This year’s theme for the Berlin Talent Campus was “Turning Points in one’s Life” and with that in mind they took the opportunity to dive into William Defoe’s acting career. He began his journey by moving to New York from Wisconsin and looking for a theater company to join downtown. He thought he would do something commercial but was actually drawn to experimental theater. He is a long-standing member of a theater group called the Wooster group. When asked what turning point made his career what it is today, he simply said there wasn’t one. He never trained to be an actor and he said, “I always thought I would do something else.” He said a lot had to do with where he was from and also the time period. Thus far, he has acted in 57 films and completes about three to four films a year. He organizes it with some small roles and some big roles so that he can do a good job.
His large repertoire includes films such as Wild at Heart, Mississippi Burning, The English Patient, Spiderman and The Aviator. Defoe explains that contrary to everyone’s image of David Lynch, Defoe said that he is a good director to work with because he makes a perfect set up. He knows exactly what costume should be worn and can make a complete visual world for the actors. He also spoke about doing his own stunt work in Spiderman and said it was not difficult for him since he comes from a theater background. Defoe mentions blocking out certain things in his memory, which seemed to include his film debut, a major flop called Heaven’s Gate. But even with that as a beginning, one can see William Defoe’s true genius is his versatility in his roles for which he has been nominated for Oscars in Platoon and The Shadow of the Vampire.
Most people think it was brave of him to have taken on the role of Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ. He said it was not that difficult since it was a good part. He also said that making this movie was a perfect example of doing something everyday and getting absorbed into the role, which was easy since it was an active role in practically every frame of the movie and shot on location instead of having to wait around to be called for the shoot. To prepare for the role he read the Bible at night. “Since we are telling this story, we should know how the other guy is telling the story.” He said the movie presented a lot of problems and gives the religious hardliners a chance to use this film for recruitment. He tries to keep his private life separate but still felt the bad publicity.
He was asked about his mentors and he said he did not have any. He is inspired by art. He said an actor often gets caught up in the sensationalism which is selfish and therefore looking at art as a form of beauty changes the perspective and gives meaning to a performance as an art form. He had two films here at the Berlinale: Adam Resurrected and Dust of Time. No doubt we will be seeing a lot more of him.