Actors are prepared to go to extreme lengths to get a role in a new movie. It’s almost a cliché at this point that every actor lies they know how to ride a horse, but Willem Dafoe deployed a different untruth to nab a role in a drama movie.
Dafoe claimed that he could ride a motorcycle in order to secure a role in the ‘80s movie debut of Kathryn Bigelow – a director for whom everybody would be queueing up to star just a few years later. It proved to be a breakout role for Dafoe, who would go on to acclaimed roles across the genre landscape, as well as becoming one of the best Spider-Man villains with his work as the Green Goblin.
Dafoe explained in a GQ video that he was an actor working in New York City theatre when Bigelow and co-director Monty Montgomery were casting biker gang movie The Loveless. The actor had never ridden a motorcycle before, but he wasn’t gonna let anybody know that.
He said: “I don’t want to lose the part, so they say ‘have you ridden a motorcycle?’. Of course, classically, what does an actor do? They lie. I say: ‘Yeah I have. I haven’t ridden in a while, but y’know…’.”
Dafoe soon found himself in a sticky situation when he found out he was due to head over to Connecticut for filming, and would have to ride a 1955 Harley Davidson. Not just any old bike, but an enormous, powerful machine.
“I’m a young kid in New York City, so I don’t know anybody with a motorcycle. That’s before the internet, so I’m going to a library to get a book on how to shift. I’m wrapping it around in my head,” said Dafoe.
“So we go out there. I still haven’t confessed that I haven’t ridden a motorcycle. I get on that machine and it takes off with me. I go through backyards of some fancy neighbourhood in Connecticut with this impeccably, lovably restored 1955 Harley Davidson. I think they figured that out pretty quick, but they were patient with me and I learned how to ride.”
Fortunately for Dafoe, the thriller movie proved a springboard for his burgeoning career.