Willem Dafoe in "The Hunter." (Matt Nettheim)

Willem Dafoe in "The Hunter." (Matt Nettheim) Credit: Willem Dafoe in "The Hunter." (Matt Nettheim)

Willem Dafoe has played Jesus and the Green Goblin, so he's no stranger to difficult roles. But few actors could credibly handle the trio of challenges that faced the 56-year-old veteran in his wildly different new films.

In "John Carter," the adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' "A Princess of Mars" now in theaters, Dafoe donned stilts and a motion-capture suit to play a giant Martian.

In "4:44 Last Day on Earth," opening Friday, Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh play a couple spending the last hours before the end of the world alone in their Lower East Side loft.

Finally, in "The Hunter," opening April 6, Dafoe plays a mercenary tasked with a solo journey into the Tasmanian wilderness, where he's sent to track down the last Tasmanian tiger.

amNewYork spoke with the veteran actor.

You've said that you're excited by projects that require a "leap of faith." How does that apply to "4:44"? We were working down and dirty with a scenario, with a partial script, so there were lots of questions there.

And "The Hunter"? I didn't know who the character was. He's a very mysterious figure. I could anticipate a kind of emotional journey, but beyond that, there were big questions.

How does the end-of-the-world setting enhance "4:44"? I think the whole thing about the end of the world is just shorthand. That's a convention that, to enjoy the movie, you just accept. ... It's a convention to turn up the heat on a certain kind of active meditation on how we live.

What's appealing about taking on a slow-paced film like "The Hunter"? The beautiful thing about this role is that it can be a slow reveal. I don't have to work it, because you're with the character pretty much from the first frame to the end frame. You're working out the mystery as he's working out the mystery.

What do you make of the bad buzz for "John Carter"? It's difficult, because I'm disappointed by this kind of negativity that preceded anyone seeing the movie. I've been there before ... the most obvious being something like "Last Temptation of Christ." You wouldn't think those two movies would have anything to do with each other, but they do. 

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