After a career that's included everything from movie blockbusters like Spider-Man to art house films to experimental theatre, veteran actor Willem Dafoe isn't afraid to tackle new territory.

"I always encourage not getting too set in ideas...not to be a slave [and] to try to repeat past experiences," he told Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC's Q cultural affairs show.

"When I feel engaged is when I’m sort of lost or I’m sort of free-falling, when I’m trouble," admitted the American actor.

"I’ve done this long enough that I realize that when I’m in trouble or off-balance, if I can get through it, the most interesting things happen."

Dafoe, a founding member of New York-based experimental performance troupe The Wooster Group, is in Toronto to appear opposite internationally famed performance artist Marina Abramovic in the North American debut of the new music-and-theatre work The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, based on her life story.

Conceived and helmed by avant-garde theatre director and playwright Robert Wilson and featuring music by songwriter Antony Hegarty, the work takes the stage at Toronto's Luminato Festival Friday through Monday.

"[Wilson, Abramovic and Hegarty are] all strong personalities, but in the end, it’s Wilson’s show. It was really about us coming and bringing our stuff but also serving Bob’s vision," Dafoe said of the production, which had its world premiere at the Manchester International Festival in 2011 before moving onto sold-out shows elsewhere in Europe.

"There was a text, but even the text — we weren’t even sure who was going to speak it. What were we going to represent? How abstract it was going to be. That, we had to figure out."

In the interview above, Dafoe talks about The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, his eclectic career and what draws him to live performance.


Marina Abramovic is known for creating fascinating performances pieces, including the record-setting work The Artist is Present at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 2010. (Rio Film Festival/Associated Press)