A Willem Dafoe action figure ... what will they think of next?
Of all the hundreds of actors working in Hollywood, this intense and cerebral performance artist would have to be among those least likely to be immortalized in "super-poseable, highly articulated" plastic.
Stroll through any Wal-Mart or Toys R Us, and you'll find shelves full of action figures that resemble the Rock, Arnold Schwarzenegger Sylvester Stallone, Eminem, even the Simpsons. Last year, one adventurous toy maker produced a series of promotional figurines inspired by the jewel thieves in "Reservoir Dogs" (Mr. Blonde came with a straight razor).
Dafoe, who fully embodies the demonic Green Goblin in "Spider-Man," couldn't hide a toothy grin after being coaxed into acknowledging the existence of his very own action figure. The wiry Wisconsin native squirms nervously in his rattan chair and tries not to look too embarrassed by this unexpected concession to commercialism.
"Yeah, next thing, people will start recognizing me in shopping malls," quipped Dafoe, sipping on a Gan Bei Longevity Tonic in the garden of the Elixir tearoom on Melrose. "I've never really been involved in such a big production ... one that's had as much integration of special effects with traditional scenes. 'Flight of the Intruder' was an action movie ... and 'Last Temptation [of Christ]' even had some.
"On stage, I'm always doing physical stuff. So, I guess, that was one of the attractions of this role."
These days, many less-than-buff stars rely on computer-generated imagery, or CGI, technicians, makeup artists and strength coaches to mask their physical limitations. Not Dafoe.
"I didn't have a trainer," brags Dafoe, whose taut, wiry body seems to be devoid of even an ounce of fat. "I knew it wouldn't all be CGI.... I'd have to perform quite a bit of the actual fighting and glider work myself. Unfortunately, though, a lot of the blue-screen and wire work didn't end up on the screen."
Perhaps it's farfetched to think that "Spider-Man" merchandise will be sold this summer in the lobby of the Wooster Group's Performing Garage, back in New York. In a world where studio press kits can be found on EBay, however, anything is possible.
Truth is, Dafoe fits right into the pantheon of action stars.
In Sam Raimi's reconstruction of the "Spider-Man" legend, Peter Parker and Norman Osborn experience parallel metamorphoses. This deviates from the blueprint drawn 40 years ago by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, but it does no disservice to their creative vision.
Some time compression was necessary, because it wasn't until issue No. 14 of "Amazing Spider-Man" that the bomb-throwing villain was introduced to readers.
"Growing up, I was aware of the Marvel superheroes, but I wasn't much of comic-book reader," concedes Dafoe. . "It wasn't as if I was against reading them, it's just that I wasn't doing it. My introduction to comic books was through Zap Comix and Zippy the Pinhead.
"Those are the images I'd see when I visited my older brothers and sisters at the University of Wisconsin."
Instead of following his seven siblings to Madison, Dafoe left his Midwest hometown of Appleton, Wis., and took off for the closest big city, Milwaukee.
He stayed at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee long enough for a couple cups of coffee but dropped out to join the acclaimed experimental acting company Theater X. Before long, he was on his way to the Big Apple and the fledgling multimedia performance troupe the Wooster Group.
Dafoe appeared in eight films before winning praise as the Christ-like Sgt. Elias in Oliver Stone's "Platoon," for which he received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination. Two years later, in 1988, he was elevated to full-blown son-of-God status, in Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ."
(In his dramatic transformation scene in "Spider-Man," there's a moment when Dafoe looks as if he's enduring another crucifixion. He denies, however, it's "a nod" to any previous roles.)
While making his bones in Hollywood, playing a steady succession of saints and sinners, priests and pushers, Dafoe also maintained his commitment to the Wooster Group. Last year, he received a second supporting actor Oscar nomination for his wonderfully creepy interpretation of Max Schreck in "Shadow of the Vampire."
Even before "Spider-Man" was released, the 46-year-old father of one college-age son (with Wooster Group founder Elizabeth LeCompte) has grown weary of answering questions about the eye-popping scene in which Norman Osborn is transformed into Green Goblin. His impressively cut torso is on full display when Osborn bursts out of his shirt. "Everybody wants to know what I did to get in shape for the movie, but I didn't do anything special," said Dafoe, insisting that, while he occasionally will accept a piece of fish, he draws the line at red meat or cheese. "I try to keep quiet about my personal preferences. I don't want to become a cheerleader for yoga, but I'm probably stronger now than I ever was before."