Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe in Poor Things

Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe Understand the Complexities of Bella and God in ‘Poor Things’

Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things brings us the newly created but fully grown Bella Baxter learning what the world has to offer her, giving Bella a lot of power and nuance in her own story—which means that Emma Stone had a lot of responsibility on her shoulders throughout the film.

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While the story itself is Bella’s exploration of sex and self discovery as she comes to terms with her child brain in the body of an adult woman, her dynamic with her creator, Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), makes for a complicated aspect of the film but is important to understanding both Bella and God as characters in Lanthimos’ film—written by Tony McNamara in yet another beautiful collaboration between the two creatives.

I was lucky enough to attend the New York City premiere for the film. There, I spoke with Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe about their roles—and briefly told Mark Ruffalo, who plays Duncan in the film, that my favorite film is Zodiac before the premiere began.

Talking with Stone and Dafoe about their work, it became even clearer why characters like God and Bella work so well in Poor Things.

Emma Stone wanted to bring nuance to Bella

Bella Baxter is not an easy character to bring to life. She goes through many changes in the film, and Stone had to play her as a grown woman with the mind of a child, a woman learning about sexuality, and then a fully fledged woman coming into her own.

When I asked Stone about making sure all of those elements of Bella came to life in her performance, she said, “I think just the most important thing to me was probably just honoring the way that she was already written. She was written as such a joyful, curious being. And so to put any of my own kind of self-judgment or shame or my history on it felt incorrect, which is really hard to do. To shed all of your stuff from growing up as a woman in this world and that was the greatest gift to get to try to live in that place of just genuine curiosity and joy and looking at everything like it’s brand new. So that was the most important thing to me, that it was authentically open and non-judgmental.”

Willem Dafoe on God’s dynamic with Bella

For Dafoe, much of his performance was connected to Bella as her “creator,” and he disappeared into the role as much as you’d expect from him. Hidden behind heavy prosthetics to become a creation of his father’s making, God is a character who many fear, but Bella loves him, and it is a relationship that grows throughout Bella’s own learning and exploration.

“It’s a beautiful relationship and as far as approaching the role, the world is so complete and I have this disfigured face that puts you in a special place immediately, and then the world is so complete, it kind of tells you what to do,” Dafoe said. “It’s so specific, you don’t have references. You don’t resort to normal behavior or familiar behavior. So you apply that kind of not knowing that kind of experience to the text, which is very beautiful and to the relationships. So it’s about playing those scenes. It’s about trying to go deep and have a connection and as it’s charted out in the narrative of the movie, it’s a beautiful, complicated relationship he has with the Bella character.”

Poor Things hits theaters on December 8.

(featured image: Searchlight Pictures)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her current obsession is Glen Powell's dog, Brisket. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.