“Kinds Of Kindness” Stars Joe Alwyn And Mamoudou Athie On Liberating Sex Scenes, Exploring “Dark” Characters, And The “Uncomfortable” Underbelly Of Yorgos Lanthimos’s Latest Movie

Spotlight interview with Joe Alwyn, in a dark collared outfit, and Mamoudou Athie, in a casual white shirt, by BuzzFeed
Cindy Ord / Getty Images for SiriusXM / BuzzFeed

This article mentions sexual assault and gun violence. 

🚨 There are MASSIVE spoilers ahead for Kinds of Kindness! 🚨

Filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos is renowned for two things: his outlandish movies with weird and wonderful scenes that are usually laced with dark undertones, and his tendency to hold on to the actors who he enjoys working with.

His latest film, Kinds of Kindness, showcases both of these traits to the extreme, with Poor Things stars Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, and Margaret Qualley reuniting on screen, alongside Joe Alwyn, who previously appeared in Yorgos’s 2018 movie The Favourite.

Jesse Plemons, Mamoudou Athie, and Hong Chau complete the main cast, marking their first collaboration with the esteemed director.

Mamoudou Athie, Willem Dafoe, Emma Stone, Margaret Qualley, Merah Benoit, Jesse Plemons, Joe Alwyn, and Yorgos Lanthimos attend the "Kinds Of Kindness" New York Premiere
Dia Dipasupil / Getty Images

And amid Kinds of Kindness’s much-anticipated US release, BuzzFeed sat down with Joe and Mamoudou for an in-depth chat about the absurdist black comedy anthology, which both actors feel “privileged” to be a part of.

For context, the 164-minute movie consists of three separate shorts, and the core cast take on different roles in each one.

Mamoudou Athie and Joe Alwyn
Cindy Ord / Getty Images for SiriusXM

“I hadn’t read something like it before, that’s for sure,” Joe recalled of the moment that he first read the script. “I don’t know what I thought; I mean, it was crazy. It was crazy. I remember thinking it feels very playful — even in all of this weirdness and strangeness and uncomfortable humor and darkness. The fact that it was in three stories felt like a kind of experiment, and having a group of actors who would play different roles on each one felt like a kind of theater trope, and that felt like a really exciting presentation.”

“It was a privilege to read it and to be offered any form of involvement from my end,” he concluded.

Mamoudou echoed his costar’s thoughts, but went on to admit that he personally felt “terrified” by the idea of having to act out some of the scenes that he had read.

“I similarly felt privileged to be a part of it, or to be asked to be a part of it,” he told us. “I was terrified at the prospect of also actually having [to do it]... It’s easy to say ‘yes’ to something, but you also have to realize you’re going to have to do it, you know? You’re going to have to do it eventually, and with a level of commitment that Yorgos’s movies typically demand. So I was nervous, but I was also excited.”

“In a way, I also felt liberated from some of my, not biases, but I was certainly not going to do this with just anybody,” Mamoudou went on. “It was unlikely that I would do anything like it for anybody ever, unless it were Yorgos. That’s the only person I can really think of that I would want to do something as frightening as it was to me. So I felt kind of liberated, and even now, I’m like: Well, I’ve had these kinds of blocks and certain things that I would never think that I would participate in or do, but the experience was so lovely, and it wasn’t as scary as I thought it was. There's a lot of things that were just more in my head than in reality, and it's kind of freed me up as an actor in a way that I really appreciate.”

Mamoudou Athie in Kinds of Kindness
Searchlight Pictures

One of the scenes that Mamoudou was particularly nervous about taking on was the shocking-but-brief sex scene between him, Emma, Margaret, and Jesse in the second story, "R.M.F. is Flying.”

The actor first shared his fear of the scene in an interview with Variety, and admitted to us that he now realizes those comments turned it into a bigger deal than it was.

“I’m like: ‘Why did I say anything?’” Mamoudou laughed. “I made it a thing by talking about it, silly. It was not a big deal. The image in my head was much, much worse than the reality of it. Afterward, it’s like: ‘Oh, that wasn’t so bad,’ and then six hours later, it’s like: ‘Oh my god, my parents!’ But it’s a part of the movie; it is quite brief, but also, it’s life. It’s just not that big a deal at the end of the day, and that’s what I felt liberated by because I’m like: ‘Oh, really? This is what you were so worried about?!'”

Despite his newfound confidence in the scene, the star went on to joke that it is “out of the question” that his parents will ever see it.

As for the logistics of shooting a sex scene with not one but three other actors, Mamoudou said that it was “very professional” on set, and everybody was comfortable with just getting down to business.

“We had an intimacy coordinator, and, like I said, it was quite brief, it’s all choreography,” he explained. “We’re all adults and professional actors so it was nothing…it wasn’t like: ‘Yeah!’ It felt very clean and simple.”

“In my experience of doing scenes like that with an intimacy coordinator, it does kind of become like choreography,” Joe agreed. “It’s like a dance scene; it’s like a fight scene.”

Joe Alwyn standing barefoot in a doorway in Kinds of Kindness
Yorgos Lanthimos / Via Searchlight Pictures

And while Mamoudou’s most prominent Kinds of Kindness performance is in the second short, it is the third vignette, "R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich,” that is Joe’s time to shine.

Here, he plays Emma’s estranged husband, Joseph, who drugs and rapes Emma’s character, Emily, after she left the family home to join a cult. Joseph initially appears to be a pretty nice guy, and repeatedly invites Emily over for dinner so that she can spend time with their young daughter, whom he dotes on. Despite this, viewers can sense that something isn’t quite right — a feeling that is validated when the installment reaches its distressing climax.

Explaining how he perfected the balance of unsettling viewers before his character’s dark intentions are confirmed, Joe credited the fact that this is the third short in Kinds of Kindness, which means that viewers have already learned that everything isn’t as it seems.

“I get that you sense probably something is going to happen, but I also think you sense that just because we’re in this strange universe where things seem to be unpleasant and going wrong with every other scene,” he explained. “The stakes are high because she wants to see her daughter because something’s obviously gone wrong with her husband, past husband. Something’s probably brewing. You don’t want to signpost it too much, so hopefully, when it does happen, it’s still a horrible, horrible shock.”

Joe Alwyn and Emma Stone standing and looking at each other outside in Kinds of Kindness
Searchlight Pictures

“All offers of kindness throughout the film often end up down a dark alley,” he went on. “And in this instance, him continually saying: ‘Come over for dinner, come and see the girl, come and see the daughter, it’ll be lovely to hang out,’ you’re maybe trained by that point. These apparent benevolent acts that people have given other characters throughout the film, they’re not really benevolent. They’re cruel, or they’re manipulative, or they’re coercive, and this is another example of that.”

And Joe said that he particularly appreciated the fact that he was playing such a dark character while surrounded by people who he loves and trusts, having established a good relationship with Yorgos, and being close personal friends with Emma for several years.

“What I was thankful for, perhaps, in playing a dark character who does dark things was doing it with people who I really like and have a huge amount of respect and trust and love for,” he said. “That makes it a whole lot easier, so I felt thankful for that.”

Emma felt the same way, with the star namechecking Joe in the movie’s production notes as she reflected on them having to film difficult scenes together. She said at the time: “I love Joe. We had to do some pretty dark stuff on this one, so it was extremely comforting to be with him because he’s one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet.”

When asked about Emma’s comments, Joe reiterated that he “absolutely” felt the same way. He added: “Having been friends with her, and being friends with her, was really nice because you have a shorthand, because you have a familiarity, and because you have trust — and Yorgos, too. Having worked with him before, and having him be a friend, and knowing his vibe on set.”

Yorgos Lanthimos and Mamoudou Athie on the set of KINDS OF KINDNESS
Atsushi Nishijima / Via Searchlight Pictures

“He really keeps things really light as well,” Joe said of Yorgos. “There is darkness throughout his films, and throughout lots of these scenes, but the atmosphere on set is always really pleasant, and people are joking around, people are laughing, people are chatting about anything other than what you probably end up having to do, and you’re never in a dark space. And again, that comes down to him and familiarity, I suppose, and that’s a really nice feeling to have on set.”

Mamoudou agreed, saying that he “felt taken care of” throughout filming, and adding of Yorgos: “I trusted him just by proof positive of what he’d already created with a lot of the same people, certainly a lot of the crew and producers. I felt like I was in good hands, then also getting to know Joe and the cast in general was just really chill. It was really easy to get along with everyone and keep it moving, and get to work. It was a funny set, we did have a lot of laughs, so it was nice.”

This was represented in the fun that the cast had during one particular scene from the second short, which sees Jesse play a police officer who shoots Joe’s character in the hand, and then tries to lick the blood off as a way of apology. Mamoudou plays Jesse’s horrified police partner Neil, who tries to drag him away.

“The brief appearance I have in the second film was very fun to film,” Joe said. “And funny. I mean, the whole concept of it is ridiculous and weird and mad, but standing on the side of a street at midnight with Jesse trying to lick blood off my hand, and [Mamoudou] pulling him away, people were just laughing.”

“I was working out during that scene!” Mamoudou exclaimed in response. “Jesse’s so strong; it’s weird how strong he is. I couldn’t move him — he was after it, he really wanted to [lick Joe’s hand]!”

Joe Alwyn is pictured outdoors, wearing a light-colored, pinstriped jacket and a dark shirt, smiling gently with a blurred background
Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images

One way that Yorgos instills this sense of joyful camaraderie among his casts is by running a workshop at the start of each production. In this workshop, all of the actors spend time together playing theater games and building trust — something that Joe was looking forward to doing for a second time when he was cast in Kinds of Kindness.

“I remembered it really fondly from The Favourite. It was a really nice experience because it actually took away a lot of fear and lots of the things that you go in with; the questions that you think you should have answered or work that you think you should be tackling, [Yorgos] kind of throws [it] out the window and instead just plays a bunch of games,” he said. “And being in the physical space with the whole cast, even if you’re not going to cross over with them on camera, there’s something really nice about that in terms of bringing everyone together as a kind of shared experience and being comfortable with each other physically.”

“It does kind of liberate you,” Joe went on. “And it means that when you get to those strange scenes on set, there’s a real willingness and openness to jump in, and you feel comfortable doing so.”

Mamoudou felt the same way, saying of the workshop: “That’s something that I felt super comfortable and familiar with. I think you have to be comfortable and even willing to put yourself out there in a way that a lot of people consider embarrassing; to be successful as an actor in the ways of going as far as you possibly can to exhibit every facet of humanity.”

“Some of it is embarrassing,” he acknowledged. “And part of that workshop was not to deliberately embarrass anybody, but it's, it's goofy, it's silly, it's clown, it's play. It's a lot of things that are just outside of looking cool, you know? And I'm very comfortable that... I mean, cool, as Joe knows, isn't exactly my forte. So just being free in that kind of sense is, yes, I'm down with that. That was actually one of the most comfortable things about the whole process.”

As for the film itself, the movie’s title has left some viewers wondering about its meaning, which Joe described as “a kind of irony.”

Mamoudou Athie
Mondadori Portfolio / Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

“There actually isn't much kindness in the film, and what is presented as acts of kindness are often the opposite,” he explained. “It’s thoughts about manipulation, power imbalance, control — what people do in order to feel loved and wanted, even if it isn't really love… Whether it's a boss offering structure to an employee or a cult leader offering a sensitive place and belonging to a woman whose life has changed, those things aren't actually kind, so when I see the title and I think about the content, I guess it's kind of ironic.”

“But there are some kindnesses,” Mamoudou countered. “There's some hidden kindnesses in there that maybe don't go well for them ultimately. There are some things in there that people do that is just out of the kindness of their heart and for no other reason.”

“That's true; maybe I'm just being cynical,” Joe joked.

“No, I’ve been cynical, too!” Mamoudou reasoned, before reflecting on what the title means to him personally. “Kindness is, in its purest form, selfless. It has nothing to do with: ‘What do I get out of this?’ It's just: ‘How can I help?’ I find it really moving, even if somebody says: ‘I’m happy for you,’ I love telling people I’m happy for them because it’s not about me. I think that’s a kind of kindness; it’s just the energy being exchanged. There’s been 1,000 people that have helped me — not just in my career, but in my life in general — become a better person, and I consider those kinds of kindnesses.”

Finally, both stars expressed their hope that they would be invited to work with Yorgos again and become a part of his regular roster of actors.

“Hoping and wishing and praying and dreaming!” Mamoudou laughed with his fingers crossed. “Honestly, I’m not even joking.”

“It really did feel like an honor being invited back,” Joe added. “And similarly, I think, crossed fingers, I’d jump in and do it again if the opportunity’s ever there. Always.”

Here’s hoping that we will see Mamoudou and Joe reunited in a Yorgos movie at some point in the future.Until then, Kinds of Kindness is in theaters across the United States now, and will be released in the UK and Ireland on June 28.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), which routes the caller to their nearest sexual assault service provider. You can also search for your local center here

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