Willem Dafoe on Acting: “I don’t interpret, I do”

Willem Dafoe remains one of those actors who is as versatile as he is prolific — he regularly appears in about 3 movies per year, ranging from expensive studio projects like Spider-Man and John Carter to independent films like this year’s 4:44 Last Day on Earth and The Hunter.  In a conversation with The Guardian, he explains his approach to acting, including reflecting on his background in theater, and laughs about some of his less successful roles.

Dafoe dismisses the idea that an actor “interprets” roles.  He explains, “I don’t interpret, I do.  Sometimes I say I feel more like a dancer than an actor, because there are things implied about being an actor that I don’t really like. I feel more comfortable with the word ‘performer’. I like being the thing. I like being the doer. There’s a factualness to it. And then certain resonances happen out of how you apply yourself physically.”  In the case of the stage, Dafoe adds, “It’s amazingly physical.  With theatre, you have to be ready for anything.”

Since he’s so prolific, Dafoe has appeared in some bad films.  As for these less than stellar films, Dafoe sees them as all part of the process.  He jokes, “If you mix it up, you’re going to fail a lot! But I say it’s worth it. I think on some level, you do your best things when you’re a little off-balance, a little scared. You’ve got to work from mystery, from wonder, from not knowing. I like coming in the back door somehow. I like things that creep up on you. I like performances that you don’t see, you feel.”

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