Willem Dafoe: the Sight & Sound Interview, and in the words of Robert Pattinson, Abel Ferrara and Robert Eggers. Plus Greta Gerwig on Little Women, Josh and Benny Safdie on Uncut Gems, the many faces of Federico Fellini, Terry Gilliam shooting The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, and a preview of 2020 at the movies.
For our February 2020 issue we sit down with Willem Dafoe, an actor whose questing spirit and tireless pursuit of fresh challenges has helped him build up one of the most adventurous and eclectic filmographies in modern cinema. “I am a sensation freak,” he tells Philip Concannon, as the actor’s latest film The Lighthouse reaches UK cinemas. “Once you get a taste of what it’s like to make something beautiful, you want to go back there.”
Over his four decades plus in film, Dafoe has worked with an astonishing number of some of the most challenging and distinctive directors in cinema, from Paul Schrader to Oliver Stone, William Friedkin to Lars Von Trier, Kathryn Bigelow to Theo Angelopoulos. “I’m the kind of actor that likes to give myself to a director”, he says. “I love it when I become a creature of their imaginations.”
The Lighthouse continues that theme, immersing him in the singular vision of director Robert Eggers, in a tale of two men forced into maddeningly claustrophobic confines in a lighthouse in Nova Scotia in the late 19th century. Dafoe’s portrayal of the gnarly, farting, bearded old salty-dog lighthouse keeper in the film is unforgettable, and given brilliant foil from his younger co-star Robert Pattinson. We speak to both Eggers and Pattinson about their experience making the film, and their reflections on working with Dafoe.
As well as being a showcase for its two lead actors, The Lighthouse is also a film that displays a trove of literary and visual influences, ranging from Herman Melville to H.P. Lovecraft. Graham Fuller explores the rich range of work that fired Eggers’s imagination, and fed into the film’s creation. Eggers is one of a number of exciting American directors to have broken through in recent years.
Another pair are New Yorkers the Safdie brothers, whose latest film Uncut Gems, a frenetic tale of a diamond dealer hustling to pay gambling debts, has been their biggest success to date. Robert Koehler meets the brothers, and asks them about the lure of working in the crime genre, and why only a star of Adam Sandler’s calibre could have pulled off the film’s tricky lead role.
Staying with US talent, Greta Gerwig’s record of bringing offbeat, restless women to life marked her out as the perfect candidate to adapt a new version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. She talks to Isabel Stevens about the challenge of radically reinterpreting a much loved classic novel for the Trump and #MeToo era.
Little Women was clearly something of a passion project for Gerwig, but if we’re on the subject of passion projects, then Terry Gilliam’s cursed 30-year struggle to bring The Man Who Killed Don Quixote to the screen beats just about them all. As the film finally finds its way to UK cinemas this month, Philip Concannon recalls watching the indefatigable director at work on the Portuguese set back in 2017, and talking to him about calamities, compromises and coconuts.
Gilliam is genuinely one of those directors who always brings his own utterly distinctive stamp to any project he’s involved in, something that was also of course true of the great Italian maestro Federico Fellini, a director whose style was so distinctive hat it even spawned an adjective – the ‘Felliniesque’. As the BFI launches a major retrospective to celebrate the centenary of the gleefully idiosyncratic director’s birth, we explore some of the themes that made his work such a dazzling highpoint in 20th-century art cinema.
And we kick off a new year and a new decade with an 11-page special look ahead to what the coming 12 months have in store for us on screens both big and small.
All this, plus reviews of all the new cinema releases, the best new Blu-ray and DVD releases and a look at new film books.