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About The Production
From first-time writer-director Cory Finley comes a darkly comic psychological thriller exploring friendship, privilege and morality in a rarefied Connecticut setting of sprawling mansions, equestrian stables and elite private schools. Starring Olivia Cooke (Ready Player One, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split) and Anton Yelchin (Green Room), in one of his final screen performances, Thoroughbreds takes its cues from classic film noir, locating a deadpan wickedness in the maneuvers of his dual protagonists Amanda and Lily.

"The story really started working when I discovered the conversation dynamic between the two characters," says Finley. "Even before I knew who these people were, what they wanted and how they fit into the story, I found something sparkling about their verbal exchanges, and I knew that dynamic would become a central factor in the movie."

As he wrote the script, Finley watched classic film noirs, including The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, to help shape the darkly comic tone of his screenplay with those works' canny exploration of non-traditional values and shocking amoralities. "I like the mental exercise of climbing into the moral space of unusual characters who see the world in unconventional ways," says Finley. "It puts the audience on edge and creates interesting tension. It also forces viewers to grapple with moral questions of their own. I didn't intend Thoroughbreds to be a moralizing work, but I'm interested in stories that play with the deliciousness of amorality, and ones which also make you conscious of questions you might not have otherwise had."


As the script took shape, he began meeting with agents in Los Angeles on the film side of the company that represents him in New York for his theatre work. Through the agency, he met Alex Saks, a former ICM agent who is now the CEO of June Pictures, the Los Angeles-based company she co-founded with producer Andrew Duncan to produce and finance feature-length narrative and documentary films. Their recent work includes Sean Baker's critically acclaimed The Florida Project, starring Willem Dafoe and Brooklynn Prince, the Netflix documentary Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, about Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong, and Paul Dano's forthcoming directorial debut Wildfire, based on the novel by Richard Ford, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan.

Through June Pictures he met producer Kevin J. Walsh (The Greatest Showman, Manchester By the Sea), who trained under Spielberg, Scott Rudin and music industry veteran Tommy Mottola, and actors turned screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Way Way Back), who won an Oscar for writing Alexander Payne's The Descendants before forming B Story, their own production company with Walsh. As financing on Thoroughbreds took shape, Finley honed his script with input from his new friends at June Pictures and B Story, making the story personal and universal.


While the stage version roiled in Finley's head for some years, it sprung into screenplay form over the course of several months, solidifying once the casting process began. Finley was looking for actors who could embody each character's specific flourishes. With Amanda, this meant spending considerable time in a deadpan state, suggesting someone who is at heart an empty shell. He also wanted an actor who was precise with language and could bring alive his hardboiled banter. Rising star Olivia Cooke, currently on screen in Spielberg's Ready Player One, had caught Finley's eye following her breakout role in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl; conveniently, she had a break in her busy schedule at the beginning of 2016, when Finley began casting his film. "She's been great in every role she's played but one particular strength I've noticed is the way she casually slips into comic deadpan in her movies," says Finley. "It's not the heart of the characters she plays, it's more like fleeting moments on the screen where she comes especially alive."

Cooke immediately responded to the character of Amanda. "She's a young woman who is trying to find that thing that makes her tick - because nothing really makes her tick," says Cooke. "For as long as she can remember, nothing has impacted her emotionally. Hunger and fatigue might be things she feels, but joy, sadness, anger, or romantic feelings towards another person, are things she's never experienced. Psychiatrists would label her as sociopathic or depressive, but I didn't want to lock her into one specific illness or tendency. She's someone whose emotions are incredibly repressed, and she's searching for those emotions through her relationship with Lily."

For Lily, Finley was looking for someone who could credibly go to very intense emotional places while maintaining a veneer of poise and calm. The horror sensation The Witch had just come out when Finley began casting Thoroughbreds, and Finley was a huge fan of the movie - and of Anya Taylor-Joy's central performance as Thomasina, the teenage daughter of immigrant homesteaders battling the remote New England wilderness after being cast out of their puritanical community. "Anya's performance is a huge part of why that movie works so well," says Finley. "She went to those intense places while conveying charisma, power and strength - it's a magnetic quality."

Cooke and Taylor-Joy were Finley's first choices to play Amanda and Lily and both actors were eager to sign on to the writer-director's feature debut. "I hadn't read such brilliant, nuanced teenage female characters before," says Cooke. "Cory has keen insights into their specific world but the script was also very funny and I liked how the humor was sprinkled in seamlessly among the suspense. It was also genre-bending as well - it felt fun and new and interesting without ever taking itself too seriously."

Adds Taylor-Joy: "I've seldom been so captured by a script - it was phenomenal. I was instantly drawn to Lily and I had to meet Cory right away after I read it," says Taylor-Joy. "It's a beautifully crafted piece of work but it's also dark, witty and clever."

The actors found themselves energized by Finley's dialogue, in particular Amanda and Lily's capacity to usurp each other through their banter, taking on each other's character quirks and effectively merging as one once they decide to kill Lily's stepfather. As the story opens, Lily is nervous and high-energy while Amanda is removed and deadpan - until they fuse together and things become almost comically nasty. "They both desperately want what the other has - and what they can never have," says Taylor-Joy. "Lily wants to feel nothing, admiring the fact that Amanda can complete a task without emotion. In Amanda's eyes, Lily is this girl who seemingly has it all; she's sociable and has feelings, qualities Amanda lacks."

The actors were required to deliver their lines quickly and methodically in the form of sharp banter that frequently verged on nastiness. "We had to say some awful things to each other, but I loved the pace of the dialogue and how it's delivered," says Taylor-Joy. "It's a unique way of drawing two characters closer together. We created atmosphere on set through the words we had to say to each other so that by the end of production we were in each other's flow so much it was like synchronicity. If Olivia moved, I would move, and vice versa. It felt serpent-like in the way we connected to each other - the movie became this elaborate dance between us."

Thoroughbreds functions easily as a two-hander between Amanda and Lily as their cat-and-mouse game escalates towards mayhem. But Finley added the character of Tim to the screenplay - a local working-class thug who is enlisted by the girls to help kill Mark - as a kind of leveling force between the central protagonists. As played by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek: Into Darkness), the role poignantly marks one of the final performances by the gifted performer, who died tragically in June 2016 following an accident outside his home. Finley was a longtime fan of Yelchin's work, citing standout roles in Like Crazy, Green Room and Only Lovers Left Alive as personal favorites. "I admired his body of work and the types of roles he'd chosen," says Finley. "He was a great leading man but he also had the distinct ability of being able to steal scenes in supporting roles."

As Tim, Yelchin resisted turning his character into a cartoonish loose cannon, ceding much of the script's blunt tones to Amanda and Lily. A local drug dealer who washes dishes in a psychiatric facility for extra cash, Tim also hails from a different economic class than his partners in crime, broadening Thoroughbreds' social tapestry. "It was important that Tim's character not become a caricature because he brings lightness and comic relief to the second half of the movie," says Finley. "I wanted to keep him emotionally grounded and that was one of Anton's strengths as an actor - he could elicit your sympathy in so many different ways. He was such a joy to have on set, but he was also serious about his craft and prepared intensely for this role, scrutinizing everything from Tim's wardrobe to specific moments in the plot."


As crucial to the story as its human characters, the Connecticut mansion at the heart of Thoroughbreds proved the most difficult casting challenge for the production team. With its formidable spread, including meandering corridors made ominous and threatening in the movie through a series of gliding tracking shots, Finley and production designer Jeremy Woodward set out to find the perfect venue. Together they looked at dozens of homes in Massachusetts - where the movie was shot - many of which were sitting empty on the real estate market.

"It was so important to have movement in the story, so we needed a house with dramatic hallways," says Finley. "Even though it's mostly set in one location, I didn't want this movie to feel like a play.

Inspired by Stanley Kubrick's Steadicam shots in The Shining, but unable to find a space that could accommodate that kind of fluid, hovering camera work, the production found itself without a central location mere weeks before filming began.

The houses they looked at were either too opulent in their architecture, or else too restrained. None had the sprawling hallways that could accommodate Steadicam work. At the eleventh hour, Finley and Woodward found a house in Cohasset, Mass., one hour south of Boston. Vast in scale, opulent without being too ostentatious, and brimming with long, wide corridors and separate wings, the crew tried to shoot as much of the private home as possible, ultimately using only a third of its dimensions in the movie.

One entire floor was used as a substitution for trailers, accommodating the wardrobe, hair and make-up departments and serving as a home base for the actors in between scenes. "We all learned to love it, and fear it in a certain way, because it was a very imposing place," Finley insists. "It was such a huge expanse, with so much dust and empty air - when you were in that house, you felt this sense of unease," says Cooke. "You came to feel empty inside of it because of the vastness surrounding you. The house was its own character."

Adds Taylor-Joy: "We each got our own room. Olivia was in a little boy's room and I was in this pink room covered in rabbits. The room upstairs where we'd get into costume every morning was filled with dolls and child-like memorabilia that felt creepy and incongruous because only adults lived in the house - the children had long ago moved out."

Over time, the house opened up its cavernous spaces to cast and crew, delivering a stellar performance in the same way a living actor does after spending quality time shaping a character.


Thoroughbreds shot in Cohasset for four weeks in the spring of 2016, with Cooke and Taylor-Joy arriving two days before filming commenced to develop chemistry in the guise of Amanda and Lily. Taylor-Joy arrived fresh from the set of 2016's Barry, a period drama set in 1981 about Barack Obama's college days, in which she wore era-specific urban sophisticate clothes. On Finley's set, she had to quickly transition to a more refined wardrobe, which took getting used to. "Lily is someone who is so much about appearances," says Taylor-Joy. "I underwent a total transformation from Barry, which was all pastels and high ponytails." To aid in her metamorphosis, she picked out a necklace bearing a wasp from costume designer's Alex Bovaird's stash and wore it every day on set, symbolizing Lily's more sinister motivations.

"Everybody on set kept telling me what a bitch they thought Lily was," says Taylor-Joy. "But I kept insisting she was neither bitch nor saint. When it came to the end of the shoot, I suddenly realized I'd been playing this incredibly toxic person."

In the end, Taylor-Joy found unexpected liberation in playing a character like Lily. "She goes in a dark direction in this movie but there's an element of freedom in her journey because it's someone taking control of her life," says Taylor-Joy. "I'm not excusing her - or her actions - but there's strength in the notion of two girls achieving freedom together in unconventional ways. So many movies depict teenage girls in a hyperemotional manner as opposed to dangerous or twisted, and I loved how different and original Cory's approach to Amanda and Lily was. There's also a message in how insular their views on the world come to be. It's important to put yourself in the shoes of people like Amanda and Lily in order to expand the outreach of your life. If you make it too insular, you get claustrophobic and things are likely to explode."


Also a character in its own right is Thoroughbreds' evocative atonal score by New York City-based cellist and composer Eric Friedlander, whose work with such diverse musicians as John Zorn, Courtney Love and The Mountain Goats has made him a fixture across Manhattan's polymorphous live music scene. Finley was referred to Friedlander by music supervisor Sue Jacobs (I, Tonya, "Big Little Lies") as being someone who could bring an out-of-the-box sensibility to the film's frequently jarring score, having showcased bold and innovative cello playing in his live sets and recorded compositions. "We wanted to push up against the visual beauty of the movie in a deliberately ugly - or rather ugly-beautiful - manner," says Finley. "Eric did an inspiring job of that, composing a very distinctive score that takes into account his background in avant-garde classical and free-jazz improvisation."

Combining cello, percussion and prepared piano, Friedlander concocts a sensation of eerie, disjointed unease against the backdrop of sumptuous, unchecked luxury that is Lily's Connecticut home, drawing out the conflicting feelings of joy, terror and hysteria as Amanda and Lily descend into violence and depravity.


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