Polished Performances

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.

(For more Polished Performances head over here)

32 Responses to “Polished Performances”

  1. Nice write-up Mark. I’m one of Lynch’s most ardent fans, and even though I do really like Wild at Heart, I think it’s among Lynch’s weaker movies. Dafoe gives a very good performance but I don’t think it quite measures up to Hopper in Blue Velvet or Blake in Lost Highway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m a huge Lynch fan too, man. I’d agree that Wild At Heart isn’t his best but I still really like it. Dafoe is fabulous in this. As much as I also love Hopper and Blake (two that will definitely feature in this collection one day) I still think Dafoe is the best. He’s one of my top movie villains.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve always really liked Dafoe as an actor. I could imagine him as Frank Booth even though that role seems to be made for Hopper.

        Lynch really knows how to bring the best out of villains. I can’t wait for Twin Peaks’ return next year though I wonder if Killer Bob will return (though I do know we’ll see more of Leland). It’s between Leland and Booth as my favorite Lynch villain.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Man, Lynch has a real knack for capturing the darkness doesn’t he? In my opinion, nobody does it quite like him. He’s the best. So much to choose from and Leland and Killer Bob are another two great choices. I can’t wait wait for Twin Peaks either. I’m just about shitting my pants waiting on that happening. It’s been far too long since Lynch has done anything.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Think about it guys………….Willem Dafoe is one of the most tragically overlooked actors in my memory (I’m 60)! Platoon, The Boondock Saints, Spider Man, Shadow of the Vampire, Mississippi Burning, Anamorph (check that out)……..he is just so immersed in his roles………..this guy is one of the most underrated actors of the last 20 odd years! Why? In fact, I think you should an “AWARENESS OF WILLEM DAFOE”…….Post!


    • Thanks for your input, man. I also think that Dafoe is vastly undervalued. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad performance from him. All those films you mention are noteworthy but my favourite is still Bobby Peru in Wild at Heart.

      It’s funny you say an awareness post should be done. My young nephew was actually running a feature on his blog “A Clockwalker Orange” about recognising the extensive talents of Dafoe.


  3. Sorry…….you should RUN an AWARENESS

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice series and post, Mark. I learned a lot today. I’ve never seen the film, heard the backstory or anyone talk about this character from DaFoe’s filmography. I love Willem Dafoe and thought I’d seen most all of his roles. Bobby Peru. Those teeth!. Okay, I’m renting it soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Cindy. Yeah, if you can stand David Lynch then Wild at Heart is worth checking out. It’s probably the most accessible Lynch film there is and it’s filled with superb performances and very odd characters. Diane Ladd is magnificent too but it’s Dafoe that really freaked me out.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice work, Muckers! Good to see you back in action!

    BJ and The Cock!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. One of the grossest characters ever, he was so creepy!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. YES! Man, I watched this again a few months back and Dafoe is a damned force of nature. You don’t whether to be terrified or to laugh out loud most of the time and his send off is truly memorable.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I really need to watch some Lynch. It has been a long time since I saw anything by him, and there are still a few I haven’t seen, including this one. Your post has me wanting to watch it, NOW! I also really need to watch Inland Empire.

    And hell yeah, Dafoe is awesome. I loved him in Boondock Saints but I’m veeeeery interested to see him in this role

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wild at Heart is one of Lynch’s most accessible films. Some say it isn’t his best and I’d agree with them but it’s still damn good stuff.

      Inland Empire is real brain teaser, man. And I just watched Lost Highway for the umpteenth time and that very hard to decipher too. I loved it, though. Dark and depraved stuff that only Lynch knows how.


      • Indeed, dark and depraved is what I like, I got onto Lynch yeeeears ago, when I was 19/20 (i’m 30 now), I remember it was after a google search for ‘mindfuck movies’ haha!

        Blue Velvet, Lost Highway and Mullholland Drive were all on there, they are the only ones of his I have seen, so I’ve got quite a few to go. And I saw them years ago – I’m a different person now, I’m sure they will be very different movies.

        As for Inland Empire, I’ve heard many odd things about it. I’ve been putting off watching it for years, I think cos its so long. But its his last movie isn’t it? Gotta give it a try

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha! Lynch is the go-to man for mindfuck! For sure. He’s a director I always revisit and it was an absolute joy to revisit Lost Highway recently. Inland Empire is one I have to tackle again. It is probably the biggest commitment required from any Lynch film but I liked it the first time and I reckon the time is right to attempt it again. Like Lost Highway, I struggled to get my am head around it all.


      • Yeah it seems pretty frickin weird!! I’m at a loss, now I’m tossing up between watching The Matrix or Inland Empire tonight!

        Liked by 1 person

      • You can’t go wrong with either. Inland Empire is definitely on my list again. It’s been years.


      • Yes its certainly a win-win no matter what I pick hehe. I think I’ll go for Inland cos I’ve been meaning to watch it for a long, long time

        Liked by 1 person

      • Nice! I’d be interested to hear how you get on with that.


  9. Now this is what you call a scene stealing character. Dafoe revels in the slimy weirdness of the character and those teeth he sports are creepy. Nice work Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great write up and dissertation, Mark.

    Willem Dafoe at his most off the wall and dangerous!

    I’ll offer as a counter offer, contemporary alum, Christopher Walken in either John Irwin’s ‘The Dogs of War’. Or Abel Ferrara’s ‘King Of New York’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jack (Kevin) 😉

      Dafoe really is great here isn’t he?
      Such a memorably nasty performance.

      It’s be so long since I’ve seen Walken in those films. I remember being particularly fond of King of New York back in the day, though.

      Liked by 1 person

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