Willem Dafoe the Antichrist

Willem Dafoe talks to Dazed about his shocking role in Lars Von Trier’s confronting new film, Antichrist.

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Perhaps best known as the Green Goblin in the Spider-Man franchise, the legendary stage and screen actor Willem Dafoe is actually happiest cavorting about naked in the woods for Lars Von Trier. He stars alongside Charlotte Gainsbourg in the Danish director’s controversial new film, Antichrist.

Dazed Digital: Antichrist is an extreme film, with very graphic sex and violence. Why did you want to do it?
Willem Dafoe: Because it’s a challenging role and the subject matter interested me. There were many challenging things in the script, which I had to appetite to do.

DD: Certain scenes – such as the genital mutilation – you must have read and thought….
WD: … Yeah! Okay. How are we going to do that? But that’s what’s exciting about it. That’s the leap of faith.

DD: Tell me about the experience of filming it.
WD: I loved being on set every day and having to be present all the time, because it wears you down so you lose your self-consciousness and really become the landscape, the story. When you’ve got a smaller role, or your role is a device in the film, then it’s more difficult to invest in that way. This was total immersion. And I was in good company because it was with Lars, Charlotte and (cinematographer) Anthony Dod Mantle, who are generous and fun to work with.

DD: Did you hang out together when you weren’t filming?
WD: Sometimes Charlotte and Lars would come by for dinner. We were staying in this strange little golf resort in the middle of these German woods and, at the end of each day, my wife (filmmaker Giada Colagrande) would cook a big meal. It was very cool.

DD: You worked with Lars before on 2005’s Manderlay…
WD: Yes, and I adore him. He has a reputation for being difficult with actors but really he’s an actor’s dream because he challenges you but he also protects you. He’s very driven, talented and smart – all of which haunt him a little bit and that’s where his perversity comes out. In some ways, he’s a nice, square, comfortable guy. But, with his art, he goes to very dark places. The places that we’re all trained to not talk about or deal with.

DD: Inevitably, the film has sparked strong reactions. How aware are you of reviews?
WD: I try not to read them but, with this film, I attended a fantastic public screening in Cannes. The audience loved it, but then I heard there had been a very mixed response in the press screenings. So I got a little seduced into reading some of the stuff. One of these days I’m going to keep my promise to stop reading reviews. If you don’t like what you read, it makes you mad, paranoid and crazy. But, if you do like what you read, then you become too aware of what people want. It doesn’t help you either way.

DD: There’s a lot of nudity in the film so, I have to ask, is that actually your…
WD: … Penis? No, it’s not mine. Lars used a porn actor for those scenes. It was a good decision because, if it was me, then that’s all that people would talk about. Obviously Lars wants the characters to have genitals but it would become a distraction: ‘Oh, they really had sex!’ If he had asked me to do it, I don’t know what I would have said.

DD: That could have been awkward.
WD: Well, never say never. But, on a practical level, Charlotte and I are both married and I’m not sure everybody would be cool with that!

Antichrist is out on Friday July 24.

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