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.
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.