Likely Oscars nominee Willem Dafoe got his start at UW-Milwaukee

CEDARBURG, WI - As the Oscars near, a likely nominee with local ties is in the spotlight. Willem Dafoe studied acting at UWM more than 40 years ago. 
Dafoe may have started from humble beginnings, but he's now likely to land a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role in the film “The Florida Project.”

“When that happens, it’s one of the great rewards of being a teacher," Professor emeritus of theater Corliss Phillabaum said. 

Phillabaum never taught Dafoe in the classroom. However, he did direct him in two plays in the 70s —the first was Jean Racine's 17th-century French drama “Phaedra” and the second —Eugene O'Neill's “A Moon for the Misbegotten.”

“He did not have a lot of acting experience at the time," Phillabaum said. "But he was very motivated and very committed, and he was just a tremendous talent." 

Dafoe studied at the university for about a year and a half before joining Theatre X —a group that started on campus before becoming an independent theatre program —and since his time in Milwaukee Dafoe has gone on to achieve some pretty incredible things. 

“Who would ever predict that anybody is going to have the kind of career that he has had," Philliabaum asked.  

But no matter how great of a talent he becomes, Professor Phillabaum said Dafoe seems to always remember his roots.

Nominations in all 24 Oscar categories will be announced next Tuesday, January 23rd. 

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