Words & Interview by

Hannah Strong


Illustration by

Chanti Lee

Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou: ‘It’s a constant relationship’

The co-writers of Kinds of Kindness reflect on their enduring partnership and putting their characters through the ringer.

Back in 2009, two Greek writers caused quite a stir with their disturbing feature debut, Dogtooth, which focused on three teenagers isolated by their controlling father, pushing against the limits of his control. Since then, Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou have collaborated on a further three films: Alps, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer – each a devilishly dark treatise on the human condition. Their latest, Kinds of Kindness, sees them change structure a little, creating a triptych of loosely connected stories, each starring the same small cast of actors in different roles. As strange, brutal and abrupt as their previous collaborations, its meaning is slippery and shifting – and predictably, Lanthimos and Filippou themselves aren’t providing any easy answers.

LWLies: The actors in Kinds of Kindness give you their all, and it seems like a very important step to making sure the film achieves its full effect. How do you cast actors for the right roles?

YL: This process is so important for the atmosphere and working with good people… it changes everything. So we do vet people. Like, you go like, ‘Is this an asshole or what?’ So yeah, we’re both lucky, but we also do our homework with the people that we haven’t worked with before.

I was curious because you also bring in some newcomers this time and some returning faces. When you’re writing the script together, do you have actors in mind?

YL: Usually we avoid it. Like, and also this script was such a long process and it changed so much from when we started writing it. But in the beginning, I only had Emma in mind for the last story. But at that point, I hadn’t decided that it was going to be the three stories with the same actors playing different roles. So I think maybe I had her in mind and I think maybe probably that’s why you called her Emily in the script.

EF: And then we didn’t change it.

YL: It’s just because I have this very special relationship with her, now maybe she comes into mind. But generally, we just try to concentrate on the story.

It’s been a long time since you guys have done a project together. What was it about this idea that sparked a reunion?

EF: We always start writing something after we finish the previous one. We both had other things in between. I was making other things in between. We have to take long breaks if either of us has something else to work on.

YL: But it’s kind of a good thing as well because we revisited our original ideas and they all changed. We started with one story, then we decided that we wanted to experiment with format a little bit and make it three stories. Then we started thinking about what those three stories would be, and then there was the idea of using the same actors that made the structure more specific. So, I think time gave us that advantage as well that we would revisit it and think, ‘Ah, you know, maybe we should also try this or that.’

EF: And also, as far as productions and films, of course, it’s mostly up to Yorgos. So there’s no plan in order, no, ‘let’s work together.’ There are projects that are developed throughout the years. And when the time is right, it’s done. So it doesn’t have to do with time apart and time together because there’s always something there. And we’re friends now, so I’m always there in the sense that I know what he’s doing and we exchange ideas and things like that and to the stuff I am doing also. So it’s not like we were apart for four years and now we met again.

YL: Yeah, it’s a constant relationship.

How does that collaboration process work? Do you share drafts back and forth?

EF: Well, he has a little red pen…

YL: Yes, I write notes with my red pen.

EF: There’s this little red pen that he owns and he uses it from time to time. We talk and we discuss and then we come up with something with an idea or environment and some characters and then there are these back-and-forths with those famous red notes.

YL: I think we work more together when we’re coming up with the story, the ideas, the characters, scenes and things, then Efthimis writes. He does the dialogue and the scenes and then we come together and we decide which scenes work, which scene doesn’t, specific things about dialogue. We come up with other scenes or sometimes we have to change it dramatically. It’s a back-and-forth after that. But in the beginning, coming up with a story structure and what the ideas are and the characters are that’s when we sit together and discuss and decide and then he goes and writes, and then we meet again and work together again. He goes and writes, and then…

Eventually you have a baby.

YL: And then there’s a baby after all these try outs. A little baby.

One of the things that I love about Kinds of Kindness is the concept of using the same cast of actors in different roles. It feels like a company of actors in a theatre, where in the olden days they would travel around and rotate parts. Was the theatre something that you guys had in your mind when you were working on it?

YL: Don’t ask me. You’re the playwright!

EF: Yeah, but you’re the director.

YL: We debated whether it was a good idea or a bad idea to use the same actors and how that would affect the script. I didn’t think so much of theatre, but I think theatre maybe helped to liberate me about the idea, because I had done theatre and it’s not a big deal there, but in cinema it is.

People get quite stuck on it sometimes.

YL: Yeah, in theatre it’s just so normal to have the same actor wearing something different and playing a different part and I think having that experience helped me to make it seem not such a big deal. But at the same time, I like that it’s a big deal, because it brings a certain quality to the three stories that adds to the complexity of the film and to the complexity of the characters. Even though the connections between the different roles that the same actor plays are not literal and you can’t trace them in conventional terms, you still can’t help but carry things from one story to the next when you see the same actor playing a different character. And, of course, then there’s the fact that I’m working with some of the same actors over different films, which is also something I believe is beneficial – as we started talking in the beginning about working with good people, people who have the best interests of the film and what we’re trying to create in mind. These are people that just get along in simple terms and that’s I think that’s very important.

In the film there is one character who is the same in every story, known as R.M.F, played by Yorgos Stefanakos, who is your partner, Efthimis. How did you pitch that to him?

EF: I didn’t pitch it. [gestures to Yorgos] He did. But then we realised R.M.F was in Poor Things as well. He’s the Greek client in the brothel.

I did not realise that. He’s a member of the company!

YL: Yeah he’s part of the company.

EF: He’s not a professional actor so he just helps out.

What does R.M.F stand for?

EF: Wow, that’s fantastic – in the corridor before this interview, there was this discussion, and I was like, ‘It doesn’t stand for anything.’ And that girl told me that at the office they all say that it stands for ‘Random Motherfucker’. Which is good.

We were thinking ‘Realist Motherfucker.’ But then in the first story Raymond, Rita and Robert have the same initials as R.M.F too…

YL: It’s just a thing. Uniformity. But only in the first one. We ran out of R.F initials so we thought we couldn’t keep doing his.

How much do you think about your previous collaborations together, or the creation of a thematic through-line in the work you make?

YL: We don’t think about it initially but when we start with an idea I think we sometimes realise ‘Oh, this is a little bit too much like what we did there.’ So we find a different idea. I think we’re conscious of it when we start, and we just try to avoid it just for ourselves as well so we don’t get bored. It’s boring stuff. ‘Oh, haven’t we done this a little bit there? Could we find a different way of doing things?’ And I think even the triptych structure came out of that need. Should we try something different with the form? Then we started coming up with our ideas, showing each other ideas about other stories and selected a couple to make it into a triptych.

EF: Yeah, we had a big list of possible scenarios… but we don’t know where that is.

Acting, writing and directing is a form of power and control. Do you consider yourselves benevolent overlords when you’re making a film like this?

YL: I think over the years I’ve become more and more collaborative with the actors so I don’t have that sense at all. I do carry the responsibility more than control over whatever it needs to be. I carry the responsibility of this working out in whatever way it works out and the responsibility of the decisions. But then when it comes to making it and putting it together, I do try to allow for a lot of shared responsibility with the actors and being very collaborative and open to things that I’ve never thought of before, that they might bring in. The god that we had in mind in Kinds of Kindness is not very collaborative, but the fact that we work with the same people again and again, there’s a sense of doing it all together and sharing responsibility. Just at the end of it all, I take the blame if everyone hates it. I’m happy to do that.

Published 26 Jun 2024

Tags: Efthimis Filippou Kinds of Kindness Yorgos Lanthimos

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