Cannes: Scott Thomas' glorious dip into darkness
Actor Kristin Scott Thomas and director Nicholas Winding Refn during a portrait session for the film Only God Forgives at the 66th international film festival, in Cannes, southern France, Wednesday, May 22, 2013. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
CANNES, France (AP) — To convince Kristin Scott Thomas to play the bloodthirsty matriarch of "Only God Forgives," director Nicolas Winding Refn appealed to Scott Thomas — how else? — with the flattery of his own mother.
"That's how he got me to do the film," Scott Thomas said in a beachside interview Wednesday. "He said, 'You're my mother's favorite actress.' So I had to. It was a good trick."
It was an appropriate start for a disturbing portrait of a woman with, to say the least, harsh motherly instincts. In the Bangkok noir, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, Scott Thomas plays a mother demanding her surviving son (Ryan Gosling) avenge the murder of her other, more favored son (Tom Burke).
It's a ferocious, gloriously evil performance as far away from "The English Patient" (and the other elegant British period dramas Scott Thomas is best known for) as cinematically possible. Upon learning her son was punished for killing a teenage prostitute, for example, she retorts: "I'm sure he had his reasons."
"A lot of the stuff that I had to do as Crystal was exciting and frightening at the same time," Scott Thomas said. "It made this whole project one of terror and at the same time totally thrilling."
Actress Kristen Scott Thomas poses for photographers during a photo call for the film Only God Forgives at the 66th international film festival, in Cannes, southern France, Wednesday, May 22, 2013. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
"Only God Forgives" is Refn's second collaboration in a row with Gosling, following the more pop "Drive." It's a menacing descent into brutal darkness, punctuated by bloody spurts of stylish violence. There's even less dialogue than "Drive" (the script was a sparse 60 pages, Refn says), and the film unfolds as a perverse Greek tragedy transported to Thailand's grim underbelly.
Refn conceived of Scott Thomas' character as a combination of Lady Macbeth and Donatella Versace after the actress sent him photos of her with long blonde extensions.
"I was like, 'God, that's so sexy,'" the Danish director said sitting alongside Scott Thomas. "That whole Donatella oddness: frightening but very sexual."
Scott Thomas calls the thick makeup an "ultra-costume."
"It's a sort of armor, that look," she says. "It's very, very, very empowering and at the same time very frightening. It changes the way people look at you completely."
While critics at Cannes had mixed reactions to "Only God Forgives" (it drew boos from some), Scott Thomas' performance was hailed, along with predictions of an Oscar nomination. In a memorable dinner party scene, she cuttingly and vulgarly dresses down Gosling's character. She negatively compares the size of his genitalia with his brother's — an explicitness that not even the Greeks dared.