Photo via Focus Features/Universal Pictures

Willem Dafoe becomes Willem Dafriend by sharing the secrets to a long and successful career

Willem Defoe? More like Willem Dafriend.

It’s no secret Willem Dafoe is one of our favorite actors; from his portrayal of the Green Goblin in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man to playing Jesus in The Last Temptation of the Christ, he’s proved more than adept at making characters come to life on screen. As one of the hardest-working actors in Hollywood, Dafoe is finally sharing the tips and tricks he’s learned throughout his prolific career.

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While promoting his latest movie Inside — where he plays a high-end art thief trapped inside a penthouse during a heist gone wrong — Dafoe spoke with IndieWire about his impressive career and how he’s able to play such a wide and varied range of characters with ease. Over the years, Dafoe has developed several rules that help him fully commit to his roles, and even if you’re not an actor, you’ll likely find his rules applicable for your daily life. We thank you for sharing your hard-earned wisdom, Willem!

Dafoe says when acting, characters are “revealed through the doing— as all characters are — through the things that [they choose] to do or not do.” When you make choices as a character and act on those choices, those simple actions can tell an audience more about your character than most monologues. When it comes to your real life, actions show people who you are more than words. Dafoe focuses on movement by doing his own stunts as well, telling IndieWire, “there’s no going back. You go forward, forward, forward. That has a beautiful effect. You concentrate on what you’re doing. You’re not thinking outside of where you are.” Being present can help you get out of your head and nothing helps indecision more than just moving.

Being present can help you focus on the bigger picture as well. In Inside, Dafoe’s character interprets the artwork around him differently depending on the situation, showing that things can have more than one assigned meaning. There’s nothing inherently different about the paintings, but a change in perspective can help you make sense of the world around you.

“When we’re forced not to take things at their superficial value, it opens up an understanding of how things are interconnected, where stuff fits in, and what defines them.”

Dafoe has a lot to say about money and fame. While “money is a consideration,” the actor believes good work does not necessarily equal high-paying work. In his experience, “good work breeds good work and opportunities.” Money can tell you what a person values (and you obviously need it to survive) but doing your best work should be your focus, and sometimes your best work requires trying new, less high-paying things. Dafoe argues that by pursuing interesting work, opportunities will arise and money will continue to come your way. We love a good manifestation.

If success does indeed come, Dafoe believes you shouldn’t worry about what projects people associate you with. “People tend to be set in their taste and what they’re most interested in. I run into people on the street that think I’ve only made ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Aquaman.’ There are also people that only know me from smaller movies. It’s not my business; my business is to make the work.” What people think of you and your career says more about them than it does about you. Ultimately, your actions and work will speak for themselves; what people think of you matters less than the work you do. It’s easy to see how Dafoe is able to star in such varied projects given his work ethic and relatively chill outlook on life.


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Staci White
Since the moment she listened to her first Britney Spears CD at the tender age of six, Staci has been a lover of all things pop culture. She graduated from UCLA with a Bachelors in Linguistics and somehow turned her love of music, movies, and media into a career as an entertainment writer. When she’s not writing for WGTC, she’s busy fulfilling her own pop star dreams as a singer/songwriter or hanging out at her local coffee shops.