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Willem Dafoe Biography

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Birth Name: Willem Dafoe
Born: 07/22/1955
Birth Place: Appleton, Wisconsin, USA

Born on July 22, 1955 in Appleton, WI, Dafoe was raised by his father, William Sr., a surgeon, and his mother, Muriel, a nurse. After attending Appleton East High School, he studied drama at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, only to leave before graduation in order to join the newly-formed avant-garde group, Theatre X. Dafoe spent the next few years touring with the group around the United States and Europe, performing in productions of "Offending the Audience," "Phaedre" and "Razor Blades." He left Theatre X and moved to New York City, where he began a long-running association with the Wooster Group after debuting with a performance in "Nayatt School." Meanwhile, he made his feature debut as a leather-clad biker-poet in director Kathryn Bigelow's first feature, "The Loveless" (1981), a clash-of-cultures drama that examined the effects of a rebellious biker gang taking over a small conservative town. Following a small part in the David Bowie vampire flick "The Hunger" (1983), he starred as a streetwise hitchhiker picked up on the road by a straight-laced yuppie in the rather staid action flick, "Roadhouse 66" (1984).

Donning leather once again, Dafoe starred as a vicious gang leader in Walter Hill's oddball rock-n-roll action flick, "Streets of Fire" (1984). He was decidedly evil as a dangerous counterfeiter being tracked down by a vengeance-minded Secret Service agent (William L. Petersen) in William Friedkin's scalding crime thriller "To Live and Die in L.A." (1985). That performance attracted the attention of Oliver Stone, who cast the actor to play the almost Christ-like Sgt. Elias in the director's stirring Vietnam saga, "Platoon" (1986). Following two weeks of intense basic Army training in the jungle with his co-stars Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Forest Whitaker and others, Dafoe delivered a measured performance as a compassionate platoon leader who runs afoul of the more pragmatic and amoral Sgt. Barnes (Berenger), which leads to an irreparable rift that divides the rank-and-file. The role earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Dafoe next proved his versatility as a sympathetic, by-the-book FBI man in Alan Parker's well-intentioned Civil Rights period-piece, "Mississippi Burning" (1988), which he followed with a turn as a military police officer on the hunt for a serial killer during his last days in war-torn Saigon in the underwhelming crime thriller "Off Limits" (1988).

Because of his acclaimed performance in "Platoon," Dafoe was able to transcend his onscreen villainy and focus on more complex roles depicting characters of moral ambiguity or suffering from personal crises. In one of his most inspiring and controversial performances, he played a tormented Jesus of Nazareth, who fantasizes about living life as a normal man - including having sexual relations with his wife, Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey) - while dying on the cross in Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" (1988). Reuniting with Stone, the actor saw the other side of the Vietnam War as a paralyzed veteran who shows a deeply scarred Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) - himself paralyzed from his war wounds - how to live like a man again despite his disabilities in the searing biopic "Born on the Fourth of July" (1989). Also that year, he starred in "Triumph of the Spirit" (1989), in which he played real-life boxer and Holocaust survivor, Salamo Arouch, who boxed his way to freedom whiles imprisoned at Auschwitz. In David Lynch's steamy crime thriller "Wild at Heart" (1990), he had a supporting role as an ex-marine who persuades a violent ex-convict (Nicolas Cage) bedding the daughter (Laura Dern) of a mentally-unstable mother (Diane Ladd) to rob a bank.

By this time in his career, Dafoe had the luxury of being able to tackle high-profile leads, compelling supporting roles and showy character turns. After playing a cynical bomadier in "Flight of the Intruder" (1991), he was a lawyer who falls for his client, an alleged murderer (Madonna) in the decidedly limp erotic thriller featuring the infamous candle wax sex scene, "Body of Evidence" (1993). In "Clear and Present Danger" (1994), he was a renegade operative who helps Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) surreptitiously enter Columbia to rescue a secret paramilitary unit trapped after being abandoned by the president's unscrupulous advisors (Harris Yulin and Henry Czerny). Next he portrayed early 20th century poet T.S. Eliot, who tries committing his wife (Miranda Richardson) to the insane asylum so he can move on with his poetry career, in "Tom and Viv" (1994). Dafoe followed that up with a turn as a thieving, thumbless, morphine-addicted intelligence agent Caravaggio in Anthony Minghella's Academy Award-winning "The English Patient" (1996). Returning to the campy villains of yore, he was a computer-savvy terrorist who takes a luxury liner hostage in Jan De Bont's disappointing sequel, "Speed 2: Cruise Control" (1997).

Back on the stage with the Wooster Group, Dafoe delivered a searing performance as the muscle-bound Yank in Eugene O'Neill's "The Hairy Ape" (1997), which gave him more of a taste for projects that satisfied his artistic bent. Mining a similar non-commercial vein, Dafoe was effective as Nick Nolte's college professor brother in "Affliction" (1997) and played a gas station attendant who wants to assassinate a computer game designer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in David Cronenberg's weird "eXistenZ" (1999). Dafoe had a banner year in 2000, playing an eccentric homosexual FBI agent in "Boondock Saints," a detective investigating the mysterious disappearance of a stockbroker in "American Psycho," and a prison inmate who takes a rookie kid (Edward Furlong) under his wing in "Animal Factory." The actor capped off the year with a sensational performance as German thespian Max Schreck in "Shadow of the Vampire," a role that earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, among many other honors. In this speculative behind-the-scenes look at the filming of the 1922 classic "Nosferatu," Dafoe was cast as the ultimate Method actor; his indelible impersonation - he was unrecognizable under makeup - anchored the film, especially with Schreck's battle of wills with director F. W. Murnau (John Malkovich).

Despite many successes, Dafoe always sought out new challenges. After returning to the stage with the Wooster Group in "North Atlantic" (1999), Dafoe was in a trio of roles as men of faith: as Father Ramirez in the independent "Bullfighter" (2000), as a missionary who falls in love with a spurned Chinese woman (Luo Yan) in "Pavilion of Women" (2001), and as a Catholic priest sheltering Jewish children in Nazi-occupied Poland in "Edges of the Lord" (2001). In 2002, Dafoe played two vastly differing villains - the sneering, schizophrenic Green Goblin in the hit comic book adaptation of "Spider-Man," and the disarming and conniving John Carpenter, a sex addict and accused killer of 1960s sitcom star Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) in Paul Shrader's underrated "Autofocus." Shifting to animation, Dafoe was the voice of Gill, the hard-edged, but noble angelfish plotting escape from an Australian fish tank, in "Finding Nemo" (2003). Also that year was Robert Rodriguez's second El Mariachi sequel, "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," in which Dafoe played Barrillo, head honcho of the country's most profitable drug cartel and target of an assassination that El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) tries to prevent.

After reviving the Green Goblin for the equally successful sequel, "Spider-Man 2" (2004), Dafoe delivered an earnest performance in the 14th century murder mystery, "The Reckoning" (2004). He next turned in a comic gem performance in Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (2004), playing Klaus Daimler, the engineer who can do no right aboard the Belafonte, captained by fallen oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray). Following a cameo as a tabloid editor in "The Aviator" (2004), Martin Scorsese's epic biography about eccentric tycoon Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio), Dafoe appeared in Lars Von Trier's period drama "Manderlay" (2005). He next played a devious secretary of state who secretly trains a military unit to stage a coup against the United States by assassinating the president (Peter Strauss) in the ridiculous "XXX: State of the Union" (2005). Dafoe had a rather understated role as an Emergency Services Unit police captain who butts heads with a smooth-talking hostage negotiator (Denzel Washington) trying to thwart a master thief (Clive Owen) during a bank heist in Spike Lee's impressive crime thriller, "Inside Man" (2006).

At this point in his career, Dafoe seemingly did as he pleased. He played the chief of staff to a clueless President of the United States (Dennis Quaid), whose cultural awakening leads to an appearance on an "American Idol"-like talent show in "American Dreamz" (2006). After playing the Green Goblin a third time, albeit in a lesser capacity, in "Spider-Man 3" (2007), Dafoe appeared in the rare slapstick comedy as an egomaniacal filmmaker in Rowan Atkinson's "Mr. Bean's Holiday" (2007), which he followed with a villainous turn as the sadistic commandant of a concentration camp during World War II in "Adam Resurrected" (2008), starring Jeff Goldblum. In Lars von Trier's controversial "Antichrist" (2009), he played a husband and father grieving over the death of his toddler son and who, at the same time, watches his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) descend into violent madness. After voicing Rat in Wes Anderson's first foray into animation, "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (2009), he portrayed a cured vampire who holds the key to the survival of the human race in "Daybreakers" (2010).