Willem Dafoe was
born in Appleton, Wisconsin, one of eight children in a comfortably
His father was a surgeon; his mother a nurse. His
siblings pursued equally traditional paths; one became a lawyer,
two entered medicine, another became a housewife.
Willem chose a very different path. An actor's
actor, known for his adventurous choices on both stage and
screen, Dafoe is currently in Los Angeles shooting the big-budget
the book: How did
your worldview change when you left home? willem
dafoe: Growing up, my identity was very
wrapped up in my family. You grow up white, male and middle-class
in the Midwest and you are growing up with a terrific sense of entitlement.
You see yourself reflected in everything in the culture. Then I
moved to New York to pursue acting-- a path that doesn't have those
There is bound to be some poverty at the beginning;
(laughs) maybe at the end. I went from being middle-class to being
absolutely poor, from being sheltered in the Midwest and having
a very narrow view of the world to this city that still remains
a melting pot and is always reinventing itself. I was living in
bad neighborhoods without that sense of entitlement. I liked being
an artist. I was educating myself and becoming radicalized. That's
a huge change.
the book: In a sense,
though, you still had a safety net under you, didn't you?
dafoe: Yes. I tried
to reject it but you are still a card-carrying member. You are white,
maleand American-- and can always get a job.
the book: In addition
to a very active film career you continue to do a lot of stage work.
You have been a member of the New York theater company the Wooster
Group for 25 years and have credited it with having a profound influence
on you. Can you elaborate? dafoe:
The people in the Wooster Group are just incredible.
[They] marry the love of work with the love of higher things. That's
a kind of bastard translation of a Chechkov quote, We must
learn to meet the love of work with the love of higher things.
It means: find your purpose, find out where you feel vital, find
out where you can serve well.