Willem Dafoe on Resurrecting Green Goblin and His Dreams of Playing the Joker

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Dafoe wouldn’t necessarily say he’s “into” fashion, but he certainly knows what he likes. “My go-to people have always been Prada, because there’s something classic [about the clothes] and I just like how I feel in them and they’re beautifully made.” He sees getting styled in designer clothes for photoshoots as just another form of acting. “It’s kind of what happens in approaching a character except it’s condensed, it’s very immediate.” He talks about a shoot for a different magazine which went awry. “The clothes were so terrible, I said ‘I can’t do any of this.’” He looked around the room and saw a collection of people—the stylist, the photographer, the makeup artist—each with their own very distinct personal style, “and I said, let me wear all of your clothes. And they let me do it. So they took off their clothes, I put them on and those were the clothes for the shoot.”

He sometimes fantasizes about having a uniform—a Bart Simpson wardrobe, if you will. “When I was young, I heard about Ingmar Bergman having a closet full of black turtleneck sweaters. I thought, yeah, maybe that’s the way to go. So you don’t spill some of your creative juice.” Throughout the conversation, he offers ruminations such as this which hint at the degree to which creativity—and his work—defines how he lives his life. Later on, I ask if he has any hobbies. “Work is my hobby,” he says, followed by a slow, gravelly chuckle. He seems to be joking, but then he doesn’t really answer the question. “I’m always preparing something, I’m always studying for things.” As it stands, he’s got five projects in the works, due to be released in the next two years. He says that the pandemic has been a difficult time because he’s been working pretty much non-stop, and Covid restrictions, quarantines and closed sets have meant that he hasn’t been with his family as much as he’d have liked. “It’s been rough because in order to make these movies, I’ve been in quarantine a lot, alone a lot. Outside of the set, there’s no life.”  

Dafoe cut his teeth as an actor in mid-1970s New York, after moving from Wisconsin at 21. “New York was in a terrible shape,” he says. “It was a violent city, it was a corrupt city, but for a young man, it was a very exciting place to be.” He fell in with an artsy crowd and started performing avant-garde theatre with a troupe called The Wooster Group. He was, he says, “transformed” by those early years, putting on impromptu performances that emphasised physicality. “I just felt very turned on and got introduced to the desire to be an artist of some sort. And that really formed me.” The most important thing he learned during that time was, “to approach things through action, through doing, through task-oriented performance, not so much as an interpreter, not so much as an emotive being that is there to guide the audience along on the trip, but to have an experience.”

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