Gogh Big or Gogh Home: Julian Schnabel Casts Willem Dafoe to Star in His Vincent van Gogh Biopic

"A film about painting and a painter, and their relationship to infinity."

Left: Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait (1889). Right: Willem DaFoe, image courtesy of Jamie McCarthy for Getty Images.

Van Gogh is coming back to the big screen. Painter-turned-director Julian Schnabel has announced that actor Willem Dafoe will take the lead as the famed Post-Impressionist painter in an upcoming Van Gogh biopic, At Eternity’s Gate.

According to Variety, the new film will focus on the period of time van Gogh lived in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise. “This is a film about painting and a painter, and their relationship to infinity,” Schnabel told the tradepaper. “It is told by a painter. It contains what I felt were essential moments in his life, this is not the official history—it’s my version. One that I hope could make you closer to him.”

The project takes Schnabel back to the artist biopic territory that made his name, given that he got his start on the big screen with Basquiat (1996), a telling of the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat, his direct contemporary in 1980s New York and fellow Neo-Expressionist. Whether Schnabel has the same kind of insight into van Gogh remains to be seen.

Dafoe, known for his unsettling intensity, seems a good casting choice. He also has experience embodying creative geniuses, having recently starred as Pier Paolo Pasolini in film about the murdered Italian director. Dafoe will have to compete, however, with a host of previous Hollywood van Goghs, including Kirk Douglas’s turn as the troubled Dutchman in Vincente Minelli’s 1956 Lust for Life, which won him a Best Actor Oscar nomination:

There’s also Tim Roth as van Gogh in the lesser-known Robert Altman film, Vincent and Theo, from 1990:

And finally, back in 2006, Andy Serkis—the man behind Gollum from Lord of the Rings—took a turn as van Gogh as part of the art historian Simon Schama’s BBC documentary The Power of Art:

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