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Spoiler alert: Do not read if you haven’t watched “Men,” now in theaters.

In the new A24 horror film “Men,” Rory Kinnear plays the title character — or more accurately, characters. Kinnear portrays a parade of male characters that populate a secluded English village — from a mild-mannered country house owner to a rude teenage boy to a predatory vicar to “the Green Man,” a figure of pagan mythology brought to life.

As Jessie Buckley’s Harper, holidaying in the country after the traumatic death of her abusive husband James (Paapa Essiedu), encounters these figures, the interactions escalate to become more and more dangerous, until she finds herself trapped in her house fighting for her life. It all leads to a wild, body horror-filled final sequence where Kinnear, as his various characters, gives birth to himself — finally ending with the birth of James, still haunting Harper even after death.

Playing multiple characters in a single project is often seen as a way for actors to flex their versatility. But when Kinnear was first approached by director Alex Garland about playing the parts, he was intrigued but worried that it would become nothing more than a gimmick. Before signing on to the project, he wanted to make sure he’d be able to act these characters as fleshed-out human beings in their own right, even if the audience is constantly questioning whether they actually are human.

“I met up with Alex and I told him, ‘I think the idea of it is thematically really important.” Kinnear says. “‘So I don’t want it to become an acting exercise or virtuoso kind of thing. All these characters have to exist within the landscape and be embedded within this countryside that you will create just as vividly in terms of the natural world as the people that are within it. So as long as you allow me to create these characters wholly, even if they’re only on screen for a very short amount of time, then I’ll be up for it.’ And that was how it worked.”

Ahead of the film’s release in theaters, Variety spoke to Kinnear about getting into character(s), working with himself and Buckley and unpacking the film’s ambiguous ending.

You haven’t done many horror films. What was it like working in the genre, and essentially playing a horror movie monster, for “Men?”

Obviously, it is in this genre, but it’s pretty playful with that genre, and upending the expectations that are set by it. And that’s why I think Alex likes working in genre, because it gives him the rules that he can bat up against. And the disconnect between what an audience thinks it’s going to go have and what it expects, and how that veers away from it, and where it sort of coincides with their expectations and where it veers is kind of what he finds enjoyable about that. So, particularly the last stretch of the film, is obviously a nod to the moment of every horror film where the end has to deliver on what’s been been set up. But this is delivering it in such an unusual, dreamlike, surreal at times way, that it felt like we were saying something on the themes the film had been touching on as well, and doing it in a really distinctive way. And so to watch, it’s a pretty unique film, and has very unusual and singular characteristics which overlap with some of the horror genre, but making it, it didn’t feel like we were making a horror film.

In this film, you play at least eight different characters. How did you prepare for that, as an actor?

I went away and wrote little plotted biographies for each one of them, sent that off to Alex, which he read and liked. I can’t remember if he made suggestions at that time, but I then sent those off to the head of hair and makeup and costume. And we were able to begin the process together almost. It’s quite often, when you come in as an actor, you’re sort of led down a path that has slightly already been, if not completely laid, then certainly the direction in which they’re expecting you to go has already been set out. Whereas this felt like we were all leading from the script. But we were all beginning the journey to each one of these characters together at the same time.

The film leaves the nature of your characters, and how they’re connected, a bit ambiguous. When you were playing these characters, were you concerned with being a chameleon and having radically different takes on each of them?

It’s sort of a microcosm of one’s career or one’s understanding of acting, this film for me. The fun thing of acting is that you get to explore the emotional hinterlands of so many different people, so many different people’s experiences, so many different people’s opinions, attitudes. But fundamentally after a while, you will realize that they’re all played through the prism of you, and how inescapable you are as an actor. That’s always going to be the founding stone of the characters you create, no matter how widely different they are, or how far away from your own experience they are. There is always a part of you around which they are created.

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Screenshot/A24

Your most seen character in the film is Geoffrey, who occupies an interesting niche in the film as the only village man who acts sympathetic towards Harper, even if that does shift eventually. While you were playing him, how did you think about his motivations, as compared to the rest of your characters?

He’s the only character where Alex afforded him, or at least afforded an audience, knowledge of a bit of their history. You get that line about his father being a slightly distant and cold father, and you get a bit about the fact that he had a dog. Those are the only aspects of a kind of history of any of the characters I played. So I had to make sure that I had fleshed out the histories of all the characters themselves. The steady accumulation of all these interactions that Harper has is basically the founding stone of of the film. But for each one of my characters, Harper wasn’t a significant moment in their life. So you had to focus on what the significant motivations of their lives were outside of the scenes with Harper. That’s sort of the same job that you do with any job, any character that you try and develop. But trying to jump between multiple characters in a day meant you had to keep your wits about you.

Because this movie has such a tiny cast, and two of the actors aren’t really a part of the main storyline, your only scene partners are yourself and Jessie Buckley. What was it like working with her?

Taking on the job, you knew that you would have to get on with whoever was playing Harper. And we had this rehearsal period before we got to shooting which was two weeks, basically, where we were shooting, but it was actually in Alex’s dad’s house. We sort of sat in the sitting room every day just discussing it and discussing the themes that were thrown up by it. But it was pretty instant, that feeling that we got on really well the three of us, Alex, Jessie and I, and that we all had a reasonably different approach, but they worked really well together. And we instantly felt comfortable in provoking the script, provoking each other, challenging each other in a really creative and supportive way. By the time we’d got onto set, we’d spent so much time with each other, we’d been so open with each other, and also, we’d had so much fun with each other that the limits to our creativity didn’t feel like they they existed.

How’d you approach working with her during the more disturbing scenes? I’m thinking especially about the scene with the vicar in the bathroom, where he assaults her. How do you handle that as an actor?

We worked in sequence, and the fact that Alex chose to shoot that way, meant that as the film got more intense, as the film got more intimate, as the film got more versatile, odder, we knew each other by then so well, we had done so many other scenes together, that we had a really healthy approach to the tenor of the piece. If you’re getting on with someone as well as Jessie and I got on and you’re doing a scene where you’re bringing a lobster claw around their neck, you’re going to find it funny the first time you do it, but that’s okay. Because we both were committed to realizing it as impactfully as we hoped it would be. And we basically had a whole night shoot to do that scene, so we had the time to really explore it. We all felt so comfortable with each other, and so supported by each other, we were very happy to tread on each other’s toes.

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Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear in “Men” Screenshot/A24

Let’s talk about that ending. At a panel I saw, you said that the sequence in the original script you received was a bit different than the one that was shot. What changed?

It wasn’t a birthing sequence. It was just mutations. So one became the next and it was like this walk through this little house of mirrors where I changed into these various characters. So he made it more more primal, more urgent, very much formative for all these characters. Alex wanted to challenge himself and I guess take greater risk with that end. And it’s certainly distinctive and bold.

What was the actual experience of shooting that ending like? Were you just absolutely slathered in prosthetics for it? What effects did you have to work with?

For the Green Man, the first figure to to go into labor, that was real makeup. And so that was a seven hour kind of job to get that ready before you even started your days filming, or nights filming. I did have a stand-in prosthetic belly. And then once we actually got into the birthing stuff, then it was basically being cold covered in goo. And you do that for many nights on the trot, constantly aware that, when you gave birth to Geoffrey at least, you could be inside and that you might be a little bit warmer. So there was always that promise to keep going and finally, you might be able to warm up a bit.

As you’re birthing each of your characters, how did you act that sequence, changing roles in quick succession?

Each one that was was birthed, I wanted to encapsulate what I considered their fundamental primal instinct. When you meet a newborn baby, you realize its got its own personality already, completely different from the other newborn baby who’s next door. We all come with a sort of inbuilt fundamental, and I guess that is kind of unchanging in whatever one does as an actor, no matter how hard you try. I feel like that sequence at the end sort of encapsulates that.

I really don’t know what to think about the ending. And I enjoy not knowing, in a way. But is there a definitive answer about what’s going on, one that Garland might not want to tell the audience explicitly? Or do you have your own understanding about what exactly is happening at the end, and what your characters ultimately are?

Well, obviously, Alex prefers for his films to be understood individually and to offer no hard and fast explanations and rules. They are also all really, really rich. And this film in particular is very dense, both image-wise and thematically, and each audience member’s response to the film will be predicated on the experiences they’ve had around these events, whether it be personal trauma, whether it be gender politics, whether it be just trying to escape your past, or yourself. [At a press screening], it was fascinating being in a room with people watching it for the first time. And perhaps one of the only times that a roomful of people will be watching the film without any preconceived notion of what it is about, or certainly the end, you know, I imagine that will get out pretty soon. But I mean, speaking to people afterwards, and speaking to those that have seen it, everyone does have a completely different take on it. And obviously, some of the themes overlap, but what chimes with people says as much about them as it does about Alex and the rest of us.

This interview has been edited and condensed.