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18 Unexpected Facts About Willem Dafoe Most People Don't Know

Updated February 4, 2021 543.1k views18 items

Willem Dafoe has done stellar work in films like Platoon, To Live and Die in LA, Spider-Man (the first one - not the second or third one), and Boondock Saints (the first one - not the second one). But you have to balance that against his performances in Speed 2: Cruise Control, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Body of Evidence, and Howl. There’s a lot on either side of the fence. Dafoe is nothing if not prolific. 

Many Willem Dafoe facts seem to center around the size of the actor’s manhood, which Lars von Trier described as “too large and confusing” to put on screen. One might find Willem Dafoe strange because of the way his biography gets hashed around a lot by reporters looking to make the actor weirder than he actually is. They’re looking for all the reasons Dafoe turned out the way they think he is.

Was it his sex education at the age of 6 by his five “horny” sisters? Guardian reporter Stuart Jeffries theorized that latchkey kid Dafoe locked himself up in a dark closet one too many times and became a habitual pleaser of adults, game for anything. This may explain his career and penchant for anything-goes-type characters. "When I give over to somebody's vision rather than have an idea of what I need to do, it takes me to places I wouldn't have got to by myself. I'm always attracted to a strong director,” Dafoe offered. 

Who is Willem Dafoe? He’s said of his choice of roles, "Yes, I am game. I've always been game - maybe to a fault." He’s a professional who knows how to keep his wits while he’s losing it onscreen. He’s a dad. A husband. And he likes to giggle.

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  • He Skinned A Wallaby To Play His Role In 'The Hunter'

    Dafoe learned bushcraft from a Tasmanian tracker for his role in The Hunter.

    "When it came to skinning the wallaby," he told Steve Rose at The Guardian, "I only had one chance at it, because they only had one animal. They said, 'Listen, it's been dead for a while. The gastric juices have been building up and it's quite bloated. If you do this incorrectly, it's gonna explode in your face.' Luckily, there's lots of surgeons in my family. I think it's in my genes."

  • He Was Fired From 'Heaven’s Gate' For Giggling

    Dafoe had a minor part as a cock fighter in the 1980 film Heaven's Gate, considered the first major Hollywood flop (it pretty much ended director Michael Cimino’s career). What did Dafoe do to get fired? He laughed at a joke. During a quiet, intense scene, an extra whispered a joke to the young actor. He recalled to SFGate: 

    I was there for three months and I worked a lot. It was the kind of thing where you were hired to play an unscripted character and then they developed these smaller characters. I had scenes and everything and was really enjoying it and then one day we were doing a lighting set-up for a long time; basically eight hours standing in place, and a woman told me a joke in my ear and I laughed at a moment of silence. Cimino turned around and said, "Willem step out," and that was that. I was the lamb for sacrifice. 

    Cimino doesn’t remember firing Dafoe, who confronted him about it later. "He doesn’t quite acknowledge it, but that’s what happened. It was quite a lesson because that was the first studio movie I had ever been involved in, so it was quite an eye-opener. I thought, 'Wow, what a rough world!'" Dafoe said

  • He Once Played A Living Chicken Heart On Stage

    This is how things went down at the Wooster Group (an experimental theater group Dafoe co-founded in New York) back in the '70s. Dafoe played a chicken heart in Nayatt School’s The Cocktail Party in 1978, and it was probably one of his tamer roles in the infamous theater group. 

    Dafoe’s partner of 27 years and theater director Elizabeth LeCompte apparently was always looking for the best chicken heart performance. Dafoe recalled:

    It was very funny, if you can imagine, prime time rehearsal and there are many, many things to do. And Liz is drilling people on how to be the chicken heart. And they’re failing left and right. She’s getting angry. And their acting careers are going down the drain. Their self-esteem is going down the drain. They’re gonna kill themselves because they can’t do the chicken heart. It was really extreme.

  • He Called Some Folks At Cannes 'Idiots'

    Lars von Trier’s Antichrist is a very bizarre film. But it’s Lars von Trier, so you know what you're getting going in. When the film received boos and heckles at Cannes, Dafoe became vehemently upset.

    He told the The New York Times, “It’s a hothouse environment, and they like scandal. You see who holds the cards and what plays, what doesn’t play. Where the idiots are, where the thoughtful people are. And for the most part the idiots win. But that’s okay.”