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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 26 January 2019
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 26 JANUARY 2019 25 FILM Laughing with Lanthimos Australian screenwriter Tony McNamara speaks to Neos Kosmos about collaborating with Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos on Oscar-tipped film The Favourite. CON STAMOCOSTAS Anna McGahan performs in the staging of “Hydra” at the Queensland Theatre. PHOTO: TIM JONES PHOTOGRAPHY G reek director Yorgos Lanthimos' The Favourite, is set in Leonard Cohen and Clift on the isle of Hydra are the source of inspiration for Sue Smith’s new play. PHOTO: OLD LIFE MAGAZINE and her infidelity was just explosive, so the relationship spiralled out of control into public fights and brawls. "While on Hydra Johnston and Clift become friends with Leonard Cohen. The legendary singer immortalised his time on the island with his song 'Like a bird on the wire'. Writing about the Australian couple he said, "The Australians drank more than other people, they wrote more, they got sick more, they got well more, they cursed more, they blessed more, and they helped a great deal more. They were an inspiration.'" Aside from the drinking and infidelity Smith believes Clift and Johnston's attempts at living a bohemian life on Hydra also failed because they struggled to mix with the Greek population.This was despite Clift's youngest son Jason, being born on the island. Even though he and his two siblings spoke Greek fluently, attended school and had Greek friends, their parents struggled to assimilate. "Although their children fitted into the culture of the island, the adults tended to stick with their own foreign colony," Smith explains. "So they never really belonged to the local culture and that may have contributed to want went wrong - they were exiles. "Despite all the turmoil Charmian helped Johnson with the writing of his novel My Brother Jack which became a huge success and brought them back to Australia. Johnson then followed that up with Clean Straw for Nothing which is based on his time in Hydra. In the novel he hints at the reasons for his marriage breakdown when he asks, "Was it the island that did this to us or was it ourselves?'" It's probably both," says Smith. "They believed that when they went there that living on the island would solve their problems. For the first year or two it did but after that it didn't. They worked incredibly hard while they lived on Hydra. They were immensely talented, gifted writers. In a way what my play is about what great art can emerge from the most straightened tormented circumstances. It asks the question whether all that is necessary for great art. "Just six years after leaving Hydra, Johnson died of tuberculosis in 1970 at the age of 58 while Clift committed suicide a year earlier - she was only 45. Many have described the couple's fate as a Greek tragedy but Smith looks at it in another way. "I see it as an Australian tragedy that happened in Greece," she says. "In their case it's about exile and what expatriation does to people. European artists didn't need to expatriate to find the nourishment they needed but many Australians did. They didn't feel like they belonged in their own culture and they certainly could never belong in Greece either and perhaps that exile created some sort of spiritual malaise in them." England during the reign of Queen Anne when Britain is at war with France. It may be a period film with costumes and wigs but Lanthimos' unique take on the genre shows this 18th century world as fun, dark and full of the many absurdities of palace life. Queen Anne played by Olivia Colman suffers from gout, has a penchant for duck racing and carries around the grief over the loss of 17 children that are represented by her 17 pet rabbits. Lady Sarah Churchill played by the wickedly funny Rachel Weisz has an intimate relationship with Anne and guides her in matters of state. But when her browbeaten cousin, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) arrives at court, a struggle for power and love threatens not only her relationship with Anne but also the monarchy. Lanthimos first got hold of the script, written by Deborah Davis around 2010, just after the release of his film Dog Tooth. Soon after, he sought out Australian screenwriter Tony McNamara to help rewrite the story. "He was a one of a kind director to me so I just wanted to work with him," he said speaking to Neos Kosmos from London. "I hadn't been super interested in writing film because the process takes so long but when I saw his films he Emma Stone and director Yorgos Lanthimos on the set of Fox Searchlight Pictures’ “The Favourite.” just felt like nobody else. I thought Dog Tooth was a really funny film. It was all the things I liked. It was funny; it was dark, the way he shot it. It was completely unique so I thought 'yeah I am up for that'." McNamara says the collaboration between a Greek and an Australian is why the film is not your usual period piece fare. "I feel like there is the same dry sense of humour between Greeks and Australians so I feel like that works well together," he said."In making a British period movie we weren't stuck in their tradition and we didn't feel like we had to honour any tradition, we just felt we had to do our own thing." While Lanthimos' films contain themes that are universal, they also follow that ancient Greek story telling tradition which features both a tragedy mask and a comedy mask. "The very first thing we said to each other was that The Favourite should be a tragic comedy," McNamara said. "Yorgos really wanted it to be a funny film because all his films have a good sense of humour. We knew it was a tragedy but it felt to us that the movie would be fun if it was really funny." What is also notable about The Favourite is how the dialogue is spoken differently from the Greek director's signature dead pan style. "He just felt that really wasn't going to work," McNamara said. "I don't think the style of that would match the period or the feel he wanted. Yorgos is also constantly evolving how he thinks and how he approaches everything. So we never really talked about it, he just did it the way he did it." After being part of the film making process from the outset McNamara says that seeing the final product was the most exciting aspect of working on The Favourite. "When I saw it on screen it was better than I could've imagine," he said. "Yorgos is one of the great directors. It's just a blessing for a writer. I was around in preproduction a lot and then I was in rehearsal for three or so weeks with the actors and then on set while the film was being made. That was amazing because you have got those incredible actors and processes; it's really fun and interesting. You realise how great that these actors are at saying my words and watching Yorgos direct was fabulous." McNamara believes Lanthimos' vision is what separates him. That the Greek director offers a broader way of looking at people and that the deeper you look the more complicated, perverse and strange they become."A lot of films aren't like that," he says. "There is room for films like that and lots of people are interested in those films. That is why I love working with him. I'm writing a new movie for him at the moment. I feel like we get each other and understand what we are trying to do. We are a good match." ‘The Favourite’ for 10 Oscars G reek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos' absurdist period comedy, The Favourite, has received ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting actresses. Lanthimos was especially pleased, expressing his joy that all three actresses were recognised for their work in the film. Olivia Colman received a Best Actress nomination, and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone both received supporting actress nominations. Three-time Oscar winner Sandy Powell is competing for costume design award and is also nominated for Mary Poppins Returns."Lanthimos has also been thrust into the Oscar race with a nomination for Best Director. Director Tony McNamara feels that the biggest thrill is that people are watching the play. "We knew it was a different kind of film than the normal period film, so you are never 100 per cent sure that people are going to get it or be ready for it. What's been great is how people have warmed to it. It's beyond our wildest dreams how much people have liked it." Winners are to be announced at the ceremony on 24 February.
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