Born William Dafoe Junior on July 22, 1955, Willem was raised, the seventh of eight children, in Appleton, Wisconsin, USA, by his doctor father and nurse mother. The moniker Willem was picked up at high school and has stuck ever since.
Willem caught the acting bug while studying drama at university, a subject chosen without any particular thought of becoming an actor. After a few years of study, however, Willem dropped out of college and joined an experimental theatre group called Theatre X in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the mid-Seventies he spent two years touring the US and Europe with the company before moving to New York in search of his big break.
Soon after his arrival in the Big Apple, he met Elizabeth LeCompte, who would go on to become his long-time companion, and with whom he has a son Jack, born in 1977. However, after 27 years together, they called a day on their relationship. Willem and Elizabeth shared the same theatrical ambitions, and in the late Seventies they became charter members of the Wooster Theatrical Group. Despite his big screen success, Willem has remained loyal to the company, and continues to appear in its productions.
He would go on to marry Italian actress Giada Colagrande in 2005, in an intimate ceremony in New York's City Hall.
Beginning of career
The actor's movie debut was less auspicious. He was cast as an extra in the notorious 1981 flop Heaven's Gate, although he never actually appeared as he was fired before the cameras started rolling. After that, Willem picked up parts in several minor films, usually as a villain, before his role as a dangerous counterfeiter in 1985's To Live And Die In LA elevated him to major player status.
A year later he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of a Christ-like soldier in Oliver Stone's revisionist Vietnam war film Platoon. Willem further proved his versatility in two 1988 pieces firstly as a sympathetic but by-the-book FBI agent in the civil rights period piece Mississippi Burning, and then more controversially as a tormented Jesus Christ in Martin Scorcese's The Last Temptation Of Christ.
Since then Willem has continued his unusual dual path between commercial and character roles. In 1994, he played the young American poet TS Eliot in the biopic Tom & Viv, popping up again in The English Patient two years later. But such roles have not stopped him taking on more commercial vehicles such as 1997's Speed II: Cruise Control and the notorious Body Of Evidence, in which he played a lawyer defending a possibly murderous Madonna.
In 2001, Willem won a second Best Supporting Actor nomination for his sensational performance as German actor Max Schreck in the critically acclaimed Shadow Of The Vampire. A year later he played the commercial card yet again, signing on as the Green Goblin in the hit superhero movie Spider-Man.
Willem continues to work, more recently appearing in The Northman and Asteroid City. He also reprised his role as the Green Goblin for 2021's Spider-Man: No Way Home and currently has nine upcoming projects, including Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, Beetlejuice 2 and Nosferatu.