"I don't think people want to see me as a regular guy," says Willem. "Besides I'm a regular guy in real life. I guess I just want to be reckless in my work." He's certainly been that. Willem is one of those rare actors who moves effortlessly between leads and character parts and he's equally effective in either.
Born William Dafoe Junior on July 22, 1955, Willem was raised, the seventh of eight children, in Appleton, Wisconsin, USA, by his doctor father and nurse mother. The moniker Willem was picked up at high school and has stuck ever since.
Willem caught the acting bug while studying drama at university, a subject chosen without any particular thought of becoming an actor. After a few years of study, however, Willem dropped out of college and joined an experimental theatre group called Theatre X in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the mid-Seventies he spent two years touring the US and Europe with the company before moving to New York in search of his big break.
Soon after his arrival he met Elizabeth LeCompte, who would go on to become his long-time companion, and with whom he has a son Jack, born in 1977. However, after 27 years together, they called a day on their relationship.
Willem and Elizabeth shared the same theatrical ambitions, and in the late Seventies they became charter members of the Wooster Theatrical Group. Despite his big screen success, Willem has remained loyal to the company, and continues to appear in its productions.
The actor's movie debut was less auspicious. He was cast as an extra in the notorious 1981 flop Heaven's Gate
, although he never actually appeared as he was fired before the cameras started rolling. After that, Willem picked up parts in several minor films, usually as a villain, before his role as a dangerous counterfeiter in 1985's To Live And Die In LA
elevated him to major player status.
A year later he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of a Christ-like soldier in Oliver Stone's revisionist Vietnam war film Platoon
. Willem further proved his versatility in two 1988 pieces firstly as a sympathetic but by-the-book FBI agent in the well-intentioned civil rights period piece Mississippi Burning
, and then more controversially as a tormented Jesus Christ in Martin Scorcese's The Last Temptation Of Christ.
Since then Willem has continued his unusual dual path between commercial and character roles. In 1994, he played the young American poet TS Eliot in the biopic Tom & Viv
, popping up again in The English Patient
two years later. But such roles have not stopped him taking on more commercial vehicles such as 1997's Speed II: Cruise Control
and the notorious Body Of Evidence
(1993), in which he played a lawyer defending a possibly murderous Madonna
In 2001, Willem won a second Best Supporting Actor nomination for his sensational performance as German actor Max Schreck in the critically acclaimed Shadow Of The Vampire.
A year later he played the commercial card yet again, signing on as the Green Goblin in the hit superhero movie Spider-Man.
As he continues on his unpredictable trajectory Willem seems to revel in the creative freedom it has brought him and muses that to be a more established star would be a chore. \"I wouldn't want to be Harrison Ford
...he can't do what I do,\" he says. \"I can switch hit. I can go and make a small movie; I can make a big movie. I've got some flexibility.\"
Willem married Italian actress Giada Colagrande in 2005, in an intimate ceremony in New York's City Hall.