Willem Dafoe has worn many hats: a libertine solider (which earned him an Oscar nod), a cackling Green Goblin, a red-capped second-in-command -- he even voiced a salty moorish idol in "Finding Nemo." But a family man? Usually, when it comes to family drama, he said, "I run the other way."
Still, Dafoe seems particularly at home alongside Julia Roberts, Ryan Reynolds and Hayden Panettiere in "Fireflies in the Garden," a decade-spanning story of a dysfunctional family ruled by an uncrossable patriarch. And while the genre may be something new, the estranged father, Charlie Taylor, acid-tongued with a short fuse, seems to scream Dafoe. Toggling between the past and present, the film centers on the rocky relationship between Charlie and his son, played by Reynolds. But, after a tragedy befalls the family, the pair is forced to examine and attempt to move beyond their difficult pasts.
HuffPost had the chance to sit down with Dafoe to discuss the new movie; read the conversation below:
I know you play a lot of not so friendly guys. Did you wish you could play a more redeeming character here?
I try to play the scenes, and I'm not judging him. They should feel compassion for this guy. For me, there's plenty of opportunities where I think I feel compassion for the guy because he has his limitations. He isn't harsh with his son because he's sadistic, he's harsh with his son just because he doesn't know how to express his love, he doesn't know to nurture. In a similar way, his son has trouble feeling, particularly as an adult. So you see the seeds of the sins of the father are passed onto the son, and I think that’s very much the theme of the story.
Is that what drew you to the project?
It's never just [one thing], it's the people involved and sort of the tone or the feel of the project. I think it was important that Julia Roberts was involved. I was struck by [the fact] the director was also the writer of the script. And I thought, boy, people don't make this kind of movie now, and it was a weird combination of familiarity, because it’s got such kind of classic, universal themes about family, but also it's exotic.
How do you mean?
So much of movies now, a certain audience is targeted and it reflects very topical things. Here, we're making a world where we don't even acknowledge the information age, practically. It's not a world of computers and iPhones and CNN; it's a little bit of a throwback. I mean, I think that's a convention to tell the story, but it's a family drama in kind of the old-fashioned sense.
Yeah, it was almost easy to lose track of which era you were in.
It's true. Even though we're playing very different scenes and the tone is very different and there's a huge age difference between the two, sometimes I had to really get clear about the difference because those ages are fused into a time that doesn't necessarily feel like right now, because you don't have all the kind of contemporary baggage cluttering up the story.
The line that kind of stayed with me was one you repeated a few times throughout the movie, ‘My father always said if you don’t know how to take care of something, you don’t deserve to have it.’ Is that something you identify with?
That's one line, actually, that I think I invented because it's a thing from my childhood, ... and my father was a good guy, he wasn't tough with us. You know, it's a generational thing sort of, he was probably tougher with the older kids and by the time he got down to me he had been mellowed by life, and he learned things about how to raise kids, and he got soft -- and I think that's even true in this story. A lot of people blame their parents for lots of things, but I'm a parent and there's no instruction book. People make a lot of mistakes, and particularly in a generation ago where people were having kids before they were adults themselves.
Did your role in the movie change how you felt about your own parenting?
I'm sure -- but I can't tell you exactly how and I probably wouldn't tell you how even if knew. It's too personal.
"Fireflies in the Garden" hit theaters Oct 14.