American Dreamz : Willem Dafoe Question and Answer

Q: You have such a priceless role. What appealed to you about putting on a bit of padding, and having a bit of a comb over?

WD: That was a big appeal, because the idea of being a presidential advisor wasn't that appealing. I thought the script was very good and I liked how Paul approached me and I knew the other cast members attached and they seemed like they were really well cast. I knew I needed something, because whenever you read something or you approach something, you go through a little crisis of confidence. You have to claim it somehow. Either you have to do something that creates a relationship to the role that brings you to it, or you have to feel like I know it so well that I've got special information or special authority. You have to find a way to have the authority to pretend. In this case it was really through a very kind of gross, physical process that I knew I needed some sort of look. That's really where it started for me. And it's a pleasure. It's a pleasure when you do a look that is sort of extreme and you don't quite recognize yourself. You don't move the same, when you look in the mirror you don't see the same person. So, that was a pleasure.

Q: When you look at your character there is an uncanny resemblance to Dick Cheney.

WD: Which is sort of an accident really, because I just took these different elements and then it added all up to something that's very close to Dick Cheney. Now what kind of moron am I that I couldn’t see that coming, but it's true. In fact, I didn't necessarily want to be Dick Cheney. The character is probably closer to like a Carl Rove or someone like that.

Q: Yeah.

WD: I didn't use Cheney as a model. It's like how Dennis approached the President. He borrowed things from here and there and we sort of know, when you watch him, who it's pointing to. But it's not an impersonation.

Q: Fair enough. And so what you're saying about claiming it, where did you go to get all the tools you needed?

WD: In this case?

Q: Yeah.

WD: In this case the scenes were really solid. It's less about having an expertise about being politically savvy. It's about human nature. It's basically about one guy that has an agenda that's selling a slightly weaker willed guy on his agenda. There's always that stock character of the puppet master, but he usually has evil intentions. The nice thing about this character is he was basically benign. He really just wanted the President to do well. So in the end even when the President starts to speak his own mind, he sort of looks at him lovingly and says ‘that's my guy.’ There's no distance between him and his agent, you know. There's something sweet about it. He’s not the traditional dastardly guy, manipulating the poor and innocent.

Q: How do you think the film going to play? Are people ready to make fun of their own pop culture and President?

WD: I don't know, I don't know. I laugh when I watch it. I think there are some really good performances. Sometimes it's goofy and fun and then all of a sudden you find yourself laughing at something that you say ‘whoa that's heavy.’ I think that's a good sign, but I'm always bad at guessing how things are going to go. It was a good experience for me and I liked watching it when I saw a screening of it. But how it goes, I really don't know. I don't know whether people will have a good time with it, whether people will get heavy with it. I don't know whether people will feel like the political content is a little too pat or superficial. Some people may find it really irresponsible and unpatriotic. I think there's lots of possibilities.

Q: Now just the whole concept of the reality show and how it's taken over American television. Is it one of your secret little pleasures? Are you an American Idol fan?

WD: I'm not, I'm not. I'm not watching the TV yet. I've got other habits.

Q: Other things to entertain you?

WD: Other habits that keep me away from the television.

Q: There’s 40 million viewers every week. Why is it such an obsession?

WD: Well not having seen it, I'm a little strapped at being wise about it, but I think it's like a soap opera. It's good escapist entertainment where you identify with these people, you can follow them, you can sort of adopt them. You can dream them. It's like any spectator sport, where you start to identify with the athlete, or a soap opera where you really start to live the life of the character. I think it's that impulse to empathize and to get away from yourself and for a moment hook yourself up to someone else's life. I think that's the emotional pleasure. It's a perfect parallel to what we all deal with in our society where pop culture is very heavily considered, and where capitalism and making money is the goal of the day. We get to play out with them this reaching for the brass ring. Some people fail and some people win and you have judgments about what's fair and what isn't. We're the Greeks watching other people; we're living it with them.

Q: What do you think it's done for the cult of celebrity? In some weird way has it taken the pressure off of people like you?

WD: I don't know. It's a good question, but all I know is that when I first started working in theatre and movies, there weren’t nearly as many outlets where people were reporting and talking about everything but what the actors did. You don't talk about the movie, you talk about the actor's house, their wife, their dog, their political affiliations, how much the movie cost. It's never about the thing itself, it's about everything around it. And there have been all these magazines and magazine shows on TV, and we're probably in some way contributing to this monster right now, where information is basically packaged as entertainment. It’s along the same lines as people watching a reality show.

Q: Sure. A great line in the film is about becoming detached from reality when you're famous. How true is that for you?

WD: It's absolutely true. I shouldn't say from reality, then it becomes your reality. But objective reality. If objective reality is the communal reality, yeah you don't live like most people, that's for sure. Fame is so relative, it's true you get used to certain things that aren't normal to everyone, but you only realize it when it goes away from you. I don’t think, well, I don’t want to tell stories…Laughs.

Q: You don’t want to go down that road.

WD: No.

Q: What about Mandy Moore's character, she's just so hungry to be famous. Seriously, how hungry and how driven do you have to be to reach a level of fame?

WD: Well, I'm guessing. Just by looking around and working in this business, I've seen some people get very famous and then fall out of being famous - it's always a combination of things. I’ve seen people that are absolute sharks. You know, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away in the respect that there are some people that are very good with the business and doing fame, but somewhere even when they arrive at this point of being famous or recognized, there's usually something lacking. Then there's the people that have all the integrity in the world, and they don't have any of that business sense or that sense of connecting with something bigger than what they're doing. I don't know, it's always a combination of things.