A Conversation With Willem Dafoe
Brimming with passion, not suffering fools gladly
By Joe O'Connell, 6:41PM, Mon. Mar. 12, 2012
Want Willem Dafoe to star in your next indie film? Show him your passion and don’t ask hollow questions.
Dafoe spoke about his acting passion to a large crowd at today's SXSW Film Conference and was mostly cordial until one audience member asked for Dafoe’s favorite and least favorite acting experiences. “That’s about personal preferences,” he said. “I don’t give a shit.”
Instead he sees film as a “living thing” and looks for the next experience, or as he termed it: “I think vegetarians should eat a cheeseburger every now and then. I’m by nature a jackrabbit. I work from fear, excitement, and not knowing.”
Dafoe showed a powerful clip from his upcoming film 4:44 Last Day on Earth from director Abel Ferrara, which examines how people would react if they knew their lives were about to end. Dafoe’s character uses Skype to say his goodbyes. “It’s really about how you want to live,” he said of the film. “How conscious will you be?” He termed Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant) as “highly underrated,” and now sober. “He’s the same guy with better concentration,” Dafoe said. “We were working from a very loose scenario. It was a collaboration. I like that, but it takes real trust.”
The actor also appears in the just-released John Carter and defended it as a “passion project” for director Andrew Stanton. “He wanted to make it as he remembered it as a kid,” Dafoe said of the adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel.
Passion was the catchword of the day for Dafoe. It led him to portray a mercenary in Australian director Daniel Nettheim’s South by Southwest Film Festival selection The Hunter, which shot in Tazmania. “I have to ask myself, “is this an adventure for me?’ ” he said on making a decision on a role.
Lars von Trier (Antichrist) is a good example of the sort of director with the passion Dafoe seeks. “He’s a tortured soul,” the actor said. “He’s working things out. He prohibits rehearsal and likes flying by the seat of his pants. I like those situations. I don’t like cool professionalism. I like the ones who burn hot and are a little bit of trouble.”
Dafoe has no interest in directing. “I like being the facilitator,” he said. “I like being the doer. I’m not a guy who likes to sit and watch. I need it to be in my blood.”
The Hunter screens again tonight (3/12), 7:30pm, SXSatellite: Alamo Village; and Friday, March 16, 9:30pm, Alamo Lamar.