Hannah Strong


Illustration by

Chanti Lee

Emma Stone and Jesse Plemons: ‘Is Yorgos okay with us giving away the secrets?’

Emma Stone and Jesse Plemons attempt to decipher the codes and meanings in Kinds of Kindness.

Two of the finest actors of their generation pair up for the first time – one a Yorgos Lanthimos veteran, the other a newcomer to this world. When Emma Stone first partnered with Lanthimos on The Favourite in 2018, it was the beginning of a beautiful creative partnership, which has now produced three feature films (including Poor Things and now Kinds of Kindness) and one short (Bleat). Kinds of Kindness is Jesse Plemons’ first time working with both Stone and Lanthimos, and across the film, the pair play near strangers, a married couple, and devoted cult members, adding to their already impressive acting CVs. The trio will reunite on Lanthimos’ next project, Bugonia, a remake of Jang Joon-hwan’s 2003 sci-fi comedy Save the Green Planet!

LWLies: What is your read on what Kinds of Kindness is actually about?

ES: Oh, God. We’re not going to have good answers for that.

JP: I know Willem’s going to be the one who has the answer.

ES: Willem will do it. But it’ll only be his interpretation. That’s part of the amazing thing that I think Yorgos is able to sort of utilise in a lot of his storytelling. It really leaves itself open to many different interpretations. And I think he’s much more interested in what people think than what he necessarily means by it. Or in saying what he means by it.

JP: He’s an observer of life. And this is a modern film for him. Sort of.

ES: It takes place in some kind of now, and it’s dealing with universal themes, but a concise answer is tricky. And it even changes for me, you know, from when I started shooting to then seeing it last night. It kind of morphs as you go.

Was the Cannes premiere the first time you had seen the finished version?

ES: I’ve seen it a bunch of times. Jesse had never seen it. And it made my night having Jesse here for the first time. That’s a big way to watch that movie and have yourself in that movie. It’s a vulnerable thing.

JP: I felt like I made a terrible mistake. And then five minutes in, I calmed down and I really had to pee, so that kind of helped.

How much does it matter for you as actors if you understand the central conceit of the film?

ES: Just speaking for myself, in most films, I think I generally do understand the central conceit or the narrative structure, all of that. This one was a very special experience because it was so open to interpretation that it was fun to just find the meaning yourself. And I think everybody would agree – and we weren’t discussing what everybody else thinks of it. It was fun to build this absurdist dream-like world. This was an interesting exercise.

JP: To me, having not been in the Yorgos sphere before, it was so exciting and so scary because I feel like there’s some instinct in you to try and understand and control and realise early on that’s not the name of the game with this. It’s like sitting in a pool of feelings and letting all of that guide you and then it just felt like repeatedly stepping off a ledge and hoping for the best. And at that point, when you get that that’s the game, it’s really exhilarating and becomes a lot of fun.

One of the possible interpretations of the film is about that need to control and desire for power, and then for actors to be put in a place where you are putting a lot of faith not only in the director but in each other because you’re working with such a small cast across stories. So you’re getting the 4DX experience while you’re working on it.

ES: Yeah, I think that’s very astute.

You two have the main roles in the three different films – what did your preparation period look like before you got to the rehearsal?

ES: I think it was the same as the preparation process for any character. There happened to be three characters, but one of the things that we learned early on from Yorgos’ suggestions was that we were going to play them as truthfully as possible, and their look would change and some of their characteristics would be different, but it wasn’t so immense, like Orphan Black where everyone is a completely different character, in the way that you’re approaching it.

JP: Yeah that was my experience too. In the beginning with any script, you’re just kind of searching and circling trying to find the most exciting, interesting way in for yourself, so it doesn’t feel like work. You’re just following your curiosity and you spend a lot of time with the script, and the meaning is constantly changing. Eventually, you’ll have an Eureka moment and then you’re like, ‘What? No that’s not it,’ and then you get to rehearsals and nothing makes sense.

ES: Yeah, rehearsals don’t help. Or, they do, but they don’t feel like they do. They actually really do in hindsight. There’s an instinct to intellectualise and get cute or smart with something, rather than lead with character, circumstances, and the feeling that’s built-in. But with Yorgos it’s gradual. These things reveal themselves. We were lucky to shoot chronologically too, so we shot the stories in order. Each story gets more and more outsized and insane, so it gave us a sort of process. Jesse, you had to do so much upfront. That was great. I didn’t really have to do that much in the first story.

JP: Yeah, but then you had two massive monologues as well.

ES: That was fun.

JP: Sorry to bring that up.

ES: There’s nothing I get more panicked about than a monologue.


ES: Oh my god. Yeah, Yorgos keeps giving them to me. He just loves to throw me a damn monologue.

He senses that anxiety and he’s like, ‘I’m going to give her another one.’

ES: He doesn’t sense it. He knows it! I’ll say ‘I don’t want to do monologues’. He’s like, ‘You’re doing a monologue’. It’s good, you know, it helps you to expand.

JP: It’s exposure therapy.

ES: Yeah, it’s good. That’s acting in general, it’s therapy.

Jesse, when I interviewed your wife, Kirsten Dunst, she mentioned dreamwork was a big part of her creative process, and that you do it too. I was really interested if that was a factor in this film because the subconscious is such a big thing in Yorgos’ movies.

JP: It was, and it always is. It’s really another way to sort of prevent yourself from intellectualising and getting too cute with it. It grounds the material deeply within yourself and sometimes leads you to a take on it or a perception or an idea that you otherwise wouldn’t have come across.

You mentioned the rehearsal period on Yorgos’s films earlier. How was it for this one?

JP: Is Yorgos okay with us giving away the secrets…

ES: Yeah, yeah, yeah. He is, that’s fine.

JP: I’m sure one of the ones you guys did on Poor Things was the trust exercise.

ES: The chairs? Yeah, I love the chairs. That’s my favourite one.

JP: It’s great. It’s like you’re at a summer camp or something. So basically, there’s one person that’s in charge of the chairs. Everyone else is walking around with their eyes closed. Whenever they feel like it, they slowly go to sit down and the person with the chairs has to quickly put the chair beneath them so they don’t fall.

ES: But three people could be sitting down at once because they all have their eyes closed. You’re wandering around just like, who are you going to let fall…

The person with the chairs is really stressed.

ES: Yeah, it’s really intense. But it’s great. I think the best part about all of it, having done this rehearsal process quite a few times now, is what it engenders among the cast. Like the humour and embarrassing yourself and you laugh a lot in the rehearsals because it’s just all so silly. But it really breeds a deep sense of trust. Before you’ve even gone to set, you feel a kinship with the troupe. And I think it makes for a really nice experience rather than being like, hey, day one, good to meet you.

JP: And my takeaway for it is that the only real objective of the game is to commit and lose yourself in the process, which does make you feel really confused and lost, which then I think is maybe the point too. Just fully throwing yourself into something ridiculous is a liberating, beneficial thing for actors, but almost for most people.

That ease with each other and the material is important for comedy especially, so it feels natural. Yorgos’ comedy has such a different rhythm too, and you’ve both done comedy, but I’m interested in whether this experience felt any different from your previous ones.

JP: I was nervous about the tone. You know, I’ll be honest.

ES: All right, he’s given one honest answer, finally.

JP: Because Yorgos kept insisting that it’s a comedy and I–

ES: It is!

JP: I know that. I laughed, you know, uncomfortably in many moments in his movies.

ES: Sacred Deer. [imitating Kim in The Killing of a Sacred Deer] ‘Mom, Bob’s eyes are bleeding! Bob’s dying!’

JP: I don’t remember the question. Oh – yes, I was nervous about finding that tone but I think again, it’s kind of a trust exercise and like hoping that some sort of osmosis, you know, occurs and just by sitting within something for long enough with these people, something happens. And you’re also following what everyone else is doing. It’s a real group collaborative thing and so everyone is adding to it and so you kind of fall in.

When I heard the original name of the film was And., it reminded me of improv, you know, the whole rule being “Yes, and…”

ES: Well you know, the original, original name was just R.M.F. For a long, long time, many years. And then it changed to And., and I was like ’And?!’

JP: I loved And. It took me a second to get used to Kinds of Kindness.

Published 27 Jun 2024

Tags: Emma Stone Jesse Plemons Kinds of Kindness

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