Willem Dafoe (born July 22, 1955) is an American film, stage, and voice actor, and a member of the experimental theater company The Wooster Group. He has had roles in a wide range of films, including Platoon, Affliction, Off Limits, Streets of Fire, To Live and Die in L.A., Born on the Fourth of July, The English Patient, The Last Temptation of Christ, Mississippi Burning, Mr. Bean's Holiday, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Boondock Saints, Spider-Man, and The Aviator, and voice roles in Fantastic Mr. Fox and Finding Nemo.
Dafoe was born William J. Dafoe 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 ancestry includes Irish, Scottish, and German. 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 inMilwaukee, 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, and became romantically involved with the group's Elizabeth LeCompte, 11 years his senior and who, 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.Early life and career
Theater and film
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 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. A year later he starred as the leader of a motorcycle gang in The Loveless, having played a similar role in Streets of Fire. 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 to that time 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.
He starred in the erotic drama Body of Evidence with Madonna. In 1991, Willem Dafoe portrayed a Manhattan drug dealer in the Paul Schrader film Light Sleeper. Dafoe played an eccentric FBIagent 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 forShadow 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).
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 2013Luminato Festival North American premiere of the play The Life and Death of Marina Abramović. He also appears at TimesTalks Luminato.
Dafoe also starred in three short films for Hanneke Schutte, with Saving Norman winning the Jameson First Shot competition.
Dafoe met director Elizabeth LeCompte at The Performance Group and began a professional and personal relationship there and at its successor company, the Wooster Group. Their son, Jack, was born in 1982. The pair eventually split in 2004. 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, California. He has dual Italian and American citizenship.