• Actor: Willem Dafoe
• Character: Bobby Peru
• Film: Wild At Heart
David Lynch is a director that’s known for his idiosyncratic weirdness, transcendental narratives and oddball characters. From a plethora of the weird and the wonderful, it’s difficult to single one out but in 1990’s Wild at Heart, Willem Dafoe embodied one of Lynch’s darkest and most disturbing villains in low-life, ex-marine and hitman Bobby Peru.
In a film filled to the brim with nasty, deranged and damaged individuals, Bobby Peru is the films real rotten core. He’s a deeply unsettling character that has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. With his southern drawl, slick hair, toothbrush moustache and rotten teeth, Peru’s appearance alone is nightmarish and it doesn’t take very long to know that the guy’s bad, bad news.
Employed by the mysterious and powerful Mr. Reindeer, Peru is hired to kill Nicolas Cage’s Sailor Ripley and, as a result, doesn’t appear until the latter half of the film. This doesn’t stop Dafoe from making an instant and lasting impression, though. With his already unique physical appearance, Dafoe has never been more threatening and delivers the requisite creepiness and intensity that’s required to stand out in Lynch’s hallucinatory world of misfits and absurdity.
Although widely regarded for his darker roles it can often be overlooked that Dafoe’s work in Wild at Heart actually came off the back of playing heartfelt and emotional characters in Oliver Stone’s Platoon and Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning. He even managed Jesus in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Bobby Peru is such a wayward diversion from those conscience ridden characters and showcases the impressive range that Dafoe possesses.
Dafoe was actually considered by Lynch for the role of Amyl Nitrate snorting psychopath, Frank Booth in 1986’s Blue Velvet before Dennis Hopper took the role. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than Hopper but that equally goes for Dafoe’s work in Wild At Heart.
Peru has often been described as a “black Angel” and Dafoe does a hugely effective job in channeling that demonic presence. There’s no doubt that he’s an exaggerated villain but it’s what’s required for the material and although Dafoe is wise enough never to go over the top, he teeters on the brink.
Oscars? – Sadly, nothing. Diane Ladd would be the only nominee to make the Oscar cut but it’s Dafoe who lingers long after viewing. In my mind, it’s one of the most overlooked of supporting performances and one of cinema’s most memorable villains.
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