You’ve come a long way, baby. Willem Dafoe has had such a diverse career as an accomplished, illusive actor, he’s almost a secret weapon. With over 30 years in the business, a whole host of high profile directors have worked with Dafoe – and asked him back. He appears to have a range of talent, often exuberant, yet hardly breaks a sweat.
Under-rated performances in the likes of Mississippi Burning, Light Sleeper, memorable villains in The Grand Budapest Hotel and Spider-Man. A ridiculously varied cluster of roles ranging from a detective in American Psycho, and Body of Evidence. Antichrist. The madness of Born on the Fourth of July. He even played an arrogant film-maker in Mr. Bean’s Holiday. Has the demeanor of a guy not to be trusted, and in all this time you never hear a soul utter: I just don’t like the guy.
On the brink of finally winning an Academy Award for acting, an extremely popular victory, here are seven defining roles from Willem Dafoe that have lead him to this winner’s circle:
Platoon (1986) Sergeant Gordon Elias – Oscar nominated
One of the most famous images on any film poster, Dafoe’s noble exit from Platoon is a truly great, yet tragic, moment. A real moral heart and soul of this brutal war flick, Elias demonstrates the proud fate of the good amidst the conflict.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Jesus of Nazareth
Martin Scorsese’s religious epic is like no other motion picture depiction of such a subject. Even then, and looking back, the casting of Dafoe as Christ was outside the box – but man, does he pull off a powerful performance.
Wild at Heart (1990) Bobby Peru
What a despicable fiend Bobby Peru is. And right up David Lynch’s street. The epitome of sleaze, Dafoe’s sinister crook is the stuff of nightmares, fully utilizing that grin.
The English Patient (1996) David Caravaggio
One of few unsung heroes from Anthony Minghella’s Oscar-sweeping film. Dafoe’s entrance into the plot as Caravaggio gives the movie an added dimension, an essential sub-plot to the film’s backstory. He is calm, collected throughout, apart from his thumb-losing revelation.
Shadow of the Vampire (2000) Max Schreck – Oscar nominated
Given the actor’s bold facial characteristics, portraying Max Schrek as the infamous Nosferatu appears a genius casting choice. But Dafoe simply disappears here, one of his most extraordinary acting displays.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) Rat
Willem Dafoe cast as a vicious rat? No way. In one of a few collaborations with Wes Anderson, Dafoe not only shows his magmatism to flourishing directors, but also proves again (see Finding Nemo) his natural talent as a voice actor.
The Florida Project (2017) Bobby Hicks – Oscar winner?
Somehow finding new ground in his admiration as an actor, Dafoe under-plays this role to perfection. As a figure of authority, Bobby Hicks is still something of a walk-over – but his actions are pure, and with only good motives. He pursues a peaceful resolution, and sees the good in folk perhaps even we can’t. Quite wonderful to see.