Willem Dafoe is one of those actors you just aren’t prepared to find yourself face-to-face with. It sounds moronic to say, but you just aren’t prepared for the fact that he is going to look and sound like Willem Dafoe. Because Willem Dafoe is fucking scary. Of course, Willem Dafoe the human being is articulate and at least of average friendliness. But Willem Dafoe the character actor is still lurking there at all times, when Dafoe uses a certain inflection for emphasis and makes eye contact with you to strengthen a point. During a round table discussion prior to my interview, I witnessed another journalist get a little cute with Dafoe, asking him, “What does the Green Goblin think of the new Spider Man reboot?” And Dafoe turned his steely Willem Dafoe eyes dead center on this unfortunate man, lowered his voice to a Willem Dafoe gravel-base and replied, “The Green Goblin wants to talk about John Carter.” This made me second guess the planned opener to my own interview, which was going to be bringing up the 1990 audiobook of Stephen King’s The Langoliers. But I decided to go for it. Bravery and stupidity are kindred spirits, after all.
Josh Miller: When I think about actors like you, who have had a long career that spreads across a wide spectrum of genres and budgets, it seems that how people view you, what first comes to mind when they hear your name or voice, is largely determined by how old they are and what project first exposed them to you. To kids of the aughts, you’re always going to be Norman Osborn. To others you are Bobby Peru or maybe Jesus or your character from Streets of Fire. For me, the first time I became aware of you was on a family road-trip where we listened to your audiobook of The Langoliers in the car.
To my pleasant surprise Dafoe was clearly not expecting that rambling non-question to end with The Langoliers and he bursts into laughter.
Josh: I loved it.
Josh: It was entirely your fault that I excitedly watched the terrible TV-movie version they later made of the story. But yours was very cool. It’s weird now thinking back on you doing all the female voices.
Josh: Is that the only audiobook you’ve done?
For this interview it will be helpful if you know that Willem Dafoe plays the nine-foot-tall, multi-armed Tars Tarkas, leader of the race of Martians known as the Tharks. Playing the character required Dafoe to walk around on stilts and wear a motion capture suit.
Josh: So, really I just wanted to bring up The Langoliers‘ audiobook, but my clever segue from that into a relevant question here is that you’ve now played two characters for Andrew Stanton [first, Gill in Finding Nemo] that relied very heavily on your voice. I’m curious, as an actor with a very distinctive voice, how much, even when doing motion capture for John Carter or in your live-action work, are you actively thinking about what you’re doing with your voice?
Josh: How much did you work with the other actors on the sound of the Tharks?
Josh: Oh, I hadn’t even thought about that –
Josh: Doing motion capture on a live-action film for a character like Tars Tarkas is an extremely unique situation, I would imagine. It’s not like on a normal live action film you can just suddenly play a character who is nine feet tall.
For some scenes Dafoe could not use his stilts, which required him to wear a goofy thing on his head that indicated for the other actors where Tars’ head was supposed to be.
Josh: So I imagine it was a little disappointing when you couldn’t wear the stilts. Was it almost harder to play the part when you became your own height?
Josh: Did you grow to love stilts? Have you put on a pair since?
Dafoe takes a deep breath. Then smiles.