Paul Bettany didn't want to play Tom Edison, because they were shooting it in Sweden. Then his friend Stellan Skarsgård told him that Lars von Trier's shoots were so funny, that "you'll miss something extraordinary if you turn the part down." After shooting half the movie, Bettany asked Skarsgård when the fun would start, to which Skarsgård replied: "I lied. I did it because he is amazing to work with, and you wouldn't be able to see that before you were actually here yourself. I wanted to give you a chance, and you wouldn't have shown up if I had been frank with you."
Nicole Kidman reportedly vowed she would never work with Lars von Trier again after completion of the film. Kidman later turned down the lead in his film Antichrist (2009), but in late 2010 revealed that she and Trier were still in touch, and in 2012 she was cast in Nymphomaniac: Vol. I (2013), but left the production, due to scheduling conflicts.
The famous introductory scene of this film, seen from above, was generated by a computer from one hundred fifty-six individual shots. The ceiling of the filming studio was not tall enough to make one single, wide shot from above possible.
Aspiring filmmaker Jennifer Kent felt she could learn more from working with Lars von Trier, than by attending film school, and hereby reached out to him in order to work on one of his films. She was eventually hired by his producer as a runner on this production. Ten years later, she directed her first feature film, The Babadook (2014).
Paul Bettany, who only took the part of Tom Edison after being convinced by friend Stellan Skarsgård, later called the making of the film "hideous" and "a peculiarly unsatisfying experience, because Lars von Trier has no interest in you being any part of the cerebral process with him. You're absolutely his puppet." Despite still being a fan of von Trier's films in general, Bettany has never watched the film, and has no intention of ever doing so.
Lars von Trier wrote the role of Grace with Nicole Kidman in mind. Before meeting her, Trier read an interview with her where she expressed her desire to work with him and he subsequently wrote this film for her.
Nicole Kidman is said to have communicated very little with the rest of the team, apart from practical issues. However, she did invite the team for champagne and caviar, and flew in Mexican chefs to cook for everyone.
Jeremy Davies originally intended to be von Trier's apprentice, not to act in the film. He wrote a letter to the director stating that he plans on being a filmmaker and wanted to learn from him. von Trier invited him to the set, mentored Davies, and gave him a small role in the film.
A fifteen minute pilot film was made, in the pre-production phase, to test whether the concept of chalk lines and spare scenery would work. The pilot starred Sidse Babett Knudsen and Nikolaj Lie Kaas. Dogville: The Pilot (2003) is featured on the second disc of the Dogville (2003) DVD, released in November of 2003.
According to Lars Von Trier, Russell Crowe visited the sparse and entirely unique set one day and said, "This demands an explanation," to which Von Trier, in the spirit of Dogme '95, said, "Not from me."
During production, Lars von Trier and Nicole Kidman would go hiking in the snow together and drive around in Trier's camper van, and he would challenge her with questions on her religion, her philosophies, and her ideas about life.
Lars Von Trier originally envisioned the film as a conventionally formed film, but he disliked his own approach. He later came up with the primitive setting, while being bored on a fishing trip in Sweden. "I'm pretty fascinated by the limitations that unity of space can give you" Trier has said of the creative approach.
Inspired by Bertolt Brecht's "Ballade von der Seeraeuber-Jenny" ("Pirate Jenny or Dreams of a Kitchenmaid", Music by Kurt Weill) in the "Threepenny Opera". Grace actually quotes from the song once, when she says the coming night no one would sleep in the bed she makes ("es wird keiner mehr drin schlafen in dieser Nacht").
This minimalist staging approach is common in the theatre, but has rarely been tackled on film, with two notable exceptions being the Western musical Red Garters (1954) and Louis Malle's final film, Vanya on 42nd Street (1994).
Katrin Cartlidge was chosen to play Vera, but she had to leave the shooting because of her health problems. She eventually passed away on September 7, 2002, more than 9 months before the film premiered at Cannes.
Toward the end of the film, Grace is making a bed and unconsciously quotes a line from the song "Pirate Jenny" from "The Threepenny Opera." The song's premise mirrors the plot of the film: Jenny of the song is a drudge who works menial tasks in a small town and is treated badly. She imagines a pirate ship coming into her sea-front town, burning it down and killing all the inhabitants at her command. Afterwards, they leave, taking her triumphantly with them.