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Willem Dafoe

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You filmed Daybreakers in Australia, done any other work there?

Yep. Also I filmed a good film called The Hunter and performed at a Melbourne Festival at the Malthouse Theatre.

Ever been there for leisure?

No, just mostly stuff associated with press. I also went there when my wife had a film at a film festival there. But I'm always happy when I'm there.

What are you impressions?

It's a very comfortable place to be. The nature is incredible, very particular. The people are kind of laid back. You know things feel very cool and easy, you know, not problems mate.

Because I'm working there, when I'm there as a choice, you're right I see the best part, I don't see the dark side. And I'm not looking for it. I'm sure it's there but I've always had a good time there.

Also my wife went to school there as a young Italian girl. Couldn't speak a word of English. She went to live with a family in Port Macquarie. So that's our family connection.

You don't have many scenes as John's (Keanu Reeves) friend Marcus in John Wick. What to do have to do to fully inhabit a guy with so little screen time?

You do the preparation you need to do to have the confidence to pretend. You look at the scenes and you imagine what has to happen.

So I imagined my real life relationship with Keanu was enough because there were parallels. We're both actors, we've been working for a while. I don't know him well but I can pretend that I know him well. I met him years ago. I remember him as a kid. We have common friends. So that kind of friendship and that mutual respect was easy to pretend.

Other than that I've played professional assassins before and I'm familiar around guns. It was about being graceful with those things. So you can't call me lazy.

But this didn't require a lot of research. I'd visit the set to see what the world was like and see what people were doing, that's just as important.

So many of your on screen characters come to very bloody ends. You've ever played the mother of all death scenes as Jesus Christ. What does that say about you?

They're trying to kill me. I don't kill myself. All these deaths and not one suicide.

The joke is that you always want a good entrance and a good exit. A good resolution for a character is always nice. I'm drawn to exotic and dramatic projects and in those kinds of movies the stakes are higher. I'm not so well known for doing flat out comedies or family dramas or doing little French style relationship stories. People don't tend to die in those.

Action movies, very dramatic stories in dramatic places in tumultuous historic times, warfare, cops, crime – all those things people die in, those are the movies I do.

So would you like to do more comedy or family drama and not die so much?

It's hard to speak hypothetically, I don't have an idea about what I need to do. I only know what I have an appetite for and what I think will challenge me. My nightmare as an actor is getting someplace and saying, 'yeah, I know how to do this and doing it easy, and having everyone on the set clap their hands and then go and do it again. We all like comfort, we all like reinforcement, we all like people to like what we do. But something tells me I would smell a rat if that happened.

You go from Spider-Man to Lars von Trier and from John Wick to David Lynch. Every project is completely different.

That's about protection because it allows you to exercise different muscles and allows you to not put all your chips on one number. It's not a career strategy, it's more a strategy to keep getting opportunities to do things that are interesting to me.

Tastes changes so much. When I walk down the street and people recognise me it's for different movies. I like that because it feels like I'm not just one thing.

So how do you chop and change when Hollywood pigeonholes actors so much?

I've tried to avoid it. It's partly because I've checked in and out and they've lost me and found me again. I have other worlds. I was at a small theatre that was totally under the radar every day for 26 years. The theatre and film worlds don't intersect at all. There are people I know quite well in the film business that have no idea I've been doing theatre for 40 years.

You've appeared in just about every genre and style over your career. What else is there left to tackle?

Not so much, in the theatre sometimes I get curious about Shakespeare because I'm not convinced that Shakespeare's so difficult to do. That's not something I have up my sleeve but sometimes I think about possibly trying to tackle that just because it's a curiosity thing.

How about mounting your own show then, or directing a movie?

No, I'm not a self-starter that way because when I have an idea for something it usually completes itself in my head. I always need to do it for someone else. If I do it for myself then it tends, my imagination is much less limited and it tends to be more egocentric.

And there's so much about performing, that place of losing yourself and having a level of engagement that's hard to find. That concentration and absorption into what you're doing that you can find with performing is very hard to find in directing, I think.

You still seem really switched on to acting and interested about it. Is it because you've worked with such a great roster of directors [Friedkin, Scorsese, von trier, Stone, Lynch, Raimi]?

Yeah, I think so. Also it's when a director proposes something, they have a feeling for something and they're trying to visualise it. They need help to make it flesh. That's where I come in.

What do you like about it?

If you know something you express it. I think it's more interesting sometimes to not know it, go towards it and then have an experience with that. You learn something new or have a change of feeling and that gives you new energy.

It's that change that emboldens and exhilarates you because. In the modern world where we get so much information and we've got such a high level of possibility of pleasure of all forms and convenience, we think it's freedom but I think it really locks us up.

Any favourite film or experience of making one of your films from your career?

Sometimes they aren't the same thing. You can have a wonderful time on a film and the film doesn't work. Or you have a terrible time on the film and the film works very well. I have my favourites and I get very self-anxious about saying which out of respect to the people that I've worked with. Also it shifts, a film that served me very well at the time, may not serve well now in memory.

Did you really get fired from Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate?

Yeah. I got hired as a glorified extra and it was very exciting. It was the first Hollywood studio movie for me to do. Michael Cimino has just won the Oscar for The Deer Hunter.

The production started getting bigger and bigger. History says it was a bad thing but other people would say he was making a great film but he got his hands tied. Things started getting very crazy. United Artists were coming in checking on him, and there was lots of tension. I think he was very stressed.

One day we were sitting in the lighting set up and him being a perfectionist, we were eight hours standing in costume and make up for lighting. We'd talk to pass the time and the woman next to me told a dirty joke so I laughed and stuck my tongue at her.

Michael turned around and saw me and said 'Willem step out'. They sent me to the hotel and a couple of hours later some fourth AD came and handed me a ticket and said, great having you. I asked what happened and he said 'nothing, nothing, you're just finished. It as great and everyone was happy.'

I'd be too embarrassed to tell that story except we know what happened with the movie so I should gloat. I've seen him since and he even offered me a part so there's no hard feelings. But it was a weird beginning.

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