13 Questions with Director Cory Finley (Thoroughbreds)

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Released in March of this year, Thoroughbreds is a dark look into the youthful despondence of the upper echelon of contemporary society. When Lily, (Anya Taylor-Joy) realizes her stiff of a stepdad is sending her to boarding school instead of her dream college, she reignites a pseudo-friendship with unstable and outcast, Amanda (Olivia Cooke.) As they formulate a solution to Lily’s issues, it’s a little difficult to discern who has the worst influence on other. I got to sit down with writer and first-time director, Cory Finley, and ask him a few questions about his debut film.

Who are your major influences as a director?

I love Hitchcock, Kubrick, Nora Ephron, and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Any other medium or artists that inspire you?

I love the plays of Caryl Churchill and Harold Pinter. The photography of Gregory Crewdsen was an important reference for cinematographer Lyle Vincent and I.

How did you come up with the idea for Thoroughbreds? Or what moved you to make it?

The screenplay started as a play, and the play went through a great many forms before it arrived at its current shape. I was always interested in writing about wealth and privilege, and doing so in a way that asked the audience to sympathize with the lead characters even as they took a satirical view of them. I was also interested in the foundations of morality, and what role emotions might play (or not play) in making us good moral decision-makers.

Thoroughbreds has been mentioned in a few reviews as the millennial American Psycho or Heathers, what was your goal in making this film?

Not at all, although I’m a fan of both movies and so enjoy the comparison. Both were, I’m sure, unconscious influences, but what I was doing more consciously was riffing on film noir — stuff like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Do you think that you’ve created an update to the psychopathic teen trope that Generation Z can enjoy?

This is actually the first time I’ve ever seen the term “Generation Z” used! I feel old. I didn’t write these characters with tropes in mind, and I hope the structure of the movie invites audiences to see them as individual characters rather than as manifestations of, or reactions against, a trope. But I certainly hope that Generation Z enjoys this movie — I think that we all have a very special and intense relationship with the movies we come to love as a teenager, right at the age at which we’re building our own tastes.

Amanda and Lily are two magnetic characters who are played by two dynamic actors, what was the casting process?

I was a huge fan of both actors from their previous movies, and I was delighted when both wanted to do the movie. They were my first choices. There was no audition in either case — just me loving their past work and having great meetings with both.

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What do you feel Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy best bring to their characters?

Olivia brings a quiet authority to Amanda and makes a very strange and extreme character wonderfully relatable, without shortchanging her oddness. Anya does an incredible job of peeling back Lily’s layers over the course of the movie, and makes her feel both vulnerable and dangerous. Both are tremendously intelligent and sophisticated actors: we made choices in shooting the movie that forced them to hold our attention with long, unbroken sections of dialogue, and they delivered beautifully.

What was it like to work with Anton Yelchin? For Green Room, he was an actor incredibly preoccupied with the authenticity of his character — did he bring this commitment to Thoroughbreds as well?

Absolutely. Anton thought very deeply about Tim and our early conversations about him deepened the character and the film enormously. One of his many gifts as an actor was making you care profoundly about each of his characters, no matter how off-kilter or unsavory those people might be. He was so rigorous about his craft but so completely playful and generous on set. It was a privilege to work with him, and to have this movie be a small part of the extraordinary legacy he left.

The concept of being a ‘thoroughbred’ is violently rejected early in the film – how did you decide on the equine metaphor?

One of the first images that came to me was a strange and violent one involving a horse. Some of my best writing starts with ideas that bug me and get under my skin. That image contained a lot of the story’s themes, and since it was a very horse-y image, that motif spread naturally through the film. The concept of breeding, or upbringing, is one of the movie’s central ideas.

As class issues seem to be making their way more consistently to the forefront of our national consciousness, what sort of message were you hoping to convey through the film?

I have a lot of conflicted and complicated thoughts about wealth and privilege, and I couldn’t convey them in a few sentences or a paragraph with the nuance that I think they require. I was interested in making a movie that asks the audience to really get to know two characters who are both beneficiaries and in some way victims or their upbringings.

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What is significant about the differences in social status between the girls and Tim?

I think there’s a difference in social status even between the two girls, but there’s a larger one with Tim. Both girls are distinctly upper-class, while Tim’s family is middle-class or maybe upper-middle-class. He grew up with plenty of resources and support from his family, but made some major mistakes in his life and didn’t have the safety net to support him. The girls are able to take advantage of this gulf between social classes, which is a gulf with major consequences even though it’s not that wide a separation in the big scheme of American social class.

Amanda consistently exhibits sociopathic traits but is the actual moral compass of the film while Lily is consistently narcissistic and selfish. Did you hope the audience empathized with either of them?

I hope audiences can empathize with elements of both. I certainly do: there’s a lot of me in both characters. I think asking audiences to sympathize with characters who also really bother them can be an interesting way into self-reflection.

What projects do you have coming up? Anything you’re dying to work on?

I have several projects and one that’ll be coming up very soon. Unfortunately, nothing I can say much about at this stage — but I’m very interested in stories that revolve around interesting, messy characters.

If you didn’t catch Thoroughbreds in theatres – mark your calendar for the digital release date of May 22 and the Blu-ray/DVD VOD  June 5th, 2018.

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