Willem Dafoe grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, “a quiet, conservative paper mill town” during the “Eisenhower era,” from a large middle-class family with two older brothers and five sisters, his mother was a nurse, his father a surgeon, “and both my parents worked, he says, so I was very free and a little mischievous.” “I was a God-fearing straight kid, but I knew I wanted to become an actor, which seemed an unrealistic aspiration, because nobody I knew made their living that way.” In 1976 at age 21 he moved to New York and joined an Avant-garde theater company, The Wooster Group, became romantically involved with its founder, Elizabeth LeCompte, 32; in 1982 they had a son, Jack.
His first movie role was the leader of an outlaw motorcycle club in The Loveless (1982) by Kathryn Bigelow, he was a compassionate sergeant during the Vietnam war in Platoon (1986) by Oliver Stone, Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) by Martin Scorsese, Greek boxer Salamo Arouch forced to fight other prisoners to the death in Auschwitz concentration camp in Triumph of the Spirit (1989). He played American poet T.S. Eliot with Miranda Richardson as his wife Vivienne in Tom & Viv (1994) by Brian Gilbert, actor Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire (2000) about the making of Murnau’s 1922 German expressionist film Nosferatu based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic novel Dracula, murder suspect John Carpenter in Auto Focus (2002) by Paul Schrader, the villain Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in the Spider-Man trilogy (2002-2007) directed by Sam Raimi.
In 2005 at age 50 Dafoe married Italian director Giada Colagrande, 30, acted in some of her films.
He plays scientist Nuidist Vulko in DC Comics Justice League (2017) by Zack Snyder, he is part of the ensemble cast with Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer in Murder on the Orient Express (2017) directed by Kenneth Branagh from the 1934 detective novel by Agatha Christie.
In The Florida Project (2017) by Sean Baker he is Bobby, the empathetic manager of a Florida motel, that is home to “a dysfunctional community of people, living a precarious lifestyle, who resort to some unsavory behavior bordering on the criminal,” he says. “It’s a story that sheds light on people who slipped through the cracks of the very little social welfare net that there is in this country. It shows that this cycle has to be broken by someone helping and giving new opportunities. It becomes fairly clear that you want to put your investment, your energy, not into jails and cops, but on education and health care.”
He will next play French painter Vincent van Gogh with Oscar Isaac as Paul Gauguin in At Eternity’s Gate (2018) by Julian Schnabel.
Dafoe commented on his Golden Globe nomination as Supporting Actor, “My career has been enriched by international projects, film festivals and foreign releases, so I am particularly grateful to be recognized by the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.”