Willem Dafoe: one of Appleton’s famous natives

Danielle Dahlke

Willem Dafoe, the Green Goblin of last year’s blockbuster Spiderman, got his start here in Appleton.One of eight children and the son of a surgeon, he was born July 22, 1955, as William, but the high school nickname Willem stayed with him. He was also known as Billy when he attended Appleton’s Einstein Junior High School.

As a teenager in high school, Dafoe began acting. Upon his graduation, he left Appleton to attend the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. He was unsatisfied with the theater program at the university, and eventually found a niche in Milwaukee’s experimental acting group, the Theater X troupe.

After traveling the country with Theater X, Dafoe settled in New York. It was there that he joined the theater company to which he still belongs today, the Wooster Group.

Since his meager start here in Wisconsin, Dafoe has acted in over 50 movies. His resume includes work in both Hollywood and independent films, including several avant-garde foreign and American films.

Dafoe’s roles in such works as Platoon (1986), The English Patient (1996), Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997), Clear and Present Danger (1994), and The Reckoning (scheduled to hit theaters in 2004), have left him with an honorable reputation as an actor.

In an interview with Paul Fischer, Dafoe stated, “I’m not a movie star, and what I have the most fun with is binding myself to the material, while I think movie stars have to bend the material to them.”

Although he is humble on the topic, Dafoe’s talent has still yielded nominations for national awards. He was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor in both Platoon (1986), and Shadow of the Vampire (2000), for the latter of which he was also nominated for a Golden Globe and a Screen Actor’s Guild Award.

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