter (1997). In the wake of the film's great international triumph, the actress -- who was by now being referred to as one half of the royal couple of Canadian cinema -- again worked with Assayas, this time as a woman forced to deal with the impending death of her ex-lover (François Cluzet) in Fin août, début septembre (1998). Khanjian's subsequent collaboration with Egoyan was probably her most recognized to date: cast as the domineering cooking show-celebrity mother of a future serial killer (Bob Hoskins) in 1999's Felicia's Journey, the actress impressed a number of international critics with her humorous, slightly demented performance.
In addition to her work in film, Khanjian has remained active on the Canadian stage and television, garnering a 1999 Genie Award for her performance in the TV series Foolish Heart. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi