Willem Dafoe on Robert Pattinson, Choosing Roles, Acting as Adventure

MORELIA, Mexico – Mindful of how his words could “turn into click-bait,” Willem Dafoe, in Morelia to present his latest film “The Lighthouse,” declined to comment about the looming advent of more streaming giants in the market. “It’s a complex question; we’re still forming ideas on how people see films and how films are being made,” he said. However, he later observed: “I still like film a lot, not just for its quality but the intention is stronger; you can’t just shoot and shoot like you can on digital film, so it changes how you think, it weeds out the laziness in performances,” he mused.

Speaking in a clear and measured pace for nearly an hour with festival director Daniela Michel and for a subsequent Q & A with the audience, a cerebral Dafoe talked about his craft, his role choices, “Lighthouse” director Robert Eggers and of course, the future Batman, Robert Pattinson, who he plays opposite in “The Lighthouse.” “He’s a hard worker, very self-effacing; a nice guy,” he said. “He never liked to rehearse or plan anything because he wanted everything to be a surprise,” he noted, although they did rehearse for five days mainly for the precise camera placements in Egger’s 1890s-set drama, shot in black-and-white with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio.

Dafoe related how he asked for a meeting with Eggers soon after seeing his feature debut, “The Witch.” “He’s about the age of my son, but I didn’t feel the age difference; I  felt in him the energy, a passion and a connection that he had for the past,” he said. “It almost feels like he can express his experiences today by telling stories that are set in the past,” he observed.

He talked about the arduous shoot where it was just him and Pattinson pitted against each other, where cameras broke down because of the cold and wet conditions: “It was the kind of weather that pushes you and makes you fierce; weather is a huge character in this movie,” he said.

Asked how he chose the past roles he has played, he responded: “I don’t really choose the character, I choose situations and people.”

“It’s about the sense of discovery,” he added. “It’s good to get away from yourself, not that I don’t like myself but when you do the bidding of someone else, it’s like falling in love: you have a new energy, you don’t think about yourself, you’re on an adventure, you’re waking up and it’s always better when it’s through someone else; you become their creature.”

“Movies find me and I find movies, I like to mix it up,” he said, advocating for varied roles as the “greatest protection against a certain kind of corruption.” “Some people fall asleep in their lives because they don’t allow change to happen,” he mused.

Asked about his upcoming role in Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” adaptation, Dafoe quipped, “If I didn’t like him, I wouldn’t be working with him.”

Dafoe is also set to star in his wife Giada Colagrande’s Brazil-set noirish thriller “Tropico” next year alongside Morena Baccarin and Pedro Pascal.

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