Yorgos Lanthimos Talks Emma Stone and ‘Poor Things’ at New York Film Festival

After winning the Golden Lion at Venice, director Yorgos Lanthimos shared his experience on 'Poor Things' at NYFF.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos takes part in a press conference for “Poor Things” during the 61st New York Film Festival. Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for FLC

From The Lobster to The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos has become one of the most eclectic and eccentric filmmakers in the world. His newest offering, the Emma Stone-starring Poor Things, is no different. After the film’s press premiere for the New York Film Festival, the director sat down with his moviemaking colleagues to chat about the creation of this intricate and odd movie.

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Lanthimos delved into the history of the project, having read the book Poor Things by Alasdair Gray nearly 15 years ago. “I immediately fell in love with it,” he said, emphasizing how “the tone of it, the humor of it” resonated with him creatively. Given the director’s penchant for dark, macabre humor, it’s no wonder that the Frankenstein-esque tale was a match. Lanthimos was shocked to discover that the novel hadn’t already been adapted or its rights sold, and he embarked on a decade-long journey to get the movie made. 

While he wanted to start development and production as soon as possible, the fact that he had only made Greek films up to that point held him back (his first English-language film was 2015’s The Lobster). Despite his ambitions, “it was very difficult” to get Poor Things off the ground, with many telling him to start with “something more simple.” After his Oscar-winning period drama The Favourite, though, Lanthimos said, “I thought it would be the right time.”

Yorgos Lanthimos and Emma Stone on the set of Poor Things. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

In fact, the pre-production process of Poor Things began on the set of The Favourite. Lanthimos mentioned the new project to Stone, “and she immediately got very excited.” As soon as he and writer Tony McNamara had a draft of the script, he “showed it to her and she was totally on board,” ultimately starting as a producer on the project because “she wanted to be involved in everything.” From there, it seemed obvious and natural to Lanthimos that Stone be cast as the lead character, Bella Baxter, a woman who’s been reanimated after her death and must learn to live anew. 

Her performance is a marathon of different skills, nailing physical comedy and dense monologues in the span of nearly two and a half hours. Stone makes Bella’s transformation a wonder to behold, a feat that Lanthimos said was all the more impressive because of how she had to pace herself; the film begins and ends in the same place (and on the same set, which could only be in place for a very limited time), so Stone performed Bella at her most infantile and her most mature in rapid succession.

Lanthimos also shared his appreciation for the rest of his collaborators on stage, with production designers James Price and Shona Heath and costume designer Holly Waddington getting heaps of praise. Each brought their own flair to the imaginary, fantastical version of the Victorian era. Heath discussed how, essentially, their team “built four cities” throughout the filmmaking process, with Price extolling how they got to use “techniques that nobody does anymore.” Painted backdrops, massive soundstage sets, and more make Poor Things feel like a film from another era, done with contemporary flair. One sticking point? “We are not steampunk,” Rice emphasized, not wanting to simplify or categorize the movie’s design.

Waddington expressed how fun it was to experiment with the costuming on the film, saying that while “most pieces are rooted in the 1890s,” she mixed textiles and articles of clothing to make the look “not conventional to period” at all. It adds to Poor Things’ unique, uncanny look, amplified further by a color story defined by “bodily fluids.”

Poor Things connects itself directly to all things bodily, with a potentially controversial aspect of the film being the sheer amount of sex shown on screen as Bella begins to explore herself and her pleasure. On the persistent portrayal of sex in the movie, Lanthimos stated, “The same way that everything else works in the film, the same way she learns about language, human suffering, love, science and politics… she should be equally free about sex.” Bold, bawdy and brilliantly absurd, it’s no wonder why the movie has already done so well.

Yorgos Lanthimos Talks Emma Stone and ‘Poor Things’ at New York Film Festival