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Willem Dafoe on his "intimate" working relationship with Lars von Trier


Notorious across the world of filmmaking, the films of Lars von Trier are known for their divisive themes, offering featuring strong violence, sex and controversy. No movie in his repertoire is as sinister as his poem about the brutality of nature, Antichrist, a dramatic horror spiked with gory, shocking imagery. 

Starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a set of parents grieving the loss of their child, the pair of veteran film actors seem welded together as they compellingly exhibit the torment and darkness of misery. Whilst Gainsbourg would win Best Actress at Cannes Film Festival 2009 for her harrowing portrayal of mortal insanity, Defoe would too develop a powerful working relationship with the filmmaker, working with him again on Nymphomaniac: Vol. II in 2013.

The events of 2009’s Antichrist have since gone down in cinema history, with the graphic events of the film being almost too stomach-churning to mention in this article, and indeed too risqué for the sensitive world of Youtube. Though, with the interest of the article in mind, let’s just say that the testicles of Dafoe’s character get crushed by a block of wood. 

Asked in an interview with The Talks if he had any boundaries as a performer when asked to do such graphic scenes, the actor replied, “I am sure there are, but I hope not to know them. (Laughs) I think an ambition as a performer, and maybe even in life, is to become less afraid”. Continuing, Dafoe adds, “Some boundaries are necessary of course and some are accepted, but the ones that I don’t want, I want to remove”. 

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Though, Dafoe wouldn’t commit to such a stunt for any old director, further telling the publication, “I like his company. I like his work and what he proposed to me was an interesting project. But there are some people that I’d work with on almost anything if I could see that I could make a contribution and they needed me. And I felt like Lars needed me for that project”. 

Indeed, the relationship between Dafoe is a complicated one, with both creatives working to better one another in their filmmaking role. Explaining his special relationship, the actor further exclaims, “Personally it’s very intimate, like I know things about his sex life. (Laughs) Lars loves to talk about these things”.

For anyone familiar with the maverick Danish filmmaker, however, this is merely par for the course when collaborating closely with him. For Dafoe, his relationship with the director was a fruitful one, explaining, “You feel like things are falling into place, there is kind of a natural order and nice little accidents happen, it starts to create momentum. When that momentum starts and you start making things, the story starts to form and characters start to emerge”. 

Able to handle the intensity of von Trier, Dafoe outlines, “That’s a beautiful place to be as a performer: when you know you’re with it, but you are not driving it in a way that you know what the outcome is going to be. So you’re not controlling it – and I love that”.