Some A-list Hollywood stars succeed by playing variations of one character throughout their entire career. Some examples would be John "I'm always an American Tough Guy" Wayne, Jason "I'm always a British Tough Guy" Statham, and Seth "Whoa, I'm a totally stoned guy" Rogen. Then there are the skilled thespians who can inhabit just about any role you throw at them. Willem Dafoe, over his long and illustrious career, has shown himself to be a venerable member of the latter category.
Here are some of the parts he's played that prove he can deftly handle every genre and be believable in every role, from tropical fish to the almighty Son of God. Vote up your favorite Dafoe performances.
- Photo: Orion Pictures
In 1986 Dafoe appeared in Oliver Stone's Platoon and featured in one of the most iconic war movie moments of all time.
With his arms spread wide in an obvious crucifixion allegory, the demise of Sgt. Elias was an incredible scene that resulted in Dafoe earning his first Academy Award nomination (and losing to Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters).56427Nailed it?
In The Boondock Saints, Dafoe is FBI special agent Paul Smecker, whose mission is to bring down two vigilante brothers (played by Sean Patrick Flanery and a pre-Walking Dead Norman Reedus).
The character of Smecker is a bit more complicated than others of this sort, as he is an emotionally conflicted gay man who ultimately decides to assist his targets in their quest for ruthless justice. Dafoe plays him with an over-the-top gusto that winds up being ridiculous, weird, and vastly entertaining. While The Boondock Saints won’t be remembered as a great movie, you can't take your eyes off Dafoe.57234Nailed it?
- Photo: Lionsgate
The character Marcus in the John Wick universe is an elite member of the previous generation of professional assassins. Dafoe plays this friend and mentor to Keanu Reeves’s title character and is supportive of Wick's decision to retire after the passing of his wife.
The friendship is a grim one, with Dafoe describing it as one "that was made in a very dark world." Sadly, the memorable Marcus was unable to show up in any of the sequels due to a bad case of being tormented and killed. Which, by the way, actually put Dafoe into Sean Bean territory in terms of his proclivity for kicking the bucket on film.39222Nailed it?
- Photo: Orion Pictures
A straight-laced, by-the-book law enforcement professional isn't something we'd normally expect Dafoe to play, but early in his career he pulled it off magnificently.
Playing the no-nonsense FBI agent Alan Ward in the 1988 civil rights thriller Mississippi Burning (opposite Gene Hackman’s more "nuanced" agent Rupert Anderson), Dafoe received accolades for his subtle intensity, but was outrageously ignored by the people handing out awards.33711Nailed it?