While Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite is nominated in 10 categories and up front in the Oscar race (matching Roma), there was a time, a long time actually, when it could not get financing. Partly due to its then-unfashionable period genre, but mostly because of its female-led story, its lack of major male roles and its lesbian love story, the film was serially sidelined.
Producer Ceci Dempsey is only too familiar with The Favourite’s long road to Oscar nomination.
“It’s been a process, I have to say,” she laughs. And she’s not kidding, given the 20 years it’s been since writer Deborah Davis showed Dempsey her first draft. Davis’ tale of Queen Anne and her love triangle with two female courtiers jumped off the page, but for Dempsey it was always just great storytelling, not necessarily about the characters’ gender or sexuality.
“Apart from anything else, who doesn’t love a great story?” Dempsey says. “There’s this fantastic rotating triangle of these three women doing whatever they needed to do to survive. The fact that they were women is just, ‘Oh, OK fine’. And that’s what I think is so great about Yorgos’ approach.”
And in recent times, as Dempsey points out, “things are definitely shifting” in terms of gender equality and inclusivity. “I think people thought, ‘Oh women don’t really open a film’, and all those cliches which have now been disproven through the years, not just with this film. But the story is this All About Eve story, and it’s fantastic and that just kept me going.”
For Element Pictures’ Ed Guiney, who, like Dempsey, had already worked with Lanthimos on The Lobster, the “cinematic DNA” of the story had huge appeal with its All About Eve factor, and seemed a perfect fit for Lanthimos.
“In a way what we were hoping to do with The Favourite was upend period drama,” he says. “Yorgos is an iconoclast. But I think the thing that keeps me fascinated with his work is his humanity. He has huge humanity. I think he’s intensely interested in people and the human condition, and all of his films challenge the characters in incredible ways, which I think speaks to the challenges that we all face in our lives.”
All three female stars are also nominated – Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz for Best Supporting, and Olivia Colman for Best Actress in the Queen Anne role – and Guiney also notes the sea change on the horizon in terms of equality and inclusivity. “I think you can feel it everywhere,” he says. “It’s in the water; it’s in the ether. It enriches the work. It’s really central and self-evident that apart from the fact that it’s really good and right and proper, It’s enriching.”
Weisz and Colman also worked with Lanthimos in The Lobster, and for Dempsey, seeing them work together with Stone for the first time, the magic was immediately evident.
“From day one you could feel it,” she says. “It was there. But we had an opportunity for a rehearsal period, which we didn’t have on The Lobster, we didn’t even have time for a read-through on The Lobster. So the fact that they had time to rehearse for a couple of weeks before we started shooting, I think was incredibly beneficial in terms of establishing relationships and connections and shorthand.”
Guiney had a similar reaction to seeing the chemistry in action. “Watching them play a scene together is like watching virtuoso musicians improvising,” he says.
While Guiney admits that this was, “possibly the most challenging film” he’s ever worked on, “I do think when you go through that and come out the other side, you can come through it with your relationships enriched, and friendships enriched.”