Yorgos Lanthimos on ‘Poor Things,’ His Friendship With Emma Stone, Unleashing Mark Ruffalo and Why He Doesn’t Like Labels

His friendship with Emma Stone, unleashing new sides of Mark Ruffalo and Colin Farrell, his next film and the limitations of language. Those were just some of the topics that Poor Things director Yorgos Lanthimos discussed during an onstage interview organized by the British Film Institute (BFI) in London on Wednesday evening.

“I don’t really think of themes themselves,” Lanthimos shared when asked by an audience member what topics and themes he was planning to take on in future movies. “It is more about coming up with the stories and the structures and sensing that there’s something there that I’m interested in.” He also said that it was only “after that that you realize what it is about for yourself [since] for other people it could be about another thing. So it’s hard to say what the themes are.”

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The filmmaker said he and his collaborators are “interested in humans and just going in deeper into those kinds of societal structures and behaviors and relationships.”

He then mentioned his latest project, which is entitled Kinds of Kindness and features Stone, Jesse Plemons, Margaret Qualley and Willem Dafoe, among others. “We’ve just shot this film … which is three different stories,” the director said, calling it “a contemporary film.” He added: “It’s three different stories, and we’re finishing the edit right now, and I still can’t tell you exactly what it is about. But I also wouldn’t want to tell you what I thought the stories are about because it just makes it so small. I try not to even think about it during the process, because I’m afraid that it will make my choices more narrow.”

The filmmaker behind such acclaimed movies as Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Favourite also discussed his body of work and creative process during the appearance at the British capital’s Southbank Centre. The event, under the title “Yorgos Lanthimos in Conversation,” drew a big crowd, including Stone, who sat in the front row.

Their black-comedy sci-fi fantasy Poor Things recently earned 11 nominations each for both the BAFTA Film Awards and the Oscars.

Asked about his continuing creative partnership with Stone, Lanthimos told the audience: “The funny thing is, which I tell her, but she doesn’t believe me, I thought of her for The Lobster as well.” Stone was heard laughing when he said that, drawing appreciative laughs from the audience as well. “She has this wonderful speech impediment, it feels like a lisp,” he continued. “And in the world of The Lobster that would be very critical, a very particular characteristic. So she could be the lisping woman.”

How did Stone end up playing Bella Baxter in Poor Things? “We got to know each other really well, even before making The Favourite, because we started discussing it a couple of years before, and it took some time to get made. So we became friends during that time,” Lanthimos explained. “Then when we actually had the working experience, it just was obvious that we got along and we like working together.”

So he mentioned other projects to the star, “and she immediately jumped on Poor Things as soon as she heard the story. … And the rest is history.”

Asked about how he showed new sides of Mark Ruffalo in Poor Things, Lanthimos said the credit for the acting work should go to his stars and their creativity. But he did share that Ruffalo had some doubts initially, which the director managed to address.

“Well, I just set him free, he was ready to go,” the Greek director said, calling Ruffalo “a brilliant actor.”

“He was a little bit reluctant, I guess, because he hasn’t done anything like that,” he recalled. “Now that I know him better, I think in general he always thinks he’s not good for it.” But then Ruffalo got excited and “completely embraced” his role, Lanthimos recalled. “He came in strong when we started rehearsing. We had two or three weeks of rehearsal. He was the guy who was already there. And we had so much fun during rehearsals.”

Asked about his reaction to the broad appeal Poor Things has enjoyed, Lanthimos said: “I have been surprised.”

The filmmaker on Wednesday also lauded other stars he has worked with. Discussing Colin Farrell and his work in The Lobster, Lanthimos said: “He was looking to do different things,” such as In Bruges. ”His comedic sense and, in general, his presence I thought was very strong. And I guess the thing with casting with me is, first of all, I want to try and find people that I want to work with, no matter if they fit the character exactly. That’s why he had to gain so much weight. But it’s mostly about people that I want to work with, meeting them and seeing if we get along.” Concluded the director: “It’s important to find the people that actually have this connection with your work and with you as a person.”

Farrell, of course, also appeared in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, along with Nicole Kidman and then-new discovery Barry Keoghan. Calling him “incredible,” Lanthimos recalled: “We saw hundreds of American kids” for his role. “It was clear immediately that he was so special.”

Having a veteran like Kidman on set also helped. “Nicole is extremely generous,” Lanthimos said in singing her praises. “That helps a lot.”

Overall, Lanthimos said he sees his work with actors as making sure “to give them space … (so) they can try stuff and they are safe.”

One of the things the director has gotten a reputation for is his unusual approach to his prep work and sets. “I come up with games for the actors to get to know each other and feel comfortable to make a fool of themselves and make the process light and fun,” the Greek filmmaker explained. “We shouldn’t be taking things too seriously. We are making movies.”

What games does he make his stars play? ”It’s a lot of physical stuff,” he shared, mentioning dancing and “silly walks” as examples, along with “raising the volume of your voice as you speak in a totally nonsensical way.”

So what does Lanthimos make of people describing his films as absurdist? “It’s always not the most pleasant thing to just be boxed into one thing,” he shared. “I guess there is some kind of absurdity in the films, but I hope they’re more complex than that.”

The BFI event’s description itself also lauded the filmmaker for “his exquisitely crafted, wild absurdist tales and darkly comic explorations of the human condition.”

Lanthimos understands such labels. “I understand why people have the need to describe it a certain way or make sense of it by using language,” he told the audience. “But the thing is, the trouble is language is not always sufficient for any kind of work of art.”

Emma Stone with Ramy Youssef (left) in Poor Things

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