Willem Dafoe filmography and biography
Date of birth: 22 July 1955, Appleton, Wisconsin, USA
Willem Dafoe biography
In 1979, Willem Dafoe was given a small role in
Michael Cimino (I)'s Heavens Gate from which he
was fired. His first feature role came shortly after in
Kathryn Bigelow's The Loveless. From there, he
went on to perform in over 70 films - in Hollywood
(Spider-Man, The English Patient,
Finding Nemo, Once Upon a Time in Mexico,
Clear and Present Danger, White Sands,
Mississippi Burning, Streets of Fire and in
independent cinema in the U.S. (The Clearing,
Animal Factory, Basquiat,
The Boondock Saints, American Psycho) and
abroad (Lars von Trier's Manderlay,
Ho Yim's Pavilion of Women,
Yurek Bogayevicz's Edges of the Lord, Wenders'
In weiter Ferne, so nah! (aka "Faraway So Close!) and
Brian Gilbert (I)'s Tom amp; Viv).
He has chosen projects for diversity of roles and opportunities to work with strong directors. He has worked in the films of Wes Anderson (I) (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), Martin Scorsese (The Aviator, The Last Temptation of Christ), Paul Schrader (I) (Auto Focus, Affliction, Light Sleeper), David Cronenberg (eXistenZ), Abel Ferrara (New Rose Hotel), David Lynch (I) (Wild at Heart), William Friedkin (To Live and Die in L.A.) and Oliver Stone (I) (Born on the Fourth of July and Platoon).
He was nominated twice for the Academy Award (Platoon and Shadow of the Vampire) and once for the Golden Globe. Among other nominations and awards, he received an LA Film Critics Award and an Independent Spirit Award.
Recent projects include Mr. Beans Holiday, Henry Miller (I)'s Anamorph, Paul Schrader (I)'s The Walker and Adam Resurrected, Theodoros Angelopoulos' I skoni tou hronou (aka "The Dust of Time"), Abel Ferrara's Go Go Tales, Spike Lee's Inside Man, Paul Weitz's American Dreamz and Giada Colagrande's Before It Had a Name (which was co-written by Mr. Dafoe) and the Nobuhiro Suwa segment of Paris, je taime.
Other upcoming films include Andrew Stanton (I)'s John Carter of Mars, Lars von Trier's Antichrist, Fireflies in the Garden opposite Julia Roberts (I), Julian Schnabel's Miral, Werner Herzog's My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, Christian Carion's Proshchanie, Wes Anderson (I)'s Fantastic Mr. Fox, Giada Colagrande's A Woman, Paul Weitz's The Vampire's Assistant (2000) and the Lionsgate film Daybreakers co-starring with Ethan Hawke.
Dafoe is one of the founding members of "The Wooster Group", the New York-based experimental theatre collective. He has created and performed in the group's work since 1977, both in the U.S. and internationally.
Willem Dafoe trivia
- He has a son, Jack, born in 1982, with Elizabeth LeCompte (I).
- His high school nickname, Willem, stuck with him.
- Says he feels like he's missed out on more conventional roles because he's perceived as an eccentric actor in dark little films, kind of the boy-next-door type - if you lived next door to a mausoleum.
- He attended Einstein Junior High School in Appleton, Wisconsin, where he was known as "Billy."
- He did practically all of his own stunts on the glider in Spider-Man. So when you see the Green Goblin moving around on it, when it's not CG, then it's Willem pretty much the whole time.
- He was delirious for 24 hours after coming down with yellow fever on the set of Platoon.
- Attended Appleton East High School in Appleton, Wisconsin.
- Quite possibly has the most on-screen deaths of any mainstream actor. His death scenes include Platoon, The Last Temptation of Christ, Speed 2: Cruise Control, eXistenZ, Shadow of the Vampire, Spider-Man, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, among others.
- The only actor to ever be nominated for an Oscar for playing a vampire, for his role as Max Schrek in Shadow of the Vampire.
- Often portrays soldiers or eccentric characters.
- John Malkovich, Nicolas Cage, and Dafoe were all approached to play the Green Goblin in Spider-Man. Dafoe and Malkovich starred in Shadow of the Vampire together, while Cage produced the film. Dafoe ended up getting the Spider-Man role.
- Practices Yoga regularly.
- Was under consideration for Dennis Hopper's role (Frank Booth) in Blue Velvet.
- While doing a blocking run-through on Wild at Heart (for the scene in which Dafoe's character threatens to rape Laura Dern's character), Dafoe playfully sang his lines. Director David Lynch (I) loved this, and wanted Dafoe to actually sing his lines in the scene, when they shot it. The idea did not actually go through, however.
- Brother, Donald Dafoe, is an accomplished transplant surgeon.
- Was listed as a potential nominee on the 2006 Razzie Award nominating ballot. He was listed as a suggestion in the Worst Supporting Actor category for his performance in the film xXx: State of the Union However, he failed to receive a nomination. (Had he gotten the nomination, it would have been his third overall. He was previously nominated for Worst Supporting Actor at the 1998 Razzie Awards for his role in Speed 2: Cruise Control, and for Worst Actor at the 1994 Razzie Awards for his performance in Body of Evidence.)
- Was offered the role of Senator Roark in Sin City.
- Visited Sarajevo Film Festival (in post-war Bosnia) together with Steve Buscemi in year 2000.
- Sticks to an all-organic diet.
- Was a candidate for the role of the Joker in Batman.
- Member of Jury for 2007 Berlin International Film Festival.
- Was involved for decades (from 1977) with theater director and actress Elizabeth LeCompte (I), who was also a member and director of the Wooster Group. He later married an Italian writer/director in 2005.
- Provided his voice on Lou Reed's 2003 album "The Raven". On it, he performs a re-written and reworked, spoken-word version of Edgar Allan Poe (I)'s poetry.
- (2007) To date he has shot 18 films in Europe.
- Built sets and acted with experimental theatre group Theatre X, before moving to New York in 1977, where he worked with the Wooster Group at the Performing Garage.
Willem Dafoe quotes
- [On his role in The Last Temptation of Christ]: "To this day, I can't believe I was so brazen to think I could pull off the Jesus role."
- I don't think people want to see me as a regular guy, besides, I'm a regular guy in real life. I guess I just want to be reckless in my work.
- Casting people feel that they have to get someone who looks a certain way, and I think that the jury is still out whether people find me attractive or not.
- I wish to Christ I could make up a really great lie. Sometimes, after an interview, I say to myself, 'Man, you were so honest - can't you have some fun? Can't you do some really down and dirty lying?' But the puritan in me thinks that if I tell a lie, I'll be punished.
- Weirdness is not my game. I'm just a square boy from Wisconsin.
- The worst thing is to get involved with people who aren't passionate about what they're doing.
- I'm one of those people who when I go over a bridge, I want to jump. It's just this intense tickle in the back of my throat. It's like I'm on the verge the whole time I'm walking over that bridge, and I'm not going to get a release until I jump.
- ...it's very clear that a lot of people that have really strong instincts as actors are very often inarticulate...Sometimes, you know, classically, if someone's very intellectual, they aren't as connected to the doing of things. And the doing is really the key to finding the emotionality and the spirit of things.
- [on whether good actors help other actors]: "You're always looking for good people to work with, because you feed each other. That's all."
- [on why he became an actor]: "You know, it shifts. When it starts out in the beginning, I think it's purely a social thing. The thing you get reinforcement for, it's a way of acting out. It's a way of getting attention. It's a way of just fitting in socially. And then, as I get older, it transforms into something else."
- I never act. I simply bring out the real animal that's in me.
- I'm an optimist. I hope if a movie's good that it will be a success, but as we know, that's not always true, just because of popular taste, advertising, distribution patterns, there's lots of reasons. When something doesn't do better than it deserves to in your mind, it's pretty transparent, you usually know why. Is that a comfort? Yes, because it's logical. Does it make you happy? No, because if you think a movie is beautiful or interesting, you want to share it. It's really true; there's no accounting for taste. Sometimes you make very interesting movies that aren't meant for everybody. But this is a capitalist society, so everything conspires to put value on whether it sells or not. While we have a very strong popular culture, the roots of our culture are very shallow, and we put emphasis on how a movie does as far as the box office goes. Many years ago, it would have been vulgar to print box-office grosses in the paper. Now The New York Times does it, and it's the big story for people interested in arts and entertainment on Monday. Which is why emphasis has shifted away from filmmakers and fallen on movie stars and business people.
- Any actor who tells you that he makes choices, absolutely, is wrong. You find work and work finds you.
- When you look back at your experiences, it's true that sometimes the most horrendous experiences can translate into being your best work.
- All the time, as an actor, you want to be asking what's next and where things are going. If you're not asking those questions you're not growing.
- Sometimes I have a desire to control what I do a little bit, especially when I do a smaller movie. But basically, my impulses are the impulses of a child. I like being the thing itself. I don't like thinking about it. And that doesn't mean I'm not analytical or that I'm anti-intellectual. I'm not trying to say I'm a totally intuitive kind of guy. It's just that my real pleasure, where I feel vital and everything drops away, is when I'm in the middle of doing it, and I look for that opportunity untainted by other responsibilities. But I'm getting too serious. When I try to explain what I do, I get a little bit disgusted with myself because I come off too earnest. In the simplest terms, it's a pleasure to borrow someone else's body and someone else's life. That's the craft, and it's a bit like voodoo, because you don't know exactly how you do it. - On his acting style.
- It's one of those invented things. I spend a lot of time in Germany so it's in my head. I didn't feel the need to go to a dialogue coach and be very strict with it because that's not in the spirit of how it should be approached. My take was that it should be played with and invented. It's my idea of a Germanish accent - On his accent in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
- Sometimes I envy their power and money, and other times I feel sorry for them since they have a gun to their head. They have so much to protect that they have to be very careful, thus very certain every step of the way, and that leaves out a lot of work of any freshness. I don't want to do that - I'm not that kind of actor. - On top Hollywood actors.
- On principle I don't have favorites. To pass judgment on something you've done is a face-saving act, and I think it kinda stinks. There are all kinds of movies, all kinds of impulses and all kinds of needs for people watching movies, and sometimes I'll do a movie that I don't particularly care for, but then I'll run into someone that it speaks to and they love it. So for me, to give my personal take on it, could mean ruining that movie for someone else, because they can find pleasure where I can't. - On his favorite roles.
- Most of the work happens when you're on the set. It's like going to a cocktail party - you know who's going to be there, you have certain expectations about the topics of conversation and the social dynamic. At the same time, when you arrive, you've got to be able to abandon those preconceptions and be mercurial. But sometimes the most important thing is just having a good costume. - On preparation for the characters he plays.
- I always like to mix it up. It's like anything. If you're eating pasta for a week, eventually, you crave something else. A balanced diet of different roles and different stories and movies - I think it's the way to stay healthy artistically and career wise. It does a funny thing because you're not refining one way of seeing you. That's one way to have a career. You can make a persona, corner a market, and make yourself almost a thing. You can use that and that can be interesting iconographical but I still am that actor who likes to bend myself to the material rather than find material to support some idea of who I am or some persona that I've made, or some mask that I've made. - On his career.
- On The Last Temptation of Christ: It had a profound influence on me. Marty [Scorsese] had made this movie in his head for years, and I felt privileged to be involved.
- [2004, on selection parts] I'm always looking for an adventure-I try not to work just to work. I always try to find people that are burning to tell a story and then help them do it. I try to avoid anyone that pokes around-filmmaking should be an opportunity to make something that's very thrilling and, you know, exciting. On some level, I'm a sensation junkie.