Jesse Plemons Tries to Unpack ‘Kinds of Kindness'

Jesse Plemons has become an undisputed auteur's favorite. The 36-year-old star's beguiling unshowiness onscreen has landed him memorable parts in films from Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Steven Spielberg (Bridge of Spies, The Post), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman, Killers of the Flower Moon), Charlie Kaufman (I'm Thinking of Ending Things), Adam McKay (Vice) and Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), among so many others. Arguably even more viewers know him from his indelible work on the small screen, which began with his breakthrough role on NBC's Friday Night Lights, continued through AMC's landmark hit series Breaking Bad and culminated with an Emmy nomination for FX's Fargo, where he met his wife, actress and co-star Kirsten Dunst.

Plemons touched down for the Cannes Film Festival on Friday for the world premiere of Yorgos Lanthimos' Kinds of Kindness, the acclaimed Greek director's follow-up to his multi-Oscar-winning period fantasy Poor Things. Described as a surrealist fable set in the present day, the new project is an anthology film told in three parts, reuniting Lanthimos with the provocative screenwriting partner of his early career, Efthymis Filippou (Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer). Plemons co-leads an impressive cast including Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley and Hong Chau, with each actor playing three different characters across the film's thematically interlaced stories.

The film won raves from critics in Cannes after its Friday night premiere, with The Hollywood Reporter's lead reviewer David Rooney praising Plemons as "an actor with extraordinary range who's the standout of a stellar ensemble," while summing up the movie as "a work of audacious originality, vicious humor and balls-to-the-wall strangeness."

THR sat down with Plemons at Cannes' historic Carlton Hotel shortly before Kinds of Kindness' world premiere.

What were your impressions when you read the Kinds of Kindness script for the first time?

Shock. Confusion. By the time I reached the end and finished it, I felt like I had experienced such a wide range of emotions and feelings. My body was just on fire. But then on an intellectual level, you can't quite comprehend why or what ride you've just been on. But that was exciting to me. This isn't just a weird film for the sake of being weird. There's something really human about it. I felt that it's exploring issues that we all deal with but rarely look at in this way. After I read the script a few times - before I really started diving into it in terms of how I was going to play it - it was like I had downloaded all of these feelings, but I had no idea where to put them or how to organize them. So that was strange but exciting.

What did Yorgos Lanthimos tell you - about his intentions and his ideas for the characters you would be playing?

He's not one to explain himself, which is a little unnerving in the beginning. You're sort of desperate to try and find something to hold on to. And so for me, it was a process of spending a lot of time [with the] script, doing work on my own and making choices, and hoping that they fit into this world. We did talk about certain aspects of it. You know, playing the three different characters. He said early on that he wasn't into the idea of really extreme transformations and it turning into some actor show-off kind of thing, with everyone showing how different they could be across these three films. So it was about finding this line, where they are different and specific. The physicality was something I was thinking about; the wardrobe really helped. Because, you know, we were wrapping one film, taking the weekend and then starting the next one. So, you make your choices and decide at that point what it means to you - but it constantly changes, because it's such a movie where, depending on where you are when you watch it or read the script, it totally shifts in how it resonates with you.

jesse plemons tries to unpack ‘kinds of kindness'

Jesse Plemons, Yorgos Lanthimos and Emma Stone attend the ‘Kinds of Kindness' photo call in Cannes

The film is set in the contemporary world, but the costumes and the set design feel very specific and slightly heightened in an interesting way.

Yeah, the colors are very specific, too, right? I really fought for that turtleneck worn by my character Andrew in the first film. Our costume designer really had her work cut out for her - we were basically doing three films at once. And a lot of it was just trial and error - put it on and see how it feels. And with Andrew, we hadn't looked at anything for him until the camera test. Without thinking, I just put that shirt on and really became attached to it. A lot of it was just a feeling. Yorgos is really collaborative and open, but it has to align with his feeling as well. So it's an interesting process.

I want to ask the big, obvious question of how you interpret this movie, but I realize that's a big ask.

I know. I'm really conflicted about that question because part of me doesn't want to give a definitive answer. I don't think there's a wrong interpretation. And that's what is exciting and interesting to me about this movie. Like I said, it changed for me even throughout the course of shooting. Even just looking at one of the three films, I'd be like: "OK, I know what this is now." And then two days later, I'd think, "No, actually, it's all of these other things." Obviously, the themes he's dealing with in a very general sense are: control, relationships, institutions and things we're brought up and conditioned just to accept and not to question. These constructs or institutions that are supposed to make us feel safe and secure - or in the case of the religious one, to lead us to some form of transcendence. They're all, in a nutshell, very simple but very human themes. We've just dealt with them in a really roundabout and unusual way. But in my mind, it's all very universal.

How about the title? There isn't a lot of kind behavior in this film.

Yeah, it's a pretty messed up title. In a perfect way.

This cast seems like a uniquely cool group of people. Was it a fun set?

Yeah, it was. And it's not all that common. You know, even though this was my first film with all of them, you stepped onto set and there was this comfortability between everyone. It felt like a weird family theater troupe sort of environment among them. And Willem Dafoe was one of the more interesting creatures I've ever met. He just completely marches to the beat of his own drum, and has the excitement and enthusiasm of a 12-year-old theater kid who's just so happy to be there.

Trust is always such a big part of what we do - to be willing to take risks. This was such a unique group of crazy-talented people and it felt like everyone had each other's backs.

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