For The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos’ twisted take on the British monarchy and period cinema, the director of The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Lobster knew there was only one actress capable of taking on the role of Queen Anne: Olivia Colman. They’d worked together on The Lobster, and Lanthimos’ need to cast Colman as the melancholic, gout-ridden Queen with a penchant for bunnies and childlike troublemaking was so strong that The Favourite was in development longer than anything he’d done.

“We had to wait for Olivia for quite some time in order to make this film, so I definitely knew I didn’t want to make this film without Olivia,” Lanthimos said at last week’s The Contenders London panel for The Favourite, which Fox Searchlight releases in theaters next month. “It was the most important thing for me to have these three actresses play these roles. I think they bring so much more to it, and so much more than was there on the page, and that’s what I always try to do with actors; try to bring in people who when they come into contact or conflict with a character we’ve written, something new comes out of that and adds layers that we hadn’t thought about or imagined.”

Alongside Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, as two women in Queen Anne’s court who compete for her affections and bend her ear on their own agendas, Colman embraced the freshness of a film that placed three lead women so much in charge of the narrative. “There are fantastic female characters, but very rarely all three are the leads,” she told me. “This is particularly special, in that the men don’t really have a say. They’re bit parts.”

Indeed, through the impressive crafts of the likes of Oscar-winner Sandy Powell on costumes and Nadia Stacey on hair and make-up, the men are the ones caked in make-up, dressed like peacocks and cast as ingenues for the affections of the central women.

“Our goal from the very beginning was to create these very complex, complicated women,” Lanthimos said. “At different points in time in the film you understand different things about them. They could not be read as one thing. They go through a journey… you wander about what their true feelings are sometimes, what their actual goal is.”

Check out our conversation above.