Willem Dafoe’s Disappearing Act


I don’t really care about my point of view. I don’t think so much about stories. Stories make themselves, and I like doing someone else’s bidding. I like it when I inhabit someone else, seeing with their eyes, thinking with their thoughts. I want to walk into another person, entity, thing. Try them on, take them on, and see how it all plays out. That’s when I’m turned on.

I never think of myself as an interpreter. I think of myself as a “thing” that is being acted on, and my characters as being born out of a series of actions. I consciously invite that. It’s a direct kind of pretending, starting with a series of concessions and understandings, ultimately submitting to a series of actions and their effects. There must be a willingness to let these impressions and impulses become something and let the performance happen. In life, certainly in performance, you’re a fool if you think you can control what happens to you. But you can control to a large degree how you react to what happens to you. It’s about letting it happen, letting what’s in the room happen. You alter it by framing it and squeezing it and getting it into a corner and defining it and then it bites back and then you bite back at it and then all of a sudden something starts to happen.

I’m very fond of the idea that all we know about who we are, our story, and the sum of our personality is an illusion. That we can know tendencies or locate certain triggers, but that it’s all temporary and illusory. Good masquerades as bad, bad masquerades as good—that is what we play with, and I like it when the game challenges our sense of order. The tighter we are, the rougher our behaviors will be. If we can entertain more flexibly, then we’ll probably be less destructive.

I don’t believe you can arrive, and there’s no thrill there. I think there’s just going toward something. Performance and personality are never fixed. The process is forever changing and there’s a safe-scary in that. After you’ve been scared so many times by the uncertainty of where you’re going, and when you’re in that place of insecurity, when you’re in that place of not knowing, that is where you can find real pleasure and real revelation and real passion. There’s nothing in particular to understand, and so you can live.

Getting there, there are parallels between abandonment and restraint: letting go, disappearing, reacting. That balance, however fragile, between abandonment and restraint is the whole story of art for me. Those are the two tracks you’re dealing with at all times.

There is a momentum where everything drops away and there’s a disappearance, you can literally exist differently. I’m looking for that disappearing, that melting into something that isn’t restricted by my needs. It’s bigger than that, it’s better than that, it’s better than life, and that’s the high. It’s not so much the energy of the people I’m with, or adoration or that sort of thing. It’s really being in that place where you feel full, where you’ve escaped some human hole. It has a lot to do with curiosity and believing in the wisdom of the body.

There’s a playfulness in the gap between reality and ambition. There are little peaks, subtle breaks from the trance that I’m trying to enter, and in those moments I have to laugh at myself, at my pretentions, at my desire, at my bluntness, and that’s probably the most human part of performance because you’re exposing your humanness in its insecurity and it’s all about a certain kind of personal chaos. So that’s the game and I like that game. The sad thing about being a performer is that generally you need other people, sometimes other things to do it. To do it with.

As seen in CR Men’s Book Issue 5
Photographs by Cristiano Morroy
Fashion by Ben Perreira
Contributing editor Dominic Teja Sidhu


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