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Willem Dafoe’s Best Performances That Prove He’s Hollywood’s Greatest Thespian

We have come across a myriad of actors who have excelled in the theatrical arts. They have been so prominent in certain specific roles that they are mostly associated to that very category when the viewers see their face or hear their name. Jason Statham is the Tough Guy with an Accent. Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are a One Man Army. Seth Rogen is the Stoned Comedian. Jesse Eisenberg is the quirky, eccentric and mysterious protagonist. But ever thought in which category would you classify Willem Dafoe in? Where does Willem Dafoe fall?

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That’s right. It is very difficult. Throughout his long career in the movie making industry, the very diversity of roles and performances he has flawlessly delivered over the years make him one the greatest legends of Hollywood. He is the world’s most underrated thespian. He always delivers phenomenally in any movie big or small but never gets the due acknowledgement for his work. This list is for the ones who know the artistic prowess of Dafoe, an actor who is way ahead of his time. It is time to shower you with facts that will also turn you, like it did to us, into an ardent Willem Dafoe fan.

Salty Light House Keeper – The Light House

willem dafoe the light house keeper

The movie features two amazing actors – Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. Dafoe plays the role of a Light House Keeper who suffers from being left in isolation and away from human society for so long. He never shows it but he subtly reveals that he is home-sick and misses the touch of a human soul, its absence making him grumpier and pushing towards mild but palpable insanity. Dafoe supposedly studied the journals of 19th Century Light House Keepers of New England to prepare himself for the role. He delivers the role of a New England Wickie flawlessly. The Daily Telegraph claimed that Dafoe’s performance in The Light House is so “astounding” that it will “make your head and soul ring”.

Blood-Sucking Creature of the Night – Shadow of the Vampire

willem dafoe shadow of the vampire max schreck

Willem Dafoe had already played the role of a vampire before in a movie called The Hunger. He had a minor role in that film and never got any attention for it. But in the 2000 meta-fiction tale, Dafoe gives one of his career best. Max Schreck is hired by a film making crew to star as the iconic vampire in a remaking of the classic 1922 Horror Classic. Schreck plays Nosferatu but here’s the catch – Max Schreck is a real vampire. He actually feeds on the blood of the innocent to stay alive. What makes Dafoe stand out is that he nails the meta-commentary very well. You instantly relate to his struggles to maintain his cover while targeting unsuspecting crew members. Roger Ebert claimed that his portrayal of Schreck was so uncanny he could have given the original movie a run for its money.

Megalomaniac Super Villain – Spider-Man

willem dafoe green goblin sam raimi spider-man

Long before he joined the DC Extended Universe as Nuidis Vulko, Aquaman’s Mentor, he had already dabbled in the superhero genre. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is hailed by many to be the first true superhero movie. That would make Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn the first true comic book super villain of Hollywood. Before Tom Hoddleston’s Loki, Josh Brolin’s Thanos or Heath Ledger/Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, it was Willem Dafoe that gave the superheroes sleepless nights. His maniacal laugh and crazy antics as the billionaire madman with a vengeance were some of the signature trademarks of the movie. It was his cackle and his mirror speech that won our hearts and minds.

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Messiah – The Last Temptation of Christ

willem dafoe jesus crhist the last temptation of christ

You know you have big shoes to fill when you are supposed to portray the central figure of faith for a global religion. Willem Dafoe played Jesus Christ in The last Temptation of Christ. There were no sources for him to study his role except biblical scriptures. We all know about Jesus Christ but none of us know him personally. For an actor who has to play the role of someone who is viewed differently by each and every man, woman, and child in the world that is quite the conundrum. Willem Dafoe’s performance as Jesus Christ earned him a hell of a lot of controversies. Religious groups riddled him with lawsuits and threats. The rest of the world did applaud his unique take on the Messiah. Movie critics like Roger Ebert gave him a 4 and a half stars.

Tropical Aquatic Survivor – Finding Nemo

willem dafoe Finding-Nemo-Gill-Willem-Dafoe

Even for the greatest actors of the industry, perfectly nailing a voice-over role is extremely difficult. For some it is quite impossible. Voice over acting requires you to master the pauses and convey your myriad of emotions through your tone and modulation. Your tongue, not your face, becomes your muse. You express through your speech. That is why many acclaimed actors do not opt for voice-overs. It is not their cup of tea. Willem, Dafoe though likes it black. Dafoe played a tropical fish species called the Moorish Idols. The name of his character was Gill and the scars and his voice portrayed an aura of mystery and intrigue that only Dafoe could have added. And that is not even the fun part,. This was Dafoe’s first job of this sort in a children’s movie. He had never done voice-overs in this genre before.

Stylish Hit Man – The Grand Budapest Hotel

willem dafoe grand budapest hotel jg jopling

Assassins and Hit-Men are everywhere in Hollywood. Finding a gruff, grim, and gritty looking knuckle buster proficient in fire-arms and slitting throats is not hard to find. But it takes panache and patience to turn such a generic role into something that is so memorable. In Wes Anderson’s the Grand Budapest Hotel, Dafoe takes n ordinary henchman character and turns him into a figure of fashion, suaveness, and style. Willem Dafoe plays J.G Jopling, an assassin with a fetish for Prada. He serves Adrien Brody’s Dmitri. In a sea of power packed cameos, Dafoe’s role stands out. He ensures the audience get the message – he is a hit man that can take down any opponent but he also has a creepy obsession with fashion.

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Angry Convict- Animal Factory

willem dafoe animal factory earl copen

Steve Buscemi’s prison drama had a powerful ensemble cast. Tom Arnold, Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke – all of them played a part in Steve Buscemi’s classic. Animal Factory had Willem Dafoe in the lead role. He played Earl Copen, a jaded convict. Copen encounters a new inmate played by Terminator 2’s Edward Furlong. In the end, Willem Dafoe’s character meets a grizzly end but his final words were something that will ring in our ears forever – “Better to Reign in Hell than Serve in Heaven”. That was a bad-ass way to go down. Copen went down guns blazing and we loved the way Dafoe carried the character throughout Animal Factory.

Written by Bibhu Prasad Panda

Bibhu Prasad Panda is a Senior Content Writer at FandomWire. He has always been fascinated with the world of word balloons and text boxes since he was 5. From aspiring to be an engineer to becoming a market research specialist, life's been quite a journey for him. Bibhu now follows his passion as an entertainment journalist/blogger. He's also an Omen main in Valorant. SCATTER!!!!