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Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

Willem Dafoe is making waves for his performance in Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project,” the critically-acclaimed story of a community of extended-stay motel guests in Central Florida. He plays the kind-hearted property manager Bobby in the film, and it’s a touching, tender portrayal that could net him his third Oscar nomination to date (after supporting bids for “Platoon” and “Shadow of the Vampire”).

In the film, Dafoe finds himself the central node, the recognizable face in a sea of non- and new actors. It was a varied ensemble experience featuring precocious children and even performers cast off Instagram.

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“Even in an industry movie, a studio film, sometimes you’re working with people from very different backgrounds and trainings,” Dafoe says. “I’m always struck that in the profession of acting, particularly for Americans, there isn’t a uniformity of training or methodology. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing at all. In fact I think mixing it up helps because then with each project you really have to find what your process is and you also have to find out how to fit in with everybody and make the world. So it doesn’t become about you, it becomes about the thing you’re making, and that frees you.”

Funnily enough, to contrast with the unknown ensemble of “The Florida Project,” later this year Dafoe is starring alongside some of the biggest stars in the world, from Judi Dench to Johnny Depp, in Kenneth Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express.”

“The problems are kind of the same,” Dafoe says with a laugh. “They may be movie stars but they come from different places, in a funny way. There’s no uniformity to the experience.”

He also recently finished his contribution to James Wan’s “Aquaman,” a major part of DC’s bid to compete with Marvel on screen. Dafoe has a unique perspective on the modern landscape of superhero films: He was there at the start, in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man.”

“James Wan and Sam Raimi are both personal filmmakers,” Dafoe says. “They really have a strong personal stamp. They both have a good sense of play. They come from the handmade world and they come from the horror world, and the beautiful thing about horror movies is the film language is very rich, because you can get away with it. There’s a fantastical quality but you can also make a popular movie because it’s a very accessible genre.”

For more, including discussion of highlights from his 30-year career, from “Platoon” to “Finding Nemo,” listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

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Willem Dafoe Variety Portrait by Dan Doperalski

CREDIT: Dan Doperalski for Variety