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Spider-Man's Arch-Dafoe Part One

Actor Willem Dafoe talks about comic book fans, working on a wire, and not being John Malkovich

By Arnold T. Blumberg     May 07, 2002


Willem Dafoe stars as the Green Goblin in SPIDER-MAN
© Sony Pictures
If there's one thing actors in comic book movies get asked a lot, it's if they're a "fan" of comics. Actor Willem Dafoe, currently impressing comic book aficionados and casual moviegoers alike as the Green Goblin in this summer's eagerly anticipated big-screen adaptation of SPIDER-MAN, has a well-reasoned answer to the eternal question.

"I didn't grow up reading them," says Dafoe. "My only memory is that there was a period that I would go and visit my brothers and sisters who were going to school at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and I got a big kick out of ZAP COMICS, underground comics."

Ah, but what of the web-slinger himself?

Willem Dafoe stars as the Green Goblin in SPIDER-MAN



"Am I a fan? I am now I suppose," replies Dafoe. "I knew the SPIDER-MAN theme song from TV, and I sang it a couple of times, but I'm not going to do it ever again." Laughing, Dafoe adds: "I knew enough to know that when they said they were going to make SPIDER-MAN, I knew what it was, but I didn't know it so much that I knew the whole mythos."

That didn't stop Dafoe from lobbying for the role of the Goblin when he heard about the project, however.

"I knew that Sam Raimi was going to do it, I knew that Tobey [Maguire] was going to do it, and that really identified it for me as something special because I thought they weren't the usual people off the list to make a movie like this," says Dafoe. "Then I read the script and I saw a lot of interesting opportunities. I usually look at the whole thing, but in this case, I looked pretty much at the character. I thought it would be a lot of fun.

"I talked to Sam, and I liked how he talked about the movie. Clearly, he wanted to make a movie that was balanced by really strong characters and a strong grounding in a story, then have it play out in this fantastical mode in the end. So [it was] a balance between a big event action movie and a movie that has a real source."

Dafoe is well aware that fans tend to be rather protective of that all-important source as well.

The Green Goblin promo one-sheet for the SPIDER-MAN movie.



"It was just a natural thing that you want to respect the source," says the actor. "You want to have the spirit in order to guide you in telling your story so it's not corrupted. It gives you roots, a base to work from. Practically speaking, the Spider-Man fans are legions, so you don't want to piss them off not when you make a movie you want to appeal to a huge crowd."

A large part of that appeal rests on the shoulders of Spider-Man himself, Tobey Maguire. As you might expect, Dafoe has nothing but praise for his co-star.

"Tobey is very special," says Dafoe. "He really holds it together. There's something principled about him, a sort of moral link to him without being a prig that I don't think another actor has at his age, at least to me. He gives himself over to the material and he is there. He is very shrewd. When you're playing a scene with him, when you look into his eyes, you don't feel any distraction. He's very clear. It's that kind of gravity without being like heavy. He is still boyish, but at the same time, he's got a wisdom about him."

He also has a strong female following, but Dafoe seems a bit confused about that.

"Oh no, the young women are supposed to go for me. You mean that doesn't happen with this movie?"

Joking partly aside, Dafoe does reveal that he also needled director Sam Raimi about another possible choice for his role. If things had been different, the Goblin would have known what it was like being John Malkovich.

Tobey Maguire stars as the lead in Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN



"It's true," says Dafoe. "I would be 30 feet on the glider, skinny little agile me, poured into my green suit, on a wire up there for way too long, in pain and bearing it, and I would just look down at him and say, 'So Sam, can't you see John up here now?' John is a great guy, but I don't think so. We're interested in slightly different things."

Dafoe's interest in SPIDER-MAN wasn't limited to the paycheck either, no matter what some may say.

"Think whatever you like, it ain't true," says Dafoe. "I can never [perform] just as a job. I care about it too much and it's too personal. It reveals too much about who I am. I think I'm conscientious to a fault. Anytime I do anything, I have to find a personal relationship to the material regardless of what kind of movie it is or what its appeal or intentions are. I don't make a distinction between liking an event movie like this, a big studio movie, and a little tiny movie. There are lots of things different about it, but in the actual action of trying to become the character, you start in the same place. If you start in that place for cynical or purely selfish or greedy reasons, it really bites you back."

Be sure to check back for part two of CINESCAPE's profile on SPIDER-MAN co-star Willem Dafoe, in which the actor describes the challenge of performing in a full-faced Goblin mask and the film's elaborate stunt sequences.

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