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Jesse Plemons is ready for the ride

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Jesse Plemons is ready for the ride
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Jesse Plemons is ready for the ride

2024-06-18 22:57 Last Updated At:23:00

CANNES, France (AP) — Jesse Plemons was flattered to be approached by Yorgos Lanthimos about starring in “Kinds of Kindness,” but he wasn’t sure which version of himself the director wanted.

Plemons, the protean 36-year-old character actor, has sometimes put on weight for roles. “Those first weeks are glorious,” he says. “And then it gets depressing very quickly.”

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This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Margaret Qualley, from left, Jesse Plemons and Willem Dafoe in a scene from "Kinds of Kindness." (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

CANNES, France (AP) — Jesse Plemons was flattered to be approached by Yorgos Lanthimos about starring in “Kinds of Kindness,” but he wasn’t sure which version of himself the director wanted.

FILE - Jesse Plemons, left, and Kirsten Dunst pose for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film "Kinds of Kindness" at the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France on May 17, 2024. (Photo by Andreea Alexandru/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Jesse Plemons, left, and Kirsten Dunst pose for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film "Kinds of Kindness" at the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France on May 17, 2024. (Photo by Andreea Alexandru/Invision/AP, File)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Jesse Plemons in a scene from "Kinds of Kindness." (Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures via AP)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Jesse Plemons in a scene from "Kinds of Kindness." (Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures via AP)

FILE - Jesse Plemons poses for photographers at the photo call for the film "Kinds of Kindness" at the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France on May 18, 2024. (Photo by Scott A Garfitt/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Jesse Plemons poses for photographers at the photo call for the film "Kinds of Kindness" at the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France on May 18, 2024. (Photo by Scott A Garfitt/Invision/AP, File)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Jesse Plemons in a scene from "Kinds of Kindness." (Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures via AP)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Jesse Plemons in a scene from "Kinds of Kindness." (Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures via AP)

Over the years, Plemons has lost weight for some parts and gained it back for others. It became easy to lose track, and directors kept preferring him on the larger side.

“I kind of kept getting parts for that size,” Plemons said in an interview last month at the Cannes Film Festival. “Eventually it was: I gotta get a handle on this. I’ve got two young kids and I want to be able to run around with them.”

“And I was nervous that (Yorgos) was only interested in the bigger version of me,” he adds. “I was like: I hope he’s still OK with the fact that I don’t look like the guy he thought I looked like.”

Who, exactly, Jesse Plemons is can seem elusive. Since his breakthrough on the series “Friday Night Lights,” Plemons has evolved into one of film’s most talented shape-shifters. He's proven an uncommonly malleable actor, appearing as everything from the lethal creep of “Breaking Bad” to the federal detective of “Killers of the Flower Moon.” He slides into grippingly contemporary films ( "I'm Thinking of Ending Things,"“Civil War” ) as smoothly as he does period pieces ( “The Irishman,”“The Power of the Dog” ). He’s less a chameleon than a singular presence that can be dialed to disturbing or sweet. Whether good or bad, Plemons’ characters tend to be sincerely themselves — a product, maybe, of the sensitivity with which he approaches each part.

“I try not to make too many judgments too quickly and try to circle the script and the part until I find some way in,” Plemons says. “Something that resonates and makes sense to me and that’s going to drag me along and not make it feel like work, make it feel like I’m just following some trail.”

The darkly comic “Kinds of Kindness,” which opens in theaters Friday, is a supreme, fittingly disquieting showcase of Plemons’ wide-ranging abilities. After its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last month, Plemons won best actor – the most significant individual award of his career. It won't be the last.

The film, a Searchlight Pictures release, is composed of three stories penned by Lanthimos and his oft-collaborator Efthimis Filippou. The triptych isn't narratively connected, but each is performed with the same company of actors, including Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe and Margaret Qualley. And each story takes unpredictable, parable-like paths to exploring themes of social conformity and control in relationships.

Plemons is central in the film's first two sections. In the first, he plays a man named Robert who lives in utter devotion to his boss (Dafoe), but their relationship is severed when the boss asks Robert drive his car into that of a stranger’s. Cut loose, Robert is sent into a desperate tail spin.

In the second, Plemons plays a police officer named Daniel whose marine biologist wife (Stone) returns home after being stranded on desert island for months. He believes that she isn’t his real wife but a doppelgänger and tests her in increasingly sinister ways.

Those two characters — one a disquieting paranoid, the other a humble puppy dog — encapsulate something about Plemons as an actor. When he read the script, Plemons says, “I thought it was brilliant but I couldn’t tell you why.”

“It’s like: When will anything like this come along again?” he asks. “Probably never, so sign me up. Let’s see what happens.”

Lanthimos, the filmmaker of “Poor Things” and “The Favourite,” likes an extensive and playful rehearsal period. But that didn’t help Plemons’ initial befuddlement.

“Throughout the majority of the rehearsal process, I just felt completely lost and clueless, which in hindsight was like, ‘Yeah, I guess that’s a part of it, too,’” he says. “There’s some submitting and giving in to the process.”

Lanthimos has been a longtime admirer of Plemons.

“We talked about Jesse forever. I think we thought about it for a couple things but he wasn’t available,” Lanthimos says, speaking alongside Stone. “But I always had him in mind because I think he’s just basically one of the greatest of his generation. There’s no question for me.”

“He’s also a really nice and interesting person, which is always a bonus — when someone’s that talented but they’re also just lovely to be around,” Stone adds.

Shortly after the premiere of “Kinds of Kindness,” the filmmaker announced that his next project, titled “Bugonia,” will also star Plemons alongside Stone. “He’s now part of the troop,” says Lanthimos, proudly.

“Kinds of Kindness” adds to what’s been a memorable year for Plemons. Earlier this year, his scene in Alex Garland’s “Civil War” — in which he plays a jingoistic militant who chillingly asks “What kind of American are you?” — was the most memorable ( and much-memed ) moment from the movie.

“I just find people fascinating," he says. "I guess I’m trying to operate from a place of being curious and trying to figure out why. Because there is always some trail leading back to why. It’s never some mystery — rarely, maybe occasionally. But there’s always something. That’s what I find interesting and then you finish it and it hits you, all of that. That was definitely the case for ‘Civil War.’”

Plemons, who grew up in Mart, Texas, has often been called on to play such menacing figures. But he’s found ways to cleverly play with and invert that reputation. In “Game Night,” Plemons played the foreboding neighbor next door whose deadpan interactions ("How can that be profitable for Frito Lay?") were the movie’s comic high point.

But asked if Plemons sometimes feels resistant to playing darker, demented characters, an interviewer hasn’t finished the question when he eagerly responds, “Yes!”

“But also, like anyone I would think, you don’t want to be redundant,” Plemons explains. “It’s not like dark characters are all the same. But that’s what to me is eternally interesting and a gift about an actor. Yeah, I feel incredibly fortunate to be at a place where I’m able to be more selective. There’s a choose-your-own-adventure element. But there are times when, yeah, you just don’t really want to walk around in those shoes at this moment.”

That may be especially since Plemons' life is otherwise fairly blissful. He and his wife, Kirsten Dunst, who met while shooting the second season of “Fargo,” have two young children. But Plemons isn’t necessarily shying away from anything, either.

“I have conflicted feelings about it because there’s part of me that really believes there’s a point to it, and some of positive that comes out of showing something like, someone like that,” Plemons says of the “Civil War” character. “They exist. That’s one of the great possibilities in film to hold up a mirror and, without preaching, you’re forcing people to engage in a way where you’re hitting them first from a human level in a way that a lot of other mediums might not be able to do.”

That kind of thoughtfulness is what's made Plemons so in demand as an actor. He's noticed the shift most in the last year or two. (In 2022, both he and Dunst were Oscar nominated for their supporting performances in Jane Campion's “Power of the Dog.”)

“It’s just trying to hold on and hone your time-management skills,” says Plemons. "This experience, you realize you can do all the work you want but if you don’t settle into here and now and just play and go on a ride, then none of that matters."

Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle at: http://x.com/jakecoyleAP

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Margaret Qualley, from left, Jesse Plemons and Willem Dafoe in a scene from "Kinds of Kindness." (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Margaret Qualley, from left, Jesse Plemons and Willem Dafoe in a scene from "Kinds of Kindness." (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

FILE - Jesse Plemons, left, and Kirsten Dunst pose for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film "Kinds of Kindness" at the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France on May 17, 2024. (Photo by Andreea Alexandru/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Jesse Plemons, left, and Kirsten Dunst pose for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film "Kinds of Kindness" at the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France on May 17, 2024. (Photo by Andreea Alexandru/Invision/AP, File)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Jesse Plemons in a scene from "Kinds of Kindness." (Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures via AP)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Jesse Plemons in a scene from "Kinds of Kindness." (Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures via AP)

FILE - Jesse Plemons poses for photographers at the photo call for the film "Kinds of Kindness" at the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France on May 18, 2024. (Photo by Scott A Garfitt/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - Jesse Plemons poses for photographers at the photo call for the film "Kinds of Kindness" at the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France on May 18, 2024. (Photo by Scott A Garfitt/Invision/AP, File)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Jesse Plemons in a scene from "Kinds of Kindness." (Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures via AP)

This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Jesse Plemons in a scene from "Kinds of Kindness." (Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures via AP)

Treason cases were rare in Russia 30 years ago, with only a handful brought annually. In the past decade and especially since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, however, the number has soared, along with espionage prosecutions.

They are ensnaring citizens and foreigners alike. Recent victims range from Kremlin critics and independent journalists to veteran scientists working with countries that Moscow considers friendly.

One rights group counted over 100 known treason cases in 2023, with probably another 100 that nobody knows about.

The prosecutions have raised comparisons to the show trials and purges under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in the 1930s.

They are usually held in strict isolation in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo Prison, their trials are held behind closed doors and almost always result in convictions and long prison terms. They are investigated almost exclusively by the powerful Federal Security Service, or FSB, with specific charges and evidence shrouded in secrecy.

These cases stand apart from the unprecedented crackdown on dissent under President Vladimir Putin, who in 2022 urged security services to “harshly suppress the actions of foreign intelligence services (and) promptly identify traitors, spies and saboteurs.”

Some key takeaways of this trend of prosecuting high crimes:

Mass anti-government protests erupted in Moscow in 2011-12, with officials blaming the West. The legal definition of treason was then expanded to include providing vaguely defined “assistance” to foreign countries or organizations, effectively exposing to prosecution anyone in contact with foreigners.

The changes to the law were heavily criticized by rights advocates, including the Presidential Human Rights Council. Putin later agreed with council members that “there shouldn’t be any broad interpretation of what high treason is.”

But that broad interpretation was exactly what the authorities began applying — especially after 2014, when Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine, threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in the eastern part of the country, and fell out with the West for the first time since the Cold War.

Svetlana Davydova, a mother of seven in the western region of Smolensk, contacted Ukraine’s Embassy in Moscow in 2014, saying she thought Russian troops from a nearby base were heading to eastern Ukraine. She was arrested in 2015 on treason charges under the law's expanded definition.

The case drew national attention and outrage. Russia at the time denied its troops were involved in eastern Ukraine, and the case against Davydova directly contradicted that narrative. The charges against her were eventually dropped in what turned out to be a rare exception to the increasing cases that in subsequent years consistently ended in convictions and prison terms.

Prosecution targets included journalists writing about Russia's military, as well as eminent scientists in fields that could have applications in weapons development. Professional groups say the scientists are punished for publishing articles in journals and participating in international projects that usually are part of their normal work.

Among them:

— Ivan Safronov, an adviser to the Roscosmos space agency and a former military affairs journalist, was convicted of treason in 2022 and was sentenced to 22 years in prison. He denied the charges, and his prosecution was widely seen as retaliation for his reporting on the military.

— Physicist Dmitry Kolker was arrested on treason charges in Novosibirsk in 2022, taken by the FSB from a hospital while suffering from advanced pancreatic cancer. Kolker, 54, had studied light waves and gave several approved lectures in China. He “wasn't revealing anything (secret) in them,” said his son, Maksim. Shortly after the scientist was taken to Lefortovo Prison, the family was told he had died in a hospital.

— Valery Golubkin, a physicist specializing in aerodynamics who is now 71, was arrested in 2021 and convicted of treason in 2023. His state-run research institute was working on an international project of a hypersonic civilian aircraft, and he was asked by his employer to help with reports on the project. His 12-year sentence was upheld despite appeals, and his family now can only hope for his release on parole.

— Physicist Anatoly Maslov, 77, who was working on hypersonics, was convicted of treason in May and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Treason or espionage cases involving writers, journalists and others:

— Vladimir Kara-Murza, an opposition politician, was charged with treason in 2022 after giving speeches in the West that were critical of Russia. After surviving what he believed were attempts to poison him in 2015 and 2017, Kara-Murza was convicted last year and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

— The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich was arrested in 2023 on espionage charges, the first American reporter so accused since the Cold War. Gershkovich, whose trial began in June, denies the charges, and the U.S. government has declared him wrongfully detained.

— Ksenia Khavana, 33, was arrested on treason charges in Yekaterinburg in February, accused of collecting money for Ukraine’s military. The dual Russian-U.S. citizen had returned from Los Angeles to visit relatives, and the charges reportedly stem from a $51 donation to a United States-based charity that helps Ukraine.

— Paul Whelan, a U.S. corporate security executive who traveled to Moscow to attend a wedding, was arrested in 2018 and convicted of espionage two years later, and sentenced to 16 years in prison. He denies the charges.

Some cases involving scientists can probably be traced to a Putin speech in 2018, when he touted Russia's hypersonic weapons program. The security services may want to show the Kremlin that Russia's scientific advances are so impressive that foreign powers want to go after them, lawyer Evgeny Smirnov says.

If a security service wants to authorize surveillance or a wiretap on a subject, it's far easier to get authorities to approve such measures if it's for a treason case, said Andrei Soldatov, a journalist and expert on the FSB.

Smirnov says the rise in prosecutions came after the FSB allowed its regional branches in 2022 to pursue certain kinds of treason cases, and officials in those areas sought to curry favor with their superiors to advance their careers.

Above all, Soldatov said, is the FSB’s genuine belief of “the fragility of the regime” at a time of a political turmoil — either from mass protests, as in 2011-12, or now amid the war in Ukraine.

“They sincerely believe (the regime) can break,” even if it’s really not the case, he said.

FILE - Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, listens to a verdict that found him guilty of espionage in Moscow, Russia, on June 15, 2020. Whelan, a U.S. corporate security executive who traveled to Moscow to attend a wedding, was arrested in 2018. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison and denies the charges. (Sofia Sandurskaya, Moscow News Agency photo via AP, File)

FILE - Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, listens to a verdict that found him guilty of espionage in Moscow, Russia, on June 15, 2020. Whelan, a U.S. corporate security executive who traveled to Moscow to attend a wedding, was arrested in 2018. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison and denies the charges. (Sofia Sandurskaya, Moscow News Agency photo via AP, File)

FILE - Ksenia Karelina, also known by the last name of Khavana, sits in a defendant’s cage in a court in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on Thursday, June 20, 2024. The dual Russian-U.S. citizen was arrested on treason charges in Yekaterinburg in February after returning from Los Angeles to visit relatives, and the charges reportedly stem from her $51 donation to a U.S. charity that helps Ukraine. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Ksenia Karelina, also known by the last name of Khavana, sits in a defendant’s cage in a court in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on Thursday, June 20, 2024. The dual Russian-U.S. citizen was arrested on treason charges in Yekaterinburg in February after returning from Los Angeles to visit relatives, and the charges reportedly stem from her $51 donation to a U.S. charity that helps Ukraine. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is escorted from court after a pre-trial hearing in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. Gershkovich was arrested on espionage charges during a reporting trip to the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. He, his employer and the U.S. government have vehemently denied the charges, and Washington has declared him wrongfully detained. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

FILE - Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is escorted from court after a pre-trial hearing in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. Gershkovich was arrested on espionage charges during a reporting trip to the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. He, his employer and the U.S. government have vehemently denied the charges, and Washington has declared him wrongfully detained. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

FILE - Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza is escorted to a hearing in a court in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 8, 2023. Kara-Murza, an opposition politician, was charged with treason in 2022 after giving speeches in the West that were critical of Russia. He rejected the charges as politically motivated. He was convicted last year and given a 25-year prison term, the harshest sentence handed to a Kremlin critic in post-Soviet Russia. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza is escorted to a hearing in a court in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 8, 2023. Kara-Murza, an opposition politician, was charged with treason in 2022 after giving speeches in the West that were critical of Russia. He rejected the charges as politically motivated. He was convicted last year and given a 25-year prison term, the harshest sentence handed to a Kremlin critic in post-Soviet Russia. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - In this photo released by the Moscow City Court Press Service, Valery Golubkin, a physicist specializing in aerodynamics, stands in a defendant’s cage in a court in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, June 26, 2023. Golubkin, 71, was arrested in 2021 and convicted of treason in 2023 and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Authorities accused him of passing state secrets abroad, but he and his lawyers insisted he merely submitted research reports on an international project that didn’t contain any state secrets and were cleared for submission. (Moscow City Court Press Service via AP, File)

FILE - In this photo released by the Moscow City Court Press Service, Valery Golubkin, a physicist specializing in aerodynamics, stands in a defendant’s cage in a court in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, June 26, 2023. Golubkin, 71, was arrested in 2021 and convicted of treason in 2023 and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Authorities accused him of passing state secrets abroad, but he and his lawyers insisted he merely submitted research reports on an international project that didn’t contain any state secrets and were cleared for submission. (Moscow City Court Press Service via AP, File)

FILE - In this photo taken from video provided by the Moscow City Court, Ivan Safronov, an adviser to the director of Russia's space agency, right, stands in court prior to a hearing in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, Sept. 5, 2022. Safronov, a former military affairs journalist, was convicted of treason and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Authorities accused him of passing military secrets to Czech intelligence and a German national, which he denied. The case has been widely viewed as retaliation for his reporting. (Moscow City Court via AP, File)

FILE - In this photo taken from video provided by the Moscow City Court, Ivan Safronov, an adviser to the director of Russia's space agency, right, stands in court prior to a hearing in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, Sept. 5, 2022. Safronov, a former military affairs journalist, was convicted of treason and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Authorities accused him of passing military secrets to Czech intelligence and a German national, which he denied. The case has been widely viewed as retaliation for his reporting. (Moscow City Court via AP, File)

FILE - Ivan Safronov, an adviser to the director of Russia's space agency, stands in a defendant’s cage in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, on July 16, 2020. Safronov, a former military affairs journalist, was convicted of treason and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Authorities accused him of passing military secrets to Czech intelligence and a German national, which he denied. The case has been widely viewed as retaliation for his reporting. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Ivan Safronov, an adviser to the director of Russia's space agency, stands in a defendant’s cage in a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, on July 16, 2020. Safronov, a former military affairs journalist, was convicted of treason and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Authorities accused him of passing military secrets to Czech intelligence and a German national, which he denied. The case has been widely viewed as retaliation for his reporting. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Svetlana Davydova, a mother of seven who lives in the city of Vyazma in western Russia and was arrested in 2015 on treason charges and later released, arrives at a news conference in Moscow, Russia, on Friday, March 13, 2015. Davydova was arrested after she contacted Ukraine's Embassy in Moscow in 2014, saying she thought Russian troops from a nearby base were heading to eastern Ukraine, where a separatist insurgency was unfolding. Russia at the time denied its troops involvement in eastern Ukraine, and the charges against Davydova were eventually dropped. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Svetlana Davydova, a mother of seven who lives in the city of Vyazma in western Russia and was arrested in 2015 on treason charges and later released, arrives at a news conference in Moscow, Russia, on Friday, March 13, 2015. Davydova was arrested after she contacted Ukraine's Embassy in Moscow in 2014, saying she thought Russian troops from a nearby base were heading to eastern Ukraine, where a separatist insurgency was unfolding. Russia at the time denied its troops involvement in eastern Ukraine, and the charges against Davydova were eventually dropped. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with the leadership of military-industrial complex enterprises in Tula, Russia, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. Treason cases were rare in Russia 30 years ago, with only a handful brought annually. In the last decade and especially since the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine, however, the number has soared, along with espionage prosecutions. Putin in 2022 urged security services to "harshly suppress the actions of foreign intelligence services (and) promptly identify traitors, spies and saboteurs." (Russian Presidential Press Office, Sputnik Pool Photo via AP, File)

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with the leadership of military-industrial complex enterprises in Tula, Russia, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. Treason cases were rare in Russia 30 years ago, with only a handful brought annually. In the last decade and especially since the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine, however, the number has soared, along with espionage prosecutions. Putin in 2022 urged security services to "harshly suppress the actions of foreign intelligence services (and) promptly identify traitors, spies and saboteurs." (Russian Presidential Press Office, Sputnik Pool Photo via AP, File)

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