For someone who provoked Björk into eating her costume during the making of Dancer in the Dark (2000), who drove John C. Reilly to leave the set of Manderlay (2005) in disgust after he was asked to participate in the butchering of a donkey, and whose most recent film — Antichrist, a gruesome “ ‘He’ said/‘She’ said” set in a forest called “Eden” — has eclipsed torture-porn films in shocking audiences, Lars von Trier seems like an okay guy.
Maybe it’s the blurring effect of the Skype technology through which I’m interviewing him as he sits worried and Buddha-like in his headquarters in Denmark (he has a phobia about airplanes, among other things), but he comes off as shy and vulnerable, like someone recovering from profound depression — which in fact is the case. A couple of years ago, he plummeted into the abyss and said he would make no more movies. As therapy, he wrote Antichrist. It might have helped his mood, but I doubt it will have a similar effect on viewers.
How are you doing today?
[Long pause.] I’m actually okay. Today is an okay day.
Would you recommend making a movie like this as a treatment for depression?
Uh, yeah, well, my treatment was more the work than the subject, if you understand what I mean. Just to get out of bed and do something. So, yeah, I think I would recommend it. I don’t know how many people have the opportunity, you know, to do a film to get cured. There would be a lot of films made.
It's better than Prozac, I imagine.
Prozac is also good. But the problem about Prozac is it doesn’t continue being good, you know? It holds for a couple of years.
Willem Dafoe — and I think you've mentioned this before — plays probably the worst therapist in the history of movies.
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 dick; he has an enormous dick. 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 dick.
You had a stand-in dick for Dafoe?
We had to, because Will’s was too big.
Too big to fit on the screen?
No, too big because everybody got very confused when they saw it.
Now you're working on your next film, Planet Melancholia. Is Planet Melancholia a happier place than Eden?
I’m afraid there are no really happy places in my films. Planet Melancholia is a black planet, which is why it can be very close to Earth without being detected. It’s a long story. But it’s not a happier place. I wouldn’t recommend you go to Planet Melancholia.