It's been more than three years since Poor Things producers Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe began work on their latest collaboration with filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. To get the movie made and released in theaters, they navigated delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the SAG-AFTRA strike — on top of the usual production hurdles — and now their journey is coming to an end.

"The Oscars is the last hurrah," Lowe says. At the 96th Oscars, Poor Things received 11 nominations, including for Best Picture. (Guiney and Lowe share that nomination with fellow producers Lanthimos and Emma Stone.) "We also crossed the $100 million box office threshold, so it feels like we are crossing the finish line. After this, the film will take on a life of its own."

The producing partners have been working with Lanthimos since 2015's The Lobster and are also behind 2017's The Killing of a Sacred Deer and 2018's The Favourite. The latter received a Best Picture nomination for Guiney, but he admits even that didn't fully prepare him the audacious comedy that would come next.

"Poor Things was a really tough film to make in the sense that, for all of us behind the camera, it was by far the biggest thing we'd done," he explains. "But in that challenging environment, there was a very good esprit de corps."

Adapted by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Tony McNamara from author Alasdair Gray's novel of the same name, Poor Things stars Stone as Bella Baxter, a Victorian woman who attempts to escape her unhappy marriage by jumping to her death. She's reborn when an unconventional surgeon reanimates her, replacing her brain with that of her own unborn child. A fully-grown woman in appearances only, Bella soon leaves the safety of her creator's home to explore the world — and herself.

Lanthimos is known for taking bold swings, but Poor Things might be his most daring project yet. "There's been a lot of celebration of the high-wire act that we pulled off," Guiney tells A.frame, "and it wasn't obvious that we would pull it off! So, we're ready to enjoy this next week and then we'll let it float away."

'Poor Things' producers Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe at the 96th Oscars Nominees Luncheon.

A.frame: Five years after The Favourite received 10 nominations, is it surreal to be back at the Oscars with much of the same crew being recognized? It's you, Yorgos, Tony, Emma, cinematographer Robbie Ryan, and editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis? Not to mention, Poor Things earned 11 nominations!

Andrew Lowe: It is nice to top that. [Laughs.] It's very comforting to know that lightning can strike twice. It's a vindication of the work that Yorgos is doing, and Yorgos and Tony and Emma have an incredible creative partnership on Poor Things, and so it was most important for us that they got recognized. And all three have been nominated, which is brilliant. It's also great for heads of department who hadn't worked with Yorgos before.

I think one of the extraordinary aspects of Poor Things is Yorgos' talent for cultivating raw talent and giving them a platform to do their thing. Shona Heath had never designed a film before. She works in London with a photographer called Tim Walker, and Yorgos came across her work at an exhibition and had the inspiration that she could be a great film designer. Kasha Malipan, our co-producer, then had the bright idea of pairing her with James Price, who we had worked with before on The Nest, and what an incredible job they and their team did! Jerskin Fendrix is another fantastic example. He was a young, quite niche musician, and Yorgos came across his first album, just because Yorgos watches everything and listens to everything. If you listened to that album, I don't know that you would have the same response that Yorgos had, which is, "That guy could score a film." But with Yorgos' leadership, Jerskin produced the most extraordinary score. It's lovely to have people who've been on the journey before getting reaffirmed, but it's also brilliant to see new talent being recognized at the highest level so early in their careers.

Poor Things is your fourth film with Yorgos. How would you describe the process of collaborating so closely with him for over a decade now?

Ed Guiney: We've shot five films together — the fifth one has not come out yet — and I sometimes jokingly say that the reason we're still working together is because Yorgos can't be bothered to explain to someone else how he likes to work. [Laughs.] It's not quite true, but maybe you get a grain of truth in that. He likes to work in particular ways, and I think we have increasingly understood that. Every time we do a film, we try to make it a better process and a constructive and pleasant experience for him, the cast, and the heads of department. Along the way, he has developed these collaborations, and so there is a sense of a company and a company of actors, which makes for very nice familiarity. We're hoping to work with many of those people again in the future.


What do you remember about when Yorgos first brought Poor Things to you? Considering Yorgos has made movies like The Lobster, it's wild to think it's possible, but did this feel like it would be his biggest swing yet?

Lowe: We sat down and he pitched it as something he wanted to shoot very much in the style of a 1930s, 1940s Hollywood movie, and so everything had to be shot on sound stages. So, apart from the fact that the source material is rich and wonderful but pretty challenging and out there, from a production point of view, that was going to be quite a challenge, because that's expensive in this day and age. But we had already developed and produced three films with Yorgos, so we knew that we had a very supportive financier who was open to the idea. That helps lay off that initial risky period, when you're trying to just scratch around and figure out how we're actually going to make this film. 

Guiney: We tend to follow people rather than projects, and when Yorgos first mentioned it, we had shot The Lobster and we absolutely were determined to continue to work with him if he wanted to continue to work with us. Although, when he mentioned Poor Things, it felt like quite a challenge to get made — particularly given the scale of it and what Yorgos had done at that point, and what we'd done at that point. But it's really an act of faith if you're in business with someone and they want to do something. You get in behind it, and even though you don't specifically know how you're going to figure it out, you trust that you will be able to figure it out. And, in fact, we did. 

At that point, we didn't know that Emma would be interested, but through making The Favourite, things crystallized. Obviously, Tony wrote The Favourite and came back on Poor Things and wrote a great script. And then Yorgos and Emma properly met and collaborated with each other on The Favourite, and she expressed interest in Poor Things. I think the success of The Favourite and Emma [being involved] meant that we were able to make Poor Things at the level that it needed to be made at. So, it's a little bit like Bella Baxter: Just baby steps to self-actualization.

Andrew, you mentioned the soundstages that Poor Things was shot on. It's interesting because whereas other films might suffer from being stuck inside on sets, as opposed to out in the real world, Poor Things flourished. What was that world-building process like? What were the biggest challenges it posed?

Lowe: COVID effectively knocked us back about a year. We couldn't do anything because the whole world was locked down, but as things started to open up a little bit, Shona and James gathered a small team in London to do concept work. For about two months, it was an exercise in just world building. It was a much more detailed preparation than normally you would do on a film, and we really benefited from that when it came to figuring out exactly what we needed, stage-wise. Then we looked at various parts of the UK, Ireland, Hungary, Czech Republic — all around Europe. I think we even briefly flirted with the idea of shooting in South Africa or Canada.

We ultimately settled on Hungary, and it was partly to do with the timing of when we locked in to shoot; they had soundstages available, but they also had very well-developed infrastructure there, so they had really good construction crews. In truth, it was seat-of-the-pants for all of us, because none of us had worked on a film of this scale before — especially Yorgos, who seemed the least perturbed by the challenge. But for the rest of us, it was stressful at times, because the scale of the film revealed itself as we went on. Those were all problems during prep, and once we were actually up and running, it went so smoothly. Because we had these self-contained worlds built that controlled the environment, we were able to create very intimate environments on set, which is how Yorgos likes to work. It was mostly just him, the actors, and Robbie.


As Ed mentioned, the power of Emma Stone helps a movie like this get made. She's already an Oscar-winner, so you know how great of an actor she is, especially having seen it firsthand on The Favourite. But did you even find yourself surprised as you watched what she did with Bella and this incredibly daring performance?

Guiney: Immediately, it felt that there was something extraordinary happening in terms of the creation of Bella. Yorgos does this great thing before he starts shooting, where he assembles the cast for three weeks and there's a series of trust exercises. It's not really the kind of chin-stroking excavation of motivations of characters and all that kind of stuff; in fact, it's very far away from that. It's much more instinctive and free-flowing and physical, so by the time the actors get on set, there's a real intimacy and bond between them. There's a joy in the process. We would watch the dailies, and you get a sense through the rushes of what Emma was doing, but it's not until you see the film and the totality of that performance and the journey that she brings that character on.

Even though we’d all been watching bits of it as we went along, that was really gobsmacking. To see what she'd done in terms of that arc was really kind of astounding. Particularly because we shot the film mainly in sequence, except that the first set we shot on was London, which is both the beginning and the end of the movie. So, she had to do the very early stages of Bella and then mature Bella over the period of a few weeks. She and Yorgos had developed this way of breaking it down — they talked about five stages of Bella's evolution — but there's something above and beyond that that just manifests in the film and the thing she does. Andrew and I have seen this film many, many times at this stage, but it actually does make it a pleasure to watch again and again, because you see things that you haven't seen before. Like, little nuances in terms of what she's doing — and indeed the other cast are doing as well. It's a great ensemble, and that's part of what Yorgos is very good at, too. Like, who the hell would put Ramy [Youssef] as an aspiring young British doctor? I don't know how you join the dots there but joined them he did. And Ramy is wonderful in the film, such a brilliant performer! There's a great feeling of an ensemble and really interesting lovely work gets done, and that's very gratifying to see.

Yorgos has said he prefers not to have what he deems to be "analytic" conversations about what Poor Things means, but for you, as the people who have spent the past three years bringing this movie to life, what's been your most interesting discussion or takeaway related to the film?

Lowe: I'm really struck by how animated and energized audiences are when they come out of the film. I mean, it is remarkable. Obviously, it's not for everyone, but by and large, I almost always hear positive acclaim from people who've seen the film, and they are really touched by it. It sits with them, and they process it and come back to it. Anecdotally, there's a lot of evidence of people going back to watch it a second time, because there's so much rich detail in the film that you almost can't take it all in the first time around. So, I think that's been really striking. All cinema is subjective interpretation at the end of the day, but I think a lot of people take Bella's story as being a life-affirming, positive tale of a character who has been given a second chance at life, and she chooses to live life by her rules. That's been a real pleasure to observe how audiences bounce out of the cinema, just dying to talk about the film.

Guiney: It's a very joyful, entertaining film and has a very positive end. I think the other thing that's striking and exciting about it — and this relates to other movies that are in the awards conversation this year — is that it's really, really great to see films that are not the expected things succeeding with audiences. As we come out of cinema offering an awful lot of sequels and excavating big worlds — and no disrespect to all those things — it's just great to see filmmakers taking big swings with wholly original ideas and wholly original worlds. And that's been happening obviously with Parasite and Everything Everywhere All at Once, but I think we've really seen it this year. Whether it's The Zone of Interest, or The Holdovers, or Past Lives, or Anatomy of a Fall, there are really a rich variety of films being made. And for us, as producers, that's incredibly exciting to imagine, "Well, maybe we can get the slightly strange and the weird made at scale and actually bring people back to the cinema!" Because ultimately, these are things that are best appreciated on a big screen, having a communal experience. I suppose it kind of restores our faith in what we started off doing many, many years ago.

By Derek Lawrence

A.frame, the digital magazine of the Academy, is excited to celebrate and honor the nominees of the 96th Oscars across several branches by spotlighting their nominated films, craftsmanship, and personal stories. For more on this year's nominees, take a look at our Oscars hub.

Editor's Note: For parity, A.frame reached out to every nominee in the Best Picture category for an interview.


Why 'Poor Things' Director Yorgos Lanthimos Doesn't Take Himself Too Seriously (Exclusive)

Emma Stone Knows She Might Never Play a Character Like Bella Baxter Again (Exclusive)

2024 Oscars: Where to Watch the Best Picture Nominees