Willem Dafoe is an awards-season expert—kinda. The actor received his third Oscar nomination for The Florida Project this year and has a film career that stretches back to the mid-80s, when he received his first best-supporting-actor nod for Platoon. But according to Dafoe, the awards season we know now is wildly different from the one he first encountered as a 31-year-old stage actor.
“I didn’t even know when the announcements were made, I really didn’t,” he tells Mike Hogan on this week’s episode of Little Gold Men. “I didn’t have a publicist, I didn’t know what it meant. I knew it was an honor. So there was an innocence a lot, at least a lot for me.”
A lot has changed, for awards season and Dafoe alike, in the 31 years since Platoon. But The Florida Project was, in a way, a chance for Dafoe to return to his roots with the downtown theater company the Wooster Group. Filming at a real rundown motel in Florida, Dafoe had the opportunity to bond with his co-stars—many of whom, like star Bria Vinaite, were acting in their first film. And though there was a script, from director Sean Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch, there was also ample opportunity to improvise lines or entirely new scenes. Like, say, the flock of long-necked birds who showed up in the motel’s parking lot one day. “There’s some birds outside,“ Dafoe says, taking on the voice of Baker. “We wanna get ’em off the parking lot. Willem, get ’em off the parking lot.”
Dafoe has earned a slew of awards nominations and wins for the role, which means enduring the long and sometimes exhausting process of awards season. But it’s something he says he values as a chance to catch up with his industry, especially since he lives primarily in Rome and New York. “My sense of community is a little slippery. When I do get in these kind of industry things, it’s fun for me, because I feel a part of the industry. I feel a little more connected to this world. I don’t feel like a lone gunslinger like I do sometimes when I’m making a film with Theo Angelopoulos in Eastern Europe, or making a down-and-dirty film with Abel [Ferrara] in Rome. I’m engaged, I’m not complaining. But my sense of the world is very specific to those circumstances, and I don’t feel a connection to a bigger world or an industry. But when I get in this kind of context, it feels good.”
Living outside of Los Angeles, though, doesn’t keep him from comparing himself to other actors once in a while, at least when it comes to publicity. “Sometimes you go on talk shows and they have you do goofy skits and I think, well, would Daniel Day-Lewis do this? I don’t know. But I know I’m good with it.”
You can listen to the interview with Willem Dafoe and the rest of this week’s Little Gold Men embedded above; the episode also includes discussion of the buzz around Black Panther, a recap of the Sundance Film Festival, and some pondering on the continually slippery state of the best-picture race.
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