Among the Hollywood elite whilst flirting with the fringes of arthouse filmmaking, actor Willem Dafoe has enjoyed working on a plethora of films including blockbusters and independent releases, helmed by some of the biggest names in the industry. Having enjoyed over 40 years in the industry, Dafoe has been lucky enough to work alongside the likes of Wes Anderson, Sean Baker, Oliver Stone, Lars von Trier, Martin Scorsese and Sam Raimi.
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. Reprising his role as the fan-favourite Green Goblin, Dafoe starred alongside Tom Holland as the titular superhero, as well as Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch and Alfred Molina.
Known for his diverse acting range, Dafoe has been known for embodying several types of roles, from the sombre sincerity of his time in Lars von Trier’s Antichrist to his pantomime villain in The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson. As a result, Dafoe is considered a popular contemporary icon, often appearing in the biggest projects of both blockbuster and independent cinema.
Consistently devoting himself to challenging roles, Dafoe is uninterested in typecasting himself as a particular character actor. As the performer 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”.
Transforming himself in multiple roles, no such film appeared as physically and mentally demanding for Dafoe than Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, a film in which the actor depicted Jesus as he faced the struggles of humanity before his crucifixion. “When I look back on Last Temptation [of Christ] I’m amazed, I think it was a little crazy that I didn’t even worry about playing that role,” Dafoe stated at an awards ceremony for the esteemed director of the film.
Waxing lyrical about Martin Scorsese at the awards ceremony, the actor further explained, “I’d seen his films, I was a great fan, obviously, this guy knew what he was doing, then during filming, he made the world so complete and so perfect that you really felt free, you felt like you couldn’t do anything wrong”. Featuring alongside the likes of Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey and Irvin Kershner, despite the harsh environment of the film’s setting and the testing subject matter, the film remained a joy for Dafoe.
In fact, the actor enjoyed the filming of The Last Temptation of Christ so much that he exclaimed “it was just a dream for an actor and the best film experience I’ve ever had in my life”. Collaborating again with Scorsese in 2004 with The Aviator, Dafoe reported feeling “privileged” to be part of the director’s filmography, adding that Scorsese had “transformed and inspired” him.