Willem Dafoe on His Love of New York and the Importance of Acting on Stage

Willem Dafoe makes me feel lucky that I live in New York, because he sings the city’s praises in his latest interview with one of the city’s hometown papers, The Wall Street Journal.  With his next film, 4:44 Last Day on Earth making its United States debut at the New York Film Festival, Dafoe has a lot to say about the city that he calls half-home (he lives the part of the year in Italy).

“New York is very important,” Dafoe insists, “I grew up in the Midwest. When I grew up there was nobody I knew that was making their living or having a life performing or making art. And I found myself drawn to Mecca—Mecca being New York—because I initially started out as a theater actor and never even thought of being in movies because it was just so far away from me. And initially, that wasn’t being an actor to me. Being an actor was performing in the theater. When I came to New York in 1977, there was a lot going on. I was a pretty unsophisticated kid and I came to New York and I grew up real fast. It still remains my home and my favorite city in the world.”   But don’t head to New York if you want to catch Dafoe anytime soon: the star plans on taking the stage closer to the actual Mecca than his Mecca next.  He explains, “I’m going to do Robert Wilson’s The Life & Death of Marina Abramovic in Madrid in April and tour with it. It’s an ongoing piece and it’s a big piece. Working with the Wooster Group all those years, I’m a little spoiled because I’m used to having my own company, so I’m not just a actor for hire I’m a guy that likes to participate in the making of something.”

So since Dafoe has his own company, does he consider himself more a film actor or a stage actor?  Dafoe doesn’t claim to belong to either, but he does highlight the importance of theatrical acting to his development as an overall actor, saying, “I am the actor I am because of working in theater. Not necessarily traditional theater but being a theater performer teaches you to use your whole body. It teaches you about rhythm and timing. Sometimes when people come from television or go directly into film, sometimes they don’t get the practice of sustaining something for a long time or being able to maintain the physical score for a long time. I think I remain a physical actor because not only do I return to theater but the theater made me, I think of myself much more as an athlete or a dancer than I do an interpreter.”

Seeing the former Green Goblin dance?  Never thought that image would cross my mind!

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