Claw-in-Claw With The Lobster: Director Yorgos Lanthimos reveals the beast within – Austin Chronicle

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Find true love in 45 days, or you’ll be turned into a crustacean. It sounds like the setup for a Disney fairy tale, but in his English-language debut The Lobster, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos re-envisions this fantastical conceit as a metaphor for the pains and perils of being in or out of a relationship.

Lanthimos began his career in 2001 co-directing My Best Friend, but it was his 2009 Oscar-nominated Dogtooth, about a bizarre family that lives in their own isolated world, that made him an international name. His follow-up, 2011’s Alps, saw him reach the upper limit of what he could do in the Greek film industry, so five years ago he moved to the UK to start working on English-language projects.

That process has led to The Lobster. His third collaboration with co-writer Efthymis Filippou. Much like their previous work on Alps, it deals with how people fill a hole in their lives. In Alps, it’s grieving families trying to plug the void left by the death of a loved one with an actor who will play their part. Here, it’s about the societal pressure to be in a relationship. After his marriage breaks down, David (Colin Farrell) is sent to a hotel. His room and board comes with one condition: If he cannot find true love in 45 days, he will be turned into an animal.

“I see their work, but I also try to see interviews they have done, and photographs throughout their life,” Lanthimos says about Farrell and Rachel Weisz, who were mutual fans, and had talked about working together while he was developing the script. However, Lanthimos explained that his writing process is very much informed by his casting choices. That makes the first casting choice the most important, and in this case it was Farrell that came aboard first. “I just felt that he had so many different qualities that he would create a very complex character. He’s very smart, but very funny. He has a great sense of humor, he’s very charming, he’s awkward at times. He has so many different qualities that I felt would add to the character we had written.”

Both Weisz and Farrell have had diversions into Hollywood blockbusters, but have shifted into more dramatic pieces in recent years. By contrast, much of the supporting cast, including Michael Smiley, John C. Reilly, and Olivia Colman have well-established reputations for absurdist comedy (not that Lanthimos knew about Colman’s comedic background: He said, “I first got to know her through Tyrannosaur, which is an extremely dark, dramatic film.”) Lanthimos said, “It’s just about choosing very talented people, and being confident that there’s a lot of tone and quite a particular voice in the text itself, and they’re just going to understand the material and be in tune with it.”

The other casting decision is for the animals, which become a metaphor for how people perceive themselves, or how they would like to be. In the case of the titular lobster, that’s been a constant since he first conceived of the story as a short, rather than a feature. In that more darkly comedic draft, he said, “The main character was actually turned into a lobster and was eaten by his ex-wife at dinner. Well, we weren’t sure that it was him, but she ate ‘a’ lobster at dinner.” Over time, just about everything else in the script evolved, except Dave’s future creature. “The lobster just stayed, because it seemed to be the right choice for him.”

Throughout the film, animals drift into frame, with rarely any indication as to whether they were born with four hooves or a beak or floppy ears, or that’s what they became. Since this was a relatively small-budget production, it all came down to what was available. Lanthimos said, “We just made a choice of an animal that would feel odd being in a forest in our situation and story. And apparently camels were in Ireland at the time.”

While it’s not a big-budget production, it’s undoubtedly Lanthimos’ biggest to date. In part, that’s a result of the differences between the industries in his native and adopted homes. The Irish film industry has been on a streak for the last few years, with a strong combination of tax incentives and production loans building it into one of Europe’s production hubs. Meanwhile the Greek industry has large TV and commercial sectors but, he said, “When you are making a film in Greece, you can’t afford all that, and you don’t have the means.”

By moving to Ireland, he said, “We did have more means in order to make the film.” Yet it was still a transition from the complete freedom of his earlier work. He said, “I found it a little bit difficult working with so many rules in place, and not being as flexible as I could be with my three or four friends when we were making films in Greece.” At the end of the day, he said, “Creatively speaking, and working with the actors, and how we were making the film, it wasn’t much different.”

The Lobster is in theatres now. See Film Listings for showtimes and review.

Claw-in-Claw With The Lobster: Director Yorgos Lanthimos reveals the beast within – Austin Chronicle