Love them or hate them – and they tend to provoke strong reactions – the films of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos have consistently demonstrated a flair for the perverse and a resistance to easy categorization.
Lanthimos’ 2009 breakout, “Dogtooth,” which earned a foreign language Oscar nomination, was a pitch-dark portrait of a family taking home schooling to a bizarre extreme. “The Lobster” from 2011 was a dystopian comedy in which single people are given 45 days to find a romantic partner to avoid being turned into animals. 2017’s psychological thriller “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” centered on a cardiac surgeon whose family falls prey to mysterious illnesses after being cursed by a disturbed teenage boy.
While no less unapologetically strange and twisted, Lanthimos’ newest film, the gonzo period dramedy “The Favourite,” may be his most accessible to date – and, judging by enthusiastic early reactions at the Venice and Telluride film festivals, the Fox Searchlight release due to open Nov. 23 could be teed up for a strong awards-season run.
Set in the 18th century court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), the film centers on the increasingly vicious, sexually charged power struggle between two scheming cousins, played by Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, as they vie for the emotionally volatile queen’s favor. Oscar prognosticators are already predicting that all three actresses will be in the mix as awards season rolls along.
The morning after the film’s first screenings at Telluride, The Times spoke with Lanthimos and Stone about upending the conventions of the period drama, the joy of wearing corsets and why you shouldn’t hold your breath for Lanthimos to make a superhero movie.
You generally go into a period costume drama expecting a certain kind of movie, and that usually doesn’t include things like a slow-motion duck race or scenes shot through a fisheye lens or filthy language. Was part of the appeal of this movie that you could take this sometimes stuffy genre and crack it open?
Lanthimos: Initially I was just interested in the story, but then in addition to that, the fact that it was a period film and I hadn’t made one, I thought it would be interesting to try and do something that gave a little bit of a twist to the genre and see what comes out. That was definitely part of it.
Stone: I just loved the script and I loved that it was such a unique version of a story set in 1705. [to Lanthimos] Is it 1705? I keep saying that.
Lanthimos: Somewhere around that. Don’t be specific.
Stone: But I like being specific.
Lanthimos: Yeah, but we’re not with the film. We’ve taken a lot of liberties with this story.
Stone: [in mock horror] We have? Oh no! I’ve told everybody this was historically factually accurate! This is going to be a movie they’ll show in history classes!
Emma, what were your expectations of working with Yorgos after seeing his earlier movies?
Stone: Well, I think I saw “Dogtooth” before I met him but I saw “The Lobster” after I met him, if I remember correctly. So I thought he was going to be a psychopath when I sat down with him. [laughs] I was like, “Oh God, this is going to be very scary.”
Then we sat down and he’s so normal and sweet that it was very confusing for me. I just wanted to see what it was going to be like. And it was a combination of both: sweet and scary. That’s you in a nutshell.