Writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos had made a handful of offbeat dramatic films in his native Greece before jumping into the international market with the truly odd English-language dark comedy “The Lobster” in 2015, then followed it up two years later with the quietly nerve-racking thriller “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” Critics made sure to let prospective viewers know that a film by Lanthimos was probably something they would need to develop a taste for. But those two titles became art house darlings and established his reputation as a filmmaker who wasn’t afraid to take risks, ones that might even alienate viewers.
Yet for his new one, “The Favourite” — which he did not write — Lanthimos turns partially away from the weirdness, instead crafting a based-on-fact period piece about England’s 18th century Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), and the two women — Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) — who vied for the queen’s affection, and the power that would come with it. Lanthimos fans need not worry: It’s still a strange film, it’s just a bit more general audience friendly. He spoke about how he approaches his craft in New York City.
Q: This is certainly a more accessible movie than your previous two. Was that part of your plan as a filmmaker?
A: No. I never think like that. It sounds bad to say I never think about the audience, but it’s true. I don’t think about the audience, because that might compromise things, and make them half-baked. I can only make decisions according to what I feel is interesting or truthful or intriguing or worth exploring. I actually started developing “The Favourite” back in 2009, so it wasn’t really like a plan that after I made those kinds of films, I would make this kind of film.
Q: How did it originally come to you?
A: I was approached by the producers who had the script, and I read it and was intrigued by the story. There was fact that it was three female leads in a film, which is something you rarely see, and the fact that it was an intimate story about the women but at the same time had a story and characters that affected the whole country. Also, it was a period film, I hadn’t done anything like it, and I was interested in trying it out.
Q: Although you did some work on the script, this was the first time you don’t have a screenwriting credit. Was there any difficulty starting with someone else’s material?
A: I knew that we would have to work on it quite a bit in order to make it the film that I wanted to make, so we worked on it for many years. At first, I was with the original screenwriter, Deborah Davis, and we created this structure, and focused even more on the three women. But then I felt that I needed a different voice, that another writer would work on it and create a very specific tone. So, then I brought in Tony McNamara, and we worked on it on and off for seven years, taking a lot of liberties with the history and the characters, until we were comfortable with it.
Q: You have a reputation for letting actors make their own decisions rather than you directing them tightly. Is that accurate?
A: The most important thing is to choose the right actors to work with. Then you just have to give them the space and make them feel comfortable so they can try things out and feel confident and be bold. That’s what I try to do during our rehearsals. I want them to feel that they can do any stupid thing and not be embarrassed. Because things you wouldn’t have thought about might end up being the best choices, and accidents are amazing. I just try not to restrict what is possible after having selected my actors.
Q: You also seem to enjoy having animals in all of your films. This one’s filled up with ducks and rabbits. What’s that all about?
A: It’s not deliberate. It’s not like well, where are we going to put an animal in this film? But we have an interesting relationship with different kinds of animals. There’s the fact that we eat certain animals but there are others that we don’t touch because they’re our friends. I just find that people and animals are very close in certain ways, and sometimes it’s twisted, and I guess I’m interested in it. So, they find themselves in my films. Just like other people and buildings, they are a part of our world, a very important part of our world.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.