ENRICO CAIANOCorriere della Sera

Corriere della Sera

Updated Thursday, February 22, 2024-23:19

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With that face that looks a bit like it was painted by Caravaggio, full of shadows and grooves that appear where you least expect it,

Willem Dafoe

looks like a demon and an angel.

Dafoe was already a demon, he was Nosferatu more than 20 years ago in

The Shadow of the Vampire

, the film with which he was a candidate without an Oscar.

It was his second attempt.

The first (of four in total) had come in 1986, when he was in his early 30s and had just played Sergeant Elias in

Oliver Stone's

Platoon .

He deserved it: Stone made him go through, among other ordeals, a delirious day on set, working in the middle of a yellow fever epidemic.

That was the first of many on-screen deaths of his in his career.

And the angel?

Dafoe is an angel now, in his most recent film, the Italian

At Last Dawn


Although it is a very non-traditional angel, the one he plays directed for the first time by an Italian director, Saverio Costanzo.

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Willem Dafoe: "I don't use my work as therapy, but as training to be able to live"

  • Editor: PABLO SCARPELLINI Los Angeles

Willem Dafoe: "I don't use my work as therapy, but as training to be able to live"

Dafoe, in fact, lives in Italy, he has his house in Rome, in the Esquilino neighborhood near the place where his friend

Abel Ferrara

lives .

"I feel Italian and I like it. It is important to take care of traditions in a world in which everything loses its identity."

Although this time, the event is not in Rome but in Milan, where the actor has participated in the promotion of

Poor Creatures


In Yorgos Lanthimos

' film

Dafoe plays a brilliant scientist, a little more diabolical than angelic.

Lanthimos, the great auteur of contemporary European cinema, could be a good name with which to start the conversation.

Because Dafoe, before working with the Greek filmmaker, passed through the hands of Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Wes Anderson, Kathryn Bigelow, Wim Wenders, Paul Schrader, Werner Herzog, Oliver Stone and Lars von Trier.


In Europe the director usually has more power than in the United States

and this attracts me because I like strong directors."

Have you ever been tempted to go to that other side, directing?

"It's too difficult!

I'm not someone who watches, I'm someone who does!

I like to have my boots on the ground, the boots of the soldier, I don't pretend to be a general because that has nothing to do with my personality.

I feel good in the skin of the common man, in that of the worker, not in that of the boss.

And I think to be a director you have to be at least a little interested in power."

Only with Ferrara, his neighbor in Rome and alter ego and usual accomplice, has he had moments in which it was not clear if "

there was more of an actor or more of a director in me

. But those are moments of symbiosis with a friend."

"In America," Dafoe continues, "it is often the actor and not the director who has the authority."

It must be because of this particular personality that the actor does not hesitate to let himself go, to let his incredible face be also shaped by the cinema of


blockbusters .

Because, after more than 120 films made from 1981 to today, there has to be some reason other than money for Dafoe to leave his Roman refuge and play the Green Goblin in the


movies , or Vulko,


's advisor. , or John Geiger in


​​2 or Marcus, the mentor of

John Wick

played by Keanu Reeves.

"There is no scheme that divides my films between those I make 'for them' and

those I make 'for myself'

, that's not how things work," he clarifies.

"I think that an actor should have the flexibility to adapt to different projects and, in my opinion, some directors also make a mistake when they stop directing works with big budgets to limit themselves to working on small films."

Dafoe, he promises, will continue jumping here and there to

"work other muscles

. "

And, immediately, he becomes sublime when he talks about his job, he becomes almost mystical, as if acting were a way of giving meaning to his stay in the world.

"The act of acting is something mysterious to me, something that is constantly changing," he explains.

«I have never been bored and, at the same time, I feel like all actors, I know that I will never reach a truly satisfying final result.

I always try to improve myself, but, when I take perspective, I realize that

there is no goal, that I will never be able to achieve perfection


Acting is not something you can truly control.

And therein lies its beauty!"

What was the origin of this strange way of life?

«I want to transform, I want to be another person.

This is the first impulse that attracts me to my work.

And not because I despise myself, on the contrary.

But because I want to elevate myself, I want to take my sensitivity

and my compassion towards others

further .

At the end of the process of playing someone, the actor becomes more mentally independent.

Acting helps us open up, it is something useful for the people who watch but also for those who act.

"It can lead us to have moments of spirituality."

With the same radicality, Dafoe explains why, when reviewing the titles of his long career, there is never a single television series.

Only movies.

If anything, there may be some TV movies, but not series.

«I think it is not a question of snobbery;

I know that the difference between television culture and film culture has narrowed a lot in recent years.

The problem is that, as I said before, the director is very important to me.


in a television series, the directors are constantly changing




is the one who decides.

In cinema, the author preserves the possibility of the film that only he wants to make, without having to be aware of the audience.

I also like cinema that is not strictly narrative, while television cannot escape the narrative cage.

I find that there is more productive logic and less creative freedom.

And all this is much less sexy to me."

“And when we walk into a movie theater,” Dafoe continues, “we have to be absolutely attentive.

On the other hand, in front of the television people get distracted, they watch one part and save another for the next day, they look at their cell phone... In the cinema, on the other hand,

continuous delivery

is expected of us ."

Speaking of dedication: Dafoe must have discipline so that his body remains elastic, eternally young at 70 years old.

The ashtanga yoga that he practices every day and the vegetarian diet are a part of that miracle.

"It surprises me to think about my age. I'm one of those people who says, '

Am I really that old? But how could something like that happen?

'. I won't tell him that I feel like I'm 22 because I know I'm not anymore. I still have a lot of energy, although I am aware of the passage of time and that something has changed. I remember that when I started making films

I was always the youngest everywhere

and that now, when I start a shoot, I often realize that "I'm the oldest. I recently found out about the death of my first girlfriend, who was almost 10 years older than me. And I thought 'How could this happen, she was so young! The reality is that she was almost 80 years old.'" .

Giada Cologrande, his Italian wife and his film director, is 22 years younger than him.

Is yours your world?

"I am a person who spends most of his time making films and who leads a very particular and privileged life to be able to make judgments. I think the right thing to do is for an actor not to express too many personal opinions or, otherwise,

people will end up identifying him with a certain vision of things

. There is a risk that he will no longer be appreciated in his role as an actor."