Willem Dafoe has recalled the time he played Green Goblin in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. It took nearly 20 years of development for Spider-Man to hit the big screen, with the movie changing hands between multiple directors, screenwriters and studios. B-movie powerhouse Cannon spent a good deal of the 1980s trying to get the project off the ground, but the producers fundamentally misunderstood the character, with the first draft involving Peter Parker turning into an eight-legged monster following an experiment gone wrong.
Subsequent drafts would correct this and portray a more comic accurate version. Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) was the first director on the movie, but following the failure of Cannon’s other big superhero project Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, the budget for the project was repeatedly downgraded and it entered development hell. James Cameron famously wrote a scriptment for the movie years later, which introduced concepts like the organic web-shooters and featured villains like Sandman and Electro. Various lawsuits later hit the project, delaying it once again. Eventually, Sony would snag the rights to the franchise, hiring Sam Raimi (Evil Dead) to direct.
While movies like Blade and X-Men proved there was an audience for comic book movies, the massive success of Raimi’s Spider-Man showed the genre had staying power. Prior to filming, actors such as Nicolas Cage and John Malkovich circled the role of Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, before Willem Dafoe took the part. Now in a new career retrospective with GQ, Dafoe recalls working on the movie and how it paved the way for the genre.
Sam Raimi did a miracle thing. He made kind of a personal film out of a fairly big-sized, partly effect movie. It was early in the game of movies made from comic books, that sort of thing, so there was no template.
While Dafoe enjoying hamming it up as the Goblin, he felt playing Norman was the more interesting challenge.
I loved in Spider-Man particularly playing the double role. Everybody thinks about the Green Goblin and that was fun, but the more interesting role was probably the father, Norman Osborn. Because you could play these scenes where it would switch from comedy to drama in a line.
He also drew on a literary inspiration for the scene where Norman and the Goblin argue in a mirror.
Sam Raimi gave me Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to read before I did that. But it was fun, and we basically did it in one take. I think, in the final thing, for whatever reason, they cut it. But we always shot it in one take, and it became a beautiful game, because I had to switch those things, and also for the camera to be in the mirror the correct way, and I had to dance with the camera a lot on that scene.
Given the influx of comic book movies in the years since it’s almost easy to forget the impact the original Spider-Man had on the genre. Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is commonly regarded as the best of his trilogy, where he refined what worked in the original while fleshing out the characters even more. Sadly, Spider-Man 3 proved to be a disappointing capper, with the filmmaker forced by the studio to include characters like Venom and Gwen Stacy into a storyline that already had too many subplots. Raimi would later admit the movie didn’t work and he walked away from Spider-Man 4 when he couldn’t develop a script he liked.
Dafoe clearly had a lot of fun playing the Green Goblin in Spider-Man and he would cameo in the role for both sequels. Dafoe would later co-star in James Wan’s Aquaman as Vulko, and was once considered for the role of the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman.