Oscars: 10 Things to Know About Best Picture Nominee 'The Favourite'

5:29 PM 2/22/2019

by Katherine Schaffstall

Yorgos Lanthimos' period film starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz is nominated for 10 awards at the upcoming ceremony.

THE FAVOURITE Still - Publicity - H 2018
Yorgos Lanthimos/Twentieth Century Fox

The Favourite is heading to the 2019 Oscars with 10 nominations: best picture, best director (Yorgos Lanthimos), best actress (Olivia Colman), two best supporting actress nods (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone), best original screenplay (Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara), best cinematography, best production design, best costume design and best editing.

The film follows two cousins (Stone and Weisz) as they vie to access the ailing Queen Anne's (Olivia Colman) power in 18th century England.

Since the film's premiere in Venice International Film Festival in August, the cast and crew have spoken about how The Favourite came together.

From Lanthimos' unconventional rehearsals to the first draft of the screenplay being written 20 years ago, here are 10 behind the scenes facts about the acclaimed film.

  • Rehearsals Were Unconventional

    Rehearsals for the film included crazy-sounding games, like having the actresses fast-walk backward toward one another to see if they crashed. Weisz shared that another exercise involved the castmembers linking arms to "build a human pretzel."

    Lanthimos explained his unique rehearsal methods during The Favourite's Hollywood Reporter cover story. "It enabled them to not take themselves too seriously, learn the text in a physical way by doing completely irrelevant things to what the scene is about, just be comfortable about making a fool of themselves," he said.

    "He wanted to see how much we could sense each other without seeing each other," Stone added.

  • Lanthimos Had a "Particular, Contained View" for the Film

    Lanthimos wasn't very open to discussing other people's ideas when it came to The Favourite.

    “He has a very particular, contained view. And he reserves it and conserves it, deliberately. He’s very intuitive on every level. Casting, yes. Even hiring the department, it’s all the same process,” producer Ceci Dempsey said during The Hollywood Reporter's producer roundtable. “You’re not going to talk him into anything ever, ever, ever, ever. Once you accept that, you have to intuit or inhale what he wants, but he’s got a very particular contained view and you just need to go with it.”

    She added, “You have to get into his head space. That’s the way it’s done.”

    “He got into it. He’s got this amazing almost alchemy where he’s throwing all this stuff at you, and you’re thinking, 'This is insane. It’s just bizarre, but it’s also very emotional,'" Dempsey continued about the director. "Somehow he gets under your skin.”

  • The Screenplay Was Written 20 Years Ago

    British screenwriter Deborah Davis wrote the partly true, partly made-up story based on volumes of letters exchanged between Queen Anne, Sarah and Abigail.

    "It really haunted me," Dempsey told THR about the script, which she first read in 1998. "Just the passion, the survival instincts of these women, the manipulations and what they did to survive."

    The producer said that no studios were interested in pursuing the script due to its lack of significant male characters and the historical love triangle between three female leads. "[Studios] were like, 'Oh, wait a minute, this is [lesbian] activity going on here,'" she recalled about the first pitch meetings. "People were kind of, 'What's the demographics of that kind of thing? I don't think we could really sell that.'"

    Element Pictures co-founder Ed Guiney got hold of the screenplay a decade later. "We didn't want to make just another British costume drama," he said. "[We wanted] a story that felt contemporary and relevant and vibrant — not something out of a museum."

    Guiney eventually brought the story to Lanthimos, who saw potential in the project and brought the script to Australian TV scribe Tony McNamara to freshen it up.

    While financiers began lining up in 2013, the director's other projects got in the way before they could begin production on The Favourite.

  • Lanthimos Started Thinking About Casting for the Film in 2014

    Lanthimos first sent the script to Colman in 2014. The actress, who was Lanthimos' only choice for the role, immediately agreed to play Queen Anne. "For me, casting is very instinctive," he told THR in the November cover story. "It's one of those things when you feel you're right and you need to insist no matter what." 

    Unfamiliar with Stone's work, Lanthimos wasn't originally confident that she was the best person for the role of Abigail. "I don't think he had thought of an American actor in the film at all," Stone said. "Or at least for that character."

    Additionally, Weisz was not the director's first choice to play Sarah. Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett were first considered for the role before he took on Weisz, who starred in his 2015 film The Lobster.

  • Stone Wasn't Initially Sold on the Film

    After reading the first 30 pages of the script, Stone thought that she didn't want to be part of the film.

    "I was like, 'Oh, Abigail's just going to be this sweet kind of girl, the victim, a servant to these people,'" Stone told THR about her initial reluctance. "But as [I read more], it unfolded, it became All About Eve."

    After she finished the reading the script, Stone said that she was "begging" to be cast in the film.

    One of the reasons Stone was drawn to the project was because the film features a number of female characters that revel in scheming and plotting.

    "It was fantastic. Just the fact that these women, all three were written so beautifully and were so layered and rich and funny and heartbreaking," Stone later told THR. "To go in every day and be diving into that world was a dream, especially with people you can trust and someone like Yorgos [Lanthimos], who is so unique in his own right. To be telling a story in that way was pretty unforgettable."

  • It's the 19th Film to Produce 3 Acting Oscar Nominations

    The period dramedy became the 19th film in history to produce three or more female acting nominations when Colman, Stone and Weisz received individual nods.

    Other films that have achieved this feat include The Little Foxes (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Song of Bernadette (1943), Mildred Pierce (1945), Gentleman's Agreement (1947), I Remember Mama (1948), Come to the Stable (1949), Pinky (1949), All About Eve (1950), The Bad Seed (1956), Peyton Place (1957), Tom Jones (1963), The Turning Point (1977), The Color Purple (1985), Working Girl (1988), Chicago (2002), Doubt (2008) and The Help (2011).

    All About Eve is the only film to score more than three female acting nods. While that film did not win any awards at the Oscars ceremony, it made history when castmembers Anne Baxter, Bette Davis, Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter were all acknowledged for their work on the film.

  • Stone Improvised During a Sex Scene

    While filming a scene in which Sarah walks in on Anne and Abigail in bed, Stone suggested a change that shocked both Lanthimos and Colman.

    "I had the sheet up around me and as we were shooting it and we did a few takes, I said, 'Can I please just be [naked]?'" she recalled of the moment she decided to bare her breasts on camera for the first time in her career. "I think it's going to give Sarah something to look at when she sees that I'm not just under the sheet covered up. Olivia was like, 'No, don't do it!' Yorgos was like, 'Are you sure that's what you want to do?' And I was like, 'Absolutely.' I chose to do it. I was like, this makes sense to me. It's an absolute [Stone flipped the bird] to Sarah."

  • Colman Said the Film Doesn't Set Women Back

    While The Favourite showcases a rivalry between females, Colman said that it doesn't set women back.

    "How can it set women back to prove that women fart and vomit and hate and love and do all the things men do? All human beings are the same," she told THR. "We're all multifaceted, many-layered, disgusting and gorgeous and powerful and weak and filthy and brilliant. That's what's nice [about The Favourite]. It doesn't make women an old-fashioned thing of delicacy."

    Stone and Weisz, who also participated in the interview, agreed with Colman. All three also acknowledged that the male characters in the film are not as fully developed as the female characters.

    "I agree with Olivia that women are as complicated as men," Weisz said. "But I guess what's interesting to me is that the men in The Favourite are wearing lots of makeup and blusher and lipstick and high heels. That they're peripheral characters who are slightly ridiculous. They're an afterthought. That may not be unusual in life, but it's unusual to see in films."

  • Weisz Called Lanthimos' Directing Style Intense and "Gentle"

    When asked about what it was like to work with Lanthimos, the actress told THR, "He directed everyone quite intensely, but at the same time he is very gentle."

    "He is very un-verbal. He really watched how actors unfold the performances in front of him and then nudges you," she added. "It is hard to explain how he does what he does because he says very little. It's a bit like every take is like jumping off the edge of a cliff but in a good way."

    Weisz also shared that she was "incredibly proud" of the film. "I see the three protagonists as being part of an ensemble. And I think Fox Searchlight was quite brave to make a film with three really complicated female protagonists. It's doesn't happen every day, sadly," she said.

  • Stone Wants a Sequel That Follows Harley's Parliamentarian Story

    When asked if she had any ideas for a sequel to The Favourite, Stone said she wasn't sure where her character would be following the first film.

    "I know in life Sarah left England and Abigail returned to a life of a lot of privacy and disappeared from the story. So, it's hard for me to imagine what happened after that," she told THR. "I don't know what the sequel to that would be."

    She added that if there was a sequel, she hoped that it would follow Nicholas Hoult's character Robert Harley. "Hopefully it would be Harley's [Nicholas Hoult's pompous parliamentarian] story," she said. "I would love to see where Harley goes from there."