‘Poor Things’ Screenwriter Tony McNamara On Why His Second Oscar Nomination Is Different

So, fairly obviously, the team of director Yorgos Lanthimos, screenwriter Tony McNamara, and actor Emma Stone is working. The three have now teamed up twice – for The Favourite and now Poor Things (McNamara also wrote Cruella, which starred Stone) – and both times this has happened all three have walked away with Oscar nominations. (Poor Things wound up with 11 nominations in total.) Poor Things, based on Alasdair Gray’s Poor Things: Episodes from the Early Life of Archibald McCandless M.D., Scottish Public Health Officer, this time McNamara is nominated for Adapted Screenplay and this time he actually watched the nomination ceremony, at the request of his wife, which he didn’t want to out of superstition, but it still all worked out.

Ahead, McNamara tells us what’s different about, now, having two Oscar nominations. And he tries to explain why he and Yorgos Lanthimos complement each other so well that it’s lead to all this Academy Award success.

I assume you’re doing pretty well.

[Laughs] It’s not a bad night, that’s for sure. It’s fair enough.

This is your second nomination. Does it feel different this time? What’s the difference?

Yeah, I think the first one’s amazing. I don’t know. They’re both amazing. I think the first one’s amazing because you get one and then you get a second one and you’re like, “Really?” The other difference for me is my wife was in Australia and I was in London last time and this time we made sure we’re in the same country.

Well, that’s nice. That’s a big difference.

That was a big difference.

Well, the first time you become “Oscar nominee.” Now this time you get “multiple Oscar nominee” before your name.

It’s true. I know. It’s amazing.

A brand new designation.

It’s true. Hadn’t thought of that. It’s very good.

Obviously, you and Yorgos had success apart from each other. But now you’ve teamed up for two movies in a row, The Favourite and now Poor Things, and they keep getting Oscar nominations. Do you think about why this collaboration works so well?

I mean, it’s hard to not think about that really. I don’t know. I think you just kind of like … we just click. We did from the very first conversation we had. We kind of very much knew something. We kind of knew we got each other. I think he’s a really push-the-envelope kind of guy and I am, too. And in a way, I’d never had that opportunity and so he gave me that opportunity. And yeah, I don’t know, we’re just a good mix of whatever it is that works between us and it’s actually very simple and easy between us. All our collaborations are kind of easy and fun and I think we just get each other and I understand what he is looking for and he kind of understands what I do and that voice that I can give into the movie. And it’s his movie for sure, but I think he kind of likes what I bring. He’d just moved to London when I met him, so he’d only made the Greek films. But similarly, I had watched Dogtooth and went, “Oh well they don’t have to pay me. I’ll go hang out.”

Now they have to pay you.

Now they have to pay me. Back then, I’d do it for fun.

By now Poor Things was expected to do well with Oscar nominations and it did. But when you were making this, would this have surprised you?

Yeah. I think the idea of this would’ve happened? If you’d told us that when we were making it, I don’t know what Yorgos thought, but I think we all thought we’re making something that we like and is out there and bonkers. But I don’t think we thought people would like it the way people have liked it by this big stretch than I think we dreamed of. It’s kind of hit with people in a way that I don’t think any of us imagined it would.

With The Favourite, I’m guessing you two were more like, okay, audiences are going to really like this. With Poor Things I’m wondering if it was more, “Wait until people get a load of this?”

Yeah, to be honest, we don’t really think like that. We just try and make the film we want to make, almost for us. He very much makes films that he would like and I very much write films that I would like and then it’s like, I don’t know, “Will people like it? Will they pay us to do it anymore?” And I think with this one, it was just such an out-there story and such an out-there everything. The script was out there, then the production design was out there, the music, everything, and then the performances off the charts brilliant. So I think it was just like it could have gone either way. It was a very high-risk movie in a lot of ways. I mean, we always knew it was going to be very funny. I think even in rehearsal we were like, “Oh, well we know it’s very funny.” And then hopefully it’s got something to say and Yorgos is so good at bringing all these disparate elements together.

You mentioned the cast. This is the third movie you’ve written that Emma Stone stars in. Does it change how you write knowing she’s playing the lead? Knowing she can do anything?

Yeah, I sort of have a voice in my head that’s the character and not usually the actor, but I think I have an incredible confidence when I know it’s Emma. Like you said, I mean she can do anything. I’m not worried about getting from comedy to tragedy and back and I just can do anything. And I know she’s a fearless person and a fearless actor, so there’s sort of nothing you can write that I know she’s not going to go on the ride and take it somewhere we couldn’t have seen, and she’s just that person.

When I wrote about Poor Things, my headline was literally that she’s fearless. I think it’s very easy to become self-conscious while acting, which is why she’s so impressive. And this is a movie that requires her to do a lot and I’m guessing you knew there’s no way she’s coming back and saying, “I can’t do this.”

No, not at all. She produced on the film and she just wanted to make a great film and we were all on some kind of creative adventure of how far can we all go and still make a movie that means something and is kind of accessible.

You mentioned how you and your wife were together this time. Do you watch the ceremony? Because some people who might get nominated don’t like watching it?

Usually, I don’t watch it, but today I did.

How was that?

She had an audition and then I was like, “Oh, I don’t know whether to watch.” And then she reorganized her audition so she was like, “No, I’ll be home.” So since she decided to stay home for it, I decided we should at least watch it and then, yeah, it was great.

If this were the first time you watch it and it did not turn out well, you’d probably never watch it again.

Totally. Yeah. I was nervous. I was superstitious about watching it because I never do.

But now you have to watch it again because it did work out.

Well, I guess so, that would be great. If it ever happened again.

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