Over the last decade and a half the superhero genre has blossomed into the dominant force in Hollywood. Willem Dafoe was there at the very beginning, courtesy of his performance as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in 2002’s “Spider-Man,” and it says everything about his longevity that the 62-year-old has now been cast as Nuidis Vulko in the DC Extended Universe.
Dafoe’s Vulko, a scientist and friend to Aquaman, will actually make his debut in the DCEU next month in the “Justice League,” but will feature much more prominently in 2018’s solo outing for the superhero. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Dafoe about “The Florida Project,” the delightful drama from Sean Baker, which features a stunning turn from the actor. Towards the end of our discussion I decided to quiz him about “Aquaman” and what lured him back to the comic book genre.
“Working with a good filmmaker, in James Wan. Working in a different way and performance. Also to work with the technology, and the special effects. Also to be in a movie that is almost assured of a huge distribution,” Dafoe explained. “Because sometimes you suffer when you make movies that you enjoy that then don’t get the distribution they deserve. That’s not a concern with ‘Aquaman’,” he added.
“There are pluses and minuses to everything. So you weigh them, and you appreciate them moving around. Like not going to the same problems all the time. And not going to the same strengths all the time. Really mixing them up, so next time you are in a situation you can approach it with the kind of energy and gameness and openness that you might not have had,” the actor elaborated. You can certainly see that philosophy play out in his career, too, as he jumps fluidly from discussing “The Florida Project” to “Aquaman.”
“You can always trick yourself the first time. But you’ve got to find a new way into things, so you can break the habits, you can break the locks down that you have conditioned as responses. Because that’s what imprisons you as an artist and as a person. And I think when you are able to break through it, and reimagine it, that spark is felt by an audience. If they watch something that hasn’t been made in that spirit, no matter how high level and how well made it is, they can admire the surface of it, but it doesn’t make an impact.”
I then asked Dafoe whether he felt proud of helping to turn the comic book movie into a bona-fide mainstream commodity. But, it turns out, he couldn’t care less.
“I’m making a movie. I’m not thinking about that. Because I live on the set. I’m a performer, and the business of movies is not my expertise. I always take joy in doing, and not so much in the after. But I’m always game in promoting a movie I like.”
Dafoe certainly feels that way about “The Florida Project,” which has already been labelled as one of the best movies of the year by many.