The Royal Hotel’s Kitty Green and Julia Garner want to keep a good thing going.
Following their 2019 drama The Assistant, the Australian filmmaker and her thrice-Emmy-winning American star are back with another critically acclaimed film in The Royal Hotel, which again examines power dynamics between men and women, as well as microaggressions from the female perspective.
Based on the 2016 documentary HotelCoolgardie and co-written by Green and Oscar Redding, The Royal Hotel begins with Garner’s Hanna and Jessica Henwick’s Liv enjoying themselves on an Australian vacation. The two American friends then abruptly run out of money and are forced to work at a run-down pub in the remote Australian outback so they can make enough cash to resume their R and R. The pair soon have very different reactions to the alcoholic pub owner (Hugo Weaving) and his regular clientele of local miners, and those aforementioned microaggressions eventually devolve into something more macro.
With two well-received collaborations now in the books, Green already has an eye on completing a spiritual trilogy with Garner.
“Julia and I would love to do a third one,” Green tells The Hollywood Reporter during a Royal Hotel press day ahead of its Oct. 6 theatrical release. “But I also don’t want it to feel too same-samey. So I’m sure there’ll be some connection, but for the next one, I’d still like to blow it up a little bit.”
During The Royal Hotel’s casting process, Green and Garner needed their dynamic duo to become a trio, and that’s when Henwick’s agent threw her name into the mix. The British actor has been a favorite among genre fans for many years now thanks to her performances in The Matrix Resurrections and Marvel’s television series that originally aired on Netflix (Iron Fist, The Defenders, Luke Cage). However, because of her action filmography, Green initially had reservations about whether Henwick would suit the co-starring role of Liv, who’s more carefree than her friend Hanna.
“I wanted someone who wasn’t just a great actor, but could also get along with us and turn our duo into a trio,” Green says. “So I was a bit like, ‘I’ll meet her, but I’m not sure she’s right.’ And when I spoke to her on Zoom, she was so bubbly and warm and goofy. She was everything I needed her to be … So I immediately knew she had the role.”
Below, during a recent conversation with THR, Green also discusses M. Night Shyamalan’s generosity during post-production and how her experience on his Apple TV+ series Servant helped prepare her for The Royal Hotel. Then she addresses the divisiveness she’s already noticing regarding her film’s spectacular final shot.
Well, clearly, the moral of the story is to never order Foster’s in Australia because it’s all downhill from there.
(Laughs.) That’s it! That’s exactly what we were trying to achieve.
I knew it! Well, if The Assistant was about microaggressions, can it be said that The Royal Hotel is about macroaggressions?
I feel like TheRoyalHotel is about microaggressions in a lot of ways, too. I mean, it kind of bubbles away. The film is often exploring those little things, like a little joke or insult or nickname from someone that makes you feel uncomfortable or tense, or foreshadows something worse that’s coming. So this one has got a little bit of the micro and a little bit of the macro.
I’ve always thought that Jessica Henwick is a major talent who should be leading projects regularly, so I was glad to see that she shares both top billing and the poster with Julia Garner. What were you working off of during her casting?
Honestly, it was a real challenge to figure out who to cast in that role, because Julia and I were so close. We’re kind of a little unit. So, bringing someone else into that, I wanted someone who wasn’t just a great actor, but could also get along with us and turn our duo into a trio. And I wanted that to feel natural and not forced. So I was looking for a personality as well as an actor who energetically fit in with us, and then [Henwick’s] agent got in touch. Her agent had seen the documentary [HotelCoolgardie] that the film is based on in some ways, and said that she’d like to meet. So I watched a lot of her stuff, and I thought she was brilliant. But I was worried she’d be too serious because she came from a lot of action films. She has great posture, and she holds herself well. She’s good at fight scenes and things like that. So I was a bit like, “I’ll meet her, but I’m not sure she’s right.” And when I spoke to her on Zoom, she was so bubbly and warm and goofy. She was everything I needed her to be, and it just felt natural. So I immediately knew she had the role. She just had the right energy for it, which was fabulous.
Based on your initial concern about whether she was too serious for the role, it now makes sense why you captured her smile and this happy-go-lucky appearance more than any other film or TV show has.
That’s great! I like that.
When you first told Julia that she’d be going from a New York City office building during the winter to the remote Australian outback, did she have a laugh about the extreme contrast to your last setting?
Yeah, when she signed up for it, I don’t know if she realized exactly what she was signing up for. I’m not sure she fully understood until we plunked her down in the middle of nowhere and she was trapped in the middle of nowhere. During the first week, she said to me, “Why aren’t we back in New York? Why are we here?” (Laughs.) But then she figured herself out and got used to the pace. There’s a slightly different vibe on an Australian set, so I think it took her a little while to figure it out and feel comfortable with everyone and get to know everyone. And by the end, she had such an amazing time, so I was really happy with that. She just seemed really excited to be there. She’s also been working since she was 16, and I’m not sure she ever did those travel trips that we get to do when we’re young. And so it was nice for her to be learning something different in a foreign place.
So whenever Hanna (Garner) aired her concerns about this remote watering hole, Liv (Henwick) would glass-half-full the situation and be optimistic. Of course, the goal is to create tension and conflict, but what do you make of Liv’s rose-colored glasses and whatever it is she’s running from back home?
Liv has got a more Australian attitude, and I think Australian audiences are more on Liv’s side. For a big chunk of the movie, I think they’re on Liv’s side until things start to go wrong. Brits, too, and Jessica is British, which helped because I think she understood the pub culture a little more. So it is just about someone who’s trying to give it a go and trying to accept all the eccentricities that come with an isolated town like this and trying to be forgiving of some of the lonely people that are in it. And that’s a lovely quality.
Hanna is trying to stay alert and keep her friend out of danger. Those dynamics, when you’re young and you go traveling, there’s always one person that has to be a little more cautious and look after the money and worry about how they’re going to get home at night. So the other one can relax a little bit, and that felt like a natural dynamic for the two of them as they were traveling.
I was quite fond of your work on Servant, and I noticed that you thanked M. Night Shyamalan in the credits. Did he watch an early cut and offer his two cents?
He did! He watched a rough cut, and I was so thrilled that he took the time to do it. It was such a sweet thing for him to do. I learned so much on that [Servant] set, and I learned so much from him, personally. I honestly don’t know if I would’ve been able to pull off some of those busier bar scenes if I hadn’t done a big dinner party episode of Servant. There were eight people at the table, and there was a lot going on with eyelines. It’s a very technical exercise when you have that many people in a room and you’re just trying to capture these moments between people. So I was able to really hone my skills on Night’s set and learn a lot from him. He runs his sets in a really beautiful way. He has a really kind, warm energy that makes everyone happy to be there. So I learned a lot from him about how a set should feel and what it should be like. He’s the best. I’m a big M. Night Shyamalan fan.
It seems like you’ve found your calling card or niche with The RoyalHotel and TheAssistant. Do you think you’ll dive further into this perspective? Or are you open to anything moving forward?
Julia and I would love to do a third one.
A spiritual trilogy …
Exactly, but I also don’t want it to feel too same-samey. If we do something else together, I really feel like we should shake it up a little bit. So while we’d love to keep working together and I definitely will be, there are things that I’m thematically drawn to that naturally link together. So I’m sure there’ll be some connection, but for the next one, I’d still like to blow it up a little bit.
I try not to overuse this word, but the last shot is iconic. It’s the perfect exclamation point on the piece.
It’s a little more divisive than I thought it would be, which is interesting.
Yeah, I feel like we’re getting pushback, particularly from male audience members who think the girls have gone too far. There’s a lot of discussion around that ending scene, so I’m excited to chat to people about it when they’ve seen it. It’s bold, and we were excited about having those girls win in the end. And even though it has a lot of darkness in it, the film is about strength and finding your own strength, and figuring out what your boundaries are and testing your limits. And so, to me, that needed to be the final shot, for sure.
*** The Royal Hotel opens in theaters on October 6th via Neon. This interview was edited for length and clarity.