Grow­ing up in a road­side mo­tel

Willem Dafoe on star­tling re­al­ity in The Flor­ida Project

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - Movies - Steve Gow For Metro canada

Portraying the man­ager of an Or­lando bud­get mo­tel may have been make-be­lieve for Os­carnom­i­nated ac­tor Willem Dafoe, but film­ing The Flor­ida Project was eerily steeped in re­al­ity.

“Even when we were shoot­ing, they were rent­ing part of the mo­tel out to tourists,” laughed Dafoe dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view. “We’d be pre­par­ing a scene and they’d be ‘we got to let them through — th­ese peo­ple are check­ing in!’”

It is ex­actly that brash au­then­tic­ity that has The Flor­ida Project earn­ing ac­co­lades ever since it pre­miered at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Festi- val last month. Di­rected by ac­claimed film­maker Sean Baker (Tan­ger­ine), the re­al­ist drama fo­cuses on a stretch of road­side bud­get mo­tels that shel­ter im­pov­er­ished, home­less fam­i­lies just on the out­skirts of the ex­trav­a­gant Walt Dis­ney World Re­sort.

“There are prob­a­bly dozens and dozens,” ad­mit­ted Dafoe of the num­ber of low-cost inns that al­low the “hid­den home­less” such long-term tem­po­rary ar­range­ments. “Sean gave me the names of all the places and he’d say this one’s re­ally bad, this one’s medium and he’d also say, this one they won’t want you at so you’ve got to be re­ally dis­creet how you case the place — but there were quite a few be­cause he only gave me the best ones for re­search.”

The highly an­tic­i­pated movie’s set­ting isn’t the only as­pect with a strong link to real­ism ei­ther. A fix­ture in films for over 35 years, Dafoe was forced to ad­just to work­ing with a large

DAFOE On...

Kids on set: “It was a lit­tle trau­matic for the par­ents be­cause the par­ents are very dis­ci­plined, very much into hav­ing a cer­tain kind of eti­quette but we dis­cour­aged that,” he said of his pre­teen co-stars. “We wanted them to be th­ese wild childs.”

His defin­ing movies: “I learn more about the per­son, or at least their view­ing tastes, when they tell me what movies they re­mem­ber,” said Dafoe of his

group of am­a­teur th­es­pi­ans and non-ac­tors.

Most no­tably sur­rounded by a cast of in­ex­pe­ri­enced pre-teens who lead au­di­ences through this squalid world with open, in­no­cent eyes, Dafoe ad­mits his pa­tience was of­ten tested when act­ing op­po­site the pre­co­cious, undis­ci­plined kids. fans’ favourite films. “It’s very par­tic­u­lar when some­one at this stage comes up and says Auto Fo­cus — but it means some­thing.”

Con­tent over char­ac­ter: “I didn’t even know about this hid­den home­less prob­lem of th­ese peo­ple liv­ing in th­ese bud­get ho­tels,” ad­mit­ted Dafoe of The Flor­ida Project’s cen­tral set­ting. “Some­times I don’t even think about the char­ac­ter — I just look at the whole thing.”

“Of course they don’t know cam­era and they can’t re­peat things but they’re very present,” ad­mit­ted Dafoe of his ju­ve­nile co-stars. “Some­times it wasn’t easy but that kind of par­al­leled my char­ac­ter — he loves th­ese kids but he also wants to stran­gle them. And ya, that was about right.”

El­e­va­tion Pic­tures

willem Dafoe stars along­side Brook­lynn Prince in the Flor­ida Project, a film about im­pov­er­ished fam­i­lies liv­ing in mo­tels on the out­skirts of Or­lando’s Dis­ney world re­sort.

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