Willem Dafoe not just 'sitting poolside in LA'

10 November 2017, 15:21

Willem Dafoe is not just the biggest star in the new film from Tangerine director Sean Baker, he’s the only recognisable face.

The Florida Project is about people who are struggling to make ends meet while living in budget motels, which used to be filled with tourists, on the outskirts of Disney World in Florida.

And because the filmmaker likes to use unconventional casting methods and shot the movie in a working motel, it meant the Oscar-nominee found himself working with first-time actors and non-professional extras.

That, as well as being part of a cast largely made up of children, as the film is told from the point of view of the youngsters.

Dafoe told Sky News it certainly made for a different working environment.

"It was challenging but it was good," he said.

"I think what was so important was we had a place, we had a home, and it was an operational motel and the people that we're talking about, the world that we were talking about, was there, so we had great help to root what we were doing.

"And then all these newcomers, and people coming from very different places - it helped to give a kind-of diversity... they had great energy and were very committed and there wasn't any cynicism there, so it was a great environment to be in."

He also admitted that being the only star on set meant some people did have some expectations of how he would behave - which they quickly found to be wrong.

"Once I'm there and if you don't do the things that support their idea of who you are, like if they say 'oh my God that's Willem Dafoe! Where's his trailer, where's his bodyguard, where's his trophy wife, where's… oh that's not Willem Dafoe, it's not the Willem Dafoe I know, I guess I've got to adjust my idea about who Willem Dafoe is'," he explained.

"That's the process, and after about two days, yes they're conscious of it, and they may think when I'm not there I'm sitting poolside in LA - not true - but they get used to it and I get used to them and we mix it up."

Baker and his co-writer Chris Bergoch have been talking about making The Florida Project since Bergoch became aware of the not-so-magical living conditions just outside the theme park.

When the project came Dafoe's way he too was unaware of the so-called "hidden homeless".

"I think the first thing when I saw the script was I was surprised, I didn't know this world existed," Dafoe said.

"It was only after talking to Sean [Baker - director] I saw how it's not only in central Florida, it's many places in the States.

"After the economic crash and the housing crash a lot of people lost their homes and it was hard to get a home again and a lot of people are roaming around without a place to stay and they slip through the cracks."

The film has been well received after screening at festivals and is attracting plenty of buzz ahead of awards season, with some describing it as this year's Moonlight - the small budget film that went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars.

Dafoe said that's something he has been pleased to hear.

"Yeah there is awards buzz, and that's good for the film, it's good for me, yeah I'm happy," he said.

"With people's free time there's so many places to go, so many platforms, so many ways to go, why you go to a movie, there's got to be reasons.

"And clearly if there's attention, there's talk, people say this is interesting, this is special - it helps."

The Florida Project is out in cinemas in the UK on 10 November.