Willem Dafoe Receives Cinema Vanguard Award

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Willem Dafoe Receives Cinema Vanguard Award
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Willem Dafoe onstage at the Arlington Theatre (Photo: Fritz Olenberger)

Actor Willem Dafoe received the Cinema Vanguard Award at the Arlington Theatre during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Thursday evening.

This award was created with the intention of honoring actors with the tenacity to forge new ground in their craft. Past recipients include Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, Rooney Mara, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, and Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Willem Dafoe outside the Arlington Theatre (Fritz Olenberger photo)

Dafoe is honored for his role in The Florida Project, a film that follows a six-year-old girl living in a motel with her rebellious mother in the Orlando area as they try to stay out of trouble and make ends meet. Directed by Sean Baker and written by Baker and Chris Bergoch, the film was set on a stretch of highway just outside Disney World. Moonee, the six-year-old girl, and her mother live week to week at "The Magic Castle," a budget motel that's managed by a stern yet compassionate Bobby, Willem Dafoe's character. 

The Florida Project has already received critical acclaim earning Dafoe a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance. 

Pete Hammond led a Q&A discussion with Dafoe while showing clips from his career including PlatoonShadow of the Vampire, and Mississippi Burning.

Dafoe said he learned from people living in Orlando while filming The Florida Project. “They really invited us in and it’s what we learned that really became the engine for how we approached the movie,” said Dafoe. “You have this sense of watching them. But when you’re with them and you hear the story and you start to work with them and they get a more human face, 'they' becomes 'us.' And whenever that happens it’s always beautiful.”

Willem Dafoe taking a selfie with a fan outside the Arlington Theatre (Photo: Fritz Olenberger)

Dafoe explained how acting turned from a hobby into a career. “It started out as something I enjoyed doing,” Dafoe told the audience. “The big hook was there was a good community theater. They’d bring in directors from New York to teach. So that was like an apprenticeship and slowly I became an actor.”

Director Josh Boone, who worked with Dafoe on The Fault in Our Stars took to the stage after the discussion to present Dafoe with his award.

“What strikes me most about Mr. Dafoe’s exhausting and truly remarkable body of work, is how many of our greatest filmmakers have used him to such extremes,” said Boone. “Where Scorsese saw the face of Christ, David Lynch saw pure evil. Mr. Dafoe has made a career playing both saints and sinners. It is his empathy that illuminates the sea of gray between those extremes.”

This is the third Academy Award nomination for Dafoe. He has previously been nominated for his Best Supporting Actor roles as Elias in Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986), and Nosferatu actor Max Schreck in the horror film Shadow of the Vampire (2000). Another well-known role of Dafoe's was the eccentric FBI agent in the cult-classic The Boondock Saints (1999).

Willem Dafoe receiving the Cinema Vanguard Award from Director Josh Boone (Photo: Fritz Olenberger)
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