Imagine you are Harry Potter. At the beginning of the first book. You are living under the stairs in a cramped mildewy closet at the Dursleys’ and your only companion is a fat kid who bullies you and your caretakers are horrible neglectful and cruel pricks and you have no hope of life ever being something else.
UNTIL a motorcycle riding giant shows up with a snowy owl on his hand and says “’Yer a wizard, Harry.” Your mom and dad were secretly famous wizards and you are destined to be the most famous powerful wizard of them all and let’s go on a magical shopping spree and buy robes and magic wands and gaze upon fantastical beasts, and then on such and such a date make your way to the magical train platform that only special magical people can see and you are to be whisked away to a fairy tale castle full of sumptuous feasts and doe-eyed girls in awe of your power and magical knowledge that will turn you into an ass getting killing machine. Imagine!
Then imagine that you get on the magic train and show up at the magic school and instead of the promised castle the school is just another shithouse full of fat assholes, and your room is another mildewy closet under the stairs; there is no magic taught there. The whole thing was just a scam to extract your meager savings, and Hermione was ugly.
This is what it feels like to read Willem Dafoe’s Wikipedia entry. When you think of Willem Dafoe– that face like a rock formation in a secret cave, that weird creepy intensity matched by moments of genuine affableness– a man who played Jesus Christ Himself plausibly, did some crazy Cronenberg shit– what do you imagine Willem Dafoe’s life to be? He must have been a merchant marine or something, right? Sailing to exotic lands and bedding exotic nubile slave women in steamy ports-of-call. He must have grown up isolated on an island rock spearing groupers by hand for his meals. He must have been a hustler on the dirty streets of 1972 New York, having run away from foster homes where he was beaten by sadist alcoholics to give him that inner steel he so cunningly portrays, before a high powered talent agent rolled down a limousine window, held captive by that face. That face! Dafoe has a face like an ancient redwood tree came to life. Like he is the last vessel of alien DNA from the beings who gave the Mayans the secrets of the pyramids. Perhaps Dafoe himself was from another galaxy. Perhaps Dafoe is here to give suicidal humanity one last warning, one last message of compassion and love, through the medium of his weirdly disturbed but approachable acting. Perhaps Dafoe is the messenger of the one true God, the Moshiach, his coming heralded by thousand-eyed thousand-winged oxen and eagles, trumpeted by Gabriel. None of these things would have shocked me in Willem Dafoe’s Wikipedia entry.
But no. He grew up in the Midwest; parents were middle class types; he did a play in high school and discovered he liked acting. Studied theatre in college then did some plays, moved to New York and started getting movie parts. Was involved with The Steppenwolf. Where he hung out with Gary Sinise, one assumes– bland Gary Sinise, for whom this prosaic Wikipedia entry would actually be fitting. Did all the movies you know about, where he was nice and reasonable and never clashed with anyone on set. Got married a couple times, first to a peer and then to a younger and presumably much better looking Eastern European woman. Had a couple kids that one assumes look like hybrids of Willem Dafoe and a good looking person.
Which, if I were Willem Dafoe, I would only breed with the person who most looked like Willem Dafoe in the world. I would painstakingly preserve the craggy lines and pointy acute angles of the Dafoe face, like a seed bank preserving the last viable wheat kernel ahead of the nuclear holocaust.
So he grew up normal in a boring place, pursued his dream with no major obstacles, and made it.
Bullshit. I want Willem Dafoe to have hatched from an egg. I want him to be a government experiment to meld man and iguana DNA into a super-soldier capable of 30 minute free dives and subsisting on kelp, but they got a super-actor instead. I want to read that a man eerily resembling Dafoe has been found on ancient friezes on five different continents, and that this being is spoken of in hushed myths as the demon who gave men fire. I want a Willem Dafoe to be born every hundred years in a different spot on earth to parents of different ethnicities, at a time when the stars are properly aligned, and begin speaking in perfectly formed English in the sly honeyed cadence of Willem Dafoe. I want the villagers of Roanoake to have crudely scrawled “Dafoe” on the stone before disappearing, never to be found. I want every 666′th character in the Bible to spell out the Hebrew version of “Dafoe.” I want the second gunman to be Dafoe.
But no. He grew up near some corn, went to high school, and became an actor. A life unbefitting our civilization’s greatest thespian.
In conclusion: zero stars.