Stefanos Rokos’ Art stars in Inside alongside Willem Dafoe
When producer George Karnavas @heretic.films approached artist Stefanos Rokos in 2019 with a compelling script of Vasilis Katsoupis’ Inside, he was hooked. The story revolves round Nemo, a high-end art thief, trapped in a New York penthouse after his heist doesn’t go as planned. Rokos’ brief was to recreate the narcissistic art collector’s collection of erotic art. Now in theatres worldwide, Inside is as watchable for Dafoe’s brilliant performance as for Rokos’ stunning art.
For Stefanos Rokos, whose intricate artworks have adorned the albums of international artists, the role was to create an original painting, that would have equal billing as the lead star! It would portray the script’s art collector surrounded by extreme depictions of erotic orgies. The portrait’s purpose was to help viewers understand at once the character’s personality: a narcissistic, filthy-rich collector of works of art of inestimable value, living in a New York penthouse, sexually insatiable, master of the universe, who had chosen to hang this particular painting in his room, facing his bed.
In Vasilis Katsoupis’s Inside, Dafoe is the subject of a strange installation. The film follows his character, Nemo, an art thief, to an ultra-upscale apartment in New York. He and his faceless accomplice (whose role over the radio is short-lived) are plotting to steal a $3 million self-portrait of Egon Schiele when the security system is corrupted, and Nemo is left stranded in the brutalist luxury home with only an aquarium fish and the art on the walls to keep him company.
Aside from passing appearances, in hallucinations or real-time security footage of the lobby downstairs, Nemo is Inside’s sole character—or, rather, its sole character that’s granted physical form. Though we never meet him, the apartment’s owner is arguably further built out than Nemo himself. He’s introduced early on as a Pritzker Prize-winning architect; his person is built not from the performance of an actor, but from the sterility of his apartment’s decor, the immensity of wealth he displays, and, perhaps most expressly, the art in his collection.
Each painting, sculpture, and installation is an insight into the architect’s personhood. The seductive works that hang in his bedroom hint at his single status, the video installations that dominate large rooms imply a need to entertain, and works from both modern masters and those who have only recently achieved international recognition reveal a breadth in taste, suggesting a real knowledge of the pieces as art rather than mere financial investments.
Self-contained, clever, and consistently engaging, the film goes beyond its straightforward storyline of ‘an art heist gone bust’ to generate an intensity that belies its simple premise. Locked inside the penthouse with nothing but priceless works of art, the art thief must use all his cunning and invention to survive.
Stefanos Rokos worked on the painting during the second lockdown – two and a half months of intensive work. Hidden in the layers of detailed, intricate linework are a few interesting bits of trivia too. Rokos’ painting had been completed, production had approved it and he had already shipped it to Germany for the shooting, when he suddenly got a desperate call from the production team. Just a few days before shooting was scheduled to commence at the MMC studios in Cologne, the actor who was going to play the art collector unexpectedly abandoned the project. So, Rokos had to travel urgently to Cologne to replace, in a matter of a few days, the original actor’s face with that of the new actor who eventually played the collector!