Willem Dafoe discussed being recruited by screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere for “At Eternity’s Gate” and seeing himself as Vincent van Gogh for the first time.

“He said, ‘Would you come over to the house?’ and they put a ridiculous red beard on me and took some pictures. And then a week later, he said, ‘I think we should do this thing together,'” Dafoe said during a recent Q&A at the Variety Screening Series.

To get inside the mind of the famously tortured artist, Dafoe says it helped to stand where he stood and see what he saw.

“A lot of those landscapes haven’t changed much from when he was painting. So when you’re in those places, it’s easy for you to imagine his presence … that becomes some sort of connection. That’s a relationship to him,” Dafoe said.

“When he’s in nature and when he’s painting, he says, ‘I’m not thinking.’ You get the sense that he’s in the zone, he’s disappeared into the greater. And then he doesn’t know how to reconcile that joy, that ecstasy with everyday life,” he added. “He’s frustrated that people can’t see what he sees.”