This Was The Hardest Scene For Willem Dafoe To Shoot In The Lighthouse

The most difficult part of performing as a trained actor is never what you think it is going to be. It is never the obvious things like remembering lines or having a big crying scene. For people who aren't actors, these seem like the massive hurdles one has to jump in order to become a successful actor, but if you have enough training and experiences, an actor can come up with their own methods for having these things become second nature to the profession. No, the real stuff is all technical. It's the stuff actors have to think about so the audience never even gives it a second thought. For instance, if you are starring in a Broadway musical eight times a week, you have to constantly make sure your vocal cords are in tip top shape. You do this by staying constantly hydrated, enhancing your stamina, avoiding certain foods and drinks that can mess with the voice, and making sure you aren't straining the cords in a way that could injure them. You might think about how a certain performer hits a high note, but so many things have to happen in order to reach that moment that you would never consider.

On film, the challenges are even stranger. One you hear so often are scenes where people are eating. You could be doing 10, 15, or 50 takes of a dinner scene, and if you keep eating with wild abandon, you are just going to make yourself sick. Taking strategic bites of the food in front of you becomes a key element to how you perform the scene. There's also things like the weather of a shoot day. You could be shooting in Minnesota in early October, but the scene you are performing takes place in the sweltering heat of July. Being able to show you are not freezing to death on screen takes skill.

Willem Dafoe is a veteran actor of both film and theatre. The main things we think about when it comes to what an actor does are just a regular part of his process now. So when it came to tackling the salty sea dog Thomas Wake in Robert Eggers' exceptional 2019 film "The Lighthouse," a movie that features quite a large number of unusual elements (to put it mildly), there was one scene Dafoe found to be the most challenging to shoot, and it's probably not the one you are thinking of.

You try talking with a mouthful of dirt

If you were to guess which scene in "The Lighthouse" was the toughest on Willem Dafoe, my assumption is you would guess the "Hark!" scene, where Dafoe delivers this stirring, intense monologue to Neptune. There is a lot of screaming and verbose, period specific dialogue, but ye'd be wrong, ya scallywag! In an interview with Den of Geek, Dafoe was asked which scene in the film gave him the most trouble, and his answer concerned one of the final scenes of the film:

"It's really difficult to do a speech when someone's throwing dirt on your mouth! ... It was uncomfortable to do! But beautifully so, because it's like you give people the conditions and just with a little abstraction it doesn't take much to imagine the real thing because you've got the sensation of it so much that it's kind of like no acting required!"

I know I would not want to be in a scene where I am buried alive simply for the fact that I am slightly claustrophobic. It did not even cross my mind that having dirt fall down your throat would even be part of the scene. Obviously, I can see Dafoe's face and body get covered with dirt, but the practicality of the situation, trying to get this monologue out, makes for some tough work. You are worried about choking, clarity of the words, and perhaps even breaking character if the right clump of dirt hits you the wrong way. Also, not only is his face being covered with dirt but so is his body. Impeding his mouth is bad enough to affect Dafoe's ability to breathe, but placing a heavy load on his torso also makes the intaking of breath enormously challenging. Dafoe does not specify how many takes of the scene were done, but even one would be too much for me, let alone a dozen.

That just goes to show you the things we take for granted when watching a film. We are so wrapped up in how Robert Eggers has constructed the film and the relationship between Dafoe and Robert Pattinson's characters that are only thinking about the reality of the film during this scene. What a pain it might have been for Willem Dafoe to shoot it does not even cross our minds for a second, which is really what you should strive for while making a movie. Total investment.