Willem Dafoe (‘Motherless Brooklyn’) on ‘flirting with ghosts’ of the past in Edward Norton’s 1950s film noir [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“There are no purely black and white hats. They’re complex,” says Willem Dafoe about the morally ambiguous characters in Edward Norton‘s modern film noir “Motherless Brooklyn.” “And it’s not really a flat-out polemic or condemnation of any particular thinking,” the actor adds, “but it does examine where the power is, how it is used, and sometimes how the power can be unseen.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Dafoe about both “Motherless Brooklyn” and “The Lighthouse” above.

Dafoe plays Paul, an engineer who has been exiled from the halls of power in 1950s New York City by his more ruthless brother Moses (Alec Baldwin). Paul and Moses are important figures in a complex conspiracy in city government involving corruption and murder. Though they come from the same wealthy family, their paths diverged because Moses “didn’t love people enough, and he shifted to a grab for power,” Dafoe explains. But while Paul has a stronger moral compass, “he also is sort of holding out for reconciliation with his brother that would help him realize his personal projects.” So no one’s hands are completely clean.

Norton wrote, directed and produced the film in addition to starring in the lead role as a private eye getting to the bottom of the mystery. Based on the 1999 novel by Jonathan Lethem, it pays homage to classic 1950s film noir. For Dafoe, who is a New Yorker like Norton, recreating scenes from the past was like “flirting with ghosts … When the world is really articulate, really complete and really evocative, it helps you with the pretending. It really allows you to go to a different place.” And “sometimes it helps to look to the past to see what is happening now. This is fiction, but it has certain elements of New York history in it.”

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