Favourite, The: Interview with Director Yorgos Lanthimos and Stars Emma Stone, Olivia Colman, Nicholas Hoult, and Joe Alwyn

Yorgos Lanthimos‘s latest feature, The Favourite, world premiered in competition at the 2018 Venice Film Fest.  Dominated by women, the film offers strong roles for three great actresses, Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, and secondary one for Nicholas Hoult and Joe Alwyn.

YL:  Yorgos Lanthimos

ES:  Emma Stone

OC:  Olivia Colman

NH:  Nicholas Hoult

JA:  Joe Alwyn

Scripted Dramedy and Fun on the Set

ES:  It was scripted.

YL:  We rehearsed things and changed things and rewrote them.

ES:  It was a very fun set.

OC:  It was so much more.  And I said this when I wrapped, I felt bereft for a while, and I just wanted it to go on.  I missed my bunnies and I missed all of it, everybody.  Everybody on that job felt, everyone had a nice time.  And all the departments I spoke to, the art department, were allowed to make amazing stuff and everyone felt that.  Apart from Nick, who was very upset.

Wedding Night

ES:  Well Joe is the only one involved in that.

JA:  I am.  They are great moments.  The dance was so fun and we had a few weeks and we ended up rehearsing it from the beginning and Yorgos definitely suggested a few moves I think and we worked with a choreographer, but yeah, it was pretty nice and I loved the contrast we were in, the old costumes and wigs and kind of more rigid setting, but have this craziness and modern feel within it, it’s great.

OC:  Also, Joe and Rachel did that dance so many times.

JA:  We did, too many times.

OC:  They did it so that all of us, whenever anybody else was reacting, we did it for real.  That would have killed me.  You are amazing.

Bold Scenes 

YL:  I think scenes by themselves don’t necessarily say everything about a character, so you have to follow a whole arc and put all of these things together.  So, it was one aspect which showed a very specific moment of her character as well because she was particularly worried about what she had done before, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that she would have behaved exactly the same way if that thing hadn’t happened before.  So, it was a complicated little moment that happened to just be on their wedding night.  (laughs) And I remembered having to write a longer monologue for her in order to have enough time, (laughter) if you know what I mean.  (laughter)

Dark Humor

YL:  Yes mostly they did.  I think it was apparent from the screenplay itself what the intention and tone of the film was.  I really don’t like to explain to actors what they are supposed to do or what in the scene they are supposed to feel or what the film is supposed to feel like.  I guess the most that I did was send them some videos and stuff just to be inspired, just from various films, I think everybody say those.  But it was mostly about, I think the way that the tone became more apparent was during our weeks of rehearsal that we fooled around a lot and we tried to deal with the material and the script and the fashion of the film that didn’t make it too precious.  And through their interaction and playing games and fooling around and things, first of all they felt comfortable with each other, but it also was quite telling about what the tone of this film was supposed to be like mostly, because there is also the darker aspect of it.  But I guess it’s easy for most of us to peek into that when we need to.


Material for Preparation

ES:  Just all kinds of interesting stuff.  Videos.

YL:  Joe was a good student.

JA:  He sent me some links to Buster Keaton and Jack Lemmon.

ES: I thought for awhile that understanding his previous work would help us understand what’s happening in the film, but it didn’t at all.  No, we discovered as we were shooting what it would be like I think.  But yeah, he sent a bunch of stuff, and a lot of dance.

OC: Yes, dance videos.   But it was all in the screenplay.  And because we had that rehearsal period, it’s a great way learning lines, saying it over and over again.  We had such a nice time and by the time we started filming we were all in the same place.  So whatever we did, it worked I think.

Period Piece and Character Interpretation

NH:  A lot of the time I was just trying to stay upright, I was quite wobbly.  I’m lucky, it was Sandy Powell and Nadia Stacey doing the costumes and makeup and it was a wonderful transformation and I liked doing that with the character, so that was all very tangible things to hold onto and with the sets.  And we also had this beautiful dry humor script and I know it was a bizarre environment because he always kind of manages to make you feel, I remember him coming up to me after and saying, what kind of movie do you think you are in?  (laughter) And we both were like, we don’t know.  That’s what is great about this environment, is that you completely trust him and you are completely content to do whatever is necessary and you are also not aiming to do anything specific and you are just free to explore within the text and that is I think somewhat to do with how he gets these wonderful performances that he gets out of people and this tone.


Female Experience and Female Empowerment

OC:  I am really bad at this, everything you just said.  Because it’s three women in the lead and three women, not because they are to do with a man and someone’s wife and someone’s girlfriend, they are everything to each other and they didn’t need anybody else.  It’s come at a great time, although it was in the making for nine years, but it feels fortuitous because it is now, cause everybody wants that, everybody wants to see women stories, women want to see their own stories, and this is funny and gritty and messy and all humanity and why can’t it be women telling that story?

ES:  I couldn’t answer it better than that.  I am just going to glom onto Olivia’s answer.


Character’s Motivation

ES:  I don’t want to say that, because I don’t want to tell you what I think about her.  I want you to come to your own conclusion when you watch it.  If I say that, then that is what it is, but I don’t know, what do you think?

Particular and Universal Stories

YL:  I think all of them, and it’s one of those things that it’s hard to answer because I make the film in order to share it with you and this is what I have to say about the issues about the matter. And for me to just point out this and this issue, I think it limits the film very much.  Obviously there are obvious things like about women, their relationships with men and their relationships with each other, power and power games, love, there are obvious themes there which are relevant to our times, but at the same time, there’s much more than that.  And different people perceive films in a different way and according to their culture and their background and their education.  So I do want to avoid saying that this film is about this and that’s why it’s relevant today, because it can be many different things for many people and we go to great lengths in order to make the film open enough for people to be able to project their own experience on those films and see what comes back to them according to who they are and where they come from, and that is why I say it’s universal and many people can understand it in different ways.


Origins of Project

YL:  I just felt like coming across the original script, and seeing that there is an actual real story about these three women that at some point of in time had this kind of power, but also the emotional implications between them but also the repercussions that their relationship had to a whole nation or millions of people or hundreds or thousands of people, felt like a very strong story.  And of course the fact that there were three female leads in a film who were given the opportunity to create this amazing complicated, complex, wonderful and horrible human beings, is not something that you can do often, so hence, “The Favourite,” Initially, it wasn’t call The Favourite.  We all came up together with it, because it’s been so many years that we have worked on it, so everything is phased out, where it started from and where it ended up.  It’s a collaboration between all of us and that’s what films are anyway.


Going to Greece to Tell Unique Stories

YL:  I don’t know if I necessarily have to go to Greece to tell these stories.  When a story feels quite universal, I guess you can tell it anywhere.  This had an historical context, so that is why it had to be in England.  But I obviously find it easier to work in the English language and easier to put films together when they are in the English language and I love working with these actors and so I want to keep working with them.  But if there’s a particular project or particular film that needs to be told in the Greek language for some reason or needs to take place in Greece, then I will gladly go back and make it there.

Knowledge of Queen Anne

ES:  No, nothing.  Not before this.

OC:  I didn’t know anything either.

NH:  Encyclopedic knowledge.


Interesting Monarch

OC:  Well I suppose for all the reasons that we see in the film.  And also, the last of 17 children, that is an extraordinary and unbelievable thing to carry around every day.  And the first woman in the United Kingdom, she’s fascinating, and they are all fascinating.  I know so little about them and it’s awful really.  Americans are much better at knowing their history aren’t they?

American Playing Brit

ES:  The accent, you could tell I was American?  The challenge was trying to make sure that I could blend in relatively seamlessly and it was more physical than I even understood and it was very fun, most days.  And yeah, the challenges, those were really it, because beyond that, I just loved playing that part and I loved discovering her every day and playing with these people, so that was just the joyful aspect. 

Emma Stone’s Character

ES:  I love everything about her.  I loved how much she changes from scene to scene.  When I first read the script, I thought oh this is the character that I could possibly play, and then after 25 pages she’s is so charming and I was just like great, these other two characters are amazing and it was like oh, she just kept developing, and it was so exciting.  And it’s very rare, for me, I would say for a lot of people, but for me to get an opportunity to play a part like that, especially with someone like Yorgos and actors like these and so it was a dream.

Playing Roles That You Don’t Like

ES:  I don’t think you would want to spend that much time of your life, if you were lucky enough to have a choice or a period of time where you make choices, I don’t know if I would want to spend time, would you, playing someone you don’t love, the character you are playing.

OC:  You don’t have to love the person that you are playing, but love the human sort of emotions that you are able to play.  And if you are playing an ax murderer, it might be a job of playing someone so horrible, but it’s the enjoyment of playing someone I suppose.


Rabbits in Film

OC:  I bloody loved the rabbits, we spent so much time with the rabbits.