Sitting down with PEOPLE at the Cannes Film Festival, the actor credits the acclaimed director for creating a “really cool environment” behind the scenes of the award-winning project.
“Sofia created this really easy, laid back environment on the set that was such a counter point to what was going on in front of the camera,” Farrell, 41, explains. “In between takes of us screaming at each other, we’d go outside and have coffee.”
He continues: “There was this wooden picnic table at the back of the house and everybody would sit around that. We’d shoot the sh— and have a laugh. It also felt very safe and like we could explore and take chances.”
Based on the 1966 Thomas Cullinan novel, The Beguiled stars Nicole Kidman as the headmistress of the stately Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. Kirsten Dunst plays Edwina, a teacher, and Elle Fanning, a teenage student named Alicia. The school, in some disrepair, has remained largely untouched by the war, but the girls’ seclusion is interrupted by the discovery of a wounded soldier from the Union Army, John McBurney (Farrell). His arrival kicks off a twisty tale of seduction and jealousy.
“I had seen the original film years ago, and I was very affected by it,” he says of the 1971 film adaption starring Clint Eastwood as McBurney. “I knew this would be a very different take, both aesthetically and as far as the tone of the film goes. But I read the script, and it was super dramatic.”
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When Farrell was first sent the script, he says he was “just excited about the prospect of working with [Coppola].”
“I had met her through the years a couple of times and really liked her as a person,” he says. “Also, I loved her work.”
In the new film, Coppola shifted the focus from a male protagonist to tell the story from the point of view of the female characters. During the Cannes Film Festival, Coppola took home the festival’s coveted Best Director honors in addition to a shower of positive reviews.
The Beguiled hits theaters on June 23.