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In 'Poor Things', Emma Stone plays a woman exploring the world, learning to be human

In 'Poor Things', Emma Stone plays a woman exploring the world, learning to be human

NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe talks with actor Emma Stone and director Yorgos Lanthimos about their new movie, “Poor Things.”



AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Before our conversation with actor Emma Stone and director Yorgos Lanthimos, we had to clear something up.

How have you both been handling spoilers for this movie? Because there’s a key plot point about 20 minutes in.

YORGOS LANTHIMOS: I hate it.

EMMA STONE: Yeah, it upsets him.

RASCOE: OK, that’s good, because we had an intro where we were going to…

LANTHIMOS: (Laughter).

RASCOE: …Discuss the whole thing (laughter).

But we still have some explaining to do – spoiler-free. First, these two have worked together a lot, notably on the movie that brought director Yorgos Lanthimos a lot of Oscar attention – “The Favourite.” Their new movie, “Poor Things,” is also unconventional and bold, with great roles, especially for women. Based on a book, it begins in Victorian-era England, in a sprawling mansion that’s home to Bella Baxter, played by Emma Stone. Let’s just say she’s an original – awkward, immature, and initially we meet her in relation to the men around her, like Dr. Godwin Baxter, played by Willem Dafoe.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “POOR THINGS”)

WILLEM DAFOE: (As Dr. Godwin Baxter) She’s an experiment.

STONE: (As Bella Baxter) Good evening.

DAFOE: (As Dr. Godwin Baxter) Her brain and her body are not quite synchronized, but she is progressing at an accelerated pace.

RASCOE: Emma Stone has described Bella as possibly the greatest character she’ll ever play. What about Bella enchanted both of you? Because it does seem like she was very enchanting.

STONE: She was. Everything about her – as a character she creates herself, so there’s just a lot of joy in her kind of existence, in her development. And she’s just a character that I really deeply love and have such appreciation for, and her just existence at all. What about you?

LANTHIMOS: I was the same. Like every other character in the film and in the novel that we adapted, I was completely taken by her. I couldn’t stop following her. And she’s totally disarming. She doesn’t share the conduct codes that we do. She doesn’t have any shame. She doesn’t have any preconceived notions about human behavior. It’s just impossible to, you know, control her, which is, you know, what most people were trying to do. And so she’s totally exciting.

RASCOE: When you come in to Bella, she feels kind of like a toddler, or she walks like a windup doll.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: She spits out any food she doesn’t like. It’s very physical. How did you approach that physicality?

STONE: Yeah. Well, we – that was all pretty practical. Yorgos and I just kind of rehearsed and would try things and find things, and we sort of talked through how her walking or her movement would develop. But that was it. I was – it was truly just like trying it, looking at it. That seems right. That seems wrong. Try it this way – that kind of thing throughout.

RASCOE: Yorgos – like, visually, the movie is striking. You shift between black and white and color and then there’s, like, this fisheye lens that you’re shooting through at times. Can you talk to me about the visuals for the story?

LANTHIMOS: I immediately imagined that we should build this world for her because she sees the world in a very different way. So I thought that somehow the world we would build had to reflect that. And that goes from, you know, building all the sets in a studio and making them feel not realistic, necessarily, but slightly magical, and, you know, filming and the lenses we used and the way we filmed it, I think, just augmented that. We’re trying to enhance the feeling of this world being very unique and – to her.

RASCOE: There’s a lot of sex in this movie…

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: …A lot of sex. Why was that important in telling the story?

LANTHIMOS: Well, I’m not sure that there’s more sex than all of her other experiences, but certainly sex is important, I hope, to us all. You know, the same way that she experiences, you know, food, education, you know, politics, other people, friendships, she should experience sex as well, and with the same lack of shame and the same lack of judgment and – on anything, that sex should be the same way. And, you know, I think for human relationships, sex and romantic relationships are extremely important so that we couldn’t shy away from that, and we would be totally disingenuous to the character. I think it’s a reaction to also people maybe treating sex with, you know, such reluctance and having made it into a taboo, at least in cinema.

RASCOE: One of the things that did stand out to me was the way, because, you know, Bella has no shame about sexuality and doesn’t allow men to put ownership onto her sexuality, it’s kind of the way you experience men. Men love it when you are young and dumb…

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: …But then, as you get older, it’s not that you’re less sexy. It’s that you’re less malleable. You’re less controllable. What do you think of that? I mean, I’m just saying, that’s the way I feel.

STONE: I completely understand, and I think that’s a huge theme of Bella’s exploration and journey. And that’s – you know, that’s also the part, you know, later on when she’s in Paris, when she’s in the brothel and she’s asking, would you not prefer to, you know, we chose instead of the men choosing. And she’s saying, well, some men don’t like that. All of these themes around sex that go from being something that should just be, you know, freeing and about connection and about feeling good into something that’s more of like a power dynamic or a power struggle. Because I think, obviously, sex and power have huge overlap.

RASCOE: A movie like this – it’s different. It’s not, like, your regular popcorn movie that you going into. Like, is it tougher to make these sorts of movies, or do you have – like, at this point, you’ve proven yourself. You got the Oscar-nominated movies. And people just say, here you go. Here’s a blank check. Do what you got to do. Is that…

LANTHIMOS: (Laughter).

RASCOE: …Or is this tough to get these made?

LANTHIMOS: Well, it’s never like that. But, you know, it was very difficult the first 12 years, but then it became very easy after that (laughter). You know, after we made “The Favourite,” which was – you know, had a certain kind of success, and it was a larger-scale film that – what I’d done before, and I didn’t blew it, I guess…

STONE: Blow it.

LANTHIMOS: I didn’t blow it.

STONE: He’s Greek.

LANTHIMOS: I guess we got the opportunity to make this film, which, you know, was difficult to put together in the beginning, but then finally we did it.

RASCOE: You two obviously have a great rapport. And you’ve worked together several times now. Did that affect the way you approached this project? And do you think of yourself as creator and muse?

STONE: I don’t think of it as that. Do you?

LANTHIMOS: No.

STONE: It’s just, I think, an easy dynamic between the two of us, I mean, even when it’s not easy and even when we have to fight about something or whatever. It’s just a nice – like, knowing each other as well as we do know, it simplifies everything. I have such admiration for what he makes and the material that he’s drawn to, and I think we just have oddly similar sensibilities for how different we are as people.

LANTHIMOS: Yeah, and it’s not by chance that she’s producer on the film because she just involved in, you know, every aspect of it from early on. So – and she created the character, and it’s the most important thing of all. So in some ways she’s more of a creator than I am.

STONE: I’d say I’m the creator and he’s the muse.

LANTHIMOS: Yeah, that’s what I just said. But then you – anyway.

STONE: Added to it?

LANTHIMOS: No…

STONE: (Laughter).

LANTHIMOS: …You messed it up because it would have been so genuine, and then you blew it.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

STONE: That’s how you say blew it.

LANTHIMOS: Yeah, I know.

(LAUGHTER)

LANTHIMOS: Do I often make that mistake?

RASCOE: (Laughter) Actor Emma Stone and director Yorgos Lanthimos – their new film is “Poor Things.” Thank you both so much.

LANTHIMOS: Thank you.

STONE: Thank you for having us.

(SOUNDBITE OF JERSKIN FENDRIX’S “‘POOR THINGS’ FINALE AND END CREDITS”)

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