Willem Dafoe is such a beloved cinematic icon that it’s truly difficult to pinpoint the exact role that people adore the most. Is it the snarling Green Goblin in the Sam Raimi superhero classic Spider-Man? The snivelling pantomime crook of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel? Or even the ex-father and erotic lover in Lars von Trier’s Antichrist? In truth, it’s a mixture of all three, with Dafoe being loved for his chameleon-like ability to morph from role to role.
Having enjoyed over 40 years in the industry, Dafoe has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the most significant filmmakers of modern cinema, including Anderson, Raimi and von Trier, as well as Sean Baker, Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese. Having built his career by starring in smaller, independent roles, of late, Dafoe has enjoyed consistent success among the highest echelons of Hollywood, working on the latest Marvel blockbuster, Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Considered a popular contemporary icon for his willingness to appear in the biggest projects of both blockbuster and independent cinema, Dafoe is consistently devoted to challenging himself, uninterested in choosing the same role over and over again.
As the actor told The Guardian back in the late 1990s, “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”.
An iconic performer as well as a purveyor of quality cinema, Dafoe often speaks to the media about his love for film, revealing his contemporary and classic favourites. Such was the case when the actor sat down with New York Magazine in 2004 to discuss his favourite documentaries of all time, choosing two movies that differ greatly in subject matter and form.
“I love the classic [D. A.] Pennebaker films,” making reference to the American filmmaker who thrived throughout the late 20th century with such documentaries as The War Room and Don’t Look Back.
Continuing, he added: “In fact, he was feeling out the group about doing a documentary—and to familiarise us with his work, he showed us three or four of his documentaries. They were incredible. So we freaked out. They were too revealing! We said, “There’s no way we’re going to let you do this with us!”.
Exploring the tour that Bob Dylan put on across England in 1965, which included appearances by Joan Baez and Donovan, the movie Don’t Look Back is considered to be one of the greatest music documentaries of all time. Many years later, the iconic Martin Scorsese would take inspiration from Pennebaker and make Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese for Netflix, a similarly exploratory documentary about his 1975 tour around North America.
Take a look at the trailer for D. A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back, below.