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[Only IN Hollywood] ‘Kinds of Kindness’ cast, Lanthimos on their ‘bizarre, special’ film

Ruben V. Nepales

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[Only IN Hollywood] ‘Kinds of Kindness’ cast, Lanthimos on their ‘bizarre, special’ film

NEW FILM. Emma Stone, Yorgos Lanthimos, and Jesse Plemons at the New York premiere of 'Kinds of Kindness.'

Searchlight Pictures

'The constant thing is to have creative freedom and work with people that you trust. That is what I am trying to sustain, and so far, I have been very fortunate to be able to do that,' says Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos

LOS ANGELES, USA – “It’s impossible. I just trust him. The script is bizarre, strange, bonkers, and special, of course, but to try and unpack it too much, it would just get stuck in your head. And the same thing, watching it.”

Joe Alwyn succinctly summed up Yorgos Lanthimos’ Kinds of Kindness when he and his costars answered a question at a press conference about cinema’s iconoclast – “How do you get inside the mind of Yorgos Lanthimos? How to get into the state of mind that will allow you to see the world through the eyes of Yorgos?”

emma stone and joe alwyn
Emma Stone and Joe Alwyn in ‘Kinds of Kindness.’ Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The question popped up in this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where Yorgos’ surreal, darkly comedic movie (living up to the filmmaker’s style) premiered. The cinematic triptych, shot in New Orleans, Louisiana, is now being released on staggered dates internationally, mostly in July.

“One of the reasons I love his films is because you feel it first rather than try and intellectually unpack it,” added Joe, who plays three different characters, as do the other principal actors in the trilogy. “And so, I just trust the world that he’s building and follow whatever direction he gives.”

“I felt lucky to be there. I showed up to work every day and just tried to say yes, more than I said no.”

Stellar performances

Joe, his castmates – Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, and Jesse Plemmons – and Yorgos attended the press conference of their film, which was not as unanimously embraced by the critics as the Greek director’s Poor Things.

The Kafkaesque, absurdist comedy-drama left some critics and viewers cold. Poor Things makes Kinds of Kindness very staid and accessible by comparison.

But the performances are stellar. Jesse bagged a well-deserved best actor trophy in Cannes.

Emma, whose most successful collaboration with Yorgos is Poor Things, for which she won best actress Oscar and Golden Globe in the last awards season, talked about working with the Athens-born auteur.

“I think the biggest feeling that I have now is I just have extreme comfort,” she said. “So, I feel like I can do anything with him.”

“Because we’ve worked together so many times. And I trust him beyond the trust I’ve ever had with any director.”

“I’ve been lucky to work with great directors but we (she and Yorgos) just have something that I can’t explain. And I’m so grateful for it. It just makes sense to me.”

Willem, absolutely one of the finest actors, said, for his part: “Yorgos gives you a great setup, you go there, you try to apply yourself to what the words say and the actions where you are. He watches you. He thinks about it.”

willem dafoe in 'kinds of kindness
Willem Dafoe in ‘Kinds of Kindness.’ Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

“It’s not always clear what he wants or what you want. But that’s the process. Then there’s a call in response. And it’s a real pleasure because it’s very concrete.”

“I’m always struck that he is always reaching and he teaches you to reach without being pretentious, without pointing to things. Just things are what they are. And there’s finding the beauty and the strength in those things that you’re doing.”

When it was Jesse’s turn, he said: “It’s a very slow, gradual process that obviously starts with the script. And as Joe said, you feel many different things before you understand why.”

“And a lot of it has to do with trust. The rehearsal process really helps bypass attempting to intellectualize it in any way. And, yeah, the script, the story, and immersing yourself, and it just seeps in without you necessarily asking it to.”

“I remember even early on, after reading the script a few times, having the story inside me, but, like, I know where to place it in my head, which is a very nice, unsettling place to be, but it’s a lot of trust.”

“And, yeah, following your instincts, I guess. Not to mention the team he assembles across the board. The unbelievable production design and costume design, just every department.”

“You’re working with people who are the best of the best and really giving their all. So, that all helps quite a bit.”

Yorgos on trust and the feelings his films evoke

Speaking of trust, the 50-year-old filmmaker said: “I don’t know if I trust myself. But I tried to trust a lot of the people around me. And that’s why I always like to work with other people. I don’t really do anything on my own.”

yorgos lanthimos
BEHIND THE LENS. Yorgos Lanthimos, auteur on set of ‘Kinds of Kindness.’ Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

“I work very instinctively. I tried to honor that. And we talked a lot about not intellectualizing things and just trying things out and seeing how they turned out.”

“Over the years, I’ve learned to trust other people so we can go further together. So, it’s happening, from the scripts, the producers that we’re working together with, the actors.”

“When I was starting out, I used to be very protective of the vision or whatever I thought was right. But over the years, I’ve learned that there’s a lot of talented people who have a lot to offer.”

“And they can take me to places that I never imagined. I trust them. It’s not necessarily trust in myself. You have to have a certain level of confidence in order to do that.”

“But most importantly, you have to let other people in and help you go further. That’s what we’re doing. And that’s why there’s a lot of people that I work with, again and again.”

Asked by a reporter who said that his “films give the feeling that something is off,” and if this is a theme that draws him, Yorgos – described by GQ as “the man who brings weird to contemporary cinema” – answered:

“Don’t you think that some things are just off in the world? That is more so than the films we make. My work and other people’s work probably reflect the world and you just try and find the way to do that the best way you can.”

“It is hard to explain the choices you make. It is very collective. You are inspired by people and they take you further. It is a reflection of the world. It is off. It is crazy and sad. It is also ridiculous and funny and that should be part of what we make.”

Absurdist and unsettling are words often used to describe Yorgos’ films, which include Dogtooth, Un Certain Regard winner in 2009 Cannes; The Lobster, awarded the jury prize in 2015 Cannes; and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

On the body and physicality

On his approach to the body and physicality, Yorgos – whose father played in Greece’s national basketball team; he himself played basketball until an injury forced him to study film and television directing instead (cinema’s gain) – explained:

“I find physicality very important. So, I very often start from that, and we’ve talked a lot of times, and it’s probably boring to you, this point about our rehearsal process, and it always starts with us, with physicality, trying and doing things instead of intellectualizing things.”

“And when you have a very solid structure, story, and characters, you just need to do it. Basically, you just need to physically create what ends up being the film in our case, so it is very important for me, the body.”

“At least practically, it’s just observing life. A lot of it is dark and also ridiculous and awkward. We just try and incorporate all that.”

“I guess it comes, it does start from physicality in the body, and what else is cinema if not the people in it, and in their bodies.”

Emma commented: “In working with Yorgos, we don’t really discuss intellectually what’s happening because he’s very physically oriented and he really loves dance, obviously. And I really love dance, too.”

“Even doing Poor Things, the things that we would discuss at length were the way she (Bella) walked and moved, not what was happening underneath the surface. That’s my part of it.”

“My relationship to body in his films is that, in a way, it’s physicalizing an interior feeling all the time. Bella’s expression happened through her body.”

“In this film, a lot of that expression happens through the body even when it’s violent, sexual, or whatever might happen. Instead of explaining it, it’s us showing it and hopefully feeling more under the surface with our job as actors to bring more to all that physicality.”

“So, that’s my understanding of it and why I feel very comfortable and happy to be a person of body. I didn’t know how to button up.”

On feminism and camaraderie

On the subject of feminism and her characters in Yorgos’ movies, from The Favourite, Poor Things, and Kinds of Kindness (the duo also did a 2022 short, Bleat), Emma declared: “Well, I am a feminist. Whether that’s activism or not, that is what makes sense to me.”

“These are just stories that feel interesting to me as an actor. I don’t know if I’m really the type of actor who’s like, ‘I need to do this film because it has this particular message.'”

“I just find the characters interesting, the worlds interesting, and it’s something that I want to explore. So, I don’t really know how to tie that question up, but I’m a feminist. And I like working with Yorgos Lanthimos, so I guess that’s activism.”

yorgos lanthimos, emma stone
Yorgos Lanthimos and Emma Stone. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

“Bella – that was the only one,” Emma replied when asked which character in Yorgos’ films was hard to shake off. “I don’t think I should revisit her in any sense but that’s the only character that I was devastated to let go of.”

The Emma Stone-Yorgos Lanthimos creative pairing has become one of cinema’s inspired collaborations. “I met him about 10 years ago,” the actress recalled. “We met to have lunch to talk about The Favourite. Or the idea to make the film as it was a few years before we actually made it.”

“I had seen Dogtooth and The Lobster had just gone to Cannes. I was struck immediately. He was warm and easy to talk to, much different than what I thought of him from his films.”

“I am drawn to his stories, his films. I am drawn to his way of seeing the world, his characters, and the way he goes about it. We have similar tastes. Who knew (laughs)?”

When Yorgos was asked if Emma is his muse, she was the one who quickly said, “He is my muse.”

Yorgos added: “We established that a long time ago. I am her muse.”

Emma agreed that working constantly with Yorgos was akin to actor-director pairings in theater that encourage a comfortable theater troupe camaraderie.

“It is much more comfortable,” she stressed. “Like in a theater company, when you do all these different stories, you have this built-in trust. I feel that way with Willem, and he ran a theater company.”

Willem chimed in: “You share a responsibility, and so, certain pressures are taken off you. It makes you more available to others and their story. You are connected to something beyond you.”

“You are serving a vision, and you are all working to realize that. You work together to make that happen, and it gives you more energy and makes you freer. It is not about you, but you get to do fun things. You don’t control it.”

Jesse, who worked with Yorgos for the first time unlike Emma, Willem, and Joe, said: “Before I even started, I knew I would have no point of reference of what the experience would be like. Everything Willem and Emily said is true.”

yorgos lanthimos, jesse plemmons
Yorgos Lanthimos and Jesse Plemmons. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

“It is a very collective community that he gathers across the board. Everyone is working on understanding and achieving that vision. It is exciting and fun.” The film’s cast includes Margaret Qualley and Hong Chau.

On ‘Kinds of Kindness’ and developing ideas

Kinds of Kindness is Yorgos’ fifth screenplay collaboration with Efthimis Filippou.

[Only IN Hollywood] ‘Kinds of Kindness’ cast, Lanthimos on their ‘bizarre, special’ film

The film’s official logline states that the “triptych fable” follows “a man without choice who tries to take control of his own life; a policeman who is alarmed that his wife who was missing at sea has returned and seems a different person; and a woman determined to find a specific someone with a special ability, who is destined to become a prodigious spiritual leader.”

“We started like many years ago,” Yorgos began when asked what sparked the stories. “In the beginning, the film was just going to be the first story, actually. We started writing that.”

“My first inspiration was reading Caligula and thinking about how a man can have such power over other people and other individuals that he came into contact with.”

“I just started imagining in our contemporary world, someone who would have complete control over this other person, like what time he wakes up, what he eats, if he can get married, has sex, an accident, dies. All of these things.”

“So, that inspired us. I always go to Efthimis, who also comes with an idea. We do a back and forth, and we develop it.”

“And then, during that process, we also felt the need to try something different in terms of form from what we’ve done before. So, we decided to make it a triptych.”

Yorgos elaborated on the trilogy idea: “We made this list of other ideas that we had. We just tried to select two more that, again, instinctively felt that they belonged in the same world with a fit for a story that we’re writing.”

“Yeah, and then, continuing that, we chose the three ideas, and we started writing them. Also, what played an important part at some point in the process was the fact that I kept thinking the idea of the same actors playing different parts in the different stories.”

“So, that led us to actually write the three stories. Individually, like, show them one after the other.”

“And when we actually did that, we felt that the stories themselves actually work. We’re much stronger than if we told them in parallel, so we worked with that.”

Emma talked about playing three characters: “I don’t know that my approach was all that different for this film than it was for Poor Things or The Favourite. There is always a rehearsal process.”

“And the approach was the same. It was just three stories. You just have a tiny bit of time to get ready for the next one.”

On the enigmatic R.M.F. character, who figures in the titles of the film’s three stories (The Death of R.M.F., R.M.F. is Flying, and R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich), Yorgos simply said:

“That’s such a mystery. I’m not going to tell you. To our mind, when we made the film, it is the same character, right? It’s the only person who appears in all three stories. And you can do whatever you want with that.”

But he did say about the actor, who is his namesake, Yorgos Stefanakos: “He’s not a professional actor. So, he loves eating. Yeah, he’s happy to eat. And to learn to fly the helicopter.”

On the release of ‘Kinds of Kindness’ after ‘Poor Things’

Like many others, I was very surprised to learn that Yorgos and Emma have already made Kinds of Kindness so soon after Poor Things.

Yorgos explained: “There was a long post-production process for Poor Things. While we were finishing the VFX, we already had finished this script, which we have been working on for many years, in between other projects. So, it was ready.”

“And we just thought, instead of sitting around waiting for the delivery of the VFX, why don’t we go and shoot another movie? Then we finished Poor Things.”

“And then we dealt with the next one. It’s so different. It was like a cleansing, interesting experience for all of us, and especially the people who worked on Poor Things. So, yeah, we just thought we’d give it a go.”

On how his films have evolved since his first feature, My Best Friend, a Greek comedy he co-directed with Lakis Lazopoulos, Yorgos remarked: “It’s hard to make a general assessment of one’s work. For each film, people talk to me and ask questions. I honestly say that I’m the worst person to give any answers.”

“It’s so much more valid for people who watch the films to have their own view. And we strive to construct them in a way that they’re open for people to come in, engage, and have their own view about things.”

“And there are so many different people around the world, so many different backgrounds, cultures, people with different experiences. So, hopefully, they all see something slightly different in a film.”

“So, it’s really hard for me to give you valid answers about my films on what they are and what they should be. Or I’m much more interested in listening to other people and observing the differences in perception.”

“When you watch a film, it’s the greatest gift to see that it’s actually working in this way.”

On Yorgos’ evolution as a filmmaker

Yorgos has come a long way from directing videos for Greek dance and theater troupes, shorts, TV commercials, and avant-garde plays and music videos. He joined the creative team responsible for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece.

Yorgos Lanthimos (R) on set of ‘Kinds of Kindness.’ Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

A member of the Greek Weird Wave, a cinema movement defined as a subversive brand of films characterized by absurdism, surrealism and tragedy, Yorgos denied that he’s now living in America.

“There is this notion that I moved to Hollywood,” Yorgos pointed out. “I moved to London, then moved back to Athens.” He lives there with his wife, Greek-French actress Ariane Labed, whom he married in 2013.

“I have been very fortunate to be able to make the films I want to make. From the Greek films, with a nonexistent budget and working with friends in conditions that weren’t nurturing, to making English language films with those funds and means to make the films work.”

“I have no intention to make big or small films. It is not a concern. It is mostly to achieve whatever it is that I am trying to achieve.”

“This film is much more than Poor Things. The next film might be even smaller. If it needs to be bigger, we will try and achieve that.”

“The constant thing is to have creative freedom and work with people that you trust. That is what I am trying to sustain, and so far, I have been very fortunate to be able to do that.”

As if to underscore that, Yorgos is working again with Emma (their fifth film together) and Jesse on Bugonia, reportedly based on Jang Joon-hwan’s South Korean sci-fi comedy Save the Green Planet!

The story, purportedly about how two conspiracy-minded young guys kidnap the head of a top company, believing she is an alien planning to destroy Earth, sounds…absurdist and right up Yorgos’ alley. – Rappler.com

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.