'At Eternity's Gate' star Willem Dafoe on channeling Vincent van Gogh

Dafoe appears on "Popcorn With Peter Travers" and talks about his new film, "At Eternity's Gate."
19:44 | 11/29/18

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Transcript for 'At Eternity's Gate' star Willem Dafoe on channeling Vincent van Gogh
Hi everybody. I'm Peter Travers welcome to popcorn where we tell you what's happened in that the movies and I'm delighted today to have will on default back on the show. Give me one of his best performances have our. As is event go in an eternity eight. Every time I see well I'm always saying but. The law does not what you your odds some kind of role that I can't believe general there. Again practice. That is not as bad I don't know how to do this. At a what does it somebody said did you meet over a hundred movies yet. Let's just get the showed name them all how could do it how many could you are. I could do it I could do a bigger that's aren't. I sent him before but I kind of remember in my life through the movies that's like a memory made because I can. Go back to the Sunnis moving kind of thankful I was we have one what I was thinking of one I was worried about one that was. Aspiring to it's really I can case I personally just from. Plays and movies. Yes that they could be years of therapy and box. I'm not therapy yet. He's open to it. We have had yet you you just need to lately the movie when I'm on the world's fair treatment picture they should help. I share this thick I mean to play out I mean here. In an eternity gay. You know I don't want to make light of this because to me it's I think a lot of movies and as he moves about artists and it's always based on this thing it. I could paint you know acted with talent here. You and how you and Julian Schnabel creek eight days is that we're kind inside. Then got he did Joseph in the way he says not that we use shoots it that way text is you're really whiff. Ago. Also. I paint and UC. Me painting I do pain in real time in the movie and it's just this. In that wasn't for me it was key to the character. But I think what was special about this movie is often when you will be an artist or serves here. Yes actor learns these things get gobbled went after but the world he's never really about. What they do and it's about the cycle it's a psychological portrait time explains who they are. This is really very much focused at trying to explain then go if it. Puts you. Makes you sit through his eyes. And concentrates on the on on the actual making of art and how he's getting through dated date so that's a very concrete things to work. I mean you know did he or. June's jobless thank you you know what what you're gonna actually saying. This is Richard Frank I'll. And there's this early in minority Wear it and he's he's gone to the south of France. And you think there any accomplishing. Any paint that. That's a key cities because I basically painted in real time. Now it's not kind of real time consent probably would be tedious would be home yes that's true but. But it's it's useful because UC its its own instructor it is what is to me even doing it you know. You see how a series of months come again to make a painting and it's interest and also because for a long time painting looks quite. Colors are right it you don't you think oh this is not a good painting and then all of sound from mine from my eyes anyway. Become something and it's not a good likeness of the issues but it captures the quality issues and that's something that. Then go talks a lot about in our reality that's you know greater and reality so he appreciated. That whiff. Arts with painting you can go. Beyond what you know on the surface of things in you can. Really contact. The origin of things where it's going where it's coming from. You know put your finger on the pulse it's like the spirits of house because he paid a lot of nature. And a through nature being you know song god really. Vaccine which is hand hound and everything wages walking through the woods. And you see the light he sees the light of it's the coolest. Now if you don't we don't picture rent does this happy guy and it's not that he does it. It's moments. Depression but is jaw pain because he's connected. To what he's doing and he loses himself and one very positive way. This is toward the end of his life was very productive he was painting almost painting day. He was turned on you know I think it was what was 75 me an aide that's correct yes that's it those numbers. Are shocked and depends some of his latest point. That I'm so he did is part of this problem was how to reconcile this Ecstasy this joy this contact with our vision that he was saying. Of the world that he wanted to share how does she had. Because socially was very awkward career wise he wears you know sort of stock and isolated. Com so that was part of the challenge. But he also talked a lot about the value. Of sadness and and we talked about. Melancholy being Feingold. He talked about. When I say talk he wrote newsletters and it has been said many things that would merry. Inspirational and he didn't push away. Unpleasant things he he believed it evens you know he would say sadness. Doesn't harm you. It can actually give you a holier. So that was his way. And I think that often gets flipped and he kind of gets frozen as this tortured artist like you have to be paying to make art. He accepted the pain. And over Cain. Room lot of people talk about the year. The apparent suicide. But you read his letters and then there's a lot of generally in one news. There's something very unique about you playing it and being directed by Julian Schnabel who is a painter. Who understands this kind of thing from the inside as well and they take it. Alex says that we're we're seeing it as it watt was. Why was this collaboration between. Jews. You know own and I became a part of him became an extension of him. A lot had to do with him teaching me how to paint starts out very simply practically how to hold a barrage on the extent that needs. Some. Technique technical things but deeply what it. You made me see differently. And he shared his way of looking not only his way of looking as a painter himself but also what you mentioned the go. You know it was thinking or how ghosts bats. That's how you have to approach that's all you got that yet to approached me. It's a personal. And Julie has been thinking about they'll always life so he and his very he's not only great painters or great filmmaker so. It was he was a great source and I'd basically. Listen to him took on his point of view. Practice the painting and then after one we almost became missing person I became an extension. I love that when that happens that kind of collaboration. Whilom it's kind of balls he too is in it for you. QPPX. Because if people are purist thing and they see Kate the issues. It doesn't look like what she's really does look like if you go to see it that the spear at that there. Where you guys worry that. You would have people come after you and say. How scared you do this com. Specifically I wanted to paint well I wanted questions to be a good pain that was important. Not to be a good likeness and you know com. And that's you know that's a very basic thing about where you know we're living in a photographic age so. You know this that would prejudice when you don't turn in your you don't liberate your people are very much about a that doesn't look like it looks and but that's not painting and art you know. So the fact that I'm not making. Perfect copies of these famous paintings doesn't matter as long as one of doing. Helps bring you into at kind of presence of the painting. That the real thing goes certainly have hundreds of years after they went Nate Newton acts. It's all about finding the enduring for opinions something that's temple mount and that's that's. It doesn't have to be. Definitely a good cop you know and I mean as long as. The spirit did you pay before us this and that little they have enabled him to live in that I in LA it just as. You know character exploration thing that character was a painter but mortem point US. Counterfeiters. Get stuck with trailer that was well can't concentrate. Com. So I did pink enjoyed it and he wasn't the same kind of training and again happen. A great painter teaching I mean it was very important. How Jillian taught me and I started to take on. You know I started to take on his impulses are trying to learn you know how he would approach. In it was done. You know it was a very intuitive thing. I just to give over to his his way I did because the paintings on. Have you continued to do it. It's hard top cop said I'm. I know you have a hundred movies on your working I love to work heading for 212. Not why not it and reason why. Help me hit you yet. Did you watch any of the other movies about. Not when I knew I was going to do this I had seen two of them. So we're told me seventeen. It's a lot of there's I mean all we remember Kirk Douglas or Douglas I'd seen that when it was. And I remember. As a fan of Robert Altman and also like Tim Roth doesn't actors in the scene. Yvenson. Fail on. But. It's not like I forgot those movies but I was thinking about. This. You just the races for. And you have to. You know create your own experience and a fund that went into making a movie. It's like it's like what you eat you know what you put in here is gonna come out you know is going to stay until you get out. So when I'm making a movie when I'm putting in there I just want to be. Good for the movie I feel like you from watching the movies it's it's kind of distraction while doing. Well. But what you're doing to in terms of the look you. Looked liked him. I never thought so but it doesn't happen anyway yummy it just because we did a self portrait he did what was there and they. It's not an exact thing just described the yes but it's enough to your older than he wants yeah. But he was did what when he would he was 37 yeah. But when we started its curious at 37 he looks pretty it happens quite a surprise. And and a whole life before he started acting tried many things. I looked up the life expectancy. A male. Eighteen France 41 news. So. He was active and slightly Bailey. And also absent drinker he he he lived in poverty a lot of his life he and a rough life. So it's not a stretch and also I mean I'm just saying that. Today 770. Today seventy whiz you know. Nineteenth century forty. Really as far as the span in the life. And also. He was at a point in his lap as you can understand that he's he's dealing with death on the kindness. He talks about. You know he says this is one evidence that a suicide he said you know. I do not wish for death if it comes Alex. He's thinking about a lot. So he even had that he's got a normal 37 year old if it were living in 2090. You know enemy now it's not. But he he also has the line and I don't notes from the letters or anything saying that maybe isn't. His work in art is it made for the people that maybe they're not born that people that are going to preach tonight. I don't think he says and I think that's invented it but you get the idea yeah. He did say that things like don't laugh at any movement in art because ten years later but he won't be too. So he understood that. Things calm and falling out of faith we separate mobile all the time you know sometimes movies are. Released at a time in and they get a very poor reception. And then they have a second life you someplace else and they passed other movies are great you know I received. Popularly critically and they're totally forgotten you go back to hold mountain. We used it acting and what you just said about working with Julian Schnabel. With a you do working with Sean baker an art yeah. Everybody else this time it's a real collaborative thing even though its view yes doing yes. Then don't panic in them. Yes and he's fractious. Right whatever he was thinking he didn't that the lonely yes. Do you feel when you were starting to longingly as an act. No because you know why I come from theaters for many years. Almost 3027. Years I was with the theater company went that route west set and I always had this I was always going to fit. Every day. You know I'm making something performing that night so I have this community of people so. I've always been kind of social and whether it's a movie or or. Theater piece of theater company you have a little family around you saw of them felt lonely although I must say on this film. To be in morrow in the winter. To be my bond myself my wife wasn't with me from Britain and the of the shooting. Com. Was quite lonely and it was a French crew. Com and I was isolated I was living apart and I was painting. So it's not something that idea that's a math and think it just was the way. I had Julian and hand them. You know some other people. But that was a long lead us to a and a saloon. The film is built that way. Sometimes Benoit and I would just go to a pagan. Just go out and disgust what did it discussion do do. We're going in that field. One real key scene very early. Where you see me eat the dirt and com I'm sure that was an improvisation that. And I felt very connected. It sounds out of context. So we can. Protect its goofy but. It was something very connected about being in that field. And something I was moved by that experience. And that Campbell was with me it recorded that things that happen to see and even though the film is structured. You have these landscapes and and you of these very formal sanctions and these big heads. Com. Julian was very clear about what it was doing but inside the structure it was closeness there that night I really loved that. I could have this story in the words and the experience of pink to work on me in the Kim is right there with me it's very subjective camera. So hopefully audience. It's very first person there with me and experience well they are and I think that's what's really special about it. You know whilom that we always and it's all. Now we so I want to know basically why you think of and go with Tommy when he was the weak fields. What do you think that music was ever a part of who he was. It's fully. Song. It never occurred to me he. And when I was making the film I didn't miss I was listening to music at all. I don't wanna be cute and that the music of nature. When your around you know the wind is singing the trees are talking now it was very much of that is ministries and I'm not gonna do well. Chris I just think its own Florian. I know you ask these. An awareness that these dogs yet okay doesn't have to be what they think it's not Don Maclean doing is being sorry guys like that. Com. Yeah I OK I didn't think of a couple McCain decides. Beautiful KD. A lawyer or come. Not. If I had wings and I was done. I'd fly away little on. The U. Lung disease. Well I combine two songs did you did it was very vanguard via the knuckle. By Islamic idea and is now I'll know if I mean that wings means. All of of these prison walls would line. And the use of mind. It would land me. But it is definitely couldn't. Get all and yeah.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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