In his 12th film, Adoration, writer-director Atom Egoyan once again investigates the themes he’s committed so much of his previous work to: emotional and literal terrorism, perceived reality and a fractured family dynamic.

The film revolves around Simon (Devon Bostick, who has shades of a thinking man’s Jay Baruchel), the teenage son of a Palestinian father and Caucasian mother who both died when he was a child. He has since been raised by his uncle, Tom (played with brilliant restraint and unexpected depth by Underworld star Scott Speedman).

When his French teacher (Arsinée Khanjian, Egoyan’s wife, muse and frequent collaborator) asks her class to translate a news story about a terrorist who planted a bomb in the luggage of his girlfriend, who was pregnant with his child at the time, Simon takes the assignment and re-imagines it as a fictional first person account of his own family as a way of deciphering the events that led to his parent’s death. With the encouragement of his teacher, Simon continues to fan the fires of his story, passing it off as the truth, until it eventually makes its way onto the Internet, sparking rabid debates and a venomous backlash.

The story has been sitting on the back burner of Egoyan’s mind since 1986 when he came across a news story that stunned and haunted him.

“A Jordanian man talked his Irish girlfriend, who was pregnant with his child, onto an El Al flight and, unbeknownst to her, he’d planted a bomb in her bag,” Egoyan recounts, a tremor of alarm still lingering in his voice. “At the last moment he decided he couldn’t take the flight, so he was basically using her as a detonator for this bomb.”

In 2006, the story resurfaced when the man, Nezar Hindawi, who is currently serving the longest jail sentence in British history, became eligible for parole and proved to be entirely unrepentant or remorseful about his actions.

“I couldn’t imagine how someone could abstract a loved one like that,” Egoyan says, shaking his head. “That has to be the most extreme example of someone who is apparently just evil.”

As he was molding and shaping the story, Egoyan worked in other elements that spoke to him and can be found as a common thread throughout much of his work.

“The notion of sincerity and where feelings are, how they’re passed on, is an endless subject of fascination for me,” he smiles, shyly. “Roles we feel we should play as opposed to who we really are.”

Truth of character is something that deeply resonates with Egoyan, which is why casting is often a painstaking process for him. The first major hurdle in making Adoration was finding a young actor who could carry the emotionally demanding lead role of Simon without turning the audience against him when he makes opprobrious decisions.

“Devon was just an incredible gift,” Egoyan says. “There was such a sincerity to him, which is really rare. There’s something endearing about him. This character could have been incredibly manipulative and reprehensible, and what he does is really irresponsible, but I just knew, with Devon, it could feel like there was something sincere about it.”

The final piece of the puzzle came in casting the role of Simon’s uncle, Tom, which was originally written for an older actor. Speedman, who campaigned tirelessly for the role, convinced Egoyan that the character had the potential to be more tragic and compelling if it were a man who’d given up his 20s, rather than his 30s, to care for his sister’s child.

“[Scott] was incredibly insistent on auditioning, and I was insistent that he was too young,” says Egoyan. “When we finally connected it was amazing to see that character with a whole other dimension I hadn’t anticipated.”

Adoration releases in select theaters May 8.