Willem Dafoe Was Surprised To Be Asked Back For Spider-Man: 'It's Always A Little Difficult When You Die In A Movie'

Marvel movies tend to kill off villains like they're going out of style. It's like they operate by a reverse "Dark Knight" formula: "You either die a villain, or you live long enough to see yourself become the hero." "Spider-Man: No Way Home" tweaks this approach by plucking bad guys from the multiverse and having Spidey (Tom Holland) attempt to reform them. He has a tough time with Green Goblin, the evil split personality of Norman Osborn, who still holds a strong grip over Osborn's disoriented, reality-hopping mind.

It's been 20 years now since Willem Dafoe made his debut as the live-action Goblin/Osborn in Sam Raimi's original 2002 "Spider-Man" movie. At first, it looked like his character might simply be a one-and-done, impaled on his own Goblin glider, never to cackle or throw pumpkin bombs again. In "Spider-Man 2," Dafoe did return to reprise his role as Osborn in a hallucinatory cameo, which he likened to the ghost of Hamlet's father (because such is his level of commitment as an actor that supervillains become Shakespeare).

After that, it was all quiet on the Goblin front for many years. Moviegoers and Dafoe himself took for granted that his version of Norman Osborn was likely gone for good. In a recent interview with Variety, Dafoe said:

"It's always a little difficult when you die in a movie to come back in any sequels. I thought I was finished. When they initially said, 'Would you like to reprise this role?' I thought, 'Really? How does that happen?' I was kind of stupid about it."

The Alpha Villain with the Beta Costume

Thanks to the multiverse, all things are possible, so Dafoe did get a chance to return as Osborn, and now, he's part of the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time.

This should probably have been a no-brainer, but I did not even realize they had digitally de-aged Dafoe for "Spider-Man: No Way Home." The effects weren't noticeable to me and I thought he slid right back into the role effortlessly. I was never a fan of what they did with any of the Goblin costumes in any of the Spider-Man movies, but "No Way Home" gave me a new appreciation for what Dafoe can do when it's just his wild-eyed face, grinning evilly as Norman, tapping into some of that "Shadow of the Vampire" energy.

In another life, we might have seen Dafoe wearing a more comics-accurate Goblin mask. For "Spider-Man," the studio Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. (ADI) did some early tests with an animatronic make-up hybrid, which you can see in the video above.

Imagine Dafoe's voice coming out of that thing. As it is, ADI's mask was abandoned and Dafoe was ultimately saddled with a less-than-stellar costume design. Still, he gave it his all, and in "No Way Home," that's enough to make him sort of the alpha villain.

It's no wonder he got the call from Marvel to mount his glider again, two decades later. That Willem Dafoe ... methinks he's really going places.