Willem Dafoe on typecasting and his early career


During our interview with Willem Dafoe, he mentioned something fascinating about his early film career and his worries about typecasting. Here’s an excerpted version of the exchange:

[At a screening of one of your first movies] you said to me that you were dying to play a hero, but you thought you would never get cast that way because you have a face that reads as mean. Where did you–

When did that change?


Five minutes after I said it. [laughs]


I think that probably reflected a worry that I was going to be typecast. Because at the beginning of the career, you’re seen as a character actor because you’re not charming, you’re not a smoothie, you’ve got some power, you don’t look like the boy next door. So the opportunities tend to be the strong character parts when you’re young, usually bad guys. And you know then, and for many years, movies were the sideline. My bread an– well, not my bread and butter. My place that I was [comfortable] was the theater, it still is to some degree. When I would do movies, I was a little concerned about just being typecast, that the opportunities would always draw from the same well. I’m less concerned about that now because in a funny way, even though movies aren’t in a particularly good place right now, the kinds of things I get offered are more wide ranging. There’s more possibilities.

Platoon helped change the trajectory of Dafoe’s career, as did The Last Temptation of Christ and Mississippi Burning. Though known for his distinctly angular face, his range helps explain his longevity. Who else could possibly go from Jesus Christ to Wild at Heart‘s Bobby Peru?


Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.