5 Unforgettable Performances by Willem Dafoe

One of Hollywood’s most prolific contemporary actors, the career of William James Dafoe (known professionally as Willem Dafoe) has been varied and colourful. Impossible to ignore with his unique voice of gravel and a face like a handsome demonic arc-angel, Dafoe has played both devil and god in his long and impressive career. So, without further ado, we give you 5 Unforgettable Performances by Willem Dafoe…

1. Spider-Man (2002)

In every superhero movie, you need a super-villain. Without this, the film is going to suffer and all the animatronic-mechanoids in the galaxy will not replace the menace and foreboding that a great actor can bring to the role of a villain. So when Sam Raimi made the first Spider-man movie, it was equally important that he cast an excellent Norman Osborn (a.k.a. The Green Goblin) as it was to cast a perfect Peter Parker. No matter what your opinion about Tobey Maguire as the titular hero, I think we can all agree that Willem Dafoe knocks it out of the park with his intense and maniacal portrayal of the mad scientist Osborn.

Playing the role with just enough bombastic enthusiasm to befit a big-budget comicbook movie, without hamming it or eover-egging it, Dafoe brings evil to a new level in every scene as he develops the character from strict and emotionless father to all out sinister psychopath. Watch how he perfectly encapsulates the character’s descent into madness in this scene from the movie…

2. The Lighthouse (2019)

Willem Dafoe

Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse is one of the strangest releases of 2019 and is very much akin to a theatrical play as much as it is a film. This tale of two lighthouse keepers who become stranded on a rock together is both hilarious and frightening in equal measure. It’s easy to see why Eggers cast Dafoe in the role of salty sea-dog Thomas, with his antiquated countenance and menacing gaze, Dafoe and Robert Pattinson carry the entire movie together and it never gets boring.

Unable to tell what he will say or do next, this performance is one of Dafoe’s most enigmatic and will keep you up at night wondering what the hell you just witnessed, after you watch this highly original and unique film. Whatever you do, just make sure you tell him you like his lobster!

Here us discuss this movie on our Weekly podcast here:

3. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

Dafoe loved working on this film so much that he turned up on set every day, even when he was not required to. His portrayal of Klaus Daimler, a paranoid sycophant who will do anything for his captain is both hilarious and emotional. There’s the dodgy German accent, the tight-fitting shorts and in one flashback scene he even sports a mohawk.

Klaus is childlike, fiercely loyal and also a great example of a supporting character who is developed over the course of the film from a rather annoying and aggressive oddball into a respected and lovable comrade. This was Dafoe’s first role in a Wes Anderson film, but not his last. He has since appeared in The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and is due to appear in the forthcoming The French Dispatch. But it is his portrayal of the quirky, lovable sidekick “Klausy” that most sticks in the memory.

4. Platoon (1986)

Who can forget the character of Sgt. Elias in Oliver Stone’s seminal Vietnam War film Platoon? Described by his nemesis Sgt. Barnes (played by Tom Berenger) as “a crusader”, Elias is the ultimate warrior. A man who has a conscience and takes care of his men, opposed to Berenger’s Barnes who is portrayed as cynical, remorseless and downright evil.

A dreamer and a humanitarian, Elias is an archetype for a true hero, one who is ultimately sacrificed for his beliefs and serves as an allegory for the liberal-minded quota of the American involvement in the war. Cast against type at the time, Dafoe shone as a more empathetic and idealistic character, having previously been known for playing villainous characters. Doubtless that this role propelled his career exponentially.

5. At Eternity’s Gate (2018)

Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh

Showing his usual level of dedication and commitment to his craft, Dafoe learned to paint in the style of Vincent Van Gogh for Julien Schnabel’s beautiful film about the artist, At Eternity’s Gate. He manages to bring a sweetness to a character that is often portrayed as a violent or tortured madman. Instead this picture of Vincent is calm and loving, misunderstood by the world he inhabits, but content to see only the rapture and beauty before his eyes.

This tender portrayal is extremely convincing and emotional, giving fans of the painter an insight into the mind of a man that truly loved the world and projected this love onto each canvass he worked on. Bearing a reasonably accurate resemblance to Van Gogh, At Eternity’s Gate gives us another great example of perfect casting as well as another unforgettable performance from this magnificent actor.

So that’s our 5 Unforgettable Performances by Willem Dafoe!

Think we’ve missed any out or not included your favourite Willem Dafoe movie? Then let us know in the comments below.

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Greg Fisher
Greg is a digital content creator, photographer, filmmaker and writer. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @theflyingartist