To call Willem Dafoe weird AF is an understatement. The actor has made a career out of finding where exactly the line is and careening across it. Thus, Dafoe’s performances on screen are about as even as his teeth. He’s done stellar work in films like Platoon, To Live and Die in LA, Spider-Man (the first one, not the second or third one), and Boondock Saints (the first one, not the second one). But you have to balance that against his performances in Speed 2: Cruise Control, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Body of Evidence, and Howl. There’s a lot on either side of the fence. Dafoe is nothing if not prolific.
Many Willem Dafoe facts seem to center around the size of the actor’s manhood, which Lars von Trier described as “too large and confusing” to put on screen. One might find Willem Dafoe strange because of the way his biography gets hashed around a lot by reporters, looking to make the actor weirder than he actually is. They’re looking for all the reasons Dafoe turned out the way they think he is.
Was it his sex education at the age of six by his five “horny” sisters? Guardian reporter Stuart Jeffries theorized that latchkey kid Dafoe locked himself up in a dark closet one too many times and became an habitual pleaser of adults, game for anything. This may explain his career and penchant for anything goes-type characters. “When I give over to somebody’s vision rather than have an idea of what I need to do, it takes me to places I wouldn’t have got to by myself. I’m always attracted to a strong director,” Dafoe offered.
Who is Willem Dafoe? He’s said of his choice of roles, “Yes, I am game. I’ve always been game – maybe to a fault.” He’s a professional who knows how to keep his wits while he’s losing it onscreen. He’s a dad. A husband. And he likes to giggle.
Lars Von Trier Had To Cut Dafoe’s Manhood Out Of The Antichrist Because It Was “Too Large And Confusing”
There’s really no way to lead into this story. It’s just one of those things that exists independent of context. Here’s the excerpt from von Trier’s discussing Dafoe’s problematic member during the filming of Antichrist with Boston Phoenix film editor Peter Keogh:
PK: William Dafoe, and I think you’ve mentioned this in another interview, is probably the worst therapist in the history of movies. How would you advise him to treat the Charlotte Gainsbourgh character, and what does he do wrong?
Lars Von Trier: Yeah, first of all, I have been undergoing this cognitive therapy for three years, and it’s I think it’s quite typical for me to be sarcastic. You can say that one of the main ideas behind any treatment of this also is that a fear is a thought, and, you know, it doesn’t change reality. You can say in the film it’s changed reality. All that was kind of what you could read up about the film. I wouldn’t let him treat her in any other way than with his d*ck, he has an enormous d*ck, but that maybe I took also… he’s extremely well-equipped. And we had to kind of take the scenes out of the film, we had a stand-in for him, we had to take the scenes out with his own d*ck.
PK: Hold on – You had a stand-in d*ck? You had to have a stand in d*ck for Dafoe?
LV: Yes, yes, we had to have, because Will’s own was too big.
PK: Too big to fit in the screen?
LV: (laughs) No, too big because everybody got very confused when they saw it.
He Was Expelled From High School For Making An Adult Film
While this is totally a thing that happened, Dafoe defended his expulsion in a conversation with the Mirror. Dafoe contended, “It wasn’t really pornographic. It was just a film about oddballs, including nudists. I was just a young boy in Wisconsin – anything to get out of there.” It was one of those “art” films then (but it would still probably be sold in the back section of the video store, if video stores were still a thing).
According To Him, He Was Raised By Five Horny Sisters
If you believe Dafoe’s account, his five sisters taught him about sex at the age of six. “It was a sexual education, because my sisters were the horniest little girls. They would tell me stuff that, when I was small, I didn’t want to hear. I remember one of my sisters talking about fellatio and cunnilingus when I was six years old. I said, ‘Only dirty people do that, right?’ She just laughed. When I told my friends what I knew about the birds and bees, they beat me up because they found it so disgusting.”
You really can’t help but think of Dafoe as the kind of guy who says things like “the horniest little girls” when talking about his sisters. Now you know that suspicion was valid.
He Hates Talking About The Time He Voiced An Animated Polar Bear For A Commercial
Willem Dafoe once voiced a cartoon polar bear. On purpose. Now, it’s not like this was back in the day when a young Willy needed some scratch to round out the rent money. The campaign began in 2011. So it’s strange, then, that Dafoe bristled at the mere mention of his voiceover as Clarence the Polar Bear in ads for Birds Eye. “This is the last thing I want to talk about,” he icily told an Independentreporter. Too bad, the ads are delightfully creepy.
He Skinned A Wallaby To Play His Role In The Hunter
Dafoe learned bushcraft from a Tasmanian tracker for his role in The Hunter. “When it came to skinning the wallaby,” he told Steve Rose at The Guardian, “I only had one chance at it, because they only had one animal. They said, ‘Listen, it’s been dead for a while. The gastric juices have been building up and it’s quite bloated. If you do this incorrectly, it’s gonna explode in your face.’ Luckily, there’s lots of surgeons in my family. I think it’s in my genes.”
But he wouldn’t admit to eating it. When he was asked about the wallaby in a later interview, he got snappish saying, “Let’s not get into that now.”
He Was Fired From Heaven’s Gate For Giggling
Dafoe had a minor part as a cock fighter in the 1980 film Heaven’s Gate, considered the first major Hollywood flop (it pretty much killed director Michael Cimino’s career). What did Dafoe do to get fired? He laughed at a joke. During a quiet, intense scene an extra whispered a joke to the young actor.
He recalled to SF Gate, “I was there for three months and I worked a lot. It was the kind of thing where you were hired to play an unscripted character and then they developed these smaller characters. I had scenes and everything and was really enjoying it and then one day we were doing a lighting set-up for a long time; basically eight hours standing in place, and a woman told me a joke in my ear and I laughed at a moment of silence. Cimino turned around and said, ‘Willem step out,’ and that was that. I was the lamb for sacrifice.”
Cimino doesn’t remember firing Dafoe, who confronted him about it later. “He doesn’t quite acknowledge it, but that’s what happened. It was quite a lesson because that was the first studio movie I had ever been involved in, so it was quite an eye-opener. I thought, ‘Wow, what a rough world!’” Dafoe said.
Dafoe’s appearance went uncredited.
He Once Played A Living Chicken Heart On Stage
This is how things went down at The Wooster Group (an experimental theater group Dafoe co-founded in New York) back in the ‘70s. Dafoe played a chicken heart in Nayatt School’s The Cocktail Party in 1978, and it was probably one of his tamer roles in the infamous theater group.
Dafoe’s partner of 27 years and theater director Elizabeth LeCompte apparently was always looking for the best chicken heart performance. “It was very funny, if you can imagine, prime time rehearsal and there are many, many things to do. And Liz is drilling people on how to be the chicken heart. And they’re failing left and right. She’s getting angry. And their acting careers are going down the drain. Their self-esteem is going down the drain. They’re gonna kill themselves because they can’t do the chicken heart. It was really extreme,” Dafoe recalled.
He was the best chicken heart of the troupe.
He Called Some Folks At Cannes “Idiots”
Lars von Trier’s Antichrist is a very bizarre film. But it’s Lars von Trier, so you know what you’re getting going in. When the film received boos and heckles at Cannes, Dafoe became vehemently upset. He told the Times, “It’s a hothouse environment, and they like scandal. You see who holds the cards and what plays, what doesn’t play. Where the idiots are, where the thoughtful people are. And for the most part the idiots win. But that’s okay.”
He’s Tired Of Hearing About His Huge Unit
Willem Dafoe was once asked if he was the most well-hung star in Hollywood. He gave The Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries a curt, “I don’t really work in Hollywood any more.” Which Jeffries noted “isn’t a denial.”
After numerous jokes about Dafoe’s smashed genitals in Antichrist at the Gotham Awards, Dafoe was over it. When asked just how over it he was by a Vulture reporter, he said, “What do you think? I mean, it’s fine if that’s what they want to focus on. It’s a movie that I think is beautiful and was a joy to make. But I can only make it. If people want to make that the thing they want to talk about, it’s distressing, but that’s their business.”
He’s Had His Share Of Golden Raspberry Nominations
In 1997, Dafoe was nominated as worst supporting actor for Speed 2: Cruise Control. On one level, this is an injustice to Dafoe. He was the best thing about that goddawful film. Speed 2: Cruise Control was deemed one of the worst sequels of all time by critics and audiences alike. It rated a measly 3% on Rotten Tomatoes, proving that if a director doesn’t reign in Dafoe, you get a John Geiger. Apparently Jan de Bont didn’t know that or masterfully let it happen. Never forget, Dafoe gave the Internet the above image as a gift forever.
He was also nominated for Body of Evidence in 1994. This Dino De Laurentis gem features Madonna and Dafoe in a scene that made men everywhere want to hide all of the coupons to the candle shop. To be fair, everyone connected with the film got nominated for a Razzie. Madonna walked away with the prize, though.
Reporter Lynn Barber Hated His Guts
It was clear from the outset that Lynn Barber may have appreciated Dafoe’s talent (and the size of his schlong), but she’s not a fan of the man in general. In fact, she found him to be quite insufferable.
In a piece for The Guardian, she wasted no time in putting down his looks as “disappointing” and mentioning the fact that he “kept running away and giggling with Ralph Fiennes,” at a star-studded party at a socialite’s house. She also took digs at Dafoe’s Wooster Group, detailing how the party goers were bored to tears over buying season tickets for the Group at a pop-up auction at the party.
She further eviscerates the way he answers a question in a never ending stream of consciousness. She also called his hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, “polluted,” which is super weird. Did she look up the EPA report on Appleton?
Dafoe did not like Barber’s take on him. Later, he stewed to another reporter, “Don’t make this into a crackpot profile, please. That’s happened before. Who’s that awful woman?” he asked. He meant Barber. “That’s her! I think she thought I lived by the pool with all these flunkies and her life is very hard so she wanted to portray me as this useless bugger.”
He’s Not A Tough Guy
When Huffington Post asked him, “If you and Nic Cage ever actually got together and wanted to do a heist, what would you go for?” Dafoe responded, “[Laugh] I don’t think that’s gonna happen. Deep down we’re two big sissies.” Despite his intimidating outward appearance, apparently Dafoe regards himself as a bit of a wimp.
He Broke Up With His Partner Of 26 Years
Dafoe and LeCompte have a son, Jack, born in 1982. When their relationship ended after 26 years, so did Dafoe’s relationship with their theater company, the Wooster Group. He just didn’t know it up front.
“When we separated,” he explained to the New York Times, “I understood that on the next project, maybe she needed some time to feel a little better about me. I haven’t heard from them.” When the Times asked for a response from LeCompte, she replied through an email message, “I respect Willem Dafoe as an artist, and I respect anything he has to say about the Group and the Group’s work.”
He’s Actually Not That Weird
For Dafoe, it’s always been about the work. He splits his spare time between the U.S. and Italy, where he lives with his wife, filmmaker Giada Colagrande. He asked her to marry him in 2005 and the couple married the next day.
The man himself has said, “What I’m always looking for is the character who can allow me to lose myself. I think that’s an exciting exercise. So naturally I gravitate towards things that are very far from me. And of course with madness – I don’t know that I’m normal – but I would say I’m not mad and I’m not bad. On their own, I’m afraid of those things, but in a certain kind of structure, I’m able to really go to the thing with a certain gusto.”
So really, you probably just think Dafoe is weird because he likes to play unusual roles. Not because the man himself is particularly odd.
He Loves Him Some Yoga
Dafoe’s totally into Ashtanga yoga. “You have to lose yourself to find yourself,” he has said. And he totally gives himself over to it. The above video captures Dafoe’s feelings and connection to it.
He Doesn’t Care About How His Teeth Look
When a reporter at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival asked him if he ever considered getting his teeth fixed, he replied, “They were my teeth, and they looked fine to me.” So he either doesn’t have access to a mirror, or he’s an extremely confident man.
He Doesn’t Follow Dreams
From his experimental theater days to his screen career, Dafoe has gone with the flow. “I’m not asleep. And I’ve always been ambitious and terrifically disciplined, so don’t get the idea that I’m just a guy hanging out and stuff is happening to me. I try to make things happen. But at the same time I trust serendipity. You can’t force things. When stuff comes together you support it and make it happen — I don’t have a plan, and I think that’s partly because I’ve never had a formal approach or a formal dream. In fact, I distrust dreams. All this stuff about following your dream and realizing your dream… it doesn’t sound good to me.”
Willem Dafoe: the man who doesn’t trust dreams.
He Loves What He Does
Dafoe is far from jaded about his profession. When asked if he was rejuvenated by the acting process by Indie Wire, Dafoe happily responded, “I am. It’s a defect — a beautiful defect that works in my favor. The other day Paul Schrader said to me, ‘You know what your problem is? You actually like doing this.’
Every set is different. I still believe in cinema. There’s a fight to be fought.”
You have to respect a guy who is energized by something that most people describe as emotionally draining. Or, perhaps, be kind of scared of him. Maybe both.