Synopsis : From filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos and producer Emma Stone comes the incredible tale and fantastical evolution of Bella Baxter (Stone), a young woman brought back to life by the brilliant and unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). Under Baxter’s protection, Bella is eager to learn. Hungry for the worldliness she is lacking, Bella runs off with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), a slick and debauched lawyer, on a whirlwind adventure across the continents. Free from the prejudices of her times, Bella grows steadfast in her purpose to stand for equality and liberation.
Rating: R (Gore|Disturbing Material|Graphic Nudity|Language|Strong Sexual Content)
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Sci-fi
Original Language: English
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Producer: Yorgos Lanthimos, Emma Stone Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe
Writer: Tony McNamara
Release Date (Theaters): Limited
Box Office (Gross USA): $661.2K
Distributor: Searchlight Pictures
Production Co: Element Pictures
Press Conference with Actress Emma Stone and Director Yorgos Lanthimos
Q : This is your second movie together. What makes this collaboration so special?
Yorgos Lanthimos : It’s difficult to answer this question. I suppose since the very first time we met there was the understanding we could get along. We’ve been lucky to get to know each other even before making The Favourite because it took a few years in order to put the movie together and actually film it, so we got the right time to develop our relationship.
This way we became more friendly talking about it all the time, and when we actually started shooting it was just a lot of fun working together, it was kind of effortless. We didn’t need to discuss too much about things, just communicate with a nod or a gesture. It is amazing when you don’t waste time or energy that way. The process created a lot of trust between us. After The Favourite we immediately started talking about making another movie and that’s when I brought up Poor Things to her.
Emma Stone : I feel very much like I can completely trust him as a director. For an actor it’s so rare to be able to just totally give yourself over and know that you’re being protected in the way Yorgos does. And that the story is being protected. We can make fun of each other, we can fight, we can just have a legitimate relationship, which is incredible. I love working with him time and again because he loves to build kind of a company, of not just the actors but the crew. If the same people keep coming back you feel closer to everybody, which means safer.
Q : Which has been the key in order to understand how to approach such a layered character like Bella?
Emma Stone : Obviously the physicality and the language were something we worked on pretty extensively. It was necessary to understand the different stages of Bella as the story progresses. But more than anything it was just letting go of things, because this character is pure joy and curiosity.
She doesn’t have shame or trauma. It’s so hard to find an adult that hasn’t gone through things and has certain pavlovian responses to what happens in life, or certain judgment about themselves or others. The great gift of playing her was that she just doesn’t. She just lives in a place of discovery: that was the biggest part in my mind when I started the preparation to play her. I had the chance to work with actors like Willem Dafoe, Mark Ruffalo and Ramy Youssef, which means you feel you can really be in the scene and be free.
Q : How do you work with actors in order to obtain such complex performances?
Yorgos Lanthimos : My input is mostly during rehearsals, trying to bring the project as close as possible to the idea of it that I have in my mind. During rehearsals I try to instill confidence and make the actors comfortable with each other, with myself and the rest of the crew.I like to create a sort of company so we can be acquainted with each other and able to just have fun and some kind of levity in what we were doing. That will be carried on set and provide them with a sense of safety and respect.
Q : Bella is a woman who step by step discovers her freedom completely, sometimes fighting with the other sex. is there a message you’d like the audience to take away from watching Poor Things?
Emma Stone : I didn’t just feel the story like a sort of coming up against men in some way. I think it’s her sort of experience of all different facets of life and the world and different cities, different environments. I don’t know how she goes through life in relationships with men. All of those male characters are fascinating in their own ways, they have their own layers, different ways to relate to her and different things to offer her, to teach her.
And on the other hand she teaches them different lessons. Other quite important chapters in Bella’s life are the women she meets: Swiney in the brothel, Hannah on the boat, Martha. Women also play an important part in her evolution and journey. And animals, food, dancing, music, singing. So many things.
Yorgos was chasing the story for ten years, it’s not like it’s a reaction to the sexual conversation around men and women that’s happening now. You can understand how Poor Things is such a pure piece of art where it’s somehow incredibly relevant by the time it comes out but it’s been being built and chased for so much longer than that.The book was published in 1992.
Q : Why did you decide to start the movie in black and white and then transition to color?
Yorgos Lanthimos : It actually came quite late in the process. I hadn’t thought of filming the beginning of Poor Things in black and white until we started doing a lot of tests and tried various film stocks and lenses.
I had in mind to use the black and white only briefly in some flashbacks, but then we started watching the tests and it looked beautiful, the world looked different, so I just thought it would make sense to have the first part of the story before she starts her journey in black and white.
Q : What has been the evolution since The Favourite in your career and what is it about working with Yorgos that led you to want to be a producer on Poor Things?
Emma Stone – I don’t know if evolution it’s the right concept. I like to try things and if I’m allowed to that’s great. About working with Yorgos, as I said I feel completely comfortable with him, someone I admire and respect so much as a filmmaker and as a person. And it just feels like an amazing environment being on his sets.
I also love the way he tells stories, they really speak to me. Yorgos actually asked me to be a producer on Poor Things. We had been talking about this movie for about three years at that point, I was thrilled and I don’t know if it changed anything about what our dynamic was because we were talking about everything anyway
Q : With the movie business evolving in what it is today, is it easier or harder to get movies like yours made?
Yorgos Lanthimos – I guess it depends on individual filmmakers. Sometimes when something you’ve done doesn’t go well at the boxoffice or fails with the critics, then it can be very difficult to make the next thing. But it also works the other way around: for example with Emma we made The Favourite and that having a certain kind of success certainly enabled me to make more things that I couldn’t before.
I’ve been trying to make Poor Things for ten, twelve years and it didn’t happen before The Favourite’s success. In the end I was able to make this movie with complete creative freedom, being supported every which way and get the cast I wanted. So in those terms it was easy, but it took 12 years. I think it has also to do with the scale of the film. Right now the medium scale films are more difficult to make than really small or really big films. I hope that will change soon.
Q : Can you explain how you used costumes, hair styling and props to shape your character?
Emma Stone – The costumes were so helpful with all of that because Bella at the beginning is kind of quilted, she’s in silks and she’s being very taken care of by Mrs. Prim. But then when she goes out on her own adventures she’s dressing herself so it’s just like pieces that she’s pairing together in her own way.
This is how the audience can experience the way she starts to get into more structured clothing as she sort of matures and adapts to the environment. It was an amazing process to develop visually, and the fabrics were so beautiful. The colors were so beautiful. The thought and the detail behind all of it was just immense. I definitely believe that costumes were an enormous part of the development of her character. It’s the way she changes herself. Her expression through her clothing.
Q : If you could choose a defining moment or scene for Bella, which one would you pick?
Emma Stone – I can’t do that. Her entire existence is defining to me. Yeah, I don’t know if I’d be able to do that.
Q : Is there any movie that inspired you when you started to think about how to realize Poor things?
Yorgos Lanthimos – You know, I think at some point I asked Emma to see Kaspar Hauser by Werner Herzog, just to be inspired by something very different and unique. I think it was more intuitive and just trying to build on what we had in terms of the story and the evolution and the encounters that she has, the environments that she’s in and try to respond to those.
We started imagining how a human being like Bella would react to that strange world. The rest of it was just physicality, we rehearsed and we tried things and it was very physical and practical.