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Actors often talk about how freeing it is to play characters that live in the moment — a sentiment that “Poor Things” screenwriter Tony McNamara understands. In writing the character of Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a woman who has an infant’s brain implanted in her body, McNamara says he was working with a blank slate.

“The fingerprints of childhood and society weren’t on her as a character,” McNamara tells Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast. “I’m writing someone who just greets experience in a really open, adventurous, optimistic [way]: ‘I wonder what it is. And I don’t have any preconceptions about how I should feel about it, how I should judge it. Anything. I’m just in a constant state of self-creation.’

“There is a kind of wish fulfillment in the movie,” he adds. “Like, What would my experience be if I could let go of all this stuff I carry around?”

McNamara says he and Stone took away similar lessons from the experience. “I think we both learned from it – a bit how to live your life in some ways.” Asked if he found it changing his personality to more optimistic, McNamara laughs. “Probably not as much as it should. I probably should have learned more.”

McNamara just earned an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay; he was previously nominated for his original screenplay for 2018’s “The Favourite.” Both films were directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and featured Oscar-nominated turns by Stone.

Listen below!

Adapted from the Alasdair Gray novel, “Poor Things” is set in a heightened Victorian-era London. Curious, childlike and not understanding the mores of society, Bella goes on a journey of self-discovery that includes running off with unscrupulous lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), encountering poverty for the first time and working in a brothel. The movie tackles big themes involving feminism, toxic masculinity and playing God – but it is also very funny. In one infamous moment (visible in the trailer), Bella — annoyed by an infant’s crying during her dinner — announces: “I must go punch that baby.”

“I blame my son for that,” McNamara says of the scene. In an early draft, he worried Bella was too polite in her young phase, pointing out that young kids can be “like narcissistic sociopaths.” He told Lanthimos a story about how his family was in a restaurant and a baby was screaming and his son said, “Someone punch that baby!” Lanthimos loved it and “so that line went in, much to the delight of [my son.]”

McNamara, who began his career in theater and created the acclaimed (and recently cancelled) Hulu series “The Great,” also touches on what would have happened if the show had been granted a fourth season – particularly as Nicholas Hoult’s Peter III of Russia was killed off. “I guess she was going to run the country by herself. And she would have a lot of lovers, and that would cause a lot of concern,” McNamara reveals, adding that she would have scenes of going “mad in the forest.”

But McNamara says there are no hard feelings about the cancellation – the show was originally only intended to last two seasons. “It was the best three years,” he says. “I can’t be anything but grateful about it.”

Also on this episode of the Awards Circuit Podcast, Oscar-nominated “Killers of the Flower Moon” star Lily Gladstone. And the Roundtable catches up on the DGA awards and more as the Road to the Oscars continues.

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, produced by Michael Schneider, is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post weekly.

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