Willem Dafoe for “xXx: State of the Union”

Question: Do you have concerns when asked to take on another bad guy in a movie?

Dafoe: A little a bit, until you see what it is, and then it depends on who is offering it to you and how it’s offered to you. I had some conversations with Lee Tamahori previously about other projects, so I liked him and I liked how he approached me and how he wanted to work on it.

Question: What was your particular appeal about this character?

Dafoe: Initially it wasn’t just about this character. It’s about the whole idea. I liked the basic premise of the movie. I liked Lee. I do get a kick out of thinking I’m old enough to play the secretary of state. I liked the fact that it’s a suit role, but I saw how it might be interesting that – although they haven’t expressed it really, it might be fun to play around with some of the political stuff that is floating around in this story. And that’s basically – not make him a sympathetic character, but to help you understand where he is coming from. Because there is logic to what he does.

Question: But you have to believe that if you are playing bad guy in a movie that you actually not playing a bad guy.

Dafoe: Yeah essentially.

Question: Is that easy?

Dafoe: I think we’re all different – but I never stand outside of it. I try to become it. So I’m not saying “Well if I do this, they’ll think this…” I’m thinking more of playing the scenes. I’m saying, “If I were this guy, and this was the situation and I kinda know what’s happening story wise – how do I feed this, what kind of choices do I want to make to orient myself emotionally to see what happens.

Question: Are you concerned with the current political climate in this country and having something like this where the Secretary of Defence tries to take over the country?

Dafoe: You know, I think there are political ideas floating around. I don’t think they are explicit. I mean the Peter Strauss character is not George Bush and I’m hardly Donald Rumsfield. But it is interesting with a Secretary of Defence of the biggest military in the world and thinking that the president doesn’t know what’s out there. And he feels like he does because he’s been out there, and he comes back us that it is an ugly and dangerous world. And you can’t fool around with compassion and love and understanding. We’ve got to hold our ground and shore things up and lately, I think language is in the air and has been for the past 5 years. So I think that’s interesting.

Question: What do you think Rumsfield would think about your character?

Dafoe: You know, I don’t know. He certainly wouldn’t see himself.

Question: Do you suppose this offers a cynical view of American Politics?

Dafoe: No. Let’s talk about how entertaining this movie is. One of the reasons I did the movie is because I love the idea of a bunch of homeboys being on tricked out military vehicles rolling down Pennsylvania Ave to save the day as the Capital Building is smoking. That’s a little jokey. .. a little jokey… it’s kitchy, but it’s a little cool too. It’s a fantasy thing and in this case, Ice Cube represents the people, ya know? It the closest thing that we have to the people. And people are alienated from the government and these people are going over to fight in foreign wars and coming back and what happens to them. All this is in them ix. Okay it’s a popcorn movie, but I like the fact that these elements are floating around.

Dafoe: Who are your favourite bad guys?

Question: I don’t know. The sweet bad guys like Frankenstein – you know.

Question: Did you like the first XXX?

Dafoe: I did. But I didn’t see it until the asked me to do this.

Question: When Tamahori asked you to do this, there was definitely no Vin Diesel attached.

Dafoe: That’s right and Ice Cube was signed on and I was told that Sam Jackson was coming back.

Question: What are some of the ingredients you look for when choosing a project?

Dafoe: Sometime when I get a script just cold without any director attached without any roles specification. If I’m just looking at the thing – I’ll read it sometimes and I’ll have an opinion about it. But I don’t invest that opinion too much because a script is one element those other elements really identify and articulate and form what I think the thing is going to be, makes it clearer what I’m in for.

Question: Was it your idea to go one on one with Ice Cube?

Dafoe: That was one of the reasons – I don’t think I would have done this movie if I hadn’t been able to mix it up a little because I like doing that stuff.

Question: Why?

Dafoe: I like the performing of it. I really love doing action sequences. I love it.

Question: Is it truly important to you to mix and match movies. You can do a XXX and a Spiderman on the one hand and then you can do a Life Aquatic and very, very small Indies on the other hand. How do you find the balance?

Dafoe: I try. I try. It’s difficult.

Question: Is it harder to find the small movies than the Hollywood blockbusters?

Dafoe: No. I think it’s harder because lot of the smaller movies are offered to me. It’s more about finding the interesting stuff in the bigger movies. I get offered a lot of stuff but there is a tendency, and it’s understandable, there is a tendency to have you repeat what you’ve done. On bigger movies there is more at stake, you have predict how it’s gonna go, what the appeal is going to be. It’s like making a product so all of the ingredients in the product have to know how it’s gonna go. So some of the risk, some of the adventure, some of the mysteriousness of the process is sometimes taken out of it. It’s hard to find the right situations in bigger movies. Harder than independent movies. In independent movies while you’re dealing with the poverty of the production and sometimes inexperience – you usually have enthusiasm and passion in spades.

Question: Are these action movies lighter work for you?

Dafoe: No. No. They’re different work, and once you’re in it, performing is performing. You kinda have to always figure out the collaboration. You’ve got to remake the process. Each time you have to ask yourself, “What is this? What are we doing here” Where do I get off in this, where do I want to invest myself in this.” Sometimes what seems like the more obvious films, are the more difficult to do, because you’ve got a personal relationship to it and the specificity that you wish to bring to the role is harder to find sometimes.

Question: What is coming out for you?

Dafoe: Right now, I’m in post on a little tiny movie that wrote called “Before I had a name”, that I wrote. It’s the first time I’ve written something with an Italian director called J…..de Grande, and she directed it, and we both perform in it.

Question: And when did you decide to make it?

Dafoe: I had the story and then I saw a film of hers when I was in Italy called “Open My Heart” – – It’s an Italian movie and I liked it very much and I came and brought her my story and then we worked on it and it changed quite a bit, actually.

Question: Who do you play in it?

Dafoe: I play a caretaker in the house. It’s basically an unconventional love story.

Question: Speaking about repeating yourself, there are all sorts of rumours about Spiderman 3 and Hobgoblin, and you had a cameo in the last one. Did Sam (Raimi) come to you about maybe doing your thing or are you going to try to stay out of this one?

Dafoe: Not yet. I like Sam a lot. I like Sam a lot. I’m not floating a balloon but I would guess that if he’d ask me to do something, I’d probably do something but you know I feel patient. If there’s something for me to do, I’d probably be here but if not it just means it doesn’t make sense to be the goblin anymore.

Question: Do you know when “Manderlay” is going to come out? I’ve talked to a lot of people who are in it now and no one has an idea when….

Dafoe: I just know… it’s premature to talk about but I suspect it will play in a festival this summer and then who knows when it will be released here but I think it’s completed and I think Lars (von Trier) usually premieres his shows at a festival then a release will follow, probably a European release before an American release cause we are a little slow on that stuff.

Question: Are you signed for anything else?

Dafoe: Nope, nothing. I’ve got an open road. I’m still in post. As I’m doing this movie now, J is doing the sound mix on this movie that we made but as always I’m looking for something good to do.

Question: Is this your one and only foray into that aspect…

Dafoe: Yeah. It’s the first time I’ve written something and it’s the first time I’ve really initiated …believe me sometimes I feel like I’ve written plenty. (Laughs) You got to understand the scene doesn’t work.

Question: Have you found any distribution for it? Will you be premiering it at a festival?

Dafoe: You know what. We’re in post on it right now so that’s we’re at and until it’s finish, it doesn’t make much sense to shop it.

Question: When did you realize that people were seeing you as this scary bad guy person?

Dafoe: Um, you know, it changes. As sometimes people see me other than that, it usually depends on what movies they see but quite early when I first started out I started playing bad guys basically and um, you know, some of the early performances people responded to and I remember people coming up to me in clubs and guys two feet taller than me coming up and saying, “Wow, you’re scary. I saw that movie “To Live and Die in LA” and whoa, don’t hurt me, baby”. (laughs)

Question: Do you ever get emotional about it?

Dafoe: Nah, you know, no. It’s funny. Probably my mother does but I don’t.

Question: You’ve been making movies for a long time and you have had different periods where you did Jesus in one period and you did Spiderman in another. Where do you want to want to go with your career?

Dafoe: I don’t know.

Question: Directing?

Dafoe: No. I don’t think so. I have still plenty of work to do in performing and it still interests me and there are still great directors I want to work with. You know… I still. You know sometimes I’m frustrated like everybody but most of times when I’m doing it, I still love performing.

Question: What directors are on your short list?

Dafoe: Ooh, there’s many. Every time I say. I’m simpleminded… Every time I see a film I really love I say, “Why wasn’t I in this?” “What’s he doing next?” “What’s she doing next?”

Question: What’s your favourite film of late that made you feel that way?

Dafoe: I don’t know. There’s certain angst that keep on coming up consistently for me but I see them and I immediately get self consciously cause I might be leaving someone else out that is even greater. I see a Wong Ka I movie and I’d like to want to work with him. All along I’ve seen Paul Thomas Anderson movies and he’s great and the Cohen Brothers I’ve always loved and I know them personally but never has there really been the right project to do something. So, you know, but it’s funny. You admire people and you want.. you have an imagine.. you see them work well with actors or you see them make a beautiful movie and you want to work with them. It’s the most natural thing in the world, but there are sometimes those that you admired the movie that say “You know what, I’m really not that kind of actor”. I can’t imagine me being in one of their films. You know if you run into them, you can express a desire to go work with them, but you don’t want to go a little crazy, in all because you find roles and roles find you and force it doesn’t feel right.

Question: At this time of your life, if you weren’t an actor, what would you be doing?

Dafoe: That’s a hard one. I get great pleasure out of doing simple things. Simple things that are connected to things like eating, cooking, or vegetable gardening or fishing; I like those things.

Question: Where do you fish?

Dafoe: You know what, after saying that, I haven’t fished in years. (Laughs)

Question: Do you still cook?

Dafoe: I cook all the time.

Question: What about the vegetable part?

Dafoe: The vegetable gardening. I have a place that I can get away to sometimes and I love vegetable gardening and it’s such a pleasure to keep it going and then harvesting it and then cooking it up. It’s simple stuff but I love it so much, so when you ask if it’s the most natural thing, to say , “I’ll be a farmer”, but I’m smart to know that it’s not what a farmer does. (laughs0 You get the idea, but I really love the idea of doing manual things.

Question: How much time of the year do you love working?

Dafoe: Well, pretty much all the time, particularly working with the Wooster Group. Every day I would go into work, whether we were developing something or performing, Wooster Group is a theatre company I’ve work with almost thirty years. Now, that’s change a little bit because I haven’t work with them for about a year. I may again but at this point it doesn’t really look like it. So right now, that’s slightly been replaced by this film I mention, Before It Had a Name, because it’s just not shooting the thing; it’s about writing it, it’s about getting the money, it’s about post, then it’s about seeing that it gets out there the right way, and that’s a lot of work and I work everyday.

Question: Do you enjoy travelling? You go to Europe a lot.

Dafoe: I travel a lot and summertime I’m living in Rome now.

Question: Why Rome?

Question: Because my wife lives there with me. (laughs)

Question: Do you enjoy the European sensibilities?

Dafoe: I do. At times, but not often.

Question: Do you ever run into (George) Clooney?

Dafoe: No. I’ve heard that they are all Clooney crazy over all because… paparazzi is an Italian word. They are up on their showbiz, you know. So that’s the place he has up there, but he’s up in Tuscany, I think.

Question: Is there a role that you want to do on stage?

Dafoe: No. no. You know, people laugh, but I love musicals. I like those old classic Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Question: So, Captain Von Trapp is next up for you, right

Dafoe: I don’t know. There are people doing things but I haven’t seen much. And then it’s not the commercial theatre. I have admired the European directors who are not adverse to working with…. for example, there’s a fantastic … one of the greatest theatres in the world is in Italy and the kind of theatre that this group does, I could do myself.

Question: Do you have any misgivings about some of your favourite films that don’t do well?

Dafoe: Okay. Okay. Sure. It’s like anytime… it’s kind of a cliché but it’s true. Films are hard work and they are fought with all kinds of problems and it’s like a community of people and you see them either behave well or behave bad and when they do really well and the movie’s beautiful and because of timing or support or whatever and it doesn’t do well, it’s disappointing but you go around the cycle enough and there is no justice. Life isn’t fair and there account for taste, so all you can do is make … the biggest thing is not to be cynical and keep on trying to make something good and keep on trying to not be a jerk and keep on trying to not get too brittle. Stay alive in what you do.

Question: Do you have the same passion for acting now as when you started out?

Dafoe: Yeah, I do In fact, it’s better now. Does that sound like anything? (laughs) There’s a greater articulation. I’m clearer about things.