Leave it to Willem Dafoe to make room for actorly improv even within the big-budget web of ''Spider-Man.'' His Norman Osborn gets one of the flick's biggest laughs when, en route to becoming the Green Goblin, he winces as metal clamps are placed across his bare chest. ''It's cold,'' he whines -- a line made up on the spot.
But the 46-year-old actor, who splits his time between Hollywood and his Manhattan experimental theater company, the Wooster Group, didn't treat his comic book-spawned character lightly -- perhaps because the outlandish persona he inhabited in ''Shadow of a Vampire'' earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod last year.
As ''Spider-Man'' continues its climb to $300 million and beyond, Dafoe tells EW.com how the Goblin's costume and split personality evolved and why he's starting to confuse Stan Lee with Leo Tolstoy.
So how come the Green Goblin laughs so much? What's so funny?
[chuckles]He could laugh a lot more, believe me. I guess he just recognizes life's little ironies.
Given that you were encased in a shiny green costume for most of the movie, what steps did you take to make sure your performance wasn't over the top?
You have to invest it with the same things you invest in any character. Basically, the Goblin is not a reflective character; he's all action and he pushes the action along. And any time he sits out of it too much and comments on it too much, he becomes a little flabby and a little jokey. Sometimes when we were filming, [director Sam Raimi] would cut me loose and I'd fool around. But that kind of stuff never made it to the film.
Did they have the final costume ready when you signed on?
Not at all. There was really quite a long, involved research and development process to finally arrive at what we had in the end. For example, initially the green plating could become transparent -- there was all this circuitry under it and all these lights and things. But once we started playing around with it, it just looked too busy. Also, there was a jetpack sort of thing on my back -- this big sort of hard backpack so I could be under my own power. But it just seemed too bulky and we really lost the line of the design of the character. So that went bye-bye as well.