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Yorgos Lanthimos has made waves since his surreal Dogtooth (2009), which was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. The Greek director makes his first English language feature with The Lobster, opening this week.

The film stars big names like Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and John C. Reilly, but The Lobster is not your typical day at the cinema. It’s weird, wonderful, and full of contemplative moments. The characters in this allegorical world must find a partner or else be turned into an animal.

ScreenPicks sat down with the director to talk about his daring and enigmatic film.

On how he came up with the concept:

Yorgos Lanthimos: It’s usually just a very long process. What we do is usually I work very closely with a friend of mine [Efthymis Filippou], and we’ve written my last three films together.

Every time we finish one film, we just start discussing what it is that we’ll do next. We started discussing about things we observe around us, and situations, and those form into a little idea or a condition that feels interesting to explore. Then that becomes maybe a little story, and then we start writing scenes about this story, and it just progresses like that. When we feel comfortable that it’s something that we found that we’re interested in, we’re trying to write the whole screenplay.

On the production challenges:

Lanthimos: This time around we’re trying to create a bigger world, so there was a larger scale that was necessary to achieve, making these kinds of films that do not necessarily fit in a box. It’s hard to communicate to people, and hard to convince people to invest in them.

Then for me personally moving from making various small films in Greece, essentially with my friends, and having them offering their services, their belongings, whatever they could in order to make those films; and entering into a more proper film structure and industry meant that I had to work very much like the characters in the film – under very specific rules. It wasn’t as flexible as it was when I was just making films with my friends.

That was a little bit difficult for me to get used to, but on the other hand there were a lot of benefits coming from it…I was able to work with great actors who were very committed and very supportive, and then subsequently trying to create this world with a very limited budget posed many difficulties. So we tried to do the best that we could.

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On the film’s ideas about freedom:

Lanthimos: I think the irony in it is that there’s not so much contrast. What I was interested in was showing the irony of a character who escapes from one system, believing that he can be freer in a different system, or even the Loners themselves. That they supposedly are free because they’re going against the system. But the irony of it is, in order to create this other system they have to have their own rules as well.

It ends up being very similar, although the rules are antithetical. They end up being very similarly oppressive as the rules in the rest of the world we’ve created, and I like that irony. I think it poses the questions about whether you are ever free to think the way you want, whether you’re free to feel the way you want, and many kinds of questions like these.

On interpreting the ending:

Lanthimos: Yes of course we’re trying to make it ambiguous, but at the same time we were expecting that people would see different things in it. That’s the interesting part of it because you just can instantly tell things about people according to the way that they think the film ends. You can say whether you’re an optimistic person or a pessimist, or if you’re romantic or not, or if you believe in love or you don’t, or you’re too cynical or various things about yourself. And it’s what I find interesting when you end a film like that.

On choosing Colin Farrell as the lead:

Lanthimos: I always liked Colin…he’s an actor that was great in In Bruges to The New World to Total Recall, he definitely has a range, and you can work with him and do great things. I also like to watch interviews and stuff that actors do when I’m thinking about an actor, just to try and get a different sense apart from watching them in films.

I just saw that he has all these very different qualities, and that he would actually be someone that would enrich the character. I saw that he’s very smart, and he has a great sense of humor, and he can be very charming, but awkward at times. I think all these different qualities really would bring a lot to the character.

On Farrell’s frumpy appearance in the film:

 Lanthimos: We discussed it the first time that we spoke. We met on Skype, and we didn’t have much to talk about because I don’t like discussing the screenplay too much. I don’t like discussing the characters and their background and this and that. We just talked more about practical things, and he asked me, “What do you think he looks like?” And I told him that I think that he would be slightly softer, and someone who has lived a life for a long time with his wife, and was comfortable, and didn’t take too much care of himself.

He said, “I was thinking maybe he could be very thin,” because he was trying to avoid putting on weight I think! I said that I think that if he was extremely thin then that would make him feel much more miserable as a character, and kind of more depressive in a way, and he just immediately said, “Yeah, I know what you mean. I understand, I just thought it would be easier to loose weight than gain weight.”

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On the rest of the cast:

Lanthimos: I was trying to work with people that I liked, and it was a great opportunity because we created this contemporary world that I could cast people from anywhere in the world, and they could use their own accents. It’s an English language film, and it would be like being in a big city anywhere in the world right now.

I started thinking of people that I wanted to work with, and tried to see where they fitted in the world that we were trying to create. And create the balance that I was talking about before. If I chose this person for this role, then would it be interesting to be this person for the other role?

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On memorable production moments:

Lanthimos: I don’t know, I was just so stressed all the time. I was having a nervous breakdown all the time. It’s always like that. I remember having some fun…because we had to make this film, and everybody needed to believe in the world. The actors were saying and doing whatever it is without judging it and without saying, “Oh, this is weird, what’s happening.” Or, “The world is weird that we’re creating.”

We took it so literally in a way, and sometimes there were times that you took a distance for some reason and thought, “What the hell are we doing here?” We had camels walking around. There were those instances where you just started laughing about the situation. Or the actors would try sometimes to improvise things, and they were so much into the world and the way their characters behaved and spoke, that it was really funny to see them accepting the world so much.

 The Lobster opens in the US May 13.