Dafoe at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival in 2014
|Born||William J. Dafoe
(1955-07-22) July 22, 1955
Appleton, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Elizabeth LeCompte (m. 1977; div. 2004)
Giada Colagrande (m. 2005)
|Relatives||Donald Dafoe (brother)|
The director’s very important to me, particularly when the director has a recognizable style.
The bad things about theatre get balanced by the good things in film and vice versa. So to tell you the truth, I love it when I can go back and forth – it feeds different parts of you and exercises different muscles.
I guess they often cast me as the bad guy, because I’m not, er, conventional looking. I look sort of violent. I’m the odd one out, the outsider.
Turn off the sound in a movie, and if you can tell what’s going on, the movie should work.
I think on some level, you do your best things when you’re a little off-balance, a little scared. You’ve got to work from mystery, from wonder, from not knowing.
I love theaters. I love the event of going there and seeing a movie with a lot of people. I like the community coming around the story.
It’s true in the beginning I started playing villains, and I think that’s pretty clear, because if you don’t conventionally look a certain way and you’ve got a certain kind of presence when you’re young, then what’s available to you is character roles, and the best character roles when you’re young tend to be villains.
I’m no different to anyone else; I want people to like me. I just don’t particularly want them to understand me.
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.
Sometimes I think women are lucky because they can develop in ways men can’t. The old-boy network may be oppressive to women, but it actually stunts men in terms of personal growth.
When you work on anything, you want to find the range of impulses – which ones get portrayed is another question, but you want to have that complexity and that fullness, even if you’re playing a cartoon character.
I try to do as many of my own stunts as possible. If you keep on taking yourself out of the role you play, you lose the thread of the character.
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.
The mask can be a limitation, but you just deal with it. You do get superhuman strength and pumpkin bombs and all this other stuff to express yourself with.’
I do know that I like to play characters that are sometimes a little on the outside – that’s because it feels kind of romantic and sexier to me. I really think they are the people that we learn lessons from.
I do want to be in mainstream movies that are going to be seen. I suppose it satisfies the showbiz side of me.
I’m a task-oriented actor. A pretender. And I try to invent my process anew each time I make a new project. So I frown on any method.
I set myself challenges every time I work. Ideally, I approach everything as though it’s the first time – with a beginner’s mind and an amateur’s love.
I was born William. My father was William. I came from a big family, I hated being called Billy. Willem’s a nickname; it’s a Dutch name, very common in the Netherlands.
Let’s hope I never end up on a deserted island, because I could never make a decision on which three CDs to take with me.
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.
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.
Film is an editor’s medium. You can create very good raw material and they can make it horrible, or you can do not so well and they can make it beautiful. You don’t really know.
Plenty of bad movies are very successful, and plenty of good movies are not. And distribution is so crazy, some films won’t even get their day in court.
The Midwest isn’t somewhere you mix with those from the performing arts. But my mum and dad would go off to Chicago every so often to see shows. They would bring back the albums and the movies, those little eight metres, and we would all watch. I think that was when I fell in love with acting.
Any actor who tells you that he makes choices, absolutely, is wrong. You find work and work finds you.
I’m not attracted to naturalism, I’m not attracted to behavior, I’m attracted to dance. I’m attracted to gesture, I’m attracted to singing with your voice, as opposed to having a natural manner. I’m a theater actor first, so that probably influences a lot of my approach. And I think in many ways, naturalism has ruined movies.
I have no doubt that if I met Bob Dylan, it would be disappointing – and annoying to him. But that’s why I like Bob Dylan.
I think back story can help guide your choices, but when you’re playing a scene, you’re not making choices; you’re just intuitive.
Basically, when I hear the words ‘family drama,’ I run in the opposite direction.
I love Sam Neill. The thing that I always say about him, and I think it’s true, is he’s so dry. When he’s serious, I think he’s joking; when he’s joking, I think he’s serious.
I’ve never had any close male friends. The most important relationships in my life have always been with women.
I knew very little about ‘Spider-Man’. I grew up more in the ‘Superman’ generation. ‘Spider-Man’ – I didn’t know so much. But it is a really successful franchise, and I’m happy to be involved with it.
The worst thing is to get involved with people who aren’t passionate about what they’re doing.
When I give over to somebody’s vision rather than have an idea of what I need to do, it takes me to places I wouldn’t have got to by myself. I’m always attracted to a strong director.
I don’t have a preference between theatre and film; I like to do both. But I will say that there’s something about theatre that is more nourishing and sustaining than film ever can be.
I am confident only when I am constantly in motion. Between projects, the doubt creeps in.
A lot of critics are lazy. They don’t want to look closely and analyze something for what it is. They take a quick first impression and then rush to compare it to something they’ve seen before.
The English Patient’ is about the coming together of a French-Canadian nurse, an English patient, a Sikh in a turban and me, Caravaggio, and each of us is seeking a resolution to our own problems.
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.
In order to inhabit a character, you’ve got to embrace and empathise with them.
One of the pleasures of being an actor is quite simply taking a walk in someone else’s shoes. And when I look at the roles I’ve played, I’m kind of amazed at all the wonderful adventures I’ve had and the different things I’ve learned.
Truth is, generally I like film festivals; somewhere at some level there’s an exchange of ideas.
Film is fragmented and gets into lots of other people’s hands. There are a lot of pleasures that theatre gives me. You get to perform uninterrupted.
Sometimes I say I feel more like a dancer than an actor, because there are things implied about being an actor that I don’t really like. I feel more comfortable with the word ‘performer’. I like being the thing. I like being the doer. There’s a factualness to it. And then certain resonances happen out of how you apply yourself physically.
In films you do a scene, you play around with it and unless you’re doing a lot of reshooting, which no one has the luxury to do, you deal with the problem for a day and then you move on. On some level, it never allows you to go very deep into what performing is about.
It’s no fun for an actor to keep repeating what you did before. It’s always changing. I’m changing. The target keeps moving. That’s the beauty of it.
Great theatre is about challenging how we think and encouraging us to fantasize about a world we aspire to.
I love doing action and stuff; the problem is usually action movies are not that interesting. Also as I get older I feel like there’s less opportunities for me.
I think, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to be more reckless with my choices, because practically speaking, you get less careful. Your choices become more instinctive, and you feel like if you make a mistake, it won’t destroy you.
Emotionally men and women are different, but only as a result of the physical differences. It all comes back to our bodies.
My dad was a surgeon, my mom a nurse, and they were always out working. I had five sisters and a brother. They didn’t care what I got up to.
In my experience, sometimes a movie just hits at the wrong time, gets the wrong press, or gets the wrong representation, and it gets misunderstood.
I was watching ‘Wild at Heart,’ and I can honestly say I did nothing for that apart from show up!
When I was a kid I was very interested in the idea of the will, finding out what you’re capable of. I liked those kind of challenges.
It makes me laugh when I hear a guy talking about being in touch with his feminine side. But I gravitate towards women; I identify with them. And I do cry very easily, more and more as I get older.
I am confident only when I am constantly in motion. Between projects, the doubt creeps in.
You can be intuitive when you’ve got a more expansive role. You can get into the poetry of telling the story rather than just pushing buttons.
That’s a frustration sometimes, that certain directors that I’d like to work with, they just aren’t doing stories that I’m sort of castable in. Not always, but sometimes I have that frustration.