It’s one of my top 10 films of 2018 and so it was great to speak with Australian screenwriter Tony McNamara about his involvement with The Favourite…
Matt: I believe the original script was written by Deborah Davis so can you tell us how you become involved in the project?
Tony: Yorgos Lanthimos, the director, read Deborah’s script and he liked the historical story of it. He’s a very particular director and he wanted it be different. He was looking for a tragic kind of comedy. He had liked a couple of things I’d written and so he rang me up and we then spent the next 7 years turning it into what he wanted it to be.
Matt: Yorgos Lanthimos is seems to make such wonderfully messed up films. Can you tell us about your interaction with him? Do you guys have a similar sense of humour?
Tony: Yeah, we’re different but we have a similar sensibility which is what he looks for in everyone he works with. We hit it off immediately and became good friends. I’m writing another movie for him at the moment. He’s a director I admire and I think he’s really funny.
Matt: I think is the first time he’s made a film where he’s not the writer and so handing that control over to you is a big step for him.
Tony: It was. He’s very involved and we spent a lot of time together. At the time, he’d just moved to London and I think we wasn’t comfortable writing a script in English because usually he writes in Greek and then it’s translated.
Matt: Without giving too much away, one of the most striking elements in the profanity and sexual references. Not exactly something you’d expect from British royalty in the 18th century. Is there poetic license being used here or is that actually how they dealt with each other?
Tony: Deborah’s original script was very historical but when Yorgos and I got involved, we decided to be a bit “fast and loose” with it. We wanted a period movie that was more fun than usual. They did swear a lot. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales there’s a lot of bad language which was the sort of language they used. I thought to myself “we use it, they use it so let’s use it.”
Matt: And what were you able to draw on historically in trying to make these characters as authentic as possible? I admit that I found them so wonderfully complex.
Tony: There wasn’t heaps about them. We understood the basics of what happened but there was no real detail about why the story happened or what their individual desires were. We tried to come up with the most interesting version of this story.
Matt: The film is very careful in how it divides up its time between the three leading ladies. How easy did you find it giving the balance to each of their particular storylines?
Tony: It wasn’t easy. The trick of the movie was how to create this triangle, go back and forth with their respective stories, and give them all enough weight. That took a few years to get right. It wasn’t like we were doing it all the time though. Yorgos was off making movies and I was here making TV shows.
Matt: Perhaps the thing I love most about the film is the dark humour and the way it’s delivered by these characters. How easy was it taking this rather serious narrative about war and conflict and weaving in such wonderful comedy?
Tony: It wasn’t that difficult because it’s how Yorgos and I think about things. It wasn’t possile for us to make a straight, serious movie. In our first conversations, we knew it should be funny.
Matt: You’ve been in the industry for a while now. This film has received such incredible critical acclaim. Did it come as a surprised to you or was there always something about this project that felt special and different from the rest?
Tony: It has come as a surprise. Once you’re in the industry for a long time, you don’t know what’s going to go and what’s not going to go. I knew we had a chance once we got Emma, Olivia and Rachel on board. Yorgos had also become a bigger director. He hadn’t made The Lobster when I first met him. Even once it was made, we didn’t know if people would like it and so that too came as a relief when we found out.
Matt: You’ve earned your first Golden Globe nomination and the ceremony will be in a couple of weeks in Los Angeles. Booked your flights and ready to head over?
Tony: Yes, I’m heading over for it. Absolutely.
Matt: And I’ve got to say, you’d be a strong chance at an Oscar nomination. What would that mean to you?
Tony: It’s be great so fingers are crossed. The people who worked on this film are all great. There’s another Australian, Fiona Crombie, who did the production design and we’ve known each other for 20 years. The actors were also super lovely people and we spent a lot of time with them.
Matt: As the writer, did you get a chance to speak a lot with the actors?
Tony: Yeah, we did three weeks of rehearsal and I was then on set for a couple of weeks in case Yorgos needed me. I then got to spend more time with them during the film festivals in Venice and London and New York. They’re all really great.
Matt: Are you working on anything at the moment? Could this film open a few more doors for you?
Tony: I guess so. People have liked The Favourite and so of course they’re more interested in hiring me. I’m working on Yorgos’s new film and I’m also making a show for Hulu in America with Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning.