Ariana Bacle
December 11, 2017 AT 01:13 PM EST

Willem Dafoe was nominated for a Golden Globe first thing Monday morning, and that’s good news for a few reasons — one being that he found out right after “a hellish trip” that lasted 26 hours thanks to flight delays. But now? “Now, I’ve forgotten all about it,” Dafoe tells EW.

The nomination is for Dafoe’s performance in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, a gorgeous portrait of life right outside Disney World. He plays Bobby, the kind manager of the Magic Castle Motel, where Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her spunky daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) — the mother-daughter duo at the heart of the film — reside.

Dafoe is no stranger to the Orlando area, as his parents, who have since passed, retired there, though he’s quick to clarify that his previous experiences in the Sunshine State were “quite a bit different” from what The Florida Project portrays. This time around, he spent his days at the motel where the movie was filmed, hanging out with the real-life residents and shooting his scenes — and those residents proved key.

“They were generous with us — some of them were extras, some of them advised, some of them just helped us. Some of them work two jobs and have no time, but some of them are hanging out, waiting for work to come,” Dafoe recalls. “They were part of it.”

Marc Schmidt/A24

But something that didn’t change from Dafoe’s family times in Florida: the weather. “Everyone complained about the heat. I loved the heat!” he says. “You’d get fantastic clouds in the afternoon and then an incredible thunderstorm, and then after the thunderstorm, which was really dramatic, there would be this freshness in the air. Even though [the Orlando area] is developed and there’s a lot of buildings, you still feel nature there.” For example: “On our call sheet, they always wrote, ‘Be careful of the alligators near the hotel,'” he laughs. “And there were! I saw them, near the children’s playground, there were two big alligators.”

Luckily, the alligators and the kids stayed separate, though newcomer Brooklynn Prince probably would have had no trouble acting opposite a reptile. “She’s a regular kid but at the same time, has great performing skills. She’s the whole package,” Dafoe says, noting that Baker made the set an environment where all the kids could really “play.” “It was a very relaxed, family-feeling set,” Dafoe adds. “It was a coming together. We made a little community, and we made this movie, and Brooklynn was at the center of that, and she was fantastic.”

The Florida Project is now in theaters. See the full list of Golden Globe nominations here.

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