Willem Dafoe was drawn to “At Eternity’s Gate” for the opportunity to work with Julian Schnabel. “I’ve known him for many years,” he reveals. “I love him as a painter. I admire him greatly as a filmmaker. He’s a friend.” So when the director first started talking with him about portraying Vincent Van Gogh, Dafoe agreed “because it was Julian, and it was a painter doing a film about a painter — a painter that I thought I knew a lot about, but I really didn’t.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Dafoe above.
Serving Schnabel’s creative vision especially appealed to Dafoe, who admits that he’s “often attracted to strong directors because I like being their creature. I like that relationship, because it’s the right measure of serving and submission to an idea that’s bigger than you, but at the same time you have a serious stake in it because you have a responsibility to protect someone’s vision.”
For Dafoe, part of that responsibility meant learning how to paint, which wasn’t “a cute method thing.” Rather, “it was the way to let me into [Van Gogh’s] head because that rooted it. I understood some of the things he was talking about in a deeper way because I was experiencing some of those things.” At the same time Dafoe “also had Julian’s input … Van Gogh says, ‘I am my paintings.’ Well, this movie is Julian. It’s also me, but primarily it is Julian. And so I’m taking all that in and it’s working on me. I’m wanting, I’m willing myself, to be molded by this experience.”
Dafoe received Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor for “Platoon” (1986), “Shadow of the Vampire” (2000) and “The Florida Project” (2017). He also received Golden Globe and SAG bids for “The Florida Project” and “Shadow.” And at SAG he was also nominated as part of the ensemble casts of “The English Patient” (1996) and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014).
“At Eternity’s Gate” brought Dafoe the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival this fall. Will the Oscars be next?
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