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Yeah, THIS Is Exactly Why Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin Return Was So Great

Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn carving a turkey

Willem Dafoe is, apparently, always down to play Norman Osborn, and that was made abundantly clear with his involvement in Spider-Man: No Way Home. One of the greatest movie villains to ever grace our screens, Dafoe’s Norman stays with you and will terrify you long after you’ve finished the movie. I should know; I’ve been obsessed with this performance since 2002, and in a New York Times interview, Dafoe’s insights demonstrated exactly why he’s so perfect in the role.

Talking to the Times about his involvement in Spider-Man: No Way Home, Dafoe admitted that he wasn’t the original first choice in playing Norman Osborn and that he pursued the role after seeing the potential Sam Raimi’s movie could have.

“They offered the Goblin/Norman Osborn part to many people before they arrived at me,” Dafoe said. “I was shooting a film in Spain [“The Reckoning”], and they sent the casting director to Spain and we shot a little audition in my hotel room. It wasn’t business as usual. But it was something I was very interested in doing, and I had a good feeling for Sam Raimi [who directed the original “Spider-Man” movies]. Of course, some people, at that point, thought it was very strange to make a film out of a comic. But I saw there could be a great pleasure and a great adventure in it, so I pursued it.”

But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Willem Dafoe return as Norman. In the Sam Raimi movies, he continued to be a part of Peter Parker’s story even after his death. “Even in the second and third installments [of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films], having me do little cameos, it was a pleasure to just see everyone again and stick my toe in the pool,” Dafoe said of returning briefly for Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3. “But I didn’t have the imagination of continuing on.”

So what exactly brought him back for No Way Home? The ability to do something substantial yet again with Norman: “When [Spider-Man producer] Amy Pascal and [director] Jon Watts called me up and said we’d like to pitch you this idea, I thought, ‘This is crazy. But let’s see what they have to say.’ I really didn’t want to do a cameo. I wanted to make sure there was something substantial enough to do that wasn’t just a tip of the hat. And the other thing was, I said I really want there to be action — I want to take part in action scenes. Because that’s really fun for me. It’s the only way to root the character. Otherwise, it just becomes a series of memes.”

The Green Goblin mask was criticized after the Sam Raimi movie was released, and according to Dafoe, they were aware of it. When asked about his approach to Gobby in No Way Home, he brought up that knowledge. “I must be honest, I am aware that there was some criticism of that [Green Goblin] mask in the original one. We heard it enough that it was probably a consideration, to change it up a little bit. I don’t think about that because I don’t think about emoting with my face. My face follows my heart. It’s just an expression of what you’re feeling.”

And in a true Dafoe moment (proving to me that my love for him is just and real), he answered the question “Your characters in ‘No Way Home’ each have ample opportunity to be very bad and the chance to turn good. Which side do you prefer?” as follows:

Whenever you play a role, it is you and it isn’t you. If you’re going to play one of these archvillains, it’s the most natural thing in the world to cultivate the opposite of what they lead with. You develop a vulnerability and an insecurity against the confidence of the aggression. We all have that little devil on one shoulder and that little angel on the other shoulder. I remember as a kid seeing cartoons with that image. God knows it stayed with me.

Good to have Gobby back

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Peter Parker is no stranger to loss. He’s constantly faced with the pain of losing someone. He clearly lost his parents, we know that something happened with his Uncle Ben, he lost five years of his life, and then he lost Tony Stark. He loses all the time, but he still manages to keep his head up, so to watch No Way Home and see him fully break himself apart because of the evil ways of the Green Goblin is the only thing that was really missing for me with Tom Holland’s Peter.

The Green Goblin is a hard foe for Peter to break because he cared about Norman, and even in No Way Home, Holland’s Peter starts to look up to him in a way when they’re working together in the lab. Of course, the Goblin is never going to let Peter “cure” him or help in any way, but in those moments when he is Norman, he is still that scientist who was trying his best.

Dafoe’s performance in No Way Home was sensational for a number of reasons. Not only did he make the emotional stakes of Peter/Norman work with this “new” version of Peter, but he made us all believe that maybe the Green Goblin wouldn’t completely destroy everything good in Peter’s life.

At every turn, the Goblin bests him, and the only reason that the Green Goblin didn’t get what he wanted in the end was because the humanity of all the other Peter Parkers won out. He killed Aunt May to prove his own demented point, and he tried to stop the spell completely so that the world would break apart all because Peter Parker wanted to just get into MIT with his friends. The Goblin wanted chaos and was ready to do anything to achieve it, and that’s why he’s such an interesting villain for Peter Parker, especially as Peter’s humanity always wants to win.

The lessons that Peter learned from Uncle Ben in Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man may have stopped Peter from wanting revenge on the man responsible for his uncle’s death, but it was Aunt May’s final moments that stopped Peter from fighting back and killing the Green Goblin when he had the chance, and that’s clearly something that Dafoe brought into his performance and made it, again, one of the best moments for a villain on screen.

Will we ever see these villains again? I don’t know, but I will say this: Willem Dafoe is one of our greatest actors currently living today (I write while wearing a shirt that says “Willem Dafoe as Rat” on it), and that was made abundantly clear in his portrayal of Norman Osborn in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

(image: Marvel Entertainment)

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She/Her. A writer who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.