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It is not hard to recognize Willem Dafoe on the big screen, as he has made over 100 films in his amazing acting career. He is best known for his versatility, boldness, and adventurous spirit. He has dared to take on some of the most iconic films of our time when other actors were unwilling. He can be seen all over the world in big Hollywood films, smaller independent films, and anything in between. What many fans might not know is Willem Dafoe was kicked out of high school. Keep reading to learn more.

Willem Dafoe was kicked out of high school for making a ‘pornographic’ film

Dafoe was born in Appleton, Wis., in 1955 to a surgeon father and a nurse mother. Both of his parents were very busy with their careers and raising Dafoe along with his five sisters and one brother. The Guardian details a story when Dafoe shut himself in his closet for two days and no one came looking for him. He said, “It was a big family. My dad was a surgeon, my mom a nurse, and they were always out working. I had five sisters and a brother. They didn’t care what I got up to.” 

One can only wonder, but it can make sense that Dafoe’s situation as a child might have contributed to his becoming such an obliging and adventurous actor. He is not one to say “no” to a part, and he’s willing to try just about anything. About being open to new acting experiences, Dafoe said, “Yes, I am game. I’ve always been game-maybe to a fault.” 

This can especially be seen when he got thrown out of Appleton High School for filming a “pornographic” film. About that film, Dafoe said, “It wasn’t really pornographic. It was just a film about oddballs, including nudists.” 

Yahoo! reports that Dafoe had a school project in high school. He wanted to film a magazine show that included three students within his student body: a Satanist, a nudist, and one who wanted to legalize pot. A teacher caught sight of the more adult material Dafoe was editing and reported the situation to the principal.

Dafoe swore the inappropriate material would not have made it into the final project, but that didn’t save his place at Appleton High School. Dafoe left town, crashed at a friend’s house, and started attending classes at a local university. It was definitely an interesting start to a very interesting career. 

For Dafoe, it all started in the theater

Green Goblin actor Willem Dafoe at the premiere of 'Spider-Man: No Way Home.' He's wearing a black suit and smiling.
‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ star Willem Dafoe | Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

It isn’t a big surprise that an actor like Dafoe would get his start on the stage in the theater. He dropped out of drama school at the University of Wisconsin in order to join a series of experimental, physical theater troupes.

In 1976, Dafoe made it to New York City, where he helped create the Wooster Group. He created and performed in all the work out of the Wooster Group from 1977 to 2005. It was in these early years of theater that Dafoe made it clear how willing he is to take risks as an actor for the sake of good art. He continues to do just that, and it sure is working for him. 

Dafoe’s success on the big screen didn’t come quickly. It took a few years and growing into his role as the bad guy. Dafoe spent quite a bit of time in films like Streets of Fire perfecting his portrayal of some of the worst villains out there. Playing these psychotic characters so well helped him land his role in the movie, Platoon, which interestingly wasn’t a psychotic villain role at all. This role completely changed his life thanks to his Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Dafoe has never left the big screen since then. 

Dafoe has quite the resume of big films 


What Is Willem Dafoe’s Net Worth?

A few of Dafoe’s greatest films, as listed by IMDb, are: 

  • Mississippi Burning (1988)
  • The Loveless (1981)
  • Streets of Fire (1984)
  • Finding Nemo (2003)
  • Spider-Man (2002)
  • At Eternity’s Gate (2018)
  • The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
  • The English Patient (1996)
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
  • Shadow of The Vampire (2000)
  • Platoon (1986)
  • The Florida Project (2017)
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Viewers can definitely see how risky Dafoe is willing to go just by looking at his roles in Mississippi Burning and The Last Temptation of Christ. Both films had him star as very daring and unlikeable characters and even caused hostility from the public due to the nature of these characters. Even so, it is clear Dafoe is not stopping anytime soon and it will be interesting to witness what he comes up with next.