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BAFTA to host career retrospective with Willem Dafoe

Willem Dafoe in Antichrist

Story by Jack Foley

THE career of actor Willem Dafoe is to be celebrated by BAFTA at a special A Life in Pictures event on Friday, December 6, 2019 at ODEON Luxe, Leicester Square.

In a career spanning almost 40 years in the business, it would be nigh on impossible to cover every movie in actor Willem Dafoe’s extensive filmography in such a short time. It’s not just the number of films in his repertoire, either (which easily tops 100 films), but also the variety of roles he’s played that makes précising his impressive career so problematic.

He is one of the most versatile actors working today, able to easily shift between character-driven indie fare, such as Sean Baker’s BAFTA-nominated The Florida Project (2017), to mega Hollywood blockbusters, like Aquaman (2018).

He has taken on challenging roles that have courted awards, with BAFTA, Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations, among many others, to his name, but also seems happy to star in more mainstream fare.

If there’s one defining factor to his various characters it’s that his features are unmistakable. He may sometimes hide that behind a beard or wig or prosthetics, but there’s no mistaking those sharp cheekbones and intense, piercing eyes.

For a lesser actor, his features may have proven a hindrance, inevitably leading to typecasting as ‘the villain’ or other morally duplicitous characters – and Dafoe has played a fair few, including Spider-Man’s (2002) Norman Osborn/Green Goblin and Speed 2’s (1997) computer hacker Geiger – but it’s testament to his versatility that this has never been the case.

“Flexibility is important for an actor,” he told The Guardian while promoting 2018’s At Eternity’s Gate, a deep dive biopic of artist Vincent van Gogh, to whom he shares an uncanny likeness. “Otherwise corruption sets in. You get stuck in certain patterns, and a certain kind of performing language that keeps you from a kind of sense of discovery or danger or mystery.”

It is a maxim he seems to have stuck to throughout his career. Platoon’s (1986) world-weary Sgt Elias, for which Dafoe earned his first Oscar nomination, is a far cry from hilarious salty dog Klaus in The Life Aquatic (2004) or serene creator Pier Paolo Pasolini in Abel Ferrara’s arthouse biopic Pasolini (2014).

Dafoe is also one of cinema’s great risk-takers. Just take a look at Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009) and Nymphomaniac: Vol II (2013) and Shadow of the Vampire (2000), for which he earned both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations.

These are all reasons why Dafoe has collaborated with many of the world’s best directors: adding to the names given above, Wes Anderson, Kathryn Bigelow, David Cronenberg, William Friedkin, Spike Lee, David Lynch, Anthony Minghella, Alan Parker, Sam Raimi, Paul Schrader, Oliver Stone, Wim Wenders and Zhang Yimou, among them.

This year alone saw Dafoe star in three very different films. Ed Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn, an adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s crime novel, is more mainstream fare, with Dafoe in a supporting role.

Tommaso is more challenging filmmaking, with Dafoe reuniting with director Abel Ferrara to play the titular character, a down-on-his-luck filmmaker struggling to overcome alcoholism and drug addiction to become a success again.

Finally, there’s The Lighthouse, Robert Eggers’ much-anticipated follow-up to his debut, The Witch, which pairs Dafoe with Robert Pattinson in a film that has had film festival goers’ tongues wagging lyrical.

His 2019 output is Willem Dafoe’s filmography in a nutshell: challenging, crowd-pleasing, emotional, provocative, distinct and diverse.

Public tickets for BAFTA: A Life in Pictures: Willem Dafoe are available here

BAFTA A Life in Pictures is a long-running series of onstage interviews in which some of the world’s leading film and television talent share insights into the experiences that helped them hone and develop their craft.

The series has previously hosted figures including Annette Bening, Kenneth Branagh, Cate Blanchett, Viola Davis, Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Fincher, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Sam Mendes, Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Vanessa Redgrave, Martin Scorsese, Kristin Scott Thomas, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.

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