Paris, France (AFP) – Willem Dafoe frankly doesn’t give a damn if he misses out on a best supporting actor Oscar for a third time next month.
“That is not what I do this for,” said the dry, self-deprecating star, who was also nominated for Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” in 1987 and for “Shadow of a Vampire” 13 years later.
Yet he will be sore if “The Florida Project”, the break-out low-budget film about poor kids growing up in the shadow of Walt Disney World in Orlando, gets nothing.
Dafoe said he was “disappointed when (its director) Sean Baker didn’t get some love because this is very much his film and he made a beautiful movie”.
“I was hoping either the film or him or one of the other performers would get recognised, but it didn’t happen.”
He was not alone. Critics swooned over the performances Baker drew from the three children he cast – one of whom he found in a supermarket – and first-timer Bria Vinaite, who he spotted on Instagram.
The subtly moving story Baker shot in a cheap motel along the Kissimmee Strip leading to the theme park, using some of its homeless residents as extras, was a surprisingly heart-warming hit and topped many best-film-of-the-year lists.
Dafoe plays a world-weary janitor who tries to protect Vinaite’s character, a tattooed single mother, from herself
Living hand-to-mouth with her seven-year-old daughter (Brooklynn Prince) from hustling and charity handouts, the film is both a tender and unsparing portrait of families trapped in poverty at the gates of what Disney calls “The Happiest Place on Earth”.
Baker and much of his cast lived in the hotel while working on the film, and Dafoe said the experience opened his eyes.
“Some of the residents had two or three jobs, they just couldn’t earn enough to get out. They are paying the price of an apartment almost, and all they had was a single room. Some were just horribly addicted, some are caught in a weak social welfare system – there was a whole rainbow of experiences and you would not have seen that had you not been living with them.
“When you get to know the people and hear their stories, you have a different understanding (of poverty),” Dafoe added. “That helps root the story to make sure that the movie’s not bullshit.”