The Favourite is nominated for 10 Academy Awards this year: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress (x2), Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, and Best Film Editing.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ films are always unique, so of course his Q&A at the Aero Theatre on January 7, 2018, was one of a kind: he was interviewed by musician and actor Common! Common loved Lanthimos’ film The Favourite (2018) and wanted the chance to speak with the filmmaker.
Common kicked off the discussion with a question about how the director handled the film’s 18th century setting. “It felt modern in its own way, but you didn’t lose the period. How did you accomplish that?” Common asked Lanthimos of the film.
“We found different ways throughout the process to infuse the film with modern sensibilities,” replied Lanthimos. He explained how these modern touches were woven into different layers of the film; in the script, for instance, Lanthimos and screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara looked for language that felt contemporary. In the costume design, Sandy Powell used fabrics like leather and plastic. The music and choreography also had modern qualities. Lanthimos emphasized the importance of the right balance in these layers so as not to take viewers out of the period of the film.
“A lot of things in our society are the same as during the period of the film,” Common noted.
“The interesting thing,” said Lanthimos, “is the fact that the way we look, live and behave, etc. is different — but the essentials of how people feel and relate to each other rarely change.”
“Sometimes I see a period film and I feel automatically stuffy, but I didn’t feel that with The Favourite,” Common continued.
“I have a previous body of work, so people will have the understanding that I will not do a standard period piece,” Lanthimos said with a smile.
Common described the film as “unique, beautiful and powerful” and asked Lanthimos about the “voice and energy” communicated by the film.
Lanthimos responded that he was immediately drawn to the stories of each of the three powerful women, and that he was curious about how much individuals can affect the lives of others. He immediately wanted to do a film with women as protagonists, he said.
“You show the wholeness of those women,” observed Common.
“We tried to make these characters as complex as possible — so many shades,” said Lanthimos.
Common and Lanthimos went on to discuss the tone of the film in further depth.
“You are able to have really dramatic scenes, but you have humor, laughter, emotions,” Common said. I felt with the characters. When you are in a strong dramatic scene, you’re still extracting the humor — how?” Common asked.
“Most of the time, I let the actors do their thing,” explained Lanthimos.
Common pointed out that Lanthimos had worked with both Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz on previous films. “When did Emma Stone come into the picture?” he asked.
Lanthimos said he contacted Stone a few years ago, and found her “smart, funny and eager to do new things. I felt very confident about her,” he said. The only remaining question for the director was whether she could do an English accent. Lanthimos said Stone did a couple of sessions with a dialect coach, and the coach assured Lanthimos that she was very confident that Stone could learn the accent. “It also helped that everyone around her in the film was British,” Lanthimos added. “The British didn’t come down on her, so you know it was pretty good,” Common said.
Common kept the conversation flowing with a comment about the film’s ambiguity.
“I love it that you expect your audience to try and figure things out for themselves. You don’t give all the answers,” Common said.
“You need to draw your own conclusions. I just raise questions,” Lanthimos agreed. “Conflict and confirmation, amongst love and other goals and feelings, is life.”
“Did you use music while you created the film?” the musician then asked.
“During the editing process is the time I like to really research music and pick what I want to use,” the filmmaker replied. He said he listens to music when he reads and sometimes uses it on set. “At first I had a lot of trouble using music,” Lanthimos confessed, adding that he prefers to use music that becomes an ingredient in a scene that might contradict and complicate what’s onscreen.
Common asked about the last scene and about the film’s use of rabbits. “Did Queen Anne have them?” he asked.
Lanthimos said there is no evidence she did. He used them as a way to visualize clearly her loss of seventeen children without being maudlin. “I added the thousands of rabbits in the last scene in the editing room.”
Next, Common asked Lanthimos about the lighting challenges the crew faced making the film.
“I like it rougher and real and not so polished,” replied Lanthimos, explaining that he enjoys shooting with natural light in outdoor scenes so he can work with the actors in a freer way without setting up any lighting rigs. He added that shooting in historic locations was a specific challenge in making the film, as caretakers watched the crew to make sure that candles didn’t drip on furniture, that equipment didn’t damage tapestries, and other similar concerns.
Common wrapped up the discussion with a round of rapid-fire questions.
“Since it’s a movie about favorites, what are some of your favorites?” Common asked.
“That’s hard. There are thousands.”
“Favorite movie when you were a child?”
“Favorite musical artist?”
“But who is your favorite musical artist?” Lanthimos asked Common.
Common replied without hesitation: “Stevie Wonder.”
Judith Resell is a volunteer for the American Cinematheque.