Willem Dafoe Biography

Willem Dafoe is an American film and voice actor known for experimenting with his choice of roles. This biography of Willem Dafoe provides detailed information about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

Quick Facts

Also Known As:
William J. Dafoe
Birth Date:
Sun Sign:
1.78 m
Born in:
Appleton, Wisconsin, U.S.
Dr. William Alfred Dafoe
Muriel Isabel
Donald Dafoe
Giada Colagrande
Jack Dafoe
Wooster Group
Net worth:
$25 million as Jan 2017
More Facts
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
2000 - Fantasporto's International Fantasy Film Award for Best Actor2000 Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival's President Award for Outstanding Creative Performance
2000 - Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male
2000 - Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
2000 - Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actor
2000 - Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture Comedy or Musical
2000 - -Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
2000 - Sitges Film Festival's Gran Angular Award for Best Actor
2009 - Bodil Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
2002 - Special Award for immense contribution to the art of film2005 - Donostia Award
2012 - Stockholm Achievement Award

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Willem Dafoe, born as William Dafoe, is an American film and voice actor known for portraying dark and unconventional characters in his films. He is a versatile actor who chooses his roles more on the basis of their artistic merit than on their box office potential. He has acted in a variety of roles that range from that of an idealistic FBI agent in ‘Mississippi Burning’ to the villainous green goblin in ‘Spiderman.’ His prominent cheekbones and strong jaws give him a look that suits the villainous roles that he often portrays. But, he is also careful not to be typecast as a villain as he believes in exploring different kinds of roles that would help him develop as an actor. He played the villain thrice in ‘To Live and Die in L.A’, ‘The Loveless’ and ‘Streets of Fire’ during the 1980’s. Desiring some variety in the kind of characters he played, Dafoe portrayed the kindhearted Sergeant Elias in Oliver Stone's ‘Platoon’--a role which earned him an Academy Award nomination for the Best Supporting Actor. He depicted the Jewish boxer Salamo Arouch, a holocaust survivor, in the film ‘Triumph of the Spirit.’ Soon he became popular as a character actor. He is also a voice actor and has made television appearances.

Willem Dafoe
Childhood & Early Life
  • He was born as William Dafoe to William Alfred Dafoe, doctor, and his wife Muriel Isabel. He has five sisters and one brother. He is of mixed ancestry.
  • After studying in Appleton East High School, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee to study drama when he was 17, but soon grew tired of the university’s theatre department. He left the university and joined the experimental theatre company ‘Theatre X’ in Milwaukee.
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  • Dafoe was cast in a minor role in Michael Cimino's ‘Heaven's Gate’ in 1981, but his screen time was cut from the film during editing. He got a role in an independent film ‘The Loveless’ in 1982 which is about a motorcycle gang.
  • He played a minor part in the romantic horror ‘The Hunger’ in 1983. He acted in three movies in 1984, but none of them did well at the box office.
  • He got his breakthrough in the 1985 thriller film ‘To Live and Die in L.A’ where he played the role of counterfeiter Rick Masters. The film was a success and Dafoe got noticed for his acting skills.
  • Dafoe’s portrayal of Sergeant Elias in the Academy Award winning war film ‘Platoon’ (1986) cemented his reputation as a character actor. He was nominated for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
  • His experimented with a variety of roles in some of his next films, notably as Jesus Christ in ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ (1988), a Jewish boxer in ‘Triumph of the Spirit’ (1989), and a Lieutenant Commander in ‘Flight of the Intruder’ (1991).
  • In the 1990’s, he starred in many films like ‘Tom & Viv’ (1994), ‘Victory’ (1995), ‘The English Patient’ (1996), and ‘New Rose Hotel’ (1998).
  • He enjoyed a very successful decade in the new millennium. He played Max Schreck, a vampire, in ‘Shadow of the Vampire’ (2000), a role which won him numerous accolades from industry experts. He portrayed the villainous Green Goblin in ‘Spiderman’ (2002) and lent his voice to ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003).
  • In 2005, he starred in a film directed by his wife Giada Colagrande, titled ‘Before it had a Name’. Dafoe and Colagrande had co-written the script. Towards the end of the decade, he appeared in a number of films like ‘Inside Man’ (2006), ‘The Walker’ (2007), ‘Adam Resurrected’ (2008), etc.
  • More recently he has acted in films like ‘Daybreakers’ (2009), a science-fiction horror, and ‘The Hunter’ (2011), an adventure thriller in which he plays the title role.
Major Works
  • Dafoe’s role as the compassionate sergeant Elias in the 1986 war film ‘Platoon’ is considered one of his best character portrayals. He earned a nomination for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this film and was also nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead.
  • David Lynch’s crime thriller ‘Wild at Heart’ (1990) had Dafoe playing the role of the criminal Bobby Peru, who is hired to kill the lead character. He was nominated for the Best Supporting Male at the Independent Spirit Awards.
  • He was nominated for Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture for his role of David Caravaggio, a former thief in the romantic drama ‘The English Patient’ (1996).
  • ‘Shadow of the Vampire’ (2000), is perhaps Dafoe’s most appreciated film. His portrayal of Max Schreck, a vampire in the guise of a theatre performer, won him several awards, notably, Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor, The Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male, and The Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor.
  • He played the role of ‘He’ in the dark art film ‘Antichrist’ (2009), a role for which he won the Bodil Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The film reaffirmed Dafoe’s reputation as an unconventional actor who prefers to play dark and unstable characters.
Awards & Achievements
  • He was awarded the "Special Award: For immense contribution to the art of film" (2002) by The International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography Plus Camerimage, which is a festival dedicated to cinematography.
  • He won the Stockholm Achievement Award (2012) presented at The Stockholm International Film Festival, Sweden. This is a newly established award, which was given to Dafoe for being one of the world's most talented and multifaceted actors.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Dafoe was in a relationship with director Elizabeth LeCompte for many years before breaking up in 2004. They have one son. Currently he is married to Italian actress, director and screenwriter Giada Colagrande.
  • He is the only actor to ever be nominated for an Oscar for playing a vampire.
  • His screen name “Willem” was a nickname acquired in school.
  • He is famous for portraying dark, eccentric and unstable characters.
  • He is very health conscious; he follows an organic diet and practices yoga regularly.

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Article Title
- Willem Dafoe Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com
Last Updated
- July 31, 2017

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