Badgered By Memories

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Nonetheless, it doesn't take much urging for Dafoe -- who so wonderfully plays Max Schreck in E. Elias Merhige's creepy-funny "Shadow of the Vampire," which opens Friday -- to turn back the clock and recall growing up in central Wisconsin, with a fellow cheesehead.

Sitting in the lobby of the tony L'Ermitage Hotel last week, the Golden Globe nominee chuckled out loud as he recalled the halcyon days of "teen bars," drinking ginger brandy and crashing on a friend's couch, in Milwaukee, after taking an early exit from high school.

"My son's 18, now," says Dafoe, between sips of his sparkling water. "He's grown up in Manhattan, and traveled all over the world with me and the Wooster Group [the New York avant-garde theater group]. But we've never been back to Wisconsin, and he doesn't know the Midwest at all. My family doesn't live there anymore, but I guess there's a part of me that wants to go back."

"Shadow of the Vampire" is a long way from Wisconsin. In the film, which depicts the production of the first great vampire picture, "Nosferatu," in 1922, Dafoe practically disappears in the role of the German actor, Schreck.

John Malkovich does an equally convincing turn as director F.W. Murnau, whose inventive use of light and shadows is still copied.

"You have this very funny conceit at the center of the story, with this prima-donna, perfectionist director, who's using a vampire to play a vampire . . . and passing him off as a Method actor," says Dafoe, who was encouraged to accept the part by first-time producer Nicolas Cage. "I liked how Elias talked about Murnau's camera work, and how he wanted to iris down [the lens] . . . how he was going to do color changes and cross-cut between our footage and the original. So, that was a real challenge that rooted the experiment."

What's really fun to watch is how deeply Dafoe inhabits the Schreck/Dracula character, and physically seems to become both at once. His performance ought to be a slam-dunk for an Oscar nomination.

"As far as preparation, I had a model in the original, and that was exciting," Dafoe says. "I was starting from a place of imitation, and I had the accent, which helped me know where to place the voice. So, there wasn't much in the way of preparation I could do, except head research and looking at films, until I got into makeup."

While filming in Luxembourg, Dafoe elected to not shrink away from the rest of the cast and a find a dungeon in which to pass time. That would have meant taking the Method to its maddest conclusion.

"No, you only do what you need to do," he says, with a familiar gap-toothed smile. "The garment that Schreck wears is very tight. I'm pretty lean, but to pinch in my waist, they made me wear a corset.

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Source : http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2001-01-25/features/0101250215_1_dafoe-vampire-max-schreck

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