Media Diet: Willem Dafoe

Actor on the edge


| September-October 1996



Willem Dafoe is best known as the thinking person’s film star. In 1986 he was nominated for an Oscar for his work as Sergeant Elias in Platoon and has since played a wide range of intellecutally demanding roles, everything from T.S. Eliot (in Tom and Vic) to Jesus Christ (in The Last Temptation of Christ). But since 1977, Dafoe has also been a member of the Wooster Group, a New York-based theater company that won a MacArthur Genius grant last year for its innovative, multimedia staging performances. Dafoe, who starred over summer in the Wooster Group’s production of The Hairy Ape, says he finds inspiration “in situations where I lose myself, which comes when I’m in a group doing something, or I’m in a place where I really can’t figure anything out and I just kind of give up.” Film reviewer A.S. Hamrah spoke to Dafoe about his media diet in New York City, where he lives with Wooster Group director Elizabeth Lecompte and their 14-year-old son, Jack.


What magazines do you read? 

I’ll read almost anything that’s sent to me, but the only magazines I actually subscribe to are Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, which I read cover to cover, and Yoga Journal, because I practice hatha yoga. Recently I’ve also been reading Brick, an English literary magazine. Back when I was into fishing, I subscribed to Maine Sportsman. I enjoyed it, but its in-your-face National Rifle Association bias was just too hard to deal with, so I dropped it.


What books are you reading now? 

I’ve become very interested in Eastern religion, so I find myself in the amusing situation of reading books that a lot of people my age read 20 years ago: D. T. Suzuki, Thomas Merton, the Patanjali yoga sutras. I also read to prepare for my roles. For example, when I was shooting The English Patient, which is based on a novel by Michael Ondaatje set in postwar Italy, I read all of Ondaatje’s work and some histories of the period like Naples ’44 and The Skin by Curzio Malaparte. Beyond reading for roles, though, what I really love are reference books, especially dictionaries and encyclopedias.


Which artists in any medium have influenced you?