Willem Dafoe spent six hours in the makeup chair each day for “Poor Things,” the actor recalled in a recent interview with Vanity Fair.
Now able to speak about the Frankenstein reimagining after the end of the SAG-AFTRA strike, Dafoe discussed his experience filming Yorgos Lanthimos’s upcoming black comedy. Dafoe stars as the disfigured mad scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter, whose face was maimed by his surgeon father when he was younger.
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In the film, Dr. Baxter decides to reanimate a woman’s corpse by placing her brain with the brain of an unborn child. This woman becomes Bella (Emma Stone), who must navigate human life as an adult while she’s stuck with the brain of a child. When it becomes clear that Bella desires to explore the outside world for herself, Dr. Baxter is faced with the fatherly realization that he must let her go.
Physically becoming Dr. Baxter was no easy feat. According to Dafoe, the makeup team would first mock up scars so that Dafoe could get a better sense of what Dr. Baxter would look like. The process of getting into character and out of it ended up taking six hours each day, with Dafoe waking up just in time for a 3 a.m. call time. Everyone else, he said, could show up at seven.
“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.”
After that six hour-long makeup application process, Dafoe would then have to ready himself for another full day of filming on set. Still, Dafoe reflects on how filming “Poor Things” was an immensely positive experience for him as an actor, particularly with the beautiful sets.
“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.”
“Poor Things” premieres in theaters Dec. 8.
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