The Favourite press conference with director Yorgos Lanthimos and stars Olivia Coleman and Emma Stone
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest feature takes us back to Britain’s war with France in the early 18th century. However, though the history books were undoubtedly written by men, The Favourite is centred around three incredibly complex women, played by a trio of internationally-renowned actresses. The erratic and petulant Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) is in ill health and relies upon her close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) to help her run the country. However, when new servant Abigail (Emma Stone) turns up, the queen takes a shining to her, and Sarah quite happily begins to hand her the reigns.
During the film’s press conference at the 75th Venice Film Festival, Lanthimos discussed the importance of portraying his characters as real and complex humans, while stars Coleman and Stone talked about the joy of their roles and their friendship on set.
Yorgos, since this was the first time the screenplay was not initiated by your frequent collaborator Efthymis Filippou, what drew you initially to that story?
Yorgos Lanthimos: I was initially attracted to this film when I came across the story of an original existing screenplay and I got acquainted with these three female characters who happen to be real people. Right away I felt it was an interesting story in its own right. But also the fact that we would have the opportunity to create three complex, complicated female characters in a film, which is something you rarely see, was immediately what drew me to explore this story.
I also like the fact that it was a period film and I haven’t done one up to this point; it creates some kind of distance which allows you to see things more clearly. And the fact it didn’t come from me originally didn’t really make much difference during the process because we’d been working on this film for nine years until we finally got it made. It went through a lot of variations and directions. But we always knew we wanted to focus on the three women and through them, we conveyed the themes we wanted to explore.
Emma, you play the role of a woman who doesn’t talk too much and your expressions are very important in the movie. How did you feel portraying this kind of role?
Emma Stone: I loved it. A lot of it I didn’t fully understand at the beginning as we were shooting it, but I started to understand more just because of the way that Yorgos was shooting, that there would be more silence and more watching and observing than I had previously expected. It was fantastic that I could do a whole film and never say a word and just get to do that. I’m sure lots of other people would be very happy too, because I stopped talking.
The complex, complicated women are a big part of this movie. Can you talk about how you see these women and their sexual politics, and the challenges that the roles posed for both of you?
Olivia Coleman: Well, Queen Anne was a joy to play. She feels everything, she’s got this endless perpetual child thing. She’s still underconfident and doesn’t know if anybody really loves her or not, so it does play with her state of mind. And also, too much power, too much time on her hands.
In terms of sexual politics, there was lots of it, and that’s good. And that was sort of timeless: I suppose that will always happen, and you think we’ve invented sex but we haven’t; it’s been going on quite some time. And it was awfully fun having sex with Emma Stone.
ES: It was really fun having sex with you too. My character has overcome a lot, she’s a survivor. I loved every element of getting to play her, and in terms of the challenges for me, I was the only American in the cast, so that was a little bit daunting in terms of trying to make sure that the accent made sense and that I didn’t sound like the sore American in the cast. And the corsets were a challenge too, just because you can’t breathe all day. As for the character, it was a joy.
This is a world of women. But Anne was a queen, and every choice she made had a consequence on history. How did you find the line between historical and private world?
YL: I think it was very clear from the beginning that we wanted to focus very much on these three women. Whatever you learned about the politics and the war and the decision was mainly seen through them. We also tried to simplify it so that you didn’t have to go to great lengths to understand things. The most important thing was to understand how these very few people, depending on their opinions and mood during the day, made decisions that affect the lives of millions of people. It’s something universal and timeless that we wanted to explore. So it was fairly easy to focus on the things that mattered.
Emma, is the rivalry in Hollywood anything like that of the film?
ES: Oh yeah, hell yeah. I don’t know about rivalry, but there’s definitely a competitive spirit that’s probably in most industries. But I hadn’t ever thought of the analogy of this being like the film industry until yesterday when someone asked me a similar question, and so I’m just now starting to think about it and I don’t have a good answer yet. But yeah.
Olivia, you’ve played two queens in one year. And also, the male characters in the film are quite feminine. What was that like and did you have a lot of input?
Nicholas Hoult: It was fabulous. A lot of fun.
OC: I just want to give you a visual. 6’2, with heels and a foot and a half of wig. So none of us could look at him while we were acting because it was just so funny.
Two queens in a year, yes. They are not very similar, so that’s good. We started filming on The Crown, and I’m having a lovely time. The two queens, I can’t really compare. I don’t think Queen Elizabeth learnt anything from Queen Anne.
Joe Alywyn: It was a lot of fun running round in wigs and high heels and fancy costumes.
The film is so elegant and yet it distorts reality inside and outside of the palace. Did you take inspiration from a Parmigianino self-portrait painting in a mirror?
YL: The way you film something firstly depends on your personal taste and views and how something feels right. It’s instinctive. I’ve been experimenting with wide angle lenses in my latest films. I guess I felt in this film I thought it was appropriate to go more extreme, possibly for the reasons you just mentioned. It was important to show the contradiction, visually as well, between lonely people and huge spaces, those few people making decisions affecting millions of lives. So that distorted image of the small person in the grand spaces felt right in this film. I guess it’s not common to see period films filmed this way but it felt period appropriate because again, as you mentioned, there are painting from earlier centuries in convex mirrors of distorted spaces, so it felt contemporary and appropriate for the period.
I’ve asked you this before, but are you willing to come back to Greece to film? Also, can you compare working in a foreign country to working in Greece?
YL: The answer changes from festival to festival and from film to film. If I find a story that I want to tell that must be in Greek language or takes place in Greek landscape, I’ll gladly go back and make a film there. The difference: the more I work outside Greece, the more Greek I feel. People with different cultures and different mentalities work in a different way and I’m a particular case because we started to make films in Greece based on friendship and the generosity of people around us who want to make things for the joy of making it. They worked for free or for very little money and they loaned us clothes, cars and houses. It’s a long way from that to making a British period film in London. I’m not saying it’s the best way to make films in Greece, but some of the things I learnt for making films there, I found it hard to maintain them in a much more structured and professional environment, where spontaneity and generosity I struggle to find. But I experienced two different extreme environments. It doesn’t make sense for me to work in the same way when I started. I do have more means to make the films I want to make, so that’s why I’m working outside Greece, and I intend to keep doing it for the moment
The production design of the film is great. Could you say a few words about your work with Fiona Crombie?
YL: Well. We mostly used real locations. What we tried to do was to move most of the stuff out because all these places are full of stuff from different periods and seemed quite heavy. The other reason was that with every other element of the film we tried to focus mostly on these three women and making the spaces to look empty and simple helped to achieve that goal. That’s about it. The film is quite contained as it takes place in just a few places. We filmed them in way that contradicts and enhances the claustrophobic feeling.
There is so much for women as victims in this film. Can it be a reflection on #metoo?
YL: Of course I don’t mind, but we can’t take credit for something like that; it did start many years ago. The positive aspect of this film is that it does focus on three female characters, which is rare. We try to portray them as human beings. Because most of the time, because of the prevailing male gaze in cinema, they tend to be portrayed as housewives, girlfriends and objects of desire. We tried, with our small contribution, to show them as complex and complicated and wonderful and horrific as they are, like any other human being.
What did you want to do with the last image, when Emma Stone is intertwined with the rabbits? Is there something there between animals and people?
YL: There is something between animals and people, obviously. I don’t know what it is. I guess I’m generally… I’m not sure if it answers your questions… but what I’m interested in with animals, I find we have very weird relationships with them. There are those we make friends with, we love, then those we kill to eat. Some we kill in some countries, others we don’t. We have a strange, baffling relationship with them and I’m interested in seeing them interact.
The relationship between Emma and Olivia’s character is so explosive and so on a whim. How did you establish that relationship and dynamic within the film?
OC: We didn’t but the writer did, and we did what it said in the script.
ES: And also, we had this three-week rehearsal process before we started shooting and it wasn’t like a traditional rehearsal. Everyone was there, Yorgos was there and the whole cast was together for three weeks and we did a whole bunch of crazy stuff. So we weren’t embarrassed in front of each other and we were able to rely on each other and I think by the time we were shooting we all felt very close and very comfortable. So when I had to have sex with Olivia, it was very comfortable because we’re very good friends.
OC: A natural next step.
Photo/Video: Filippo L’Astorina
The Favourite is released nationwide on 1st January 2019.
Read more reviews from our Venice Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for The Favourite here: