"I'm going to just start interviewing Joe now," Mamoudou Athie interjects with a grin. "I'm just so curious about his experience with The Favourite."

Joe is Joe Alwyn, who stars with Athie in Yorgos Lanthimos' darkly comedic anthology Kinds of Kindness. The film's ensemble is made up in equal parts of Lanthimos regulars and first-timers: Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe and Margaret Qualley all return to the fold following Poor Things, while Alwyn co-starred opposite Stone in 2018's Oscar-winning The Favourite; Oscar nominees Jesse Plemons and Hong Chau are new additions, as is Athie — although he hopes to become a fixture of the director's growing troupe.

"I'm not going to lie, that's how I like to think about it in my head," says the actor. "This is a really wonderful group of people that I have admired for a long time, and I will admit I fancied myself as a newer member of the group. It's not necessarily true, but in this movie, it is."

Kinds of Kindness is a twisted tryptic of three loosely connected stories, each of which casts the actors as a different character. Across the three sections, Alwyn and Athie play an art appraiser and swim instructor, a frat boy and police officer, and a jilted ex-husband and put-upon mortician, respectively. The actual plot of the movie, like with so many of Lanthimos' projects, is more of a challenge to describe. Still, the two are willing to give it a try. "It's a wacky one to talk about," Alwyn admits. "I'm still figuring out what it means and figuring out the answers."

A.frame: To go back to the beginning, how does a Yorgos Lanthimos project come to you? Do you get a call from him with his pitch, or does he just send you the script to read on your own? What does it look like?

Mamoudou Athie: How did it come to you, man? I was also curious about that.

Joe Alwyn: He sent me an email saying he had an upcoming film and did I want to chat? We jumped on a Zoom or a Skype or whatever it was at that point, and he said, "Would you read the script? There are these three parts, and if you find it entertaining or fun, then come along and be a part of it." And I knew before reading it, I was going to say yes. There was no way I was going to say no. I was just happy to get the call and excited to be back working with Yorgos, and Emily and Robbie Ryan and all of these familiar faces. It's a treat and a privilege to work with them again.

So, you do have some context before delving in. You weren't blindly opening page.

Joe Alwyn: I mean, the script was very much unlike anything I'd ever read. The context I had was what the process would be with his rehearsals and his vibe on set. I guess I had a little bit of a template for that.

Mamoudou Athie: Honestly, it was very similar for me. It kind of came out of nowhere. I remember my agent called me at 11:00 p.m., and I was like, "What?!" I spoke with [casting director] Dixie Chassay and then I spoke with Yorgos, and he was like, "If you want to do this movie with us, it's a group of people I like." And then I read it and I was like, "Okay! I see why you wanted to brief me a little!" But it wasn't anything that was really surprising, because I've seen his movies. I understand the level of exploration. It's not just surface level. It gets in there, and it's not sanitized. It's the real thing. So, nothing was really surprising to me, though I was frightened at the same time. But the invitation was — flattering isn't the word. It was really kind of an honor.

Once you'd read the script, what were you most excited to explore or most intrigued to delve into with these characters?

Joe Alwyn: I was as intrigued by the whole world of it and what the whole thing was going to feel like. You might pick up flickers of that as you're making it, but it's not until seeing it that you fully understand what it is that Yorgos is making. And to be fair, I mean, he probably doesn't even know when it's being shot. He's still figuring it out. But it was exciting, the idea of stepping into this weird landscape and something stretched from reality in the way that it is. Also, I was excited by the humor that he brings to some of those darker moments, and some of these more outlandish, strange things, whether it's being shot in the hand and Jesse licking all over it.

Mamoudou Athie: Healing it.

Joe Alwyn: Healing it?! [Laughs] I'm going to start saying that. You're going to be doing some weird stuff, and I kind of like that.


With Yorgos' films, and especially a film like this, they don't spell things out for a viewer. They ask the viewer to interpret what they're seeing for themselves. But as the ones playing what he's written, do you ask him to explain it to you, to give you those concrete answers you might need?

Mamoudou Athie: No, no. And it's not like somebody told me, "Don't ask him about this, that, or the other." He just said in a very casual way, basically, "Oh, we don't really need to talk about it. Let's just do it." Which I like. Honestly, I had a teacher that once told me, "In the time that it takes you to discuss one thing, you could have tried it 10 times." I find when you throw a brick at an objective or an action or whatever acting colloquialism you want to use — if you just do it — then that kind of answers the question, because that's the whole point: you're doing! You can get lost trying to intellectualize it, so I really enjoyed the process of just doing things. And if there was something that felt off track, he would very gently guide you with very little words, even.

Joe Alwyn: There's not really going to be a conventional conversation about themes, or the scenes, or what they mean or what the motivation is for your character. On The Favourite, I had literally turned up to the rehearsal with history books, thinking we were going to be talking about the way people moved back then or whatever. And that very quickly gets thrown out of the window. [Laughs] But there's something liberating in that! It's almost like a process of unlearning and decluttering. Yorgos just wants you to be free and willing to jump in, and he'll steer you, certainly, and he's quite direct and blunt in the best way. But you just trust him. I just really, really trust him.

Joe, you'd experienced Yorgos' ways of rehearsing on The Favourite, but Mamoudou, you were new to the process. What was the experience like for both of you this time, and what did you take away from it?

Mamoudou Athie: Well, it wasn't unfamiliar to me. I'd done exercises like it in school — theater games and clowning — but it really felt like an exercise in getting to know each other in a physical sense and, like Joe said, being a little ridiculous with each other. I think it really speeds up the getting to know you process, when you're doing these games that help you familiarize yourself with people in a way that's very playful and childish and lends itself to the serious play of the actual movie.

You two only have one scene together, but it is a doozy of a scene. What do you remember about shooting that?

Mamoudou Athie: [Laughs] It was fun.

Joe Alwyn: It was fun and funny. It was funny.

Mamoudou: It was hilarious. It was hilarious when I read it, and it was hilarious shooting it, and it was hilarious watching it.

Joe Alwyn: It was actually quicker than I thought it would be, in terms of the technicality of it happening. There was a rig going up my arm with blood that was spurt out, and I thought we'd be doing it all night until something didn't go wrong. But it happened pretty quickly, and then it was just funny. It was just mad. Just mad.

Yorgos Lanthimos and Mamoudou Athie on the set of 'Kinds of Kindness.'

Well, the scene ends with — like you said — Jesse Plemons tonguing the bullet wound in your hand. You're filming that and then Yorgos yells, "Cut." What's the vibe?

Joe Alwyn: Finally! [Laughs] The vibe is, it was probably weirder for Jesse in a way.

Mamoudou Athie: He was saying sorry the whole time.

Joe Alwyn: "I'm so sorry, man." [Laughs] I felt in safe hands.

And that's sort of the whole thing with Yorgos: He has this way of getting his actors to feel so free, to really let their freak flags fly and go there. What is it about him that lets you go there? How does he do it?

Joe Alwyn: I guess you just feel comfortable and willing, and the scenes that are written provide those opportunities to do something big or strange in a way that you might not normally encounter when you read a script or film something. So, the opportunity is there and he creates a really nice, light atmosphere on set. Even though he's often looking at dark, dark areas, it's actually pretty light and you feel at ease.

Mamoudou Athie: I couldn't put it better. I've also had the benefit of watching so many of his films and admiring him for the last 10 years. The first film I saw of his was The Lobster when it came out, and after that, it was, like, you just had to watch everything this guy does. There is a level of integrity — artistic integrity — that you can count on, and when you see that and then you meet the person, and he seems so genuine, and he's inviting you into his world, you want to deliver in the best way that you can. You want to be as open as possible. You want to go there as far as you possibly can. That's a testament to not only his prior work, but also the environment that he engenders on set.

Joe, you mentioned that when you're making a Yorgos movie, you never really know what it's going to be until you see it. That's a unique experience for an actor. What was the experience like of watching Kinds of Kindness for the first time?

Joe Alwyn: We watched it together for the first time in a little screening room, actually, and then we saw it again in Cannes on a big, big screen with a big audience. And it felt completely different. When you see it for the first time, you are remembering the day behind the day. Maybe it was having some distance from it with the second screening and having some perspective away from it. But I feel like when you see his films for the first time, they are such felt experiences, and after that comes the, "So what's that about?" [Laughs] But seeing it in Cannes, a lot of it kind of clicked in a different way — what it is about, if you can be concrete about that at all. I don't know. It kind of made sense in a weird way to me, in a way that actually I hadn't even thought about in that much depth when I read it.

Mamoudou Athie: Exactly. What he said.

By John Boone


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