Willem Dafoe is clearly an internet-savvy man, one who both referenced his continued online popularity and yet actively attempted to shy away from it when he made his return in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Spider-Man: No Way Home.
The actor brought the house down in theaters around the world when he revealed to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker that he was something of a scientist himself, in what was the most self-aware wink in the entire movie. However, Dafoe revealed to The New York Times that when he was first approached to reprise the role of Norman Osborn for the first time well over a decade, he wanted to ensure that he wasn’t just there to generate more content.
Even in the second and third installments [of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films], having me do little cameos, it was a pleasure to just see everyone again and stick my toe in the pool. But I didn’t have the imagination of continuing on. When Amy Pascal and Jon Watts called me up and said we’d like to pitch you this idea, I thought, ‘this is crazy. But let’s see what they have to say.’
I really didn’t want to do a cameo. I wanted to make sure there was something substantial enough to do that wasn’t just a tip of the hat. And the other thing was, I said I really want there to be action — I want to take part in action scenes. Because that’s really fun for me. It’s the only way to root the character. Otherwise it just becomes a series of memes.”
It would be safe to say the returning antagonist achieved his goal, with Norman’s Jekyll & Hyde arc giving him the most narrative and performative meat to chew on among the five multiversal villains.
We won’t know for a while whether he’s managed to avoid becoming a meme all over again, though, not until official stills from No Way Home are being circulated.
Either way, it was a triumphant comeback for the veteran star, and he more than proved his mettle in the action sequences by matching Holland’s Spidey step-for-step, even though he’s got 41 years on his youthful co-star.