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Willem Dafoe: Vincent van Gogh would like our movie

November 27, 2018

Willem Dafoe hopes Vincent van Gogh would have “enjoyed” seeing his life played out in ‘At Eternity’s Gate’.

The 63-year-old actor plays the famous artist in the new biographical drama movie - which was released in the US on November 16 - and has said that whilst he can’t say what the painter, who died in 1890, would think of the production if he were alive today, he hopes he would be pleased with the team’s work.

When asked what van Gogh would think, Willem said: “I can’t even think about that. Who knows? We would like to think that he’d enjoy it. That’s something I would have to ruminate on for a long time. But, it’s a movie. We’re making it for now. We’re making it for us. Van Gogh is a very important, influential figure to Julian [Schnabel, the director]. The film does a service to him in the respect that it doesn’t try to explain him. It’s our imagining of what it might be like to be him.”

The Hollywood icon admits he learned a lot about the painter that was unknown to him before taking on the role, including how “socially awkward” he was, as well as his “spiritual” nature.

Asked if he learned anything that surprised him, Willem said: “How steeped he was in a spiritual quest, which is usually short-handed as a kind of madness. He tried to be a man of God early in his life, so that was surprising to what extent he was always having a dialogue with his God through nature.

“For someone that was so socially awkward and had so much trouble communicating with people on a social level and famously had trouble with women, had trouble with physicality, intimacy, he was a very compassionate person. He felt distance from people, but he loved the soul of the worker. He talks much about how you have to live like a peasant to paint peasants.”

To research the role, Willem made sure to read up on the painter, but then insisted he had to “forget” what he’d learned because he didn’t want to “copy” the version of van Gogh depicted in other films.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, he said: “I read biographies, of course. I had seen ‘Lust for Life’ and the [Robert] Altman film [‘Vincent & Theo’] years ago. But when you make something, you really want to forget those things. You can’t copy them. It’s the idea that to express what a work of art is you have to make another thing. There are parallels to what you learn in painting: It’s not about likeness.”

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