How William Dafoe became Willem Dafoe

Kevin Polowy
Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment

If you ever thought his name was William Dafoe, you’re not alone. “It’s not a horrible confession,” the veteran actor will tell you. And you’re not entirely wrong.

Willem Dafoe, who earned an Oscar nomination this week for his heartfelt performance in the acclaimed indie The Florida Project, was born William James Dafoe on July 22, 1955, in Appleton, Wis.

It was around the age of 16 or 17, the actor explained to Yahoo Entertainment during a recent Facebook Live interview, that he adopted the moniker Willem (watch above).

“[I had a] big family. My father’s William. I’m William. I don’t quite like Billy,” he said. “[I was] always in search — I think it happens with a lot of actors — of not a stage name, a name for life, you know?”

He “tried out” a few other names, but it was in his teens that a friend of his, whom Dafoe describes as “kind of effete,” called him Willem.

“It kind of stuck,” he said. “And then when I started having to say what my name was, on programs or for contracts and things like that, to go back to William or go back to Bill felt like a stage name. So the irony is I became Willem, and it became normal.”

So that is the simple story of how William Dafoe became Willem Dafoe. And of course if all goes his way on March 4, he’ll soon be Oscar winner Willem Dafoe.

Watch our full Facebook Live interview:

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