Willem Dafoe is an actor. He’s not a celebrity, he’s not a movie star, he’s an actor. An actor’s actor like Robert Mitchum or Lee Marvin. He arrived early in Santa Barbara where he was receiving the Cinema Vanguard Award with an hour and a half long Q&A moderated by Deadline’s Peter Hammond. Dafoe took his time with his fans lined up; taking photographs and signing autographs and then spending an ample amount of time speaking to the press.
Dafoe is currently on his third Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. He was first nominated for Oliver Stone’s PLATOON, then SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, and now for Sean Baker’s THE FLORIDA PROJECT where Dafoe plays a motel manager and surrogate grand father to a six year old daughter of an unruly tenant.
Inside the Arlington Theare, a highlight reel started and showed everything from STREETS OF RAGE to PLATOON to THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST to SPIDER-MAN and THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. Noticeably missing from Dafoe’s greatest hits and Hammond’s Q&A were the four (soon to be five) collaborations with Abel Ferrara and his three films with Lars von Trier. To be fair any one of Dafoe’s performances from any one of his films would be worthy of being in the reel; yet those seven films are incredibly seminal to the Dafoe canon.
He spoke about being fired from his first feature film, Michael Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE for laughing out loud at a joke during a set break. He then went on to speak about how he was asked by Cimino to narrate a feature length documentary about the making (and unmaking) of HEAVEN’S GATE.
Dafoe spoke freely about his rich filmography. He stated the most physically demanding performance of his career had been when he played Jesus for Martin Scrosese. He talked about how taxing the crucifixion scene was, and how he could only stay in that pose for a maximum of twenty minutes before his body would start to give out.
Regarding MISSISSIPPI BURNING, Gene Hackman actually did hit him, they really smoked marijuana during the party scene in PLATOON, and how he was on three foot stilts doing motion capture work for JOHN CARTER ON MARS.
Dafoe is overly deserving for an Academy Award. Both on the account of his performance as Bobby Hicks in THE FLORIDA PROJECT and for one of those “lifetime achievement/we owe you one” Oscars. As Bobby Hicks, Dafoe is playing the guy, and for a career of playing that guy, he finally gets to shine and give one of his best performances as the guy.