Willem Dafoe On Getting Nude In ‘Antichrist,’ Working With Director Lars Von Trier

This week, (limited) audiences will finally get to see what all the fuss was at this year’s Cannes over director Lars Von Trier’s art-horror flick, “Antichrist.” The unconventional tale of a husband and wife who try to cope with the tragic loss of their son by hiding out in the woods takes a dark turn as the unnamed man’s (Willem Dafoe) attempts to psychoanalyze his unnamed wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) elicit a violent response. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it is worth noting that the term “genital mutilation” has been thrown around to describe just a few of the horrors you’ll witness as the story reaches its endgame.

MTV’s Josh Horowitz had the opportunity recently to speak with Dafoe, who was more than happy to discuss the experience of working with Von Trier. As one of the founders of the Dogme 95 movement — a style of filmmaking defined by a lengthy manifesto — Von Trier is a unique soul among his fellow artists. He called himself “the world’s greatest director” at Cannes this year, railing against those critics who panned “Antichrist.”

Dafoe was quick in trying to clear things up about a man who he’s clearly had positive experiences with. “There’s a lot of bad information about him. He’s eccentric and has a caustic wit and he can be very ironic and sometimes its lost on people,” he said. “Sometimes it’s lost on people.”

“I think he’s a very strong personality and there’s a degree of submission to his view,” Dafoe continued. “But that’s the key to freedom. Its through him you find your power and expression and your creativity. When you work with someone with a specific vision you can lose yourself and it gives you a clearer run at inhabiting something.”

Dafoe was also quick to dismiss claims that Von Trier is cruel to his actors simply for the sake of it, the joy of it. “His kind of manipulation isn’t a corrupt one. He’s working towards something. We reward crafting a message more than we do evoking the mysterious, things that inspire. I think this movie has a power where it’s a breathing thing.”

I have to say, Dafoe makes a good point here about rewarding the message more than the experience. “Antichrist” is very much a non-standard film by Hollywood standards. It lies far outside the realm of Dogme 95, but it definitely forges its own path through the narrative, one that some viewers may have trouble following. It’s hard to say that there’s a clear resolution to walk away with, but there’s plenty of thought-provoking material.

Josh also asked Dafoe about the nudity in “Antichrist,” which is held apart — deliberately, it seems — from the performers. Many of the most explicit shots are presented in close-up, so there’s no way to really tell if you’re seeing the actor or a stand-in. As Dafoe pointed out, there was a reason for that.

“If that [nudity] was seen to be me it would only be about that,” he explained. “It would be ’that movie where they have real sex.’ So for the genital shots it’s a double. That way it’s not about a stunt. It’s a better idea. [Von Trier] actually cut a lot of nudity out. He’s a good filmmaker.”

Do you plan to see “Antichrist” this weekend? Are you familiar with Von Trier’s earlier work?