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Entertainment News

Willem Dafoe attends the "Inside" press conference during the 73rd Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin at Grand Hyatt Hotel on February 20, 2023 in Berlin, Germany.

Willem Dafoe is such a captivating actor. He commits himself 100% to roles that are so intense and unhinged. Born William James Dafoe on July 22, 1955, in Appleton, Wisconsin, the award-winning actor has an impressive 142 acting credits since 1980, with 11 upcoming projects. He has five sisters and two brothers. Because his father was a surgeon and his mother a nurse, Dafoe’s sisters raised him because of their crazy busy work schedules.

Willem’s Pursuit of Acting

He studied drama at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee but dropped out less than two years later to join an experimental theater company. In 1976, Willem moved to New York City. This is where he met and became romantically involved with experimental director Elizabeth LeCompte. After a falling out with an avant-garde theater troupe, Dafoe joined LeCompte’s newly taken-over theater group, renamed The Wooster Group, which Dafoe is credited as one of its co-founders (he continued his work with the group into the 2000s). Dafoe and LeCompte share a son named Jack.

By 1980, Willem made his film debut in Heaven’s Gate (1980) but was fired during production and was uncredited despite one of his scenes making it into the final cut. A year later, he landed the lead role for The Loveless. He appeared in supporting roles in a few films throughout the 80s, but his big break was in 1988 as Jesus Christ in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ and as FBI Agent Alan Ward in Mississippi Burning.

Check out our list of five fantastic Willem Dafoe roles that blew us away and made us fans for life.

  • As Clem Hoately in 'Nightmare Alley' (2021)

    In Guillermo del Toro’s neo-noir psychological thriller, Dafoe plays a carnival owner who hires troubled alcoholics to be his “geeks.” He lures these folks in with booze spiked with opium and turns “temporary” jobs, but it turns into an addiction to appease him and their addiction.

  • As Heimir the Fool in 'The Northman' (2022)

    Dafoe reached out to Robert Eggers after seeing the director’s first feature film, The Witch and landed the lead role in The Lighthouse alongside Robert Pattinson. The director created this character for Dafoe in the epic Viking film. He plays the king’s (Ethan Hawke) fool, but his character doubles as a shaman of sorts when he conducts a ritual with the king’s son, Prince Amleth. Dafoe’s energy and sense of humor shines in this film as Heimir.

  • As Klaus Daimler in 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' (2004)

    Dafoe talked about his enjoyment of working with the certain directors whose work he likes. Wes Anderson is another one of those directors — he’s appeared in four of his films so far, with Asteroid City being the most recent. In 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Dafoe plays Klaus Daimler, first mate of the Belafonte research vessel, who always wears shorts, no matter the occasion. Klaus views Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) as a father figure, and becomes jealous of Ned Plimpton’s (Owen Wilson) growing relationship.

  • As Thomas Wake in 'The Lighthouse' (2019)

    In this black-and-white A24 film, Dafoe plays a lighthouse keeper alongside Robert Pattinson trying to clutch onto his sanity on the remote New England island in the 1890s. His performance is bone-chilling, especially when he delivers his monologue in this scene.

  • As the Green Goblin in the 'Spider-Man' films

    Dafoe’s Harry Osbourne AKA the Green Goblin was a fantastic supervillain. So much so, they brought him back on in Spider-Man: No Way Home, nearly 20 years after the original movie. His cackling and evil stares in Spider-Man is so iconic, as he struggles with battling his split personality as Green Goblin.

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