‘Kinds of Kindness’ Star Jesse Plemons Explains Why He Missed Accepting Cannes Best Actor Prize and What He Loves About Working With Yorgos Lanthimos

When Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film “Kinds of Kindness” debuted at the 77th Cannes Film Festival on May 17, star Jesse Plemons hadn’t seen it yet.

“I’ve been working, and I also … if I have the option not to watch something I’m in, I usually, slowly sneak out,” the actor told Variety, sitting down at the swanky Carlton Hotel just hours before the Searchlight Pictures film’s world premiere a few hundred yards down the Croisette. He was curious what the audience would make of Lanthimos’ latest movie, which was among the highest-profile debuts at the festival.

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“It’s a movie that really demands the viewer bring themselves to it and fill in the blanks,” Plemons explained. “It’s also a movie — from the time I first read the script to then shooting, and even as the production went on — your interpretation of it changes based where you are. I love films like that.”

“Kinds of Kindness” is a triptych of increasingly off-kilter storylines — following “a man without choice who attempts to take control of his own life, a policeman whose wife seems like a different person after being lost at sea and a woman who is in search of someone with a special ability,” according to its logline — with the troupe of actors — Plemons, Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Mamoudou Athie, Joe Alwyn and Hunter Schafer — playing a new set of roles in each chapter. (Yorgos Stefanakos’ character RMF appears in all three parts.)

Plemons had been a fan of Lanthimos since his friend Caleb Landry Jones told him to watch the Greek director’s breakthrough film, 2009’s “Dogtooth,” which won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes. “I’m pinching myself to be in his orbit,” the actor said of Lanthimos reaching out. “It’s such a standalone type of experience on the creative front. It’s the exact type of project that I’m drawn to, and it’s fun in a very, very messed up way.”

Hong Chau and Jesse Plemons in KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.
Hong Chau and Jesse Plemons in “Kinds of Kindness.”

Fellow Lanthimos first-timer Chau felt the same way. She got the call while recovering from Covid after a trip to the Venice Film Festival to debut “The Whale,” for which she’d earn an Academy Award nomination. “I read the script, and I couldn’t really process it, but I laughed,” Chau recalled.

Then, Dafoe — seated next to her, and a recent Lanthimos veteran (starring opposite Stone in 2023’s “Poor Things”) — chimed in: “Until you’re there [on set], you don’t really know what your intentions are and sometimes you don’t even have to know what things mean. You just need to know how to enter the world and commit yourself to actions, to some of the events. And [Yorgos] has a way of giving you interesting things to do to engage you.”

With this film, everyone’s experience was different because of the size and scope of their roles. “Jesse has the heaviest lift,” he pointed out, adding, “[Lanthimos] is very good at making a group that works well together, no one really sticks out, and he keeps people around.”

In the first story, Plemons plays Robert, a man whose every action is controlled by his boss (Dafoe), including his romantic relationship with Chau’s character. In the second, Plemons is Daniel, a policeman whose wife (Stone) goes missing on a research trip and returns under strange circumstances; Dafoe plays her father, while Chau is the spouse of another researcher who disappeared. In the final act, Dafoe and Chau play cult leaders Omi and Aka, with Plemons and Stone among their most devoted followers.

When he read the “Kinds of Kindness” script for the first time, Plemons “ran through a whole gamut of emotions”: the film was “psychological terrifying” at times, but also funny, in a dark way. The situations are bizarre — dealing in cannibalism, car crashes and sex cults — but the themes of control and power dynamics, as well as the need for comfort and love, felt relatable.

“What’s so amazing and unique about stepping into the Yorgos-sphere is that, on the surface, it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, well, this is crazy. This is weird,’ but there’s something very, very human about his movies,” Plemons explained. “Whenever you allow more abstract, surreal storytelling devices —it’s almost like a main line into something more human, because you don’t have the kind of traditional things to hold on to. We’re all looking for kinds of kindness.”

At the time Plemons signed on to star, though, the film was titled “And” — a moniker that he was really attached to. “Then someone, a friend at Searchlight, said it’s impossible to sell a movie called ‘And,’ and I understood that,” he admitted, chuckling. “It took me a second when I heard the new title, and the longer I sat with it, the more perfect I thought it was.”

Lanthimos encouraged his cast to lean into those themes. “He didn’t want to impress people with how different we could be from story to story,” Chau said. “It was more interesting to have a little bit of connective tissue, some sort of unconscious, subtle connection between all of the characters.”

One way that came together was each character’s looks. “I really enjoyed working with Yorgos because he was so hand off for a lot of the beginning conversations with the different department heads, with hair and makeup,” she continued. “A lot of the time, directors already know what they want and you’re butting heads. This was a completely different experience where we all stood back and didn’t really know, so that dance was interesting.”

(From L-R): Willem Dafoe, Jesse Plemmons and Hong Chau in KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.
Willem Dafoe, Jesse Plemons and Hong Chau in “Kinds of Kindness.”

Dafoe drilled down further on that idea. “I don’t think I’ve ever had so many fittings. And it’s not about the tailoring or the materials — it was, ‘Who is this person? What do we know about them by what they wear?’ Which maybe sounds superficial or ass-backwards, but that process starts to whittle down and help guide you to who this person is and then you start to form and direct your energies a certain way.”

And each character’s style informed the others. “I saw some of your photos from the fittings becuase I was so curious what everybody else was wearing,” Chau said, turning to Dafoe. “I felt like we were collectively choosing our world together.”

The audience is responding well to those choices. The film debuted in limited release on Friday, grossing $350,000 from just five theaters, the highest per theater average of the year to date.

At Cannes, Plemons won the festival’s best actor prize — but he wasn’t at the awards ceremony to pick it up. Following the premiere, he’d flown from France to New York to wrap up filming the Netflix miniseries “Zero Day,” where he stars opposite Robert De Niro, and was en route home to L.A. to see his wife Kirsten Dunst and their kids, sons Ennis and James, while the awards were being presented.

“I hadn’t seen my boys in almost five weeks, so I landed to the news,” Plemons said, sharing an update at the film’s premiere last Thursday. “It’s hard to put into words, but an incredible honor that I never expected to receive. I mean, the fact that it’s this group of jury members from across the world, it was incredibly special.” He also shared his long-awaited review of the movie: “I just love the movie so much. I’m so, so proud of it.”

To note: Plemons is not the only member of the family to have won an acting prize at Cannes. He and Dunst, who won best actress at the 2011 fest for “Melancholia,” are among the elite few couples to have won the fest’s acting honors, joining the likes of Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz; Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara; and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. How did the couple, already Academy Award nominees for their co-starring roles in 2021’s “The Power of the Dog,” celebrate? It was a lowkey affair, he said, “We had family and friends come over, just hung out at the house and we went to dinner.”

And he’s not done with Lanthimos just yet. At Cannes, news broke that Plemons would reunite with the filmmaker and Stone for the alien conspiracy drama “Bugonia,” which will debut on Nov. 7, 2025 via Focus Features. Asked what they have up their sleeve with the film, he quipped, “More good clean fun, ya know?”

“Kinds of Kindness” is now playing in limited theaters and expands nationwide on July 3.

Yorgos Lanthimos and Jesse Plemons on the set of KINDS OF KINDNESS. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved
Jesse Plemons with director Yorgos Lanthimos on the set of “Kinds of Kindness.”

Brent Lang contributed to this report.

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