What do the stars of 'Kinds of Kindness' think the movie is about? Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe and Joe Alwyn weigh in.

"I don’t know that I’ve ever successfully decoded this movie, but Lanthimos is on something," Mamoudou Athie told Yahoo Entertainment.

Margaret Qualley, Jesse Plemons and Willem Dafoe in Kinds of Kindness. (Atsushi Nishijima/© Searchlight Pictures Courtesy Everett Collection)

Kinds of Kindness is a “triptych fable” that tells three distinct stories about characters seeking control: a man taking control of his life, a policeman reunited with his missing wife and a woman seeking a spiritual leader. The film’s own stars find it pretty confusing, but that’s by design.

It’s the latest movie from writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos, known for bizarre, Oscar-nominated movies like Poor Things and The Favourite. “Sometimes you just need to be ridiculous in order to achieve what we’re trying to achieve,” Lanthimos said of the film.

Actors Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Joe Alwyn and Mamoudou Athie spoke with Yahoo Entertainment about their perplexing characters and the puzzling themes of Kinds of Kindness. The film is now playing in select theaters and expands to wide release June 28.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jesse Plemons: (To Dafoe) You probably didn’t do much.

Willem Dafoe: No, I don’t decode. It doesn’t occur to me. When acting, you’ve got your hands full. You’re doing. You’re being in the space, affecting others and receiving others. That’s plenty for me. Characters are revealed through their actions, and that’s what I concentrate on. I don’t think about themes too much.

Plemons: In my time early on with the script, there was this human instinct to know how and where to place things. I was stressing about having to understand how to make all these choices. There is a degree in which you have to find some way in, but throughout the rehearsal process and actually doing it, you realize that it’s counterproductive to the thing you’re trying to make, which is so elusive, ambiguous and surreal. It’s boundless and the possibilities are endless. You have to kind of submit to that. I let go of the urge to understand it fairly early on.

Dafoe: Jesse’s really at the center of the story in some of his roles, but in some of the parts, he’s more acted on and reactive. As I listen to him, I realize sometimes you have to know how to drive and what you’re aiming for. But speaking from my position, I could spend more time hanging out.

Mamoudou Athie: I don’t know that I’ve ever successfully decoded this movie, but Lanthimos is on something. He has this reluctance to explain the movie because it would take away some of the intrigue to it. I think he’s actually right. It’s more of an experiential feeling. Intellectually, it has become less and less interesting to me to decode it.

Joe Alwyn: It’s not something I thought about while we were making it. After seeing it, things seem to filter through, but only after that initial, visceral experience of it. And it’s so different for everyone, which is what I like about Lanthimos’ films — they’re completed in different ways through different reactions from the audience.

The actors Emma Stone and Joe Alwyn in a scene from the movie.
Emma Stone and Joe Alwyn in Kinds of Kindness. (Atsushi Nishijima/© Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Plemons: There’s a dream scene with a burger. It was so much fun. In the final film, are there two versions of this?

Dafoe: Yes, there were. Were you sleeping during the screening?

Plemons: I had to pee, remember? For the entire movie. Anyway, during the rehearsal process, there were so many ridiculous things we were asked to do, and after a day or so, it becomes normal and fun to give in to it. But yeah, stuffing my face with a burger was the first thing that popped into my head.

Dafoe: I did. The clothes stand out as pretty ridiculous.

Athie: The rehearsal process was intentionally ridiculous. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot. Then there’s my morgue nurse character — that guy was ridiculous. I didn’t want to explore him beyond knowing that he’s a guy who lets people buy time with corpses to make money. Face value, he’s just—

Alwyn: He’s one of them.

Athie: Exactly. Everyone knows one of them.

Alwyn: There’s a character I played briefly in the second part of the film who gets pulled over by the cops and shot in the hand. They then try to lick his hand.

Athie: He’s healing him!

Alwyn: I don’t know what he’s trying to do.

The director Yorgos Lanthimos with the actor Mamoudou Athie in costume.
Yorgos Lanthimos directing Mamoudou Athie in Kinds of Kindness. (Atsushi Nishijima/© Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Athie: I hope they break free from any cult.

Alwyn: It’s hard — I don’t want to put a kind of expectation on it for people before they see it. I hope people enjoy its strangeness and how challenging and thought-provoking it is.

Athie: I don’t know that I could prescribe any particular emotion that I hope people walk out with, but I hope they enjoy the movie.