Willem Dafoe in H. S. Miller’s “Anamorph.”
BIOGRAPHY [Rebecca Flint Marx, All Movie Guide]
Known for the darkly eccentric characters he often plays, Willem Dafoe is one of the screen’s more provocative and engaging actors. Strong-jawed and wiry, he has commented that his looks make him ideal for playing the boy next door — if you happen to live next door to a mausoleum.
Although his screen persona may suggest otherwise, Dafoe is the product of a fairly conventional Midwestern upbringing. The son of a surgeon and one of seven siblings, he was born on July 22, 1955 in Appleton, Wisconsin. Dafoe began acting as a teenager, and at the age of seventeen he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Growing weary of the university’s theatre department, where he found that temperament was all too often a substitute for talent, he joined Milwaukee’s experimental Theatre X troupe. After touring stateside and throughout Europe with the group, Dafoe moved to New York in 1977, where he joined the avant-garde Wooster Group.
Dafoe’s 1981 film debut was a decidedly mixed blessing, as it consisted of a minor role in Michael Cimino‘s disastrous Heaven’s Gate. Ultimately, Dafoe’s screen time was cut from the film’s final release print, saving him the embarrassment of being associated with the film but also making him something of a nonentity. He went on to appear in such films as The Hunger (1983) and To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) before making his breakthrough in Platoon (1986). His portrayal of the insouciant, pot-smoking Sgt. Elias earned him Hollywood recognition and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.
Choosing his projects based on artistic merit rather than box office potential, Dafoe subsequently appeared in a number of widely divergent films, often taking roles that enhanced his reputation as one of the American cinema’s most predictably unpredictable actors. After starring as an idealistic FBI agent in Mississippi Burning (1988), he took on one of his most memorable and controversial roles as Jesus in Martin Scorsese‘s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). Dafoe then portrayed a paralyzed, tormented Vietnam vet in Born on the Fourth of July (1989), his second collaboration with Oliver Stone. Homicidal tendencies and a mouthful of rotting teeth followed when he played an ex-marine in David Lynch‘s Wild at Heart (1990), before he got really weird and allowed Madonna to drip hot wax on his naked body in Body of Evidence (1992).
Following a turn in Wim Wenders‘ Faraway, So Close in 1993, Dafoe entered the realm of the blockbuster with his role as a mercenary in Clear and Present Danger (1994). That same year, he earned acclaim for his portrayal of T.S. Eliot in Tom and Viv, one of the few roles that didn’t paint the actor as a contemporary head case. His appearance as a mysterious, thumbless World War II intelligence agent in The English Patient (1996) followed in a similar vein. In 1998, Dafoe returned to the contemporary milieu, playing an anthropologist in Paul Auster‘s Lulu on the Bridge and a member of a ragingly dysfunctional family in Paul Schrader‘s powerful, highly acclaimed Affliction. He then extended his study of dysfunction as a creepy gas station attendant in David Cronenberg‘s eXistenZ (1999). After chasing a pair of killers claiming to be on a mission from God in The Boondock Saints, Dafoe astounded audiences as he transformed himself into a mirror image of one of the screens most terrifying vampires in Shadow of the Vampire (2000). A fictional recount of the mystery surrounding F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic Nosferatu, Dafoe’s remarkable transformation into the fearsome bloodsucker had film goers blood running cold with it’s overwhelming creepiness and tortured-soul humor. After turning up as a cop on the heels of a potentially homicidal yuppie in American Psycho that same year, the talented actor would appear in such low-profile releases as The Reckoning and Bullfighter (both 2001), before once again thrilling audiences in a major release. As the fearsome Green Goblin in director Sam Raimi’s long-anticipated big-screen adaptation of Spider-Man Dafoe certainly provided thrills in abundance as he soared trough the sky leaving death and destruction in his wake. His performance as a desperate millionaire turned schizophrenic supervillian proved a key component in adding a human touch to the proceedings in contrast to the dazzling action, and Dafoe next headed south of the border to team with flamboyant director Robert Rodriguez in Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
FILMOGRAPHY: The Miso Soup (in development), The Wild Bunch (2010, in production, voice), John Carter of Mars (2012, filming), A Woman (2010, post-production), Miral (2010, post-production), Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (2009), The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (2009, uncredited), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009, voice), Daybreakers (2009), My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009), L’affaire Farewell (2009), Antichrist (2009), I skoni tou hronou (2008, The Dust of Time), Adam Resurrected (2008), Fireflies in the Garden (2008), Anamorph (2007), Go Go Tales (2007), Spider-Man 3 (2007), Mr. Bean’s Holiday (2007), The Walker (2007), The Procedure (2007), The English Patient (1996), Gedo senki (2006, voice, Tales from Earthsea), Paris, je t’aime (2006, Paris, I Love You), Inside Man (2006), American Dreamz (2006), Ripley Under Ground (2005), Before It Had a Name (2005, aka The Black Widow), Manderlay (2005), xXx: State of the Union (2005), The Aviator (2004), Control (2004), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), Spider-Man 2 (2004), The Clearing (2004), Camel Cricket City (2003, voice), James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (2003, voice), Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003), Finding Nemo (2003, voice), The Reckoning (2003), Auto Focus (2002), Spider-Man (2002), Edges of the Lord (2001), Pavilion of Women (2001), Bullfighter (2000), Shadow of the Vampire (2000), Animal Factory (2000), American Psycho (2000),The Boondock Saints (1999), eXistenZ (1999), New Rose Hotel (1998), Lulu on the Bridge (1998), Affliction (1997), Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997), The Night and the Moment (1995), Victory (1995), Clear and Present Danger (1994), Tom & Viv (1994), In weiter Ferne, so nah! (1993, aka Faraway, So Close!), Body of Evidence (1993), White Sands (1992), Light Sleeper (1992), Flight of the Intruder (1991), Wild at Heart (1990), Cry-Baby (1990), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Triumph of the Spirit (1989), Mississippi Burning (1988), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Off Limits (1988), Platoon (1986), To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), Streets of Fire (1984), New York Nights (1984), Roadhouse 66 (1984), The Hunger (1983), The Loveless (1982), Heaven’s Gate (1980, uncredited).
AWARDS & NOMINATIONS: Academy Awards 1986: Nominated, “Best Actor in a Supporting Role”, Platoon; 2000: Nominated, “Best Actor in a Supporting Role”, Shadow of the Vampire. Saturn Awards 2001: Won, “Best Supporting Actor”, Shadow of the Vampire. Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards 2005: Nominated, “Best Acting Ensemble”, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (shared w/co-stars). Camerimage 2002: Won, “Special Award: For immense contribution to the art of film.” Chicago Film Critics Association Awards 2001: Nominated, “Best Supporting Actor”, Shadow of the Vampire; 2003: Nominated, “Best Supporting Actor”, Auto Focus. Chlotrudis Awards 2002: Nominated, “Best Supporting Actor”, Shadow of the Vampire. Fantasporto 2001: Won, “Best Actor”, Shadow of the Vampire. Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival 2000: Won, “Outstanding Creative Performance”, Shadow of the Vampire. Golden Globe Awards 2001: Nominated, “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture”, Shadow of the Vampire. Independent Spirit Awards 1987: Nominated, “Best Male Lead”, Platoon; 1991: Nominated, “Best Supporting Male”, Wild at Heart; 2001: Won, “Best Supporting Male”, Shadow of the Vampire. Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards 2000: Won, “Best Supporting Actor”, Shadow of the Vampire. MTV Movie Awards 2003: Nominated, “Best Villain”, Spider-Man. MTV Movie Awards, Mexico 2004: Nominated, “Most Divine Miracle in a Movie”, The Last Temptation of Christ. Online Film Critics Society Awards 2001: Nominated, “Best Supporting Actor”, Shadow of the Vampire. Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards 2001: Won, “Best Actor in a Supporting Role”, Shadow of the Vampire. Razzie Awards 1994: Nominated, “Worst Actor”, Body of Evidence; 1998: Nominated, “Worst Supporting Actor”, Speed 2: Cruise Control. Sant Jordi Awards 1995: Won, “Best Foreign Actor”, Light Sleeper. Satellite Awards 2001: Won, “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Comedy or Musical”, Shadow of the Vampire. Screen Actors Guild Awards 1997: Nominated, “Outstanding Performance by a Cast”, The English Patient, (shared w/co-stars); 2001: Nominated, “Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role”, Shadow of the Vampire. Sitges (Catalonian International Film Festival 2000: Won, “Best Actor”, Shadow of the Vampire. San Sebastian International Film Festival 2005: Won, Donostia Award.