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Willem Dafoe

Willem Dafoe

Born: July 22, 1955
Age: 69
Birthplace: Appleton, Wisconsin, U.S.
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William J. "Willem" Dafoe (born July 22, 1955) is an American actor. A member of the experimental theater company The Wooster Group, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Platoon (1986) and Shadow of the Vampire (2000). His other film appearances include The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The English Patient (1996) and the Spider-Man trilogy (2002-07). He has also had voice-roles in Finding Nemo (2003) and Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009).


Early life

Dafoe was born in Appleton, Wisconsin. One of seven children of Muriel Isabel (née Sprissler) and Dr. William Alfred Dafoe, he recalled in 2009: "My five sisters raised me because my father was a surgeon, my mother was a nurse and they worked together, so I didn't see either of them much." In high school, he acquired the nickname Willem. His father's ancestry is French-Canadian, Swiss, and English, and his mother's ancestry is German, Irish, and Scottish.

He was once expelled from high school for shooting a pornographic film.

Dafoe studied drama at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but left after a year and a half to join the experimental theater company Theatre X in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, before moving to New York City in 1976. There he apprenticed under Richard Schechner, director of the avant-garde theater troupe The Performance Group, where he met and became romantically involved with Elizabeth LeCompte, 11 years his senior. She, with her former romantic partner Spalding Gray and others, edged out Schechner and created the Wooster Group. Within a year Dafoe was part of the company.


Dafoe, who would continue with the Wooster Group into the 2000s, began his film career in 1981, when he was cast in Heaven's Gate only to see his role removed from the film during editing. As Dafoe recalled of his first film experience, (in which he played a cockfighter):

I worked for Jeff Bridges' character in the story. I was there for three months and I worked a lot. It was the kind of thing where you were hired to play an unscripted character and then they developed these smaller characters. I had scenes and everything and was really enjoying it and then one day we were doing a lighting setup for a long time; basically eight hours standing in place, and a woman told me a joke in my ear and I laughed at a moment of silence. Cimino turned around and said, 'Willem step out,' and that was that. I was the lamb for sacrifice."

In 1982, he starred as the leader of a motorcycle gang in The Loveless, and then played a similar role in Streets of Fire (1984). In the mid-1980s, he was cast by William Friedkin to star in To Live and Die In L.A., in which Dafoe portrays counterfeiter Rick Masters. He became "very conscious" that he might be typecast as a villain, saying in 1998,

I really made a conscious effort to mix it up, not because in itself it's not the job of an actor to do all different things, but for me that's what I'm interested in. You've got to be careful because you've got to work with what you have, not just for vanity's sake, but I think the best part of being an actor sometimes is the opportunity to transform yourself superficially, and deeply. So, 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. And, also, it's fun to be bad and the only problem is often villain roles are devices and they lack a certain depth. They're signs, they're signals and after a little while you want something to chew on and if you function in a film it's the same too often. I think what happens is you develop a language that distances you from a certain kind of flashpoint of inspiration and creativity and you may refine that and that may be your work, but I'm not so interested in that. I think the best work comes when you're unsure, when you're terrified, when you're off balance.

Dafoe would go on to gain his widest exposure up to that point playing the compassionate Sergeant Elias in Oliver Stone's Platoon. He enjoyed the opportunity to play a heroic role, and said the film gave him a chance to display his versatility. "I think all characters live in you. You just frame them, give them circumstances, and that character will happen."

In 1988, Dafoe starred in another film set during the Vietnam War, this time as CID Agent Buck McGriff in Off Limits. He has since become a popular character actor. He is often cast as unstable or villainous characters, such as the Green Goblin in Spider-Man and Barillo in Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Before that, he was briefly considered for the role of the Joker by Tim Burton and Sam Hamm for 1989's Batman. Hamm recalls "We thought, 'Well, Willem Dafoe looks just like The Joker.'" The role eventually went to Jack Nicholson.

Dafoe starred in the erotic drama Body of Evidence with Madonna. In 1991, he portrayed a Manhattan drug dealer in the Paul Schrader film Light Sleeper. Dafoe played an eccentric FBI agent in The Boondock Saints (1999) and a private investigator in American Psycho (2000). He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1986 for Platoon and 2000 for Shadow of the Vampire. He played a rare heroic film role when he provided the voice of Gill in the animated film Finding Nemo. Dafoe also played a heroic leading man in Triumph of the Spirit, playing a Greek Jew, Salamo Arouch, who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau through his prowess as a boxer. In 1998 he was the brother of Nick Nolte and son of James Coburn in another Schrader film, Affliction.

He worked briefly as a model in a 1990 Prada campaign. In 2004, Dafoe lent his likeness and voice for the James Bond video game Everything or Nothing as the villain Nikolai Diavolo, and starred as NYPD detective Stan Aubray in the thriller Anamorph (2006).

From 2002-2007, he played the villain Green Goblin in the Spider-Man trilogy.

In 2007 he was also a member of the jury of the 57th Berlin International Film Festival.

In 2011, Dafoe began narrating a series of television commercials for the Greek yogurt company Fage. Additionally, the actor is featured in Jim Beam's "Bold Decisions" television ad campaign, which began airing April 2011.

Dafoe starred alongside Marina Abramović in the 2011 Manchester International Festival premiere of the play The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, and will play the role again in the 2013 Luminato Festival North American premiere of the play The Life and Death of Marina Abramović. He also appears at TimesTalks Luminato.

Since 2010, Dafoe voiced Clarence the Birdseye polar bear mascot on the company's television commercials in the United Kingdom.

Dafoe appeared as the devil in the Mercedes-Benz CLA 2013 Super Bowl ad in which Usher and Kate Upton also appear.

Dafoe also starred in three short films for Hanneke Schutte, with Saving Norman winning the Jameson First Shot competition.

Dafoe played fictional author Peter Van Houten in the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars (2014). In April 2014, he was announced as a member of the main competition jury at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

Personal life

Dafoe met director Elizabeth LeCompte at The Performance Group, and the two began a professional and personal relationship there and at its successor company, the Wooster Group. Their son, Jack, was born in 1982.

Dafoe married Italian actress, director, and screenwriter Giada Colagrande on March 25, 2005, a year after the two had met in Rome at the premiere of one of her films. Dafoe said in 2010, "We were having lunch and I said: 'Do you want to get married tomorrow?'" They did so the following afternoon at a small ceremony with two friends as witnesses. The two worked together on the film Before It Had a Name. The couple divide their time between Rome, New York City, and Los Angeles. He now holds both Italian and American citizenship.

Dafoe said in 2008 that he is no longer a vegetarian. His brother, Donald Dafoe, is a transplant surgeon and researcher.



Year Title Role Notes
1980 Heaven's Gate Willy Uncredited
1982 The Loveless Vance
1983 The Hunger 1st Phone Booth Youth
1984 New York Nights Boyfriend
1984 Streets of Fire Raven Shaddock
1985 Roadhouse 66 Johnny Harte
1985 To Live and Die in L.A. Erick "Rick" Masters
1986 Platoon Sergeant Elias Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead
1988 Off Limits Buck McGriff
1988 The Last Temptation of Christ Jesus
1988 Mississippi Burning Agent Alan Ward
1989 Triumph of the Spirit Salamo Arouch
1989 Born on the Fourth of July Charlie
1990 Cry-Baby Guard Cameo
1990 Wild at Heart Bobby Peru Nominated - Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male
1991 Flight of the Intruder Lt. Cmdr. Virgil "Tiger" Cole
1992 Light Sleeper John LeTour Sant Jordi Award for Best Foreign Actor
1992 White Sands Deputy Sheriff Ray Dolezal
1993 Body of Evidence Frank Dulaney
1993 Faraway, So Close! Emit Flesti
1994 Tom & Viv T. S. Eliot
1994 Clear and Present Danger John Clark
1994 The Night and the Moment The Writer
1995 Victory Axel Heyst
1996 Basquiat The Electrician
1996 The English Patient David Caravaggio Nominated - Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
1997 Speed 2: Cruise Control John Geiger
1997 Affliction Rolfe Whitehouse
1998 Lulu on the Bridge Dr. Van Horn
1998 New Rose Hotel X
1999 eXistenZ Gas
1999 The Boondock Saints Agent Paul Smecker
2000 American Psycho Donald Kimball
2000 Animal Factory Earl Copen
2000 Shadow of the Vampire Max Schreck Fantasporto's International Fantasy Film Award for Best Actor
Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival's President Award for Outstanding Creative Performance
Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actor
Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture Comedy or Musical
Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
Sitges Film Festival's Gran Angular Award for Best Actor
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Nominated - New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
2000 Bullfighter Father Ramirez
2001 Pavilion of Women Father Andre
2001 Edges of the Lord Priest
2002 Spider-Man Norman Osborn / Green Goblin New York Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - MTV Movie Award for Best Villain
2002 Auto Focus John Henry Carpenter Nominated - Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor
2003 Finding Nemo Gill (voice)
2003 Once Upon a Time in Mexico Armando Barillo
2003 The Reckoning Martin
2004 The Clearing Arnold Mack
2004 Spider-Man 2 Norman Osborn / Green Goblin
2004 The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Klaus Daimler Nominated - Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Ensemble Cast
Nominated - Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cast
2004 Control Dr. Michael Copeland
2004 The Aviator Roland Sweet
2005 xXx: State of the Union General George Deckert
2005 Manderlay Grace's Father
2005 Before It Had a Name Leslie
2005 Ripley Under Ground Neil Murchison
2006 American Dreamz Chief of Staff
2006 Inside Man Captain John Darius
2006 Paris, je t'aime The Cowboy Segment: "Place des Victoires"
2007 The Walker Larry Lockner
2007 Mr. Bean's Holiday Carson Clay
2007 Spider-Man 3 Norman Osborn / Green Goblin
2007 Go Go Tales Ray Ruby
2007 Anamorph Stan Aubrey
2008 Fireflies in the Garden Charles Waechter
2008 Adam Resurrected Commandant Klein
2008 The Dust of Time A
2009 Antichrist He Bodil Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated - Robert Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
2009 Affaire Farewell Feeney
2009 My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? Detective Havenhurst
2009 Daybreakers Elvis
2009 Fantastic Mr. Fox Rat (voice)
2009 The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day Paul Smecker Uncredited cameo
2009 Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant Gavner Purl
2010 Tales from Earthsea Cob (voice) English dub
2010 Miral Eddie
2010 A Woman Max Oliver
2011 4:44 Last Day on Earth Cisco
2011 The Hunter Martin David Nominated - AACTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
2012 John Carter Tars Tarkas (voice)
2012 Tomorrow You're Gone The Buddha
2013 Odd Thomas Wyatt Porter
2013 Out of the Furnace John Petty
2013 Nymphomaniac L
2014 A Most Wanted Man Tommy Brue
2014 The Grand Budapest Hotel J.G. Jopling
2014 Bad Country Bud Carter
2014 The Fault in Our Stars Peter Van Houten
2014 Pasolini Pier Paolo Pasolini
2014 John Wick Marcus
2015 My Hindu Friend Diego Fairman
2016 Finding Dory Gill (voice) Post-production
2016 The Headhunter's Calling Filming
2016 Dog Eat Dog Mad Dog Post-production
2016 The Great Wall Filming
2017 Justice League Part One Filming


Year Title Role Notes
1986 The Hitchhiker Jeffrey Hunt Episode: "Ghostwriter"
1991 Fishing With John Himself Segment: "Ice Fishing in Northern Maine"
1997; 2014 The Simpsons The Commandant / Mr. Lassen (voices) Episodes: "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson" and "Blazed and Confused"
2010 American Experience Narrator (voice) Episode: "Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World"
Video games
Year Title Voice role
2004 James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing Nikolai Diavolo
2013 Beyond: Two Souls Nathan Dawkins

Other awards and nominations


  • 2002: Won, "Special Award:For immense contribution to the art of film."

San Sebastian International Film Festival

  • 2005: Won, Donostia Award

Stockholm International Film Festival

  • 2012: Won, Stockholm Achievement Award

VGX (award show)

  • 2013: Nominated, Best Voice Actor

[ Source: Wikipedia ]

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