Find­ing light in dark­ness

The Killing of a Sa­cred Deer’s Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos likes to fo­cus on the fun of movie-mak­ing, he tells James Croot.

Sunday News - - FEATURE -

He’s imag­ined worlds where sin­gle­tons are turned into an­i­mals and par­ents raise their chil­dren in iso­la­tion, but Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos says he al­ways tries to en­sure ev­ery­one has fun while work­ing on his movies.

You’d think that the­ory would have been se­verely tested on the Greek di­rec­tor’s lat­est film. The Killing of a Sa­cred Deer is a tor­rid tale of psy­cho­log­i­cal tor­ment as Colin Far­rell’s heart sur­geon finds him­self fac­ing a hor­rific dilemma af­ter the son of one of his for­mer pa­tients threat­ens his fam­ily. And yet, de­spite the dark sub­ject mat­ter, the 44-year-old in­sists he had no trou­ble keep­ing things light on the Cincin­nati shoot.

‘‘The ac­tors I’ve worked with and the way I work, we don’t take any­thing se­ri­ously,’’ Lan­thi­mos says down the phone­line from Lon­don, where he’s just been bat­tling un­usu­ally busy morn­ing traf­fic. ‘‘I like to test things. When­ever I think things are be­com­ing too se­ri­ous on set, or we be­gin to think we’re mak­ing this ‘great’ or re­ally ‘dark’ thing, I al­ways go, ‘re­mem­ber we’re mak­ing a com­edy’.’’

And it’s true, de­spite a po­ten­tially ghoul­ish sto­ry­line, Killing of a Sa­cred Deer is filled with gal­lows hu­mour.

‘‘For me, it’s all about con­struc­tion,’’ says Lan­thi­mos, who was part of the team that helped put to­gether both the open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies for the 2004 Sum­mer Olympics in Athens. ‘‘You just try to have as much fun as you can while work­ing in the hu­mour that I think is there in the writ­ing. It is quite a dark film, but I didn’t want us to go too much into the dark­ness and for­get these other lay­ers.’’

As for where he comes up with such wild premises? He ad­mits there’s no ‘‘one mo­ment of in­spi­ra­tion’’. AN­DREAS RENTZ/GETTY

‘‘It’s about ob­serv­ing things, think­ing about in­spi­ra­tions and I also work very closely with [cowriter] Efthymis [Filip­pou]. We al­ways dis­cuss things and what would in­ter­est us to do next. We tell each other about sit­u­a­tions and fragments of a story and the other one just builds on that. It’s a long process.’’

For Killing, while the pair did a lit­tle bit of re­search into the med­i­cal side of things (‘‘we did check with a cou­ple of doc­tors just to make sure we weren’t just writ­ing what­ever came into our heads’’), it wasn’t un­til they started shoot­ing at Cincin­nati’s The Christ Hospi­tal that they re­ally in­ves­ti­gated the nitty gritty.

Never one to cast un­til he’s con­fi­dent about his char­ac­ters, Lan­thi­mos says orig­i­nally his heart sur­geon pro­tag­o­nist was go­ing to be much older.

‘‘But then, af­ter do­ing some re­search, I re­alised that the hottest heart sur­geons are mainly quite young and I re­alised Colin [Far­rell] has quite a lot of grey hair that we haven’t seen on film. Af­ter a while, he was an ob­vi­ous choice for me be­cause we had such a won­der­ful time work­ing to­gether on The Lob­ster.

‘‘Not only is he a great ac­tor, but he’s also great to be around and work­ing with him just felt nat­u­ral. I also liked the idea of build­ing on our re­la­tion­ship with this role be­cause I think it is more com­plex for him and that he could do some­thing very dif­fer­ent. I’m quite proud of him that he pulled it off.’’

Yes, Far­rell has been earn­ing plenty of plau­dits for his per­for­mance, while Lan­thi­mos and Filip­pou took out the award for best screen­play at this year’s Cannes Film Fes­ti­val in May.

One of the film’s other ma­jor talk­ing points though is it’s unique visual de­sign, with the cam­era al­most seem­ingly a char­ac­ter it­self.

‘‘I try to deal with ev­ery film sep­a­rately and de­sign them in a way that makes sense and is gen­er­ated by the film it­self ,’’ ex­plains Lan­thi­mos. ‘‘In this in­stance, I was aware that I wanted it to feel like the cam­era was fol­low­ing peo­ple from above or be­low and feel like it was al­ways creep­ing into the room, or hov­er­ing above them. We then built rules around that.’’

How­ever, any rigid­ity was off­set by his de­sire to shoot in real lo­ca­tions.

‘‘I also only like to use nat­u­ral light so of­ten that ends up giv­ing us an idea that we wouldn’t have thought of with­out be­ing there. I wel­come chance, un­less we’re try­ing to choose some­thing very spe­cific.’’

Lan­thi­mos also paid trib­ute to the peo­ple of Cincin­nati.

‘‘It was lovely to work there. These smaller US cities, they are so easy to get around and peo­ple are so ex­cited to have a film shoot­ing there. They opened up their houses to us and gave us the op­por­tu­nity to have a whole floor of a state-of-the-art hospi­tal. ‘‘

Next up for Lan­thi­mos is yet an­other change of pace. Filmed ear­lier this year and due out in 2018, The Favourite is a Bri­tishshot his­tor­i­cal drama star­ring Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Col­man.

Of­fi­cially de­scribed as a ‘‘bawdy, acer­bic tale of royal in­trigue, pas­sion, envy, and be­trayal’’, the 18th cen­tury-set tale has been ‘‘an in­ter­est­ing ven­ture’’, con­firms Lan­thi­mos.

‘‘I was in­trigued by the story and mak­ing a pe­riod film has been some­thing rel­a­tively dif­fer­ent. How­ever, I’m still the same per­son, so there’s still a lot of me in it.’’ ● The Killing of a Sa­cred Deer (R16) opens in select New Zealand cin­e­mas on Novem­ber 16.

Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos cel­e­brates win­ning the award for best screen­play at this year’s Cannes Film Fes­ti­val.

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