Willem Dafoe on the Pleasure of Acting and Why He Hates the Expression, “Nailing It”

Actor Willem Dafoe

“It’s really curiosity, and wonder, and learning stuff. If I’ve learned nothing else, it’s about the doing, it’s not the showing.” – Willem Dafoe on Acting

Four-time Academy Award nominated actor Willem Dafoe has become a recognizable face in all kinds of films, from dramas like At Eternity’s Gate and The Florida Project to one of the roles that he will always be associated with, the supervillain Green Goblin in the first Spider-Man movie. He’s particularly known for taking  on roles in out-of-the-box indie films, such as director Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, in which he portrays a lighthouse keeper opposite Robert Pattinson. In an interview with the two actors for Esquire, Dafoe spoke about the “pleasure” he receives from performing.

Dafoe talks about the enjoyment he gets out of acting, and how he feels it even when his roles take him to different places. He explains:

“I shouldn’t make this comparison, but recently I watched Free Solo and Alex Honnold [the death-defying free-climber, subject of that documentary]talks about fun. What he’s talking about, it’s not fun, but it’s pleasure. He found a way to connect with something that he loves and something that is meaningful to him and something that gives his life purpose. That’s what I have with performing, and sometimes it goes south, sometimes it’s silly, sometimes, because of the collaborative nature of it, you can do beautiful things, you can do horrible things, but as long as you know why you’re doing them, for yourself, you’re protected.”

With that said, Dafoe doesn’t mean the word “protected” as something that is harmful “…or that I think that you gotta be reckless, or dangerous.” He continues, “It’s not that. It’s really curiosity, and wonder, and learning stuff. If I’ve learned nothing else, it’s about the doing, it’s not the showing. That’s the most fundamental thing about performing. I abhor this expression, ‘nailing it’. There’s no such fucking thing. It’s wide open.”

More: Willem Dafoe: “I don’t think you can keep doing the same thing as an actor and be free”

About Author

In college, overachiever Christopher McKittrick double-majored in Film and English because he loves to read, write, and watch movies. Since then Chris – who was born and raised on Long Island, New York and currently lives in Queens – has become a published author of fiction and non-fiction, a contributor to entertainment websites, and has spoken about literature, film, and comic books at various conferences across the country when he’s not getting into trouble in New York City (apparently it’s illegal to sleep on street corners...) For more information about Chris, visit his website here!

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