Willem Dafoe‘s latest role relied on rodent co-stars, according to “Nosferatu” director Robert Eggers, and the two frequent collaborators didn’t even get any good stew out of it.

Dafoe reunites with Eggers for their third film together following “The Lighthouse” (2019) and “The Northman” (2022). Dafoe portrays a vampire hunter who seeks out title character Count Orlok (Bill Skarsgård, the brother of Alexander Skarsgård, Dafoe’s and Eggers’ fellow collaborator in “The Northman”) in part to save Ellen Hutter (Lily-Rose Depp).

Eggers told Entertainment Weekly that a scene featuring Dafoe is set in a graveyard and features real fire effects and thousands of very real rats.

“That sequence, aside from having real flames, had 2,000 real rats, which was challenging but also fun,” Eggers said. The writer-director said to think of Dafoe’s character as Sherlock Holmes; that would make his “Watson” Dr. Wilhelm Sievers, played by Ralph Ineson.

Those guys aside, Eggers says “Nosferatu” is really an acting showcase for lead star Skarsgård, who worked with an opera coach to lower his voice an entire octave for the role. All practical effects, even when not particularly practical to do.

“Aside from his eyes, it’s hard to find Bill,” Eggers said. “I’m trying to not give too much away, but Bill totally transforms into something that is very unique. People are going to think it’s all digital tampering, but he put in the work. I’m super excited to see what audiences make of Bill Skarsgård’s Count Orlok.”

Earlier this month, Dafoe told IndieWire that working with Eggers only improves. “He gets better and better and better, gets more articulate, more on top of it,” Dafoe said. “He’s so clear when he works. It opens in December of next year, which is a long time away. Trying to be an optimist, I think the studio must feel very strong about it, because that’s quite a tough slot, so I’m excited about that. I saw some footage when we were shooting, and I can honestly say, visually, it was like unlike anything I have seen. … The look of it and how it was shot was extraordinary.”

Of his role, Dafoe said he’s playing “kind of a Van Helsing type of character, but not exactly. So he’s true to the source in some ways but also invented in some ways. I don’t know what else to tell!” OK, fine, a little bit more: “To see Lily-Rose Depp in some of those costumes, and some of the men, Ralph Ineson or Nick Hoult when they get in full [costume], it’s like they stepped out of a painting of that period. The look is very beautiful.”

Nicholas Hoult, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Emma Corrin, and Simon McBurney also star in the film. Focus Features will release “Nosferatu” on Christmas Day, December 25, 2024. See the first look at the period piece here.

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