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‘I’m never bored’: Willem Dafoe on art, yoga – and alpacas

Willem Dafoe has made more than 150 movies, but in a forced break from filming he leaned into a new role. He talks about art, his new film Poor Things – and gentleman farming

Willem Dafoe is in his apartment in New York, where he is watched over by two works of art. Behind him is an oil painting of his father, a prop created for a film, which required “dynastic portraits” of his relatives. “I liked my father fine, so, there he is.” We are talking on Zoom and he spins the camera round. “But look, even better! Here’s the counterpoint. Do you see that?” To the side of him is a large, lightbox photograph of his friend and occasional collaborator, the artist Marina Abramović, standing priest-like over a ***** body adorned with organs. “Anyway, you get the idea,” he says.

Dafoe is less the kind of actor who wants to discuss his three-hour morning workout routine and more the type who will get stuck into the bigger stuff. We are here to talk about Poor Things, the stunning new Yorgos Lanthimos film, based on the novel by Alasdair Gray. Dafoe stars as a reclusive genius scientist named Godwin Baxter – ***, for short – who creates life in the form of Emma Stone’s Bella. It is a gorgeous, thrilling adventure and it could be the film to earn Dafoe, who slaps on heavy prosthetics to play ***, his fifth Oscar nomination. His first was for Platoon, in 1987, and he has been working solidly, voraciously even, since 1980, making more than 150 films in five decades, with every interesting director in the business, from David Lynch to Wes Anderson, from Werner Herzog to Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese.

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