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Willem Dafoe Defends ‘At Eternity’s Gate’ Casting, in Which the 63-Year-Old Actor Plays 37-Year-Old Vincent van Gogh

The actor says people caught up on the age gap are not understanding what kind of film Julian Schnabel made.

At Eternity's Gate Willem Dafoe Julian Schnabel

“At Eternity’s Gate”

Willem Dafoe has earned rave reviews for playing Vincent van Gogh in “At Eternity’s Gate,” the new drama from Julian Schnabel, but the film’s casting isn’t being celebrated by everyone. Van Gogh was only 37 years old when he died, which has resulted in some backlash against the film for casting the 63-year-old Dafoe as the legendary painter. Many have questioned whether or not a woman would be given the chance to play a character nearly half her age.

“Anyone who’s talking in those terms [against the age gap] is not understanding the kind of movie we’re making, and doesn’t have an imagination about physical health and how things have changed over the years,” Dafoe told Vulture when asked about the casting criticism.

“It’s not a regular biopic, number one,” he continued. “And number two: I was surprised that he was only 37 years old, and then I looked and did some research [on] what the average age of mortality was in France in the late 19th century. 40 years old! Now it’s 70 years old. So without being too cute about it, today’s 70 was yesteryear’s 40.”

“At Eternity’s Gate” centers around the final months of van Gogh’s life as his mind started to unravel. Schnabel has said in the past the painter was “pretty world-weary and torn up by 37,” while Dafoe maintained that his casting wasn’t entirely out of context since van Gogh “had a very tough life.”

“I even heard someone say, ‘Well, it takes away from the idea that he died so tragically as a young man,’” Dafoe told Vulture. “My point is: 37 wasn’t young in those days, particularly if you’re drinking absinthe every day. So that’s my very, I hope, convincing response to that age question.”

CBS Films opens “At Eternity’s Gate” in select theaters November 16.

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