Yes, even Oscar winners still have to audition.
In “The Favourite” (in theaters November 23), which had its U.S. premiere Friday at the New York Film Festival, Emma Stone plays scheming scullery maid Abigail, who competes with her hard-nosed cousin, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), for the attention – and affection – of the petulant, ailing Queen Anne (Olivia Colman).
But this is no ordinary period movie, from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose previous dark comedies have centered on human sacrifice (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”) and single people who are turned into animals (“The Lobster”). There are duck races, rabbit birthday parties and a “Dancing with the Stars”-style dance-off – and that’s before we get to the lesbian love triangle.
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In fact, Abigail might be Stone’s most physically demanding role yet: Over the course of the two-hour tragicomedy, she’s pelted with books, tossed out of a carriage, shot at, pushed down a ravine, and chased through a forest during a rough-and-tumble version of foreplay with an eager suitor (Joe Alwyn).
Perhaps to ensure she was up to the challenge, when “I auditioned for Yorgos, he had me pant like I was giving birth throughout the lines,” even though Abigail isn’t pregnant in the film, Stone recalled during a press conference Friday. “I think he just does this to everyone.”
Stone’s co-star, Nicholas Hoult, had a similarly bizarre experience when he tried out for the role of scene-stealing politician Robert Harley.
“Yorgos asked me to hum while the person I was with said their lines, and then I had to imagine force fields around the room and sculpt them into things,” Hoult said. “There were lots of games like that throughout rehearsal as well. I’m not sure how it affects the performance.”
“I have no idea (either),” Lanthimos responded, earning laughs.
Literal and figurative shots are fired when Abigail (Emma Stone, left) and Sarah (Rachel Weisz) go shooting pheasants.
Literal and figurative shots are fired when Abigail (Emma Stone, left) and Sarah (Rachel Weisz) go shooting pheasants. (Photo: Yorgos Lanthimos)
Stone’s deft combination of slapstick and pathos in “Favourite” could catapult the “La La Land” actress back into awards contention come February. Critics raved that she’s a “sly delight” in a “winning performance,” and prognosticators on GoldDerby.com have already called her a lock for an Oscar nomination as best supporting actress.
As the sole American in the cast, Stone was unfamiliar with much of the history behind the real-life Queen Anne, who reigned over Great Britain in the 1700s. But the movie is only loosely based on true events – instead exploring the complex power dynamics between the three women, with contemporary music and plenty of F-bombs.
Stone found the costumes helpful in shaping Abigail’s journey from naive servant to viperous lady-in-waiting.
“I had never worn a corset before,” Stone says. “Not only is it harder to breathe, but it does inform you about the time period and the restriction on women, needing to lace into that and walk or stand a certain way in order to stay upright. Especially for Abigail, her rise is so defined by what she’s wearing.”