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Willem DaFoe | This Guy's no Goblin!
an emily blunt interview





I was asked - to my great joy - to chat with Mr. Willem DaFoe on his acting and his role in Auto Focus.

Auto Focus is brought to us by visceral creator-of-film director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Affliction etc...etc.). Paul's one of those diabolically honest interpreters of the darker side of man (and women).

In AF, Schrader was clever and cast Willem DaFoe as deceased actor Bob Crane's closest and deadliest, er, dearest , friends John Carpenter. Real people played by real actors Willem Dafoe as Carpenter and Greg Kinnear as the affable troubled Crane.

Carpenter was the prime suspect in the murder of Bob Crane, best known as Col. Hogan from Hogan's Heroes. John was tried and acquitted and unfortunately died before forensics became the hermetically sealed proof-positive case-maker it now is.

As always Willem DaFoe ads a certain subtle flare to a character one should despise but in his experienced hands becomes a guy, that while he is oozing with mediocre DNA and is at first glance more pathetic and forgettable that hostile and conniving becomes, almost nightmare inducing and mesmerizing. A remarkable performance. Not since Shadow of the Vampire has DaFoe wigged me out so thoroughly with his patented slither. It's the way he draws you in and keeps you at attention, trying to figure if it's a bad guy or a good guy or a gray guy he's portraying this time around. Brilliant. Enough groveling at the man's feet here's our chat...

Emily: Howdy

Willem: Howdy. It's nice to put a face to the name.

Emily: How hard was it a stretch for you to play this heavy John Carpenter fellow in your latest " Flick de Perfection," Auto Focus?

Willem: [laughter ] I don't think of him as a heavy. It wasn't too hard.

Emily: Do you think he killed Bob Crane?

Willem: That's not for me to say. I think the film points to something. It points to the fact that he's a good suspect. I'd say he's a pretty good suspect but there are other people that could have done it and I have been living with this story for so long it is easy to imagine it could have been a jealous husband a jilted girlfriend you know he didn't treat right. The main thing is it's not so important - that's not what the movies thrust was/ its more about the arc of Bob Cranes career of…. his compulsion - sort of the disintegration of his personality secondarily his interesting codependent relationship with this guy that brought him this video equipment that brought him on this fabulous adventure.
Do you see this is as a love story? I heard it advertised as a love story??
I'm not going to say that. But that's acceptable. I mean there's all kinds of love one of the things that attracted me when I first read the script was there were these scenes with these men. Two men, so intimate they were like - scenes between a couple - and tinged with sexuality but not homosexual. There were all kinds of markings of troubles couples have. Richard Dawson was a distraction. Bob didn't want "me" to hang out with Richard Dawson…. for the most part our balances were very much like the kind that happen in couples. I just though it was very interesting. Unusual, but totally plausible, of a relationship between two men.

I think John Carpenter is a real type, and there are many John Carpenters in the world, we all have John Carpenter in our lives. The thing that interested me about him was there was something sweet about him.

Emily: Sweet?

Willem: Yeah! In that he really wanted everybody to have a good time and he also wanted to be useful. He wanted to help people to get stuff an if he got a little "thrown" his way - that was cool [laughter]. In some ways we are really disgusted by that ' cause it feels like an opportunist. But again, somehow given his story, how we tell it, and even the real life John Carpenter seemed like basically a kind guy searching for his piece through this "vehicle." I think we can all relate to that! And it's no accident that it's sex too - that it involves sex. That's why sex sells. And we've all had a relationship to sex.It's a biological need! We believe it's something that will transform us - not just give us pleasure. It's very tangible. It's a shortcut to intimacy and can even be a short cut to romantic love. Here the world it's in and the way it's framed [it] creates a weird tension - and it's that weird tension that interested me.

Emily: You kept Carpenter very likable. How did you study for him? Just read the script and create him or from footage?

Willem: Both. I had the videotapes available to me. I didn't study him manner wise. But you want to get as much information as possible to develop…. or become…this person. To inhabit the scenes and sort of get rid of yourself and invite this other character to be born. It is probably mostly the script. But any details you can get that contribute to your confidence that "I am this guy" works.

Emily: Did you find Carpenter harder to play?

Willem: Because he was real?

Emily: Yes.

Willem: Yeah. It's more for the information in the actual scene. I have forgotten john carpenter, I AM John Carpenter - [laughter] - and I don't mean that in any psycho crazy way - just when you're doin' it you're doin' it. And it's more your decision in clothing and how to approach things that the historical John Carpenter colors your choices. Because on some levels you trust the reality so you borrow from it to guide you to find some sort of truthful behavior thing that really reveals things as they are.

Emily:[Thought but not spoken: Take that Lee Strasburg!] Paul Schrader believes your his guy for what he calls, "the deep end of the pool" roles. You worked with him before can you talk a little about the relationship?

Willem: Ahha. Well, I worked with him a bit. This is my third time. I did Light Sleeper and Affliction. Affliction wasn't …I mean I like the film very much... but it was a small role so I wasn't really that involved. I saw the process though. I am a friend of Paul's. I know Paul. I have an affinity for his desire to tell these stories. I like how he thinks. I enjoy sitting in a room listening to him talk about film, about writing...about the story.

Emily: Me too. I went to his lecture at the academy.

Willem: Must have been great! He's very seductive. Because while his aesthetic doesn't always burn real hot it's very passionate. By his sort of hot topics. He deals with spirituality. He deals with compulsive behavior. He deals with desire. He deals with all the hunger, longing the deep deep ones. But he doesn't deal with them in a transgressive gross way he deals with them in a very - I don't want to say intellectual - but in a very aestheticized way. That combination of hot and cold can be very beautiful to me! The aesthetic makes it easier to accept these stories. If it's all amped up you tend to get juiced up with and you're carried along for the ride. You never…you kind of finish the movie and you're like "oh, that was great…" But never have you been to that place where your heart and your mind and your heart join. And it's those points were you say, "What is going on here." And it challenges your view on your world, as you know it. I am always looking for someone that does that. I like working for him. He does a lot of his work in the casting the writing and the design, these are low budget movies…when you get there you're going going going! Fast. Since he knows me we have a "shorthand." I'd work with him again of course.

Emily: What about working with (sigh) Greg Kinnear?

Willem: He's very thoughtful, and he's very bright. You know I like him a lot and he was very game. You know I hear him being interviewed and I bristle for him…if I'm saddled with this kind of "you're so dark' he's saddled with "Oh you come from television- you're so light how could you get dirty like this." We're actors. The way people see us is conditioned so much by what they've seen us do. Of COURSE! That doesn't mean what you know is all there is. Greg is just really great to work with. I thought he was a real good choice for this role- he's very different from me. It was good to work with. I went towards him and he went towards me.

Emily: Does it bother you that you're semi-pigeonholed as these off-the-wall heathens?

Willem: Yeah. Yeah sometimes. Of course I'm not as badly pigeonholed as some people. You just try to stay flexible in how people can think of you. Like the irony is your success sometimes can be the very thing that kills you artistically. And particularly like Bob Crane. I don't have it so bad. But I am always watching. The one thing that I'm happy about is that I have been around long enough that even if you do a movie like Spiderman, which I had a goodtime on and was very successful, you don't walk out on the street now and people don't just see you as the Green Goblin! [laughter]. But yeah, Emily, I really work like hell to cultivate that.

Emily: Is it hard to work for different directors? I mean you're one way with Martin Scorsese and another with Oliver Stone? [his eyebrow raises...]

Willem: I think you have to invent…I choose to invent my craft each time, with each director. The way you function is always different. Sometimes you can sus it out. Sometimes it's important to know…. sometimes it's not. I'm not sure if this relates…but I remember I was really struck by this - I'll share. I was talking to [director] Todd Solandz at a film festival recently and he said [smarmy vocal imitation of the avante gard = artsy fartsy director] "I don't want my actors to be ironic. I want them to do it and I'll frame them ironically." I though that was interesting.

Emily: [thought but not spoken; hmm, I thought it was pompous and quite frankly undepherible. What do they mean? But onward...] So in his case he'd be a puppeteer?

Willem: Yeah, and sometimes you have to be conscious of what your function is - sometimes you don't. It's like anything. If you work in a particular way… you develop a balance. For the same reason it's kind of nice when my career needs match my personal needs. When I feel to go from big movie to small movie -if I can-if I can. You can't always because it's always a combination of what's available to you to what your desires are. Hopefully they match up. I think it's important to mix it up!

[Wow, there's a working actors view on just doing what the director wants huh….follow his advice- learn to shift and groove and you'll go father…]

Emily: How was life after the Green Goblin for you?

Willem: It always takes a delay to see the effect of a movie. I don't know. But, I have never really done a movie that children could see before. So for the first time I'm dealing with children recognizing me. Otherwise I've never made a movie that kids would see….wanna see.

Emily: Are they scared? Run fleeing into the safe arms of their parental units?

Willem: NO!? [laughter] Sometimes they love me! Bad is good sometimes! [laughter]


Yeah especially when the "bad" guy is played by a megatelent like Mr. Willem Da-doe-a-deer-a-female-deer- foe ! He's yet another intelligent actor that continues to create roles that are indelibly printed into the crevices of our memory. From vampires, to goblins or woeful soldiers to befuddled lovers, DaFoe is picky with his choices and his career shines for it. And yes, he does really kind of look like a vampire in real life too. By far the coolest bone structure this chickbabe has ever spotted on a mansteak. But looks are often deceiving and here is a prime example…. he's as cuddly as a pussycat. A Rex pussycat, but still…

NEXT WEEK studmuffin talent GREG KINNEAR on playing Hogan and sharing a few hearty giggles…

Photos by Jeff Vespa - © - Image courtesy from Toronto Film Festival / montage by Erika Bolin


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