Emma Stone in DIRECTOR'S CUT
Directed and Photographed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Styled by Sara Moonves
On a bright winter afternoon in Burbank, California, a woman named Phyllis was on her front lawn, trying to control five of her 15 dogs. As always, she was dressed in haute leisure wear—in this case, a voluminous floral-print caftan. Her red hair was carefully styled in a bouffant bob, and her lips painted a bright shade of orange. Suddenly, dogs of all sizes began pulling Phyllis across her manicured lawn, her many gold bangles clinking and her frock billowing, but she was never annoyed. “Oh, my babies,” she said lovingly, as she stooped to pick up a yapping pug. “I adore all my babies, even when they 're devils".
Phyllis was, in fact, Emma Stone, who approached her character for the shoot seen here with a terrific sense of commitment. The dog family had sprung to life from the imagination of Yorgos Lanthimos, the director of The Favourite, which is nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including best director. (Stone, one of the stars in the film, is nominated for best supporting actress.) “First, we considered spotlighting a woman who loved stuffed animals,” Lanthimos said as he watched Stone trying to wrangle the pack. “I discussed it with Emma. Since she loves dogs a lot, we went from stuffed animals to real, deep animal love: 15 actual dogs.”
Lanthimos smiled. He is a tall man with a bemused yet inscrutable look in his eye. He was dressed in a kind of dark blue French worker’s jacket and navy pants. Since he was taking a turn as a W photographer, he was holding a camera and his pockets were stuffed with equipment. In conversation, Lanthimos, who is 45, is warm and approachable, but not naturally forthcoming. Most directors are loquacious, eager to hold forth on their worldview, but he is shy, even cryptic. His films, beginning with Dogtooth (2009) and continuing with The Lobster (2015) and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), are haunting, unsettling, and disorientingly humorous. Dogtooth, which was made in Greece, Lanthimos’s native country, set the tone: It features three adult siblings who have been isolated their whole lives and kept in a state of perpetual childhood by their parents. The grown kids believe that they can’t leave their cultlike compound until their upper canine teeth (thus Dogtooth) fall out on their own. The scene in which the eldest daughter bashes her tooth with a heavy dumbbell is a chilling statement on the need for freedom—yet, somehow, Lanthimos manages to make it hilarious too.
Stone was now ready for a shot in which the dogs would be exercising with their mistress. A treadmill was set up in the den for the pug, and the Australian shepherd was coaxed into assuming, literally, a downward-dog position. “This one will be so funny,” exclaimed Lanthimos. “Funny” is his word for unique, interesting, provocative; to get to funny is always one of his directorial goals. During the three weeks of rehearsal before shooting The Favourite, he had his three actresses engage in a medley of game-like exercises, such as walking backward toward each other to see if they would crash. He also insisted they link arms and “build a human pretzel.” His goal, like with Stone and the dogs, was to erase any self-consciousness, sense of vanity, or “acting.” This need for naturalness even extended to the pups, which, it turned out, Lanthimos thought were a bit too professional. “The dogs are a bit tired now,” he said, eyeing the pug panting on the treadmill. “And that’s good. Even in the surreal, we need to find the real.”