Words & Interview

Hannah Strong


Illustration by

Chanti Lee

Margaret Qualley and Mamadou Athie: ‘A Yorgos film is much more dreamy and surreal when you’re in it’

Two relative newcomers to Team Lanthimos reflect on learning to trust the process.

After her small role in Poor Things, Margaret Qualley reteams with Yorgos Lanthimos in Kinds of Kindness, where she plays a variety of supporting parts, not least as a mysterious set of twins who may have superhuman powers. Meanwhile, Mamadou Athie, the Yale-trained relative newcomer to Hollywood, joins Lanthimos’s eclectic set of players. The pair play husband and wife in the second chapter of Kinds of Kindness, providing vital counsel to Jesse Plemons’ police officer who is suspicious of his wife’s recent reappearance after being lost at sea.

LWL: I’ve asked everyone this question, but what is your personal interpretation of what Kinds of Kindness is about?

Mamadou Athie: You know… I kinda gave that up! Initially, I was thinking a lot about control, because in every story there’s a theme of some kind of control being exerted over another person or another being, but then I was like…maybe I’ll just enjoy the experience of watching this or reading this without trying to intellectualise it.I think that’s really the way to experience a film.

Margaret Qualley: Yeah, I think while making it I was just trying to dive in headfirst, not think about it too much or not over analyse it – just kind of have the experience, in those trusted hands. But when I’m watching it I can’t help but have a million takeaways. And you have some of the most impressive performances from Mamoudou, Jesse, Emma, Willem – everyone is so incredible in this movie and I feel like I can take in way more and more because it is so intricate and nuanced. I can’t help but at the same time feel sick from it! For me it’s power, it’s control – Yorgos said in the press conference that he is reflecting something that’s off within humanity but I tend to be more hopeful than he is.

LWL: I imagine it must be really rewarding to work with such a large cast full of really incredible performers.

MA: I was telling Margaret earlier, everyone in this cast, I have enjoyed their performances immensely like Margaret in Novitiate.

MQ: He’s the only one who’s seen my first movie.

MA: That was your first movie?

MQ: Either first or second, yeah it was either Nice Guys or that.

MA: Wow! Congratulations.

MQ: Thanks, thanks Mamoudou.

MA: I can go on it’s one of these casts where it’s like, you want me hang out with these guys? It’s a literal privilege.

MQ: I feel the same way. It’s a bunch of really interesting characters and you’re just watching, trying our best to show up in a way that serves the movie and serves yourself. It’s interesting to watch the way people who I really respect and admire navigate these circumstances.

LWL: With Yorgos’s films he does something quite different to a lot of directors in that he has like a built in period of rehearsal time where you guys get to meet each other and hang out and play trust fall exercises.

MQ: I can’t speak to that because I’ve missed the rehearsal both times!

LWL: Really?!

MQ: I missed the rehearsal on both my appearances in his films because of scheduling conflicts!

MQ: I’d love to be there! No seriously, I was doing another movie whilst they were prepping this movie and then I came straight from that to Kinds of Kindness and I came out on the weekend for a day of chatting to Yorgos, for fittings and things but I couldn’t do anything else.

LWL: Like everyone’s at summer camp without you.

MQ: Honestly I did feel like everyone was at summer camp without me! And I also wonder if you can also feel that in the movie…

LWL: No not at all, I assumed you were all there.

MA: No way!

LWL: For you Mamadou, it was obviously your first time working with Yorgos, was that a really helpful thing to have that time together?

MA: Yeah absolutely, any kind of rehearsal period for me is useful just to get to know the people you’re working with, especially when you’re working in an intimate way where you’re doing something that’s you know relatively uncomfortable or new or fresh, and at least my interpretation of that period was to familiarise with each other while doing weird shit and hanging out and getting comfortable. Like Jesse and I did scenes while doing the Monty Python silly walks and it was really all about having fun.

LWL: I’m curious to know your perception of Yorgos as a filmmaker just from watching his work versus what you discovered working with him on set.

MQ: It’s much more dreamy and surreal when you’re in it.

MA: That’s a really good way to put it. If I got to work with him again…I mean I had such reverence for Yorgos since I saw The Lobster, he just seemed like a far off dream for me. So working with him, I was like, “This script is the bible” in terms of how specific and precious it is. I remember one of my last days, he was like “Let’s just change this here” and I was like, scandalized! If I do work with him again, I’ve learned to hold on tight to a vibe and trust that this is what works.

LWL: When you’re working on a film that is essentially three short films you have less time to tell the audience who this character is, so how did you two set about going about your internal research your internal character development? Are you both people who kind of enjoy intense research or are you more happy to just vibe it when you get to the set?

MQ: I think it depends. I like to treat each thing like its own new animal and I don’t really think I’ve got any choice, because the director really leads the way. It brings me joy to do what’s best for them because I think it’ll be what’s best for me be. You know doing a movie, when you first show up you’re getting your bearings, its the first day at school, and you’re trying to understand how you fit into this system and who you are within this world. In this specific instance it was very instinctual, fluid, quickly moving – I think that played into how I prepared for the part.

MA: I like to rely on my imagination. I mean the script is number one but there’s the playground between the lines where the rest of it’s filled in. So okay I’m saying this to get this, or saying this to get this, and then okay, what does this add up to what do they actually do?

LWL: I’m really curious with Yorgos and Efthimis, are we seeing everything meticulously as it’s written down, or does it all come alive in production? Did you get to set and think “This looks different to what I thought it would be”?

MA: It felt like the former to me.

MQ: For me, no matter how artfully scripted something is, my imagination is different than the reality. Even if I’m imagining it within the Yorgos world I’m still surprised, and that experience for me is always endless in a sense that I’ll really have like an idea for what it’s gonna feel like or what it’s gonna look like, but luckily I’m wrong, because it keeps it fresh it and keeps it innovative and I’m working with somebody because their take is different from mine.

MA: John Gallagher Jr once told me the movie in your head doesn’t exist.

MQ: Oh yeah, yeah!

MA: Always been true!

LWL: Given that this is quite a unique way of making a film, what was your key takeaway as actors going through this new experience almost like a new way of working?

MQ: The experience in making these movies feels kind of unbaked – I feel like I’m swinging and I’m not hitting anything. It’s pleasant to see the movie and be like “Well, I guess that’s okay, I don’t need to feel like I’m hitting anything. Maybe there’s nothing to hit.”

MA: That’s dope, I think that’s why you look so free.

MQ: Thanks Mamoudou.

MA: I’m not gassing you up! For me, I don’t know if it was necessarily a concrete thing, but I feel like I gained more access to myself. For everything that’s somewhat challenging, in one way or another, its like “Oh, that wasn’t as scary or difficult as I thought.”

Published 28 Jun 2024

Tags: Mamadou Athie Margaret Qualley

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