The ‘Kinds of Kindness’ cast explain the cruel, violent and sexy imagination of Yorgos Lanthimos: ‘He’s actually a nice guy’

The ‘Kinds of Kindness’ cast explain the cruel, violent and sexy imagination of Yorgos Lanthimos: ‘He’s actually a nice guy’
  • PublishedJune 23, 2024

Jesse Plemons is thrilled to learn he can make someone faint.

In an interview promoting his latest movie “Kinds of Kindness,” I share an incident that took place at a screening I attended, in which I’m all but certain he sent an audience member over the edge.

“At what part? Do you remember?” the actor says eagerly, eyes lighting up. It wasn’t even something his character did, I reply, just something he said – a grisly bit of foreshadowing. “Wow,” says Plemons, beaming. “Oh, I like that.”

The film’s writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos, a connoisseur of Biblical violence and creator of cursed demimondes, likes to push viewers to the limit. But for Plemons to do so with a line reading is an achievement. No wonder he was awarded Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival in May for his performance.

Plemons joins Lanthimos regulars Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe, supported by Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn, Margaret Qualley and Mamoudou Athie, in the Greek filmmaker’s prickliest and most transgressive work since “Dogtooth,” his Oscar-nominated breakthrough from 2009. Group sex, cannibalism and suicidal animals all feature. As one critic succinctly put it, “Sicko Yorgos is back.”

After writing two films with Tony McNamara (yielding the career-boosting “The Favourite” and “Poor Things”) Lanthimos has reunited with his old writing partner Efthimis Filippou to create a diabolical comedy triptych. Set in contemporary America, the three short stories feature the ensemble cast playing different roles in each story. In one, a man (Plemons) whose life is dictated by his boss (Dafoe) suffers the consequences when he disobeys an order. In another, a man (Plemons) is overjoyed by the return of his missing wife (Stone), only to start believing she’s an imposter. And in the last, two disciples of a sex cult (Plemons and Stone) search for a prophesized messiah at the instruction of their mercurial leader (Dafoe).

Hong Chau and Jesse Plemons in "Kinds of Kindness."

Hong Chau and Jesse Plemons in “Kinds of Kindness.” Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Although each actor is re-cast, a mysterious character known only as “R.M.F” features fleetingly in each story, suggesting all three take place in the same universe. The interconnect-ness doesn’t stop there, but nor does the film lock together in a neat way. Instead, themes and arcs are mirrored and connect, moments firing off against each other like synapses.

If this is as close as we’ve yet come to seeing inside Lanthimos’ brain, he staunchly refuses to spoon feed it to his audience. Paired with a coy marketing campaign, this has led some to question what the film is all about. Alwyn concedes that it took a couple of watches to start unpacking it. At first blush, “it was just a visceral experience, which I think is the case with a lot of his films.”

“He really isn’t pretentious,” says Dafoe of his director. “It really is that classic thing of he’s an artist that is putting stuff out there that’s really rich. I think people will bring their experience to it and come to different interpretations.”

Athie, whose most prominent role is as Plemon’s cop partner and very, very close friend in the second story, has the neatest interpretation of the film: “This is a real exploration of control, and how willing people are to give it away,” he says.

Fittingly, Plemons describes preparing for a project so open to interpretation in much the same way. “(Yorgos) has a lot of ideas, but isn’t married to any one of them,” he explained. As an actor, “it is this sense of surrender and abandon, and stepping off a ledge and hoping for the best.”

Dafoe as cult leader Omi, with disciples played by Stone and Plemons in the back of shot, in the third story of Yorgos Lanthimos' "Kinds of the Kindness."

Dafoe as cult leader Omi, with disciples played by Stone and Plemons in the back of shot, in the third story of Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Kinds of the Kindness.” Courtesy Searchlight Pictures

In “Kinds of Kindness,” Lanthimos injects Old Testament logic into everyday life in twisted parables about the social contracts we write one another. He suggests we’re all in dom-sub relationships with each other, the only debate being what the boundaries of each relationship may be.

Plemons’ character is calling the shots in the second story, but in the first and third that falls to Dafoe. If God had a face, he might look like Willem Dafoe, according to Lanthimos, who has the actor let rip with two very different God complexes. As horrible boss Raymond he is imperious; as spiritualist leader Omi he is seductive, budgie smugglers, eyeliner and all. “He finally got to play himself,” Plemons jokes. “Yeah, yeah. Shhh!” Dafoe replies, laughing.

In the cut and thrust of the shoot, who knows who chose what for the amorous cultist, says Dafoe, but Lanthimos “does give you room,” turning you in “an accomplice.” “Maybe my biggest contribution was really liking those orange Speedos and saying, ‘I want to wear those!’”

All three of the film’s main doms are merciless but pose as loving. Love in its ickiest and stickiest forms is a throughline of Lanthimos’ films (see: Colin Farrell and a steak knife in “The Lobster,” or Christos Stergioglou’s fabulist father in “Dogtooth”). Here, the screenplay puts characters in deplorable situations for their love of work, spouse and faith. Some do deplorable things to hold on to that love; others do deplorable things when that love curdles.

Emma Stone and Joe Alwyn in "Kinds of Kindness."

Emma Stone and Joe Alwyn in “Kinds of Kindness.” Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

This idea reaches a nadir with one of Alwyn’s characters, in a scene shared with Stone. It involves an assault; a moment of standout awfulness in a film that thinks nothing of showing us self-mutilation and horrific traffic accidents.

“If you’re going to do scenes that are nasty and explore really dark corners, then, touch wood, you’re going to be in a room of people that you really like,” says Alwyn. “Knowing Emily (Stone’s birth name) as a friend, and Yorgos too, and having worked with them before, that comfort was kind of built in.”

“Although it’s nasty on camera, the atmosphere (was) light on set – or trie(d) to be,” he promises.

Alwyn, a veteran of “The Favourite,” is in many ways the typical Lanthimos actor. A repeat performer, his characters have been humiliated, shot for laughs, or acted in the worst way imaginable (“Yeah, he does have it in for me maybe,” Alwyn quips). But like so many actors in the director’s growing troupe, he keeps coming back for more.

“He’s so singular as an artist and a creator,” says the actor. “And although you’re going to probably be asked to do some pretty uncomfortable things or be pretty unpleasant at some point in a project of his, he’s actually a nice guy.”

Now try telling that to the audience members fainting in the aisles.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *