'Inside': Willem Dafoe is 'a work of art' in one-man psychological thriller
"I really needed an actor that people want to look at," writer-director Vasilis Katsoupis says
If there's one actor who can carry an entire film as a one-man show, it's Willem Dafoe, who collaborated with filmmaker Vasilis Katsoupis for the psychological thriller Inside (in theatres March 17).
“When we were first developing the idea with my producer I said to him, look there's no reason to make this film if we don't have an actor at that caliber,” Katsoupis told Yahoo Canada. “I really needed an actor that people want to look at and Willem Dafoe is not only an actor that people want to look at, he's like a work of art by himself.”
“Everything on him is telling stories. … It has to be an actor that is very physical, that can talk by his movement, he can talk by his gaze. … I don't easily think of anyone else that could deliver this.”
In Inside Dafoe plays Nemo, an art thief who we first see breaking into the New York City penthouse of an art collector. The tech system in the home malfunctions and in an attempt to get out, Nemo makes matters worse, busting the main control panel. Nemo is stuck in the space alone and the temperature in the penthouse rises to an extreme heat, there is barely any food to eat and the water has been shut off.
With no one coming to get him, Nemo has to be innovative to survive. A space that initially seemed like a luxurious palace ends up being a terrorizing area of confinement, with Nemo destroying more elements in this lavish home as time passes.
The premise of the film, quite simply, came from Katsoupis coming to New York City and seeing all the skyscrapers for the first time.
“Being from Greece, we don't have tall buildings,” Katsoupis said.
That's when the filmmaker started thinking, what if someone is stuck in one of these tall buildings, and nobody comes to rescue them.
“Then I said, OK let's bring this to the premise of Robinson Crusoe, a castaway,” Katsoupis said. “But instead of being in nature and in a remote, isolated place, you are in the middle of a metropolis, … you can see people walking by, and cars, and see helicopters flying around, but nobody can see you.”
“So that makes you extremely lonely, I think more lonely than an isolated island.”
'I would dare to say that 30 to 40 per cent of the film is improvised'
With Dafoe's character being the sole inhabiter of this space in Inside, there isn't a lot of dialogue in the film. Katsoupis stressed that Dafoe was particularly involved in developing how Nemo evolved through this story, which included improvising different versions of how Nemo would react in each moment.
“In the early stages of the film, even from the script drafts, he was giving me notes because it's different when a screenwriter writes the script and [how the actor reacts],” Katsoupis said. “So we made a pact that we have a beautiful script, we follow the script, but because we were also shooting chronologically, that gave us the opportunity to try other stuff, to expand the script, to try other reactions.”
“I would dare to say that 30 to 40 per cent of the film is improvised.”
While Inside is very much about Nemo's survival, his only companion is the art that fills this penthouse. A voiceover in the movie establishes that Nemo is an artist himself, telling us that his sketchbook has been one of his most important possessions since he was a child. But Inside also sparks cultural criticism of our relationship with art.
“It starts this conversation that how we see art now, we see it as a value and as … an investment, and we forgot art, from the ancient times, is a way for people to communicate,” Katsoupis said. “Art is a time capsule, from the first drawings in the caves, that was maybe something to communicate between them, maybe it was for aesthetic reasons, maybe it was for fun, but at the end of the day, these people communicate with us 5,000 years, 10,000 years afterward.”
“This is what I wanted to say in the film. The artwork ... is a communication between the absent owner ... with a guy that tries to steal his [art]. … It was, for me, a vehicle to have a co-star. The artwork and the production design is the co-star of Willem in the film.”
Inside leaves room for interpretation for the viewer but there's something particularly fascinating, beautiful and suspenseful about the way Dafoe exhibits Nemo's mental and physical response to this captive isolation. All while being surrounded by this curated collection of art, from artists like Egon Schiele, Maurizio Cattelan and Adrian Paci, in this eerie and intriguing story.