'The Chimera' review: Josh O'Connor is superb as a bewitched man in Alice Rohrwacher's charming Tomb-Raider tale

Josh O’Connor Explains Why His Role In ‘The Chimera’ Is ‘So Much More Me’ Than Prince Charles Is In ‘The Crown’

Playing Arthur, a gentleman archaeologist turned grave robber (illegal grave robber) in Alice Rohrwacher’s film The ChimeraBritish actor Josh O’Connor swapped the tailored double-breasted suits he wore as Prince Charles on Netflix The crown for a rumpled cream linen suit that looks like its owner has worn too many late-night digs.

But the role in the Italian drama “is much more me than The crownit was, says O’Connor. Before his interview with The Hollywood Reporterthe actor demonstrates his working-class roots by turning heads at the sight of blue-collar directorial icon Ken Loach, giving interviews just behind him on the roof of the Palais festival in Cannes, where The Chimera (and of Loach The Old Oak) are screened in competition. “That is Ken Loach over there!” O’Connor half-shouts/half-whispers, adding coyly, “He’s one of my heroes.”

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O’Connor’s performance as Arthur, a grave robber who leads a band of Etruscan grave robbers who exhume ancient relics and sell them to black market pens, put him in the conversation for the Cannes Best Actor honor . Unlike his motley crew, whose Chimera – or pipe dream – is the promise of enrichment through buried treasure, Arthur’s quest is more spiritual. His Chimera is Beniamina, the woman he has loved and lost and who he hopes, in some way, to find again, by discovering a “door to the afterlife” in one of the ancient tombs that he brings to light.

Talking with DAY in Cannes, O’Connor explains why he bonded with Rohrwacher for the love of “gardening and vegetables,” how he lived “the circus life” on the set of The Chimera and how he became the favorite foreigner of Italian cinema.

What was it like to trade the pomp and circumstance of The crown for the earthy realism and dirty linen suit of this film?

Well this is more me than The crown. Far. This world that I lived in with Alice (Rohrwacher) while making this film felt like the real me. I was living in my RV when we filmed by a lake, I washed in the lake, it was real and I loved it. Every night Alice and I and our movie friends would sit around the fire and cook and sing songs. It was a real circus life. I love The crown, but that was a moment in time, an incredible moment, and I will be eternally grateful for that, but that was a character (Prince Charles) that I really had no idea for. Admittedly, I never get a complete picture of any character, but I found Arthur (in The Chimera) easier to access in some ways because I kind of wanted what it had. I was intrigued by him, by his interest in artifacts and, yes, by his ability to see the unseen.

Do you see him as Arthur, the knight in shining armor (or dressed in stained linen), or as a looter? What drives Arthur?

Well, I think that has changed for me from the moment I read the script. At the time, I wonder if it was influenced by seeing (Rohrwacher’s 2018 film) Happy as Lazarus. In that film, Lazarus is a saint in some ways, and I loved that, and I love the kind of iconography that surrounds him, but I think I thought, ‘Oh, maybe Arthur is a saint. And then I thought, “Well, no, he’s not because he’s also interested in money.” And then I thought, “He’s someone who’s also interested in the invisible, he has an interest in history and people and nature.” He’s kind of a floater, kind of a ghost, kind of a shadow. But at his heart, he is deeply human. I think the key for me is that I was trying to understand how this character, seemingly in search of an afterlife, exists in this world. Someone described it to me that he is empty. But I don’t think Arthur is empty. I think he is full. In reality, this life was not enough for him. He needs to be with Beniamina, of course, that’s part of the problem. But he also needs to be in this other space because this real world doesn’t work for him. Not sure if this answers your question. I guess I was still going through it when we finished the film. I feel like I’m still trying to get through to him. If I find out, I’ll let you know.

You are in this film by Alice Rohrwacher, in the new film by Luca Guadagnino, Challengersand one of your next films will be Pruning of rose bushesKarim Aïnouz’s remake of Marco Bellocchio’s 1965 classic Fists In The Pocket. How does it feel to be the favorite Englishman of Italian cinema?

It’s great. It is fantastic. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, it’s kind of an accident. I mean, Alice was my favorite director and very fortunately, she asked me to make this film. Now she is like a sister, we are a family. And Luca Guadagnino is a friend and we have been trying to do something together for some time. Challengers it’s coming out later this year and I think it’s a really cool movie.

So I guess, in that sense, it’s all an accident. But I also believe that, a bit like the red thread tied to Beniamina that is pulled in the film, I was attracted to them. I’m a big believer in destiny in real life and sometimes we’re drawn to people, that there’s a source, a purpose to life, and we’re drawn to the people we have to be with. Alice is definitely one of those. She changed my life. It’s not an exaggeration.

And there were clues before. I was a big fan of Italian cinema. So Pasolini, Bellocchio, Fellini, Rossellini: these are directors that I admired a lot. So I guess maybe I was looking for them somehow. I do not know.

How did you and Alice Rohrwacher meet?

I saw Happy as Lazarusand then I looked The wonders AND Celestial body, and I wrote her a letter. And we had a Zoom call. I was in Mexico City at the time. We had a great call and I loved it. And she said, “I don’t have any movies for you. But maybe in the future I will. And then, two months later, she was like, “OK, I was doing this movie with an older actor, and now I’m going to rewrite it so you can do it.” It was amazing.

What was the thing that clicked between you two when you first spoke?

I think we are both hippies, in our hearts. We both love gardening and vegetables. So this was partly that. But I also think she was a fan of a movie that I called it God’s country. And I, of course, was a fan of all of his work. I think there’s an element of, “Well, I’m not an overly spiritual person, but I strongly believe that people find each other.” And I think there was definitely that aspect. And as soon as I arrived in Italy, we spent every day and every night singing together on set. Often they’d be ready to film and say, “Where’s Josh?” and you would see me on top of a hill, looking at a leaf. And Alice is exactly the same. They’d be ready to take a shot, and I’d be crouched on the floor trying to check the rings of a tree, and Alice would be fascinated by some flying insects. And they’ll be like, “Guys please, we’re trying to make a movie here!” There are elements of Alice and I that bond together, I almost feel like we were meant to do something together.

I have one last trivial question to ask: What’s your Chimera?

So here I have to ask: my understanding of the translation The Chimera is something you wish you could never capture. Is that what you understood?

Yes, I’ve heard several translations, but unfortunately I don’t speak Italian.

I’m only asking because I told some Italian journalists that Alice and my friends were my Chimera, and they gave me a strange look: “Do you have them?” It was like I was really rude to them. But if the Chimera is something you’re reaching you can’t quite reach, I think for me it would be faith, faith in a god would be my Chimera. I feel like I’m constantly searching for an answer to life, yet I have a feeling that it will inevitably be impossible to find the answer.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.