Aquaman director James Wan inspired Willem Dafoe's return to the superhero genre. In the film, Dafoe plays Arthur Curry's longtime guardian Nuidis Vulko, but his most previous brush with the genre was in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man as the villainous Norman Osborn/Green Goblin.
In Aquaman, Vulko is one of a few Atlanteans who has sworn their allegiance to Arthur, the son of Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman). As a war between the ocean world and the surface world brews, Vulko must hide his true allegiance from King Orm (Patrick Wilson), Arthur's half-brother. And, though he risks being found out as a traitor to the crown, he stands his ground to lead Arthur down the path to his royal birthright. The role is a far cry from his performance as Norman Osborne, and it's also one that he might have avoided altogether had someone less capable than Wan not been involved as a director.
During an Aquaman junket interview with Screen Rant, Dafoe, who recently earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama for his role as Vincent van Gogh in At Eternity's Gate, opened up about how he got involved with Aquaman and what attracted him to the role. After touching on the fact that a lot has changed since he was last involved in the superhero genre, he said:
"James, I loved. He was very enthusiastic. He was a huge draw for me coming to this project. His movies are very precise. You can really see a very sure director's hand, so it was very curious to think that- certainly he worked on a big scale, but nothing this big, plus a fantasy film. So, he was great. He's incredible, he's got an incredible energy, he's got an incredible film culture; he's like a little kid, as far as his enthusiasm, and he's rigorous enough that he can delegate well and get the overview. But he's always there. With a film this big, when you have so much effects to set up and you have to do so much planning - you really need a general."
As it turns out, Dafoe nearly tackled yet another DC character before taking on Vulko in Aquaman. Before Jack Nicholson was ultimately cast as the Joker in Tim Burton's Batman in 1989, several other actors were being considered as well. The list of potential contenders included everyone from Robin Williams to John Lithgow; and, as it so happens, Dafoe was once part of the conversation. Though he was never officially offered the role, he once revealed that Batman's screenwriter Sam Hamm told him that he would be "perfect for the part" before Nicholson was cast.
As for Vulko, Dafoe gets to channel far more hope from his character than he could have ever hoped to manifest as either Norman Osborn or the Joker. In Aquaman, Vulko is one of many guiding lights for Arthur, which is something Dafoe is no stranger to playing, having recently starred as a guardian-type character in last year's The Florida Project, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018