Willem Dafoe Reveals Which Scenes He Improvised for New Movie 'Inside'

Willem Dafoe's artistic creativity flowed whilst filming his new movie, Inside, when he was trapped on his own, stuck in a small place for a very long time.

The actor stars as pretty much the only character seen onscreen in the movie about a heist gone wrong. It is out in theaters on Friday, March 17. Inside features Dafoe as an art thief who must survive and escape from a luxury penthouse apartment.

Vasilis Katsoupis conceived the story and directed the movie. He and Dafoe spoke to Newsweek about their favorite unscripted moments that made the final cut.

Willem Dafoe posing and inset of Inside
Willem Dafoe spoke to Newsweek about the unscripted moments and testing himself physically for his new movie 'Inside.' Dafoe stars as an art thief who must survive and escape from a luxury penthouse apartment. AFP via Getty Images / Focus Features/Angela Weiss / Wolfgang Ennenbach

Conversations With a Pigeon

British filmmaker Ben Hopkins wrote the script for this one-set movie, but as Dafoe and Katsoupis explained, there was still plenty of room for improvisation.

"At the end of the day, the film that you see, 40 percent is unscripted," Katsoupis, making his directorial debut with this feature film, told Newsweek. "We tried different stuff. We filmed things that were coming to us each day. It gives us the freedom to explore new things that were coming in the script."

Filming lasted for about six weeks in one location in Cologne, Germany, from April 2021.

Willem Dafoe and Vasilis Katsoupis
Willem Dafoe and director Vasilis Katsoupis working together (L) in 2021 and appearing together in February 2023 for New York screening of 'Inside.' There was a lot of improvisation in the movie. Getty Images / Focus Features/Dia Dipasupil / Wolfgang Ennenbach

Katsoupis credits Dafoe with coming up with moments that have been used frequently for the film's promotion, including a rare scene when Dafoe's character, Nemo, interacts with a co-star.

"My favorite addition, and I get goosebumps every time I see it, is the scene where Willem talks to the pigeon. What he says is not scripted, it's just him improvising," he said.

Other moments highlighted by Katsoupis include a stand-up comedy joke about chicken and Dafoe's interactions with the real artwork dotted around the fictional apartment.

"There were many, and it was a pure pleasure to work with [Vasilis] on this stuff," Dafoe told Newsweek, looking back on the unscripted moments. "There was a piece written in neon letters. One day we were sitting there and waiting for things to get prepared, and I started playing the game of making sentences by reordering the letters.

"That was a fantastic game because I was getting all these really cryptic, cool, philosophical sentences out of this one long sentence." Ultimately, Dafoe explained that they tried filming his game, and while the scene didn't make the final cut, the sound of him in the scene was woven into the final sound mix. He added: "Even though you may not recognize it, or know exactly what's happening, it's a texture that has real roots that come from someplace."

Other actors are seen and heard from time to time, but the vast majority of Inside features Dafoe alone, for an unspecified length of time.

While he's starred in a one-man play before, in his five-decade career Dafoe has never been in a project like this.

"I had no consciousness of carrying it because it was so collaborative," Dafoe said. "Because I was the only actor, I had a really profound collaboration with all the departments, you know, the props that I was handling, the stunt stuff, the makeup, all those things I'm involved in. So even though I'm performing alone, I didn't feel at all alone, because I had this huge crew behind me supporting me."

'Medium to High on the Physicality Chart'

A veteran of the entertainment industry, the 67-year-old Dafoe isn't afraid to push his body for a project. Despite being alone, Dafoe's Nemo is active throughout as he tries to escape his gilded cage.

Willem Dafoe squatting in Inside movie
The 67-year-old Willem Dafoe ranked 'Inside' high in terms of being one of the most physically testing movies he's been in. Dafoe stars as an art thief who must survive and escape from a luxury penthouse apartment. Focus Features/Wolfgang Ennenbach

"It's a medium to high on the physicality chart," Dafoe said, comparing it to previous movies of his. "I like doing that, that's my favorite stuff to do. When you engage the body and you have tasks to do, your mind is concentrated in a way that certain parts of you drop away and you'll become more available for things to happen to you."

There are clues within the film to suggest how much time has passed, but it's never explicitly stated. Giving audiences an idea of how long it's been, Dafoe had to commit his body behind the scenes too.

"We shot in chronological order. So, after the beginning of the movie, I let my hair grow, and I let my beard grow. I let my nails grow. Yeah, I washed, but I'm getting a little more ragged by the day," Dafoe explained.

Thirst and starvation become a factor for Nemo, but Dafoe stopped short of starving himself for the role.

Willem Dafoe stills from Inside movie
Willem Dafoe had to test himself physically for 'Inside', including scaling makeshift towers in order to escape the apartment. Dafoe stopped short of starving himself for the role. Focus Features/Wolfgang Ennenbach

"I didn't really go into a program of losing a lot of weight or anything like that. But just by the physical nature of it on the set, you know, basically 12 hours a day, in the dark every day, time gets bent. I don't really have a life outside of Inside.

"We're shooting in Cologne, Germany, I don't know anybody there. I'm living like a monk. That becomes my life. So that does work on you. So while there are scenes where I'm starving, or really thirsty, yeah, that's acting. But the basic stress is set up by the situation. And I'm embracing it because I want to inhabit this character. And I want to give myself to this scenario," Dafoe said.

Inside is released exclusively in movie theaters on Friday, March 17, 2023.