Commencement is always special, but we’ve got an extra special treat for our first in-person spring commencement since 2019 – actor Willem Dafoe will give the commencement address for both ceremonies on May 22. Dafoe, one of the most accomplished and gifted actors of our time, attended UW-Milwaukee in the 1970s en route to a theater and film career that’s still going strong over four decades later.
About Willem Dafoe
Having made well over 100 films in his legendary career, Willem Dafoe is internationally respected for bringing versatility, boldness and dare to some of the most iconic films of our time. His artistic curiosity in exploring the human condition leads him to projects all over the world, large and small, Hollywood films as well as independent cinema.
In 1979, he was given a role in Michael’s Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate,” from which he was fired. Since then, he has collaborated with directors who represent a virtual encyclopedia of modern cinema: Hector Babenco, Kathryn Bigelow, Kenneth Branagh, Anton Corbijn, Scott Cooper, David Cronenberg, William Friedkin, Mary Harron, Werner Herzog, Spike Lee, David Lynch, Anthony Minghella, Phillip Noyce, Alan Parker, Sam Raimi, Dee Rees, Robert Rodriguez, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, Zack Snyder, Lars von Trier, James Wan, Wim Wenders and Zhang Yimou.
Dafoe has been recognized with four Academy Award nominations: Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Oliver Stone’s “Platoon,” E. Elias Merhige’s “Shadow of the Vampire” (for which he also received Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations), and Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” (also Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations), as well as Best Leading Actor for Julian Schnabel’s “At Eternity’s Gate” (also a Golden Globe nomination). He has also been awarded by the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review, as well as twice by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Additionally, he is the recipient of two Independent Spirit Awards, the Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup and a Berlinale Honorary Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement.
He and his wife, director Giada Colagrande, have made three films together: “Padre,” “A Woman” and “Before It Had a Name.”
His natural adventurousness is evident in roles as diverse as Thomas Wake in Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse”; Marcus, the elite assassin who is mentor to Keanu Reeves in the neo-noir “John Wick”; in his voice work as Gil the Moorish Idol in “Finding Nemo”; as the notorious filmmaker in Abel Ferrara’s “Pasolini”; as Paul Smecker, the obsessed FBI agent in the cult classic “The Boondock Saints”; as real life hero Leonhard Seppala, who led the 1925 Alaskan dog sled diphtheria serum run in “Togo”; and the notorious duality of Norman Osborn / Green Goblin, a role he reprised in Jon Watts’ record-breaking “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” That adventurous spirit continues with upcoming films including Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things,” Walter Hill’s “Dead for a Dollar,” and Isaiah Saxon’s fantasy epic “The Legend of Ochi.” Most recently, he was seen in Robert Eggers’ “The Northman” and Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley,” as well as Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” marking his fourth collaboration with the director.
Dafoe is one of the founding members of The Wooster Group, the New York based experimental theater collective. He created and performed in all of the group’s work from 1977 thru 2005, both in the U.S. and internationally. Since then, he worked with Richard Foreman in “Idiot Savant” at NYC’s Public Theater, with Robert Wilson on two international productions: “The Life & Death of Marina Abramovic” and “The Old Woman” (opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov) and developed a new theater piece, directed by Romeo Castellucci, based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil.” He recently completed work on Marina Abramovic’s opera “7 Deaths of Maria Callas.”