Willem Dafoe


  1. John Savage, Salvador, 1985.      He first met director Oliver Stone during early attempts to get Platoon  rolling. Stone made him the standby in case Savage wouldn’t agree a deal and  eventually called him back for…
  2. Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet, 1985.   “You can’t work with Dennis. It’ll be a disaster.” Except director David Lynch knew that Hopper was finally sober. OK, for just a month but… Meanwhile, Dennis’ manager  was badmouthing the Frank Booth role as “a career-stopper.” No redeeming qualities! Exactly why Dafoe and Robert Loggia passed. “After Dune,” said Hopper, “I was down so far that anything was up! So it was just an euphoria. And when you work with that kind of feeling, you can take chances. You can experiment.”  He rtold Lynch – who cast him without meeting him  –  “You did the right thing because I am Frank Booth…  Not literally.  But I’d known a lot of guys like Frank and understood… his sexual obsession. You can call [him] a deviant, a pervert, a madman, whatever. But I saw him as a man who would to go any lengths to keep his lady… It’s essentially a love story.”  On really!     Also on the Lynch list: Steven Berkoff, Harry Dean Stanton.
  3. Tom Berenger, Platoon, 1986.      
  4. Francesco Quinn, Platoon, 1986.      .”
  5. Mel Gibson, Lethal Weapon, 1986.      In all, 39 possibilities for the off-kilter, ’Nam vet cop Martin Riggs – not as mentally-deranged as in early drafts (he used a rocket launcher on one guy!) Some ideas were inevitable: Alec Baldwin, Michael Biehn (shooting Aliens), Jeff Bridges, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Al Pacino, Sean Penn, William Petersen, Dennis Quaid, Christopher Reeve, Kurt Russell, Charlie Sheen, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta, Bruce Willis. Some were inspired:  Bryan Brown, Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum (he inherited Gibson’s role in The Fly), William Hurt (too dark for Warner Bros), Michael Keaton, Michael Madsen, Liam Neeson, Eric Roberts. Some were insipid: Jim Belushi, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Kevin Kline, Stephen Lang, Michael Nouri (he joined another cop duo in The Hidden), Patrick Swayze. Plus TV cops  Don Johnson, Tom Selleck… three foreign LA cops: Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dutch Rutger Hauer and French Christophe(r) Lambert. And the inevitable (Aussie) outsider Richard Norton.
  6. Michael Keaton, Batman, 1988.
  7. Jack Nicholson, Batman, 1988.
  8. Fred Ward, Henry and June, 1989.    And so he lost out on Henry Miller –  Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol.
  9. Richard Gere, Internal Affairs, 1989.      UK director Mike Figgis said Paramount wanted Mel Gibson or Kurt Russell (big hits in ’88’s Tequila Sunrise) as the badass cop-cum-hit man. “If we’d hired a movie star to play Peck,” noted producer Frank Mancuso Jr, “we might not have been able to so successfully explore the darkness of the character.” Some 19 other stars – Alec Baldwin, Tom Berenger, Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Don Johnson, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Keaton, Nick Nolte, Al Pacino, Christopher Reeve, Kurt Russell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta and four outsiders Dafoe, Richard Dean Anderson, Jeff Goldblum, Ron Silver – all passed Peck to Gere for a double whammy comeback with Pretty Woman. “I’ve never been away,” snapped Gere.  Oh, but he had. Almost to Palookaville.
  10. Mickey Rourke, Johnny Handsome, 1989.   “That was my favourite role in movies,” said Al Pacino who, like Dafoe, Robert De Niro , Richard Gere and Pacino were not Handsome enough. “I found an actor who could play Johnny and not make it risible,” director Walter Hill told The Philadelphia Inquirer.  “Someone who understood the pitfalls of the thing.  If you let any histrionics in, it will fall apart. You have to trust the drama of the whole rather than an individual scene. Mickey understood that.” “Mickey Rourke did a great job on it,” said Pacino, “But that didn’t matter. The movie didn’t have the finish.
  11. Mickey Rourke, Wild Orchid, 1989.  Turned down the millionaire  James Wheeler turning on a young female lawyer in Brazil.  Auteur Zalman King wanted Dafoe and Brooke Shields as the lovers. Brooke  refusaed nudity – hey, honey, this is a Zalman King movie, you know like 9½ Weeks! And so, Rourke did it with his girlfriend, Carré Otis,  (Or rather, she swears they didn’t!). 
  12. Stephen Tobolowsky, Thelma & Louise, 1990.
  13. Keanu Reeves, Point Break  1990.   The search for young FBI agent Johnny Utah, infiltrating a gonzo surfer gang of bank robbers in ex-President masks – and falling under the spell of their guru-ish leader – covered  Matthew Broderick, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Val Kilmer,  Charlie Sheen and even Patrick Swayze (who played the guru),  But director Kathryn Bigelow  said Reeves had to be Utah or she wouldn’t  make the movie.
  14. Gabriel Byrne, Miller’s Crossing, 1990.  The Coen brothers tackle  30s/40s, gangster noir… Their 1988 draft put Dafoe, Andy Garcia, Elias Koteas, Dylan McDermott and Tom Sizemore in  the Tom Reagan frame. 
  15. Kevin Costner, JFK, 1991.
  16. Joe Pesci, JFK, 1991.
  17. William Hurt, Until The End of the World, 1991.    Bailed out of Wim Wenders’  world tour – l7 countries on five continents in search of a story.  Dafoe played Time in Wenders’ next, Far Away, So Close, 1993.
  18. Patrick Bergin, The  Map of the Human Heart, 1992.    For his first up from down-under film,  Kiwi director Vincent Ward also saw Dennis Quaid.
  19. George  Corraface,  Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, 1992.    Considered when Timothy Dalton quit one of two films timed to celebrate the 500th anniversary of discovering America.
  20. Anthony Hopkins,  The Innocent,  1992.    Change of CIAgent once John Schlesinger replaced original director Jon Amiel.

  21. Val Kilmer, Tombstone, 1992.     First choice for Doc Holliday, reported Kurt Russell, when admitting he was second  choice for Wyatt Earp.  ’Twas all politics, schmolitics.  Disney would not distribute the Western if Dafoe was Doc Holliday – due to him having played Jesus in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, 1987.
  22. Gabriel Byrne, Cool World, 1992.   Might have been cooler if Dafoe had played the cartoonist and Byrne the cop in Ralph Bakshi’s response to Who Framed Roger Rabbit. (Kim Basinger was Jessica Rabbit reframed as Holly Would). My favourite critic Roger Ebert nailed the film’s coffin tight: “surprisingly incompetent.”  
  23. Kenneth Branagh, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, 1994.    When director Roman Polanski turned down producer Francis Coppola’s invitation, the project went to Branagh as star and director.
  24. Jamey Sheridan, The Stand, TV, 1994.   David Bowie,. Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Lance Henriksen, Christopher Walken, James Woods – they were all unavailable Stephen King’s favourite villain in at least nine books: the walkin’ dude Randall Flagg, aka The Man in Black, aka Marten Broadcloak, the Covenant Man, Richard Fannin, Richard Farris, Raymond Fiegler, Walter o’Dim, Waltert Paddick.   Miguel Ferrer was keen but given one of Flagg’s henchman, Lloyd Henreid,  King suggested Robert Duvall but fell for Sheridan, who understood  ‘Flagg is really a funny guy, isn’t he?’ He must have bothered to read the book… “There was a dark hilarity in his face… a face that radiated a horrible handsome warmth, a face to make water glasses shatter… to make small children crash their trikes… a face guaranteed to make barroom arguments over batting averages turn bloody.” Sheridan was perfect  for the 41st of King’s staggering 313 screen credits. (King Kameo: Teddy Weizak).
  25. Patrick Swayze, To Wong Fu, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar,  1995. Boys will be gals! Among those testing, all gussied up in drag  as Vida Bohem. Title stems from an autographed Newmar photo seen by scenarist  Douglas Carter Beane on the wall of a Times Square Chinese restaurant in the mid 1980s.
  26. Peter Weller, Al di la delle nuvoli (US: Beyond The Clouds), France-Italy-Germany, 1995.    The return of Italian maestro Michelangelo Antonioni with the help of Wim Wenders.
  27. James Woods, Hercules, 1996.   Many were called – Dafoe, David Bowie, Jack Nicholson. Then, John Lithgow got the Disney gig and recorded it all. Next thing he knew, Jimmy Woods had ad-libbed the voice of Hades to glory with Robin Williams/Aladdin bravura. And made it a growth industry with various video games.
  28. Miguel Angel Sola, Corazon Iluminado/Foolish Heart, Brazil, 1998.    The first time an original cast was listed in the credits – being thanked by  director Hector Babenco for understanding how he decided, at the eleventh hour, to go with Brazilian actors.
  29. Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York,  2000.    For Martin Scorsese, casting was easy. In 1978, Dan Aykroyd-John Belushi were Amsterdam and The Butcher.  Or, Mel Gibson-Willem Dafoe. By 1984, Malcolm McDowell-Robert De Niro. Finally, Leonardo DiCaprio-Daniel Day Lewis..  It was no better without them.ther smooth 
  30. Vincent Cassel, Blueberry, France, 2002.   Dafoe – and Benicio Del Toro – were well out of it… Apart from the hero’s name, Jan Kounen’s pretentious Western had absolutely nothing to do with the French comicbook it was based on. Indeed, the estate of the co-creator and original writer of the Blueberry books, Jean-Michel Charlier, aka Gif, aka Moebius, found the changes (especially the shamanism) so appalling that it requested Charlier’s name to be removed from the credits. Kounen has since made docus and TV episodes than more features (just three more) among his 2020 total of 25 screen credits.

  31. Val Kilmer,  Wonderland, 2003.      The role? Prodigious porno stud John Holmes.  And his part in the  Wonderland Avenue  murders in 1981.
  32. Cillian Murphy, Red Eye, 2004.    Horrorsmith Wes Craven also saw Kevin Bacon, Nicolas Cage, Ray Liotta, John Malkovich, Edward Norton, Sean Penn, Michael Pitt and John Travolta.  Craven said Murphy’s eyes won him the creepy….  Jackson Rippner. (Geddit?)
  33. Power Boothe,  Sin City, 2004.   Robert Rodriguez (co-director with Frank Miller)  juggle, Dafoe and Christopher Walken for Senator Roarke, father of The  Yellow Bastard!.  Instead, it was  Boothe who went to Washington.
    Director Robert Rodriguez juggled Boothe, Dafoe and Christopher Walken for Senator Roarke, father of The  Yellow Bastard!
  34. Guy Pearce,  The Hurt Locker, 2007.  Lost out on duty  with Bravo Company’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal team in the Iraq War II  for what  Chicago critic Roger Ebert hailed as “a great film, an intelligent film, a film shot clearly so that we know exactly who everybody is and where they are and what they’re doing and why.” Not to mention wining the first Oscar for a woman director, Kathryn Bigelow on March 7, 2010. It had only taken 81 years!
  35. Gus Van Sant,  The Canyons, 2012.   It was, as they say, a small but pivotal role –  a shrink.  Auteur Paul Scrader called Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Sudeikis. No go. “Any ideas?” he asked Lindsay Lohan, his star (and, doubtless, the reason those guys passed). “How about Jared?”  “Jared Harris?” asked Schrader.  “No, Jared Leto.”  Schrader phoned  a fellow auteur
  36. Bill Skarsgård, It, 2016.   There was talk over seven years about re-hashing the mini-series of 1990 – when Stellan Skarsgård’s son/Alexander Tarzan Skarsgård’s brother was born. Among his rivals for Pennywise, Stephen King’s shape-shifting horror clown, were the too obvious Dafoe, Jim Carrey, Tim Curry (no, no, he’d already done It on TV), Johnny Depp, Jackie Earle Haley. Plus Richard Armitage, Kirk Acevedo (of Oz), Paul Giamatti, Tom Hiddleston, Doug Jones, Ben Mendelsohn (argued over money), Will Poulter (bad scheduling), Channing Tatum, Hugo Weaving… even Tilda Swinton. Only Bill Skarsgård could produce both a child-like and creepy-like Pennywise. “It’s beyond even a sociopath, because he’s not even human. He’s not even a clown… [that’s] a manifestation of the children’s imaginations, so there’s something child-like about that.” Hence, It: Chapter Two, 2019.




 Birth year: Death year: Other name: Casting Calls:  36