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Hong Chau Interview on Cannes, ‘Kinds of Kindness,’ Willem Dafoe

Hong Chau Interview on Cannes, ‘Kinds of Kindness,’ Willem Dafoe

“I probably won’t be doing the yacht parties that I’ve heard about,” jokes Hong Chau of attending her first Cannes Film Festival several months after having her second child. “I’m like, ‘Well, I’m going to be pumping.’”

Chau will be touching down in France for the premiere of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Kinds of Kindness, the director’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning Poor Things that will premiere in competition at the fest. In Kindness, out June 21 via Searchlight, Chau stars alongside Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe and Jesse Plemons, each playing several roles across the anthology film, which unfolds in three parts. 

The official synopsis for the film says it follows a man who seeks to break free from his predetermined path, a cop who questions his wife’s demeanor after her return from a supposed drowning, and a woman’s quest to locate a renowned spiritual guide. Says Chau: “I read the script, and I didn’t know what it was about — I still don’t know what it’s about — but it made me laugh.”

The actress, who broke out with Alexander Payne’s Downsizing and will soon reteam with Matt Damon on Doug Liman’s thriller The Instigators, talked to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the festival about how Kelly Reichardt helped her land Kinds of Kindness, shooting in her hometown of New Orleans, and chatting in between setups with Dafoe, who she insists is just a “modest guy from Wisconsin.”

How did you sign on to Kinds of Kindness

I remember it very well, actually, because I had just come back from the Venice Film Festival for The Whale, and I got COVID for the very first time. I was starting to feel bad right before I got on the flight to go home, and I took a COVID test and it said that I was negative. By the time I got home and tested myself again, I was positive. I was locked in our guest room because I was quarantining away from my family. My daughter was not quite 2 yet, and so she was still very attached, so I didn’t want her to know I was home. So I locked myself in the guest room and she had no idea I was home the entire time. I could hear her little feet running outside my door, and it was so painful. My agent called me while I was hiding in the guest room and said, “Yorgos Lanthimos wants to talk to you about his upcoming film. Is it OK to give out your email address?” And I was like, “Of course!” He sent me the script along with a little note that said he had seen Showing Up, the Kelly Reichardt movie. I had no idea, but they’re friends. Two very different filmmakers, but they love and respect each other’s work. So that’s how he thought of me for Kinds of Kindness. We talked and I was so excited to find out that they were shooting it in New Orleans. I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You’ve got to be pulling my leg. I grew up in New Orleans!” It was really such an exciting thing to have happen while I was in a very dark place.

That sounds like an emotionally fraught time.

I would hear my husband leave with my daughter to go for a walk and I would quickly run out of my room to watch her and him go down the driveway. (Laughs.) It was so, so sad.

Heading into filming, what was your expectation of working with Lanthimos?

I think this was the most unmoored that I felt entering a project. Usually, I have very strong ideas about what I want to do with the character, from how the character looks to their cadence of how they speak. I went into this completely unsteady and unsure of what I was going to do, but it was fine because I was getting to work with Yorgos. I remember I was in Toronto shooting Downsizing and saw The Lobster. That was the first film that I had seen of his and I went to go see it twice at the Lightbox. It was such an easy decision to jump on board and take the leap of faith because all his films make me feel so strange in the best way. I was totally ready to have whatever weirdness thrown at me. Also, I heard about the rest of the cast. I was excited to get to work with Jesse Plemons because I’ve been a fan of his and watching his career grow. He was just such a sweet person and did not disappoint. 

All of the actors in Kinds of Kindness play multiple roles. Have you done a project like this before?

Something that Yorgos mentioned was that when he watched Showing Up, he was like, “Oh, I remember seeing her in these other things!” He liked the range that I could play, so that fed into why he wanted me to come on board for this one because we were playing three different characters. Initially, we weren’t sure how drastically different we wanted to play the characters, and I think Yorgos landed on it being a little bit more subtle than trying to impress everybody with how different we were in each story. 

What was appealing about playing these multiple roles across multiple stories?

It was exciting for everyone in every department, even from costumes to hair and makeup. A lot of times you go on autopilot when everything seems sort of “done” before you even arrive on set. This was completely the opposite of that. We had no idea what we were going to do, and we found it together and let happy accidents happen. When [Yorgos] told me that they were shooting in New Orleans, I thought that it was for the tax credits. Then when I saw the film I thought, “Oh, it adds so much to the story,” because the film just feels really damp and creepy in a way that you wouldn’t have if you shot it somewhere else. Shooting it in New Orleans really made sense. It’s so New Orleans without any of the typical landmarks that people use for New Orleans. It feels Southern and creepy without employing the typical Southern Gothic tropes. 

How did you and the other performers prep for the film?

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[Filming] felt very organic and creative and active. You just don’t get that nowadays because everything is so rushed, and you have such a limited amount of time that it doesn’t feel like there’s really room to play. But that was the opposite experience on this one. We played from the get-go, even from his rehearsal process. Usually, you don’t rehearse on films. I think he does this on all of his films — I mean, I’m new, but I guess he did this on Poor Things as well. Emma [Stone] was saying they would do theater games for their rehearsal instead of what we normally think of as rehearsal, like going through the lines and really getting everything down pat. This was more about us building a camaraderie with each other, the group of actors, and that was a first for me. It was just a lot of rolling around and mirror exercises, saying the lines in a really goofy way. Every day was different. 

Did you have a favorite moment from set?

This doesn’t really have to do with the movie, per se, but just getting to sit and chat with Willem Dafoe. He is an icon and a living legend, and also just a really sweet, humble, modest guy from Wisconsin. It was just the best getting to be in scenes with him and just shooting the shit with him in between setups. 

And after Kinds of Kindness, you are going to star in the Doug Liman movie The Instigators, which will reunite you with your Downsizing co-star Matt Damon.

When the project came through, I was like, “Are you kidding me? I would love to reunite with Matt!” We had a blast, and it’s my first time doing an action movie. I read the script and I knew there were going to be car chases and guns and things like that, but I didn’t really ask how they were going to shoot it, even though I was kind of panicking, thinking, “Oh my God, I get car sickness. What am I doing?” I just thought, “Matt’s going to be there, we’ll be fine.” And it turned out fine. I’m looking forward to both Kinds of Kindness and The Instigators coming out back to back. They’re very different movies for me.

It’s also your first time at the Cannes Film Festival. What are you looking forward to?

I hope I run into Jia Zhangke [the Chinese auteur will debut Caught by the Tides in competition] and his wife, Zhao Tao. I hope I get to tell them how much I love and appreciate their work and that they need to do an English-language film. Maybe I can play a cousin from America or something. 

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