The two actors star in Robert Eggers' new horror-drama The Lighthouse.
Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson The Lighthouse A24
Credit: A24

In the new film The Lighthouse, Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe play a pair of lighthouse keepers marooned on a desolate island in 1890. Director and co-writer Robert Eggers (The Witch) went to considerable lengths to make his horror/drama/deeply weird comedy look as authentic as possible, even building a lighthouse for the Nova Scotia-shot film when it proved impossible to find a suitable standing structure in which to shoot.

“We tried to find a lighthouse tower, or a lighthouse station, that could work for the movie,” the filmmaker tells EW. “But the ones that told our story were on incredibly remote islands off the coast of Maine, and you need road access to shoot a movie. So that meant we did have to build it. It was incredibly challenging because we needed a very inhospitable spit of land where we could count on bad weather, and then we needed to build a 70-foot lighthouse tower that could withstand gale-force winds and nor’easters, and you could safely have actors up there.”

And did it actually work as a lighthouse?

“It did!” says Eggers. “The lobster fishermen of Nova Scotia could see it from very far away. There was a real lighthouse farther up the peninsula, which couldn’t hold a candle to our lighthouse. These giant rectangles of light would be blazing by the fishing village of Yarmouth, through everybody’s window, at like 3 a.m. I can’t imagine they liked that very much. But the community was incredibly supportive of the film.”

Dafoe and Pattinson look similarly authentic in the film, as the salty old sea dog Thomas Wake and his young subordinate Efraim Winslow. Pattinson reveals that Eggers even had him wearing period-appropriate undies.

“He’s completely meticulous,” the actor says of his director. “Anyone who tries to do something that aesthetically formal, you can kind of see what kind of guy he is. You could open up any drawer in the lighthouse and he had period-correct cutlery issued by the lighthouse department from 1890. We were wearing period-correct underwear, which you never saw, ever. Everything was incredibly particular.”

Dafoe’s appearance was augmented by gnarled false teeth. “I joke — my teeth aren’t great, but they aren’t that bad,” he says. “We knew that just visually we wanted something, and it’s always nice to have something that takes you away from yourself. It becomes a mask, it becomes a trigger, it makes you feel different. It helps you enter into another character. So that was important.”

But who would make the best real-life lighthouse keeper out of the film’s two stars? Dafoe, for one, has no doubt about the answer: He would.

“Didn’t you talk to Rob Pattinson?” the four-time Academy Award nominee says with a laugh. “Do you want that light to stay on? He’s a lovely guy, but if he said [he would make a better lighthouse keeper] then he’s really gone out of his mind.”

As it happens, Pattinson is in agreement on that score.

“I’m kind of a mess, no matter what I do,” he says. “I think Willem’s much more interested in ritual and stuff, and I’m much more lazy.”

As for Eggers? “I don’t think either of them should be lighthouse keepers,” he says. “I think that they should stick with their current careers.”

The Lighthouse is currently playing in select theaters and will expand nationwide Friday.

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The Lighthouse (2019 movie)
Robert Eggers' darkly comic fable is a black-and-white fever dream of a film that keels between sea shanty and psychodrama, with heavy doses of the absurd.
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