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Willem Dafoe Talks Daybreakers, Vamps, and Going to Mars

Daybreakers hit theaters last weekend, and Dread Central was there to take in the newest vampire tale and sit down with the film’s creators. Among the pointy-toothed set was Willem Dafoe, who chatted with us a bit about life, undeath, and the pursuit of a world we’d actually survive in.

Daybreakers (review here) is the tale of an earth overrun with vampires whose supply of blood is quickly running out. Dafoe explains, “It’s science fiction, but it also plays with the vampire myths. It’s got so many elements … comedy, splatter. Talking about this range, it doesn’t sound very good; it sounds confused. But the idea is to find out where they all come together. Where the world is. Find the tone. I’ve got some goofy taglines that are full of, well, junk, but you’ve got to know how to field those things.

Willem Dafoe Talks Daybreakers, Vamps, and Going to Mars

Ethan Hawke (read Heather’s interview with Ethan Hawke here) had stated it was specifically the B-movie nature of Daybreakers that drew him to the script. In a world of remakes and reimaginings, it is rare that a team can take an old theme and make it new again. We asked Dafoe why he thinks horror still endures after all these years. “I think (horror) has always been popular. Horror movies, particularly with a younger audience — I know everything is changing right now … as we speak — but with a younger audience that’s been a tried and true genre. Also, you can keep costs down. Traditionally it’s a genre that doesn’t require stars or a specific kind of performance. THIS is a little different, which is one of the things that attracted me to it. The point is you can make a very cheap horror movie and get a big return on it. People love to get agitated, get scared. It has an event quality to it.

Anyone who has seen the trailers knows that Dafoe runs with “the guys with the crossbows” as opposed to the rest of the immortal populace. Note: If you haven’t seen the film yet and are avoiding spoilers, you may want to skip this next bit! Any “monster” movie has to have special effects to add chills to a creeping storyline. When asked about joining the ranks of the undead for the part, Dafoe stated, “I wore (contacts and fangs) very little (spoiler!) for the flashback sequence. I had this burn makeup. It’s quite subtle, so you think … what, 20 minutes? Nah. The more subtle, the more careful you have to be. These were hand applied, every day, not in one piece … lots of small pieces. It took about three hours sometimes.

Dafoe is no stranger to vampires. His take on Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire was undoubtedly brilliant and unforgettable. Now, vampires seem to be getting a healthy bit of attention, due in no small part to the Twilight series. Dafoe muses, “Everyone is saying, ‘What’s this thing about vampires?’ I just think that the vampire myth has been pretty sturdy and flexible and has been used in different times to serve the age. It works as a metaphor for lots of things. Immortality. Sex. Politics. Colonialism. You name it. So, obviously, it’s a tool.

It wasn’t long before the question of parallels between the vampire’s dwindling blood supply and our burning up of our own resources came into question. Dafoe has always been environmentally conscious and even had a rubber house at one time! When asked about the specific parallels in this film, he replied, “They are all over the place. I think it’s pretty clear. I don’t think it’s an earnest message, but it’s part of our fears and part of our psyche. Even if you’re not talking about oil, on some level you’re talking about the consciousness. We’re using stuff up.

On a side note, while it may not be horror, you may have your nerdy eyes trained on a project called John Carter of Mars. We couldn’t leave the room without asking about the film and have been told it starts shooting this week and Dafoe is very excited to be a part of it. He likes Mars director Andrew Stanton a lot, having worked with him before on Finding Nemo (he was the voice of one of the fish, Gill). Dafoe adds, “It doesn’t sound like much, but they are so thorough and good that I feel like I worked with them on a regular feature. We really banged away and played with all kinds of possibilities, always revising the script, always trying new things. It was really fun working with him, and now, when he talked to me about John Carter of Mars, they showed me lots of sketches and talked about how they were going to do certain things. It’s very exciting. I’m looking forward to it.


Our thanks to Willem for chatting with us and to Lionsgate for arranging the interview. Daybreakers is still in wide release. Buy your tickets at Fandango.com.

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