Yorgos lanthimos

Interview with Yorgos Lanthimos

  • 11-30-2017 08:33am

Yorgos Lanthimos, the director of the film The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Q: Do you enjoy the Cannes experience?
Yorgos Lanthimos: Not necessarily (laughs). I’d rather be here without having a film. The stress of that is quite huge, but at the same time it’s a mixed feeling because obviously I’m very happy that the film is here, it’s the best place that you can launch a film. So I’m really happy to be here, but it’s obviously quite stressful and tiring.
Q: What themes were you interested in exploring in The Killing of a Sacred Deer?
YL: I think with The Killing of a Sacred Deer it’s mostly about justice, revenge, faith, and choice – the inability to decide necessarily what’s right and wrong when you’re facing huge dilemmas in life.
Q: How does the writing process with your co-screenwriter, Efthymis Filippou, work? Where do you start? With an idea or a character?
YL: It changes most of the time – it’s always different where we start. It’s maybe an idea, or we like to explore a condition, or we want to do something about this thing, or there’s an initial set up that we’re interested in.
I think this time we started with a boy who has lost his father and he wants to make things right with the doctor that operated on his father who he considers responsible.
Q: So Martin was the first character that came to mind?
YL: Yeah, that situation of a boy who has lost his father because of someone – because of what he considered was someone else’s fault. I think that was the initial premise that we started with and then it became a more complex structure with supernatural elements. Much of it comes, weirdly enough, very logically into the story because of what we’re facing – how to increase the pressure on the characters in order to reveal more and more about human nature. We try to push things and that makes us come up with all these other tools and elements of creating that.
Q: Is it fun, the writing process? And do you do it together?
YL: It is fun – it is one of the most fun parts. A lot of the times people ask me, “So which is the most fun? Is it filming or editing?” and I say, “I hate them all,” (laughs). I never enjoy anything like that so much; it’s all so stressful. But I guess the moment where we’ve discovered an idea with Efthymis or whoever else I’m writing with. Discovering an idea and shaping it into an actual story is the most exciting thing for me, when I feel like this will work and it will become something interesting to explore. Efthymis does much of the writing himself and then we meet again – we change things, we do the structure together. It’s just different stages, and then we go back to the structure if it’s not working, after we’ve written some scenes. So it’s a lot of back and forth until we get the final result.
Q: Colin Farrell was in The Lobster as well. Why do you like working with him?
YL: I definitely like working with Colin. It was an even better experience this time because we knew each other and it was easier for us to go further I think. It is a much more complex role for him and I think it helped a lot – the fact that we knew each other and had worked together before.
Q: Do you have actors in mind when you’re writing?
YL: No, I don’t. I try to not have any images in mind when we’re writing something – I want to focus on that last. I want to feel confident in the text, the story, and the script. When I feel that this thing is completed, when it works, then I start thinking of where we should make this, who could be in it, and all the other things that you need to sort out.
Q: Did you take direct inspiration from Greek tragedy when you were writing?
YL: That’s what I would say. Well, we didn’t necessarily take inspiration, but while we were writing the script we realized there are some parallels with tragedy, and we thought it was an interesting idea, or that it just made sense that we would reference it in the film. Also I find quite interesting that they are themes that we’ve been asking ourselves about from so many years ago – it’s been around forever. I just found it an interesting association to make, but we never started by trying to adapt a Greek tragedy.
Q: Did you have the play Iphigenia in Aulis in mind?
YL: Well as I said, as we were writing the script, there are parallels to our premise with the premise of the tragedy so we just started, whenever we thought it was appropriate, making associations with the tragedy – references, mostly. Other than that we weren’t trying to adapt the actual tragedy because the story also goes elsewhere.
Q: So there’s no greater sense that this would be the case because you’re a Greek storyteller yourself?
YL: No, it’s not at all like that. This notion that as Greeks we have a deeper understanding of Greek tragedy – I think that we’re very far removed from that and we’re not that well educated on the subject. Like everybody who’s interested in theatre or art or literature, I think when you reach that point where you know that you’re interested in that, no matter where you’re from, you familiarise yourself with those texts. It’s the same way for me – I don’t have a privileged association with Greek tragedy or knowledge.
Q: How did you decide on incorporating the horror genre?
YL: It was just a process that it’s really hard to break down as well, because it all happens at the same time. You can’t know afterwards where exactly you started from and how you led yourself there. I think starting from the idea which was initially just a young boy who loses his father, blames someone else for it and asks for it to be made right – whatever that means, in his mind. Starting from that, we were trying to figure out a way that we would structure a story that would create these kind of questions and put this kind of pressure on human beings – that they would have to make impossible choices. Working on that to figure out how it would be efficient, I think we started going into tragedies and to the horror genre, to having a dialogue with all those kind of things.
Q: Can you talk more about how you developed that idea of a boy who has lost his father and is seeking justice?
YL: For us, it was just a little situation. It’s not just a boy who loses his father, it’s how it’s complicated because he considers someone responsible and he wants to feel that there is justice to that. So it’s a devastating thing in his life and he feels he needs to make amends. We try to see why that is interesting and add things to it. Hopefully the end becomes a very complex situation that you can think of different things to associate it with. As I said, from that we all of a sudden realised that there’s something like a Greek tragedy in it and the horror genre – all these things came together. Hopefully we made a complex thing. It’s about many different things, and we wanted to create something that was its own entity.
Q: Have you ever faced impossible choices like the ones in the film?
YL: No, I haven’t (laughs). Thank God I haven’t so far.
Q: Is this film more relevant nowadays because people do not feel as accountable anymore?
YL: I don’t know if it’s particular to today. I think it’s been talked about since 400 BC – it’s not something new. I think what happens and what I’m amazed about is that we’ve become more conservative as a society, and we don’t really touch upon those subjects. We don’t want to really talk about them and we’re shocked when we’re asked to confront them in our daily life. So I don’t know if the film is more relevant today, or if it would have been equally relevant ten years ago. I think it’s something which is eternal and global and that’s why I was interested in exploring it.
Q: Speaking of global, the film was set in America. Was there a reason you decided on that?
YL: As I said, we always start just by writing the script – I never really worry about what it’s going to look like, who’s going to be in it and where we’re going to do it. Usually, so far, we’ve been writing things that could potentially take place anywhere, so after we finish it and it’s complete I start to think, “Where would be the best place to make this film?” To me, this one felt like more of an American film. I work very instinctively and I don’t know exactly what the reasons were for that. One given thing is that I do for the moment want to work in the English language, so that makes the options smaller. There was a lot of dialogue about whether it should be a British film or it should be an American film, and it just felt like, because of the theme, more of an American film. Also the dialogue between the genres that we are familiar with made more sense for me – even the medical system and how it is, it made more sense that this film was in America. There were various reasons like that, which helped me make a choice. When you’re open to everything you just need to figure out details of things to make a choice.
Q: Why did you choose Cincinnati as that city?
YL: The particular city comes down then to practical things. I knew I wanted a Mid-Western town somewhere in America, and then we started researching, scouting, figuring out where the tax incentives worked for us, and cruising. Then you just visit again to get a sense of the city and you just feel that it is right for your story.
Q: Did you enjoy working in the States?
YL: I did – I have to admit that I did enjoy working in the States. I haven’t [worked] in New York or Los Angeles, in the bigger cities, but working in a smaller city in the US, I found quite easy. I think people are much more excited by having a film in their city. It’s easier to get around – there’s a certain flexibility and freedom about how you do things. There’s not so much structure in place or so many rules that you can’t be flexible, even creatively speaking, because every practical thing somehow affects what you do creatively. So yeah, I enjoyed working there.”
Q: Will you do your next film in the States?
YL: I just finished shooting a film (The Favourite) but it’s very English, so we shot it in England.
Q: Where does the idea of controlling someone’s life through thought come from?
YL: I don’t know. You experience life, you sit around, think about things – things that you wonder about, want to expose more and share with other people. You know, I make a choice every time we sit down and think what the next thing is that we want to deal with. You just come up with it – I mean I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know what the process is – just thought [process].
Q: Were you always interested in the clinical side of the story, the surgeon’s work?
YL: Not particularly. I mean, I do have a strange relationship with hospitals – I don’t like to visit them often. I don’t know where that comes from. Maybe it’s fear of the unknown – I don’t know exactly what, but again, all these elements just take shape because of what you are trying to explore. They just make sense. It might sound strange but it’s very logical how you make those kind of choices when you start with a little premise and you try and figure out, you know, who’s the first person. Like I said before, someone’s life is in [the surgeon’s] hands and you can’t really tell if he’s actually responsible for [the father] not making it. You just find someone who has this weird position in life and in society that you can then start investigating more – you just try to give answers to those questions of how you construct something strong that acts as a pressure toward human beings.
Q: This film is radical in its subject matter but more conventional in its narrative than your other films have been. Are you moving more in this direction?
YL: No, I don’t think like that. When I’m trying to do something new and something different I never think in those terms. I just try to think of material that I like, or think of things that I like to do – it doesn’t come down to, “Now I should do something like this for my career,” or something more like that. I just act instinctively, see what I like, how I feel about it, and I try to make it with absolute creative freedom. That obviously can never be complete because you deal with a lot of people and there are a lot of practical aspects in filmmaking, but essentially I make the films. So far I wouldn’t make a film if I didn’t have absolute freedom to make it.
Q: How did you deal with the controversial or negative reviews?
YL: I don’t – I don’t really read a lot. Sometimes when a bit of time passes I might go through very fast and see, “Oh, that’s bad or that’s good.” I might read a bad one because I’d like to see if there’s something which is useful for me and that I agree with, because I’m always trying to make different things – to improve and try for the next time. A lot of the times it’s very personal what someone thinks about a film and there’s no science in judging a film, so they are people’s opinions. I respect it and people come from different backgrounds – they have such different experiences, education, culture, so you can’t expect everyone to react the same way to something. It’s absolutely expected and I respect it.