It is unlikely that Willem Dafoe will get to enjoy another happy ending for some time. In his next few movies, he’s back to playing bad guys. “The Clearing,” in which he stars as a desperate kidnapper alongside Robert Redford and Hellen Mirren, will be followed by “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” a continuation of the El Mariachi myth, directed by Robert Rodriguez. He’s the villain. Of course.
“A lot of material comes to me,” Dafoe acknowledges, “and I look and see if I’m curious about it, whether it’ll be, you know, an interesting adventure. I’m conscious always of typecasting because it’s a question of survival. The irony is that if you have a success doing a particular thing, people want you to repeat it. That’s fine up to a point, but it can be deadening creatively, and also, frankly, kind of boring.
“You look at a script and you think, ‘Oh my god. I know how this goes. I can do this. I can do this really well.’ But that’s not enough. I think you have to be curious, and you also have to say, ‘Hmmm. I feel confident that I could do something with this, but don’t know what it is.’ And it’s been my experience that that’s the best situation to be in. You may fall on your face, but if you do well, it’s going to be a lot more interesting.”
Routinely, whenever an A-list star does an animated film for the first time, they justify it by saying they wanted to make a film their children, or their grandchildren, would actually be allowed to see. One exception was actor James Woods, who, after giving voice to Hades in Walt Disney’s “Hercules,” was happy to confess he was doing it for the immortality that comes with playing a Disney villain.
“My son’s grown up,” says Dafoe, “so I can’t say, ‘Oh I did it for my kids.’ As I talk about this movie, I remember – and it’s kind of sentimental but it’s worth mentioning – that years ago, Disney would release these LP records to accompany their films, and they had these beautiful little jackets with storybooks inside. This was one of my first brushes with popular culture, and also my first memory of myself acting stuff out when I was a kid. I remember putting on those records and playing Dumbo and Bambi and Pinocchio to death. I remember Sterling Holloway’s voice. Something like that must have had a huge impact on forming my idea about performance. They were really a huge part of my play-life when I was a kid.
“So,” Dafoe smiles, almost (if one can believe it) sweetly, “the fact that Finding Nemo is from that same lineage – it’s not the same thing but it’s connected to it historically – it’s kind of a pleasure, to see that arc in my life.”
“It doesn’t hurt, I suppose,” I suggest, “to be associated with another mega blockbuster, either.”
“There’s a certain kind of titillation to being in a big animated feature,” he admits, “and given Pixar’s track record, this will probably be a very big movie. I appreciate that. I like that kind of association. I like to mix it up.”
“What? Spider-Man wasn’t good enough for you?”
“That was good too,” Dafoe laughs. “But then, think about something like Auto Focus, released between these films. My career is a nice mix.”
Posted on July 16, 2003 in Interviews by David Templeton
If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
- WILLEM DAFOE AT THE AMERICAN CINEMATHEQUE
- WILLEM DAFOE: MONSTROUS KINKY
- WILLEM DAFOE: THE AGE OF AQUARIUM
- THE LOVELESS (DVD)
- “SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE” WEBCAST
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