Willem Dafoe

The enigmatic actor at Stockholm Film Festival on his new ventures with Obama, Corbijn and Von Trier

Arts+Culture Q+A
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Last week, the 23rd Stockholm Film Festival gave a lifetime achievement award to the American actor Willem Dafoe, describing him as "One of the world’s most multi-faceted actors who has the power to hypnotize his audience with just one glance." The winner of this year’s prestigious Bronze Horse is still hungry.

In the early morning, when the Obama's re-election was a dawning, we waited for Mr. Dafoe in the bar of his hotel. He just came back from Germany, shooting his latest feature films, Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, based on a John le Carré novel and Lars Von Trier’s erotic cut, Nymphomaniac. We spoke about about his performing arts collaboration with wife Giada Colagrande, radical theatre director Robert Wilson, Antony Hegarty and the current election.

Dazed Digital: Today the world is proud of America.
Willem Dafoe:
Me too. Me too.

DD: How do you feel about Obama heading back to the White House?
Willem Dafoe: I’m happy. Not just because I wasn’t interested in Mitt Romney. The election was referendum Obama. Even though people are impatient – they are nervous because the crisis – they still want to give him more time to get stuff done, and I think the fact that he’s coming back for a second time will give him more power, even though they talk a lot about how divided people are.

DD: So, the Achievement Award – what does it mean for you at this stage?
Willem Dafoe: It’s nice to get encouragement. Film festivals are very important to me because gives a place outside the marketplace to see and discus films. It is also a place where commerce, artists and public can meet in a healthy way. So I’m happy to be part of that culture. You know, I went to my room here and there were pictures of the former Horse’s winners, there were like six and I worked with four out of the six (laughs). It was like my family, I thought. It makes a community. God knows, as things get more and more difficult with distribution, economically to make independent cinema. This helps. It attracts a certain level of talent and attracts a certain level of discussion; we are talking right now because of the award. It’s keeping something alive. That is important to me.

DD: Do you consider yourself too young to such recognition?
Willem Dafoe: I just finished working on a movie last week and starting more soon, you know. I know what I’m doing, if people don’t know, that’s their people. So if they think I’m finished, I got some news for them: I’m not (laughs).

DD: Actually that was about my next question. Is there anything you consider unfinished within your career?
Willem Dafoe: Many things (laughs). I’m still interested in film, lots of things I haven’t done. But it’s not really about roles, stories or directors. It’s really more about reaching a level of good performing. That’s all is about. I try to be cultivated in my life, the way of performing that is clear and it can contribute. So, that’s a lifetime work. And I’m just in the middle of it.

DD: You have been nominated twice for an Academy Award. How important are these for an actor of your calibre?
Willem Dafoe: The Academy Award is important, it helps you because keeps your value as far as interest and also people proposing projects to you. You know, it is a legitimizer. It makes people talking about you. It is attention. It doesn’t change how you perform… or probably for the worst (laughs). But career wise, it is very important and it is a nice thing.

DD: So you noticed it affected your career …
Willem Dafoe: I never won but when I had been nominated, but with that attention, they offer you lots of projects. But it doesn’t make the projects right for you. So what is funny you get offer lots of things but they don’t make the distinction whether you are right for the project. They take you only because you are the certain kind of interest. In some ways it doesn’t change things because you still have to be visionairy about how you select the roles. You make have more propositions, but it doesn’t mean there are more ones right for you. You have to be stronger.

DD: How is working with Corbijn?
Willem Dafoe: I think it’s going to be a good movie. It’s based in John le Carré novel… you know about this, right? A Most Wanted Man. Good cast: Americans, Germans, Russians. A very good Russian actor, he did How I Ended This Summer, a Russian film, a couple of years ago – did you see it? His name is Grigoriy Dobrygin.

DD: Are you fan yourself of this movie?
Willem Dafoe:
It’s a very good movie and this young actor as well, very good. Philip Seymour Hoffman is in it too, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright is in it, some good German actors…you know it’s John le Carré, very specific to Hamburg and to these days for security issues an also an illegal immigrant that has a background, seen as a jihadist.

DD: Is your performance a main role?
Willem Dafoe: It is one of the central roles. I play a very wealthy English banker.

DD: Regarding Von Trier, how was working with him again?
Willem Dafoe: Great. I like Lars a lot, and he is in good shape, you know.

DD: Changing the subject, how did your Prada menswear campaign come about?
Willem Dafoe: They are great people and I like the clothes. It’s a different kind of performing, that’s all. It’s fun. I liked the people involved; they are very smart, interesting people.

DD: Will be a sequel to this campaign?
Willem Dafoe: Actually, I did a campaign for them about twenty years ago by myself. I was the face for men’s Prada. So… this was the sequel (laughs). But remember, I’m not dying any time soon, so maybe it could come a third part (more laughs).

DD: You and performing arts have always had a close relationship. How did it feel be back on the stage for the Manchester International Festival, with Robert Wilson's The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic?
Willem Dafoe: These are people that I know very well and also admire. These are people I have a relationship too and when we all came together to make a thing, not only to take a script and stage it but really to make a thing it was really interesting, very stimulating. We have a lot in common and we have a lot not in common, so it’s interesting so see where we come together, where you have to give. It is beautiful to make this collaboration.

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