Willem Dafoe was in Berlin today to accept the Honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievement at the Berlin Film Festival. The actor is coming off of The Florida Project for which he’s received several awards and is nominated for an Oscar as the cantankerous motel handyman and guardian angel to the kids in Sean Baker’s drama.
He spoke to the press this afternoon, answering questions about his diverse 40-year career which has brought him a total three Oscar nominations and seen him work with such filmmakers as Tony Scott, William Friedkin, Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, Alan Parker, David Lynch, Julian Schnabel, Anthony Minghella, David Cronenberg, Abel Ferrara and Lars von Trier.
A jocular Dafoe wouldn’t be led on favorites though. “Part of being an actor is not having a preference. You love what you’re doing and commit. I don’t try to compare, it’s too depressing. If you have favorites then you try to repeat… Yes, some are more dear to me, but I’d be loath to name them.”
He allowed he likes “personal filmmakers” like Danish bad boy von Trier who directed him in Manderlay, Antichrist and Nymphomaniac Vol II. “Lars has got a beautiful command of what is cinematic. He’s one of the greats. I hope to work with him again. The experiences I had with him, I really enjoyed him. He’s a good example of someone who is passionate and has a command and is fun to be around.”
Dafoe said he enjoys both big and small parts, “I feel very comfortable with that role. I like being a color in a painting.” He also talked about inhabiting roles: “Jesus, that was complicated,” he said about his transformation in Scorsese’s Last Temptation — and eliciting a laugh from the press corps.
But don’t expect him to migrate to television any time soon. “I’m not attracted naturally to television. I really think there’s a difference between television and cinema. Lately, a lot of energy and resources are going to television. It sits in the culture in a more popular way than film. But I still find many opportunities in film and I think film has a special power TV almost never has to create a mystery and poetry. I’m more narrative obsessed.”
He called Baker’s lauded The Florida Project “a movie I really love. I am very proud to be nominated for it and proud to represent the movie… The movie is a little portrait of a society and speaks a lot about social responsibility and community. I learned a lot about a world I didn’t know. ”
A 10-film retrospective of Dafoe’s work is screening in Berlin including Antichrist, Paul Schrader’s Auto Focus, The Last Temptation Of Christ, Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Parker’s Mississippi Burning, E Elias Merhige’s Shadow Of The Vampire and Friedkin’s To Live And Die In LA.
At 62, what does he think about being given a Lifetime Achievement Award? “I’m a little young for this, but I’ve been working for almost 40 years, so I figure that’s fair, we have something to talk about.”
He added, “The nice thing about getting older is you become clearer. I like getting older and while there is ageism in any popular culture, the curious thing I’m finding is I’m having more opportunities now than I’ve ever had.”
Dafoe is next up in Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate and is back in the superheroverse with James Wan’s Aquaman this fall. He’s also narrating Jennifer Peedom’s nature doc Mountain which Greenwich Entertainment acquired for U.S. rights earlier at the EFM.