Paul Schrader Told Willem Dafoe Great Actors Are ‘Like Farm Animals’: They ‘Like to Work’

"They like to work," Dafoe recalled of Schrader's analogy.
Paul Schrader and Willem Dafoe
Paul Schrader and Willem Dafoe

Willem Dafoe has played a goblin, a rat, a fool, and a fish, but according to Paul Schrader, it’s all par for the course of a great actor. Dafoe, who most recently transforms into a trapped art thief for claustrophobic psychological thriller “Inside,” revealed that Oscar winner Schrader told him it’s the best compliment to be compared to a farm animal.

“Paul Schrader says that all actors are like farm animals,” Dafoe said to The New York Times Style Magazine.”They like to work.”

Schrader directed Dafoe in 1992’s “Light Sleeper.” In total, Dafoe has worked with auteurs Wes Anderson, Robert Eggers, Abel Ferrara, and Yorgos Lanthimos for multiple films each.

“When you’re starting out, you feel like every film can ruin you,” Dafoe said. “Now I can take more risks.”

One of those risks include leading Lanthimos’ surreal upcoming film “And” opposite Emma Stone, who praised Dafoe’s approach to work. “There’s this instinct to perform that many actors have — the ‘look at me, look at me!’ kind of performer. He’s the opposite of that,” she said.

Director Lanthimos added, “That’s what you want from actors, to want to be part of it in any way.”

Dafoe previously told IndieWire’s Eric Kohn that he can only prepare so much for roles and likes to leave a bit of room for improvisation.

“My thing is that I like to prepare for work but you can only prepare so much and once you prepare, you may throw everything out once you get there,” Dafoe said in June 2021. “You prepare just to relax yourself and get ready to engage, so when opportunities come you can receive them in a thoughtful way and really play.”

The “Spider-Man: No Way Home” star continued, “The size of the projects are varied. It feels very open. I love nothing more than the idea of having a lot of work ahead of me. Performing and making movies is still mysterious to me. Lately I’ve been lucky that things have turned me on. The day that I stop engaging in people who are interested in working with me, I’ll have to reassess everything…I prefer to do something that can challenge me and surprise me.”

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