The Reason Willem Dafoe Needed A Body Double On Antichrist Might Surprise You

Lars Von Trier's 2009 film "Antichrist" is a dour-hearted romp through the foul trenches of human depression. The first part of an unofficial Depression Trilogy (which also includes 2011's "Melancholia" and 2013's "Nymphomaniac"), "Antichrist" is about a couple (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe) who, while engaged in a bout of shower coitus, miss that their five-year-old son has accidentally fallen out of their apartment window and died. Their child's death throws Her (the characters are unnamed) into a bout of suicidal depression. He, being a therapist, elects to take her to their cabin in the woods for a therapeutic retreat. 

The cabin in the woods bears more resemblance to "The Evil Dead" than a warm, woodsy retreat. The world is even bleaker in the natural world, and She begins to refer to nature as "Satan's Church." In a moment of reality-bending surreality, He finds a dying fox in the woods feasting on its own entrails. It looks up and, in plain English, declares, "Chaos reigns." Both He and She begin to disappear down intellectual rabbit holes, with He trying to unlock the dull mechanics of grief, and She finding the anti-sex and anti-woman codes still embedded in modern psychology. They both lose themselves to misery, and She eventually explodes into torture and sexual violence that will take a very, very strong constitution to witness. 

Few films have bothered to delve into the true nature of despair the way "Antichrist" does. Depression is an intruder that warps its victims into accepting a worldview wherein nothing has light or purpose, least of all its host. "Antichrist" looks hard at that despair, then looks closer, and continues to look closer for several more minutes after you desperately want to look away. It is confrontational and difficult, but it is certainly powerful. 

Because sex and sexuality are such pervasive themes of "Antichrist," and because so much of the drama comes from the two leads' sexual relationship to one another, a good deal of nudity was required from both actors. One of the first shots of "Antichrist" is a closeup of sexual penetration, shot in black and white, and projected in super slow-motion. The body parts in question, as one might assume, did not belong to Gainsbourg or Dafoe, both having used body doubles (It's worth noting that Von Trier once oversaw his own adult film studio, which had its own manifesto of ethics). Dafoe in particular required a body double throughout, as — and there's no genteel way to put this — his penis was too large.

'Everybody got confused when they saw it'

In an interview with Dazed, Dafoe described the sex in "Antichrist" with gentle candor: 

"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."

Dafoe also pointed out in the same interview that Dafoe and Gainsbourg are both married, and having unsimulated sex on camera would perhaps bring up sticky questions about fidelity. 

Von Trier, as one might imagine, was far more brash when discussing the practical details of "Antichrist's" sex scenes, bringing up Dafoe's anatomy immediately. In an interview with The Boston Phoenix, Von Trier simply said it out loud, linking the unsavory connection Dafoe's character had unconsciously made between sex and therapy: 

"First of all, I have been undergoing this cognitive therapy for three years, and I tend to get sarcastic about it. One of the main ideas behind the treatment is that a fear is a thought, and a thought doesn't change reality. But you can say in the film that it's changed reality. As for Dafoe, I wouldn't let him treat her in any other way than with his d***; he has an enormous d***. We had to take those scenes out of the film. We had a stand-in for him because we had to take the scenes out with his own d***.

Famously, Von Trier elucidated. Did he require a body double? "We had to because Will's was too big," Von Trier confirmed. The interviewer joshingly asked if it was too big to fit onto the big screen. "No," Von Trier replied, "Too big because everybody got very confused when they saw it." Too big, it seems, to fit into the human imagination.

The difficulties of being crucified

Willem Dafoe is easily one of the best actors of his generation, deftly playing complex, dark, intense characters with humanity and aplomb. His recent collaborations with director Abel Ferrara are as rewarding a cinematic relationship as any an actor has had with a director. Despite this, talk of his genitals have continued to circulate, leading to an interview with Simon Hattenstone wherein he was asked point blank if he had the biggest penis in Hollywood. Coyly, Dafoe answered, "I don't really work in Hollywood anymore."

In an interview with IMDb, Dafoe revealed that his nude scene in Martin Scorsese's 1988 film "The Last Temptation of Christ" was also awkward to film. The film is a heady reinterpretation of the last day's of Christ's life with Dafoe as the reluctant Messiah who, while on the cross, dreamed of moving in with Mary Magdalene and starting a family, growing old, and renouncing his holy path. In the crucifixion scene, Christ was nude, but contrary to the common Roman Catholic depiction, he was crucified with his knees bent off to the side. From that interview: 

"It took a lot to get me on the cross. Once I got up there, I could only be up there for so long because you're in this isometric where you're like this [in the interview, Dafoe spread his arms wide]. I'm also naked. They're shooting a very wide shot, and I'm like this for a while." 

But then, an uncovered body part became visible. With his hands bound, it was up to others to hide the offending part.

"There's only all these Roman stuntmen — real macho guys. And they're like, 'I'm not touching that thing.' Finally, a very sweet guy from the costume department gets a little ladder and goes up there and tucks it in, and we were good to go."

"Antichrist" is currently available on The Criterion Channel. Dafoe's unit has become so notorious, and its appearance in "Antichrist" so memorable, that a rock formation in Wyoming — notable for its climbing — has been nicknamed Willem Dafoe's Blood Penis