Willem Dafoe is no stranger to playing eccentric and unconventional characters, but his latest role might be his most challenging yet. The Oscar-nominated actor stars as Dr. Godwin Baxter, a disfigured mad scientist who reanimates a woman’s corpse by replacing her brain with that of an unborn child, in the film “Poor Things” directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.
The film, which is based on the novel by Alasdair Gray, is a dark and twisted comedy that explores the themes of life, death, love, and identity. Dafoe’s character is one of the many bizarre and disturbing creations that populate Lanthimos’s world, which also includes a giant baby, a talking dog, and a woman with a fish head.
To transform into his character, Dafoe had to undergo a grueling makeup process that took six hours each day. He had to show up at 3 a.m. and sit in the makeup chair for hours, while layers of silicone, latex, and paint were applied to his face and body. He also had to wear a large prosthetic head, a hunchback, and a twisted leg.
“Four hours in, two hours out every day – I’m showing up at three o’clock in the morning, sitting in the chair, meditating and trying to deal with standing still. You can’t sleep because it’s intricate enough that you’ve got to work with the people applying it,” Dafoe emphasized. “It’s a grind, but I liked working with a mask in there – quite literally, a mask.”
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“You had so many things that defines the world – unless you were asleep, you had to live in it,” he said. “That’s ideal for an actor, because it’s like nothing else. You fold into it. Everything tells you what to do.”
Dafoe also praised Lanthimos’s vision and style, saying that he was a “master of tone” and that he created a “very specific atmosphere” on set, where the actors had to follow his rules and trust his instincts.
“Poor Things” is Dafoe’s second collaboration with Lanthimos, after appearing in his short film “Nimic” in 2019. The film also stars Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Ramy Youssef, and Jerrod Carmichael. It is expected to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2024.
- Willem Dafoe’s ‘Poor Things’ Makeup Took Six Hours Each Day to Get On: I’d Show Up at 3 A.M., ‘Meditating and Trying to Deal With Standing Still’, Variety, Nov 11, 2023
- Willem Dafoe Spent Six Hours a Day in the ‘Poor Things’ Makeup Chair. He’s Not Complaining, Vanity Fair, Nov 10, 2023
- Willem Dafoe on the ‘Poor Things’ Makeup Process That Took Six Hours Every Day, The Hollywood Reporter, Nov 12, 2023
- Willem Dafoe reveals the six-hour makeup process for ‘Poor Things’, Yahoo Entertainment, Nov 13, 2023