KISSIMMEE — “The Florida Project,” the new film by “Tangerine” director Sean Baker, is already being singled out for distinction, with one of the film’s stars—Willem Dafoe—generating Oscar buzz.
The film, set and filmed at The Magic Castle hotel in Kissimmee, is centered around precocious 6-year-old Moonee, her mother, Halley, and their experiences as residents of the extended-stay motel.
Dafoe, 62, has been nominated for Oscars twice before, for 1986’s “Platoon” and 2000’s “Shadow of the Vampire.” It’s a big year for the actor, who—in addition to the low budget film that may earn him yet another Oscar nod—is starring in the upcoming blockbusters “Aquaman” and “Murder on the Orient Express.”
Moonee, the main character of Baker’s film, goes mostly unsupervised by her flaky mother and enjoys a series of mini-adventures with tourists and her neighbors and surroundings.
A real, working motel near Disney World, Magic Castle provided Baker with a backdrop of which he took full advantage, filming actual residents as well as locals he recruited from Instagram and the nearby Target department store.
Dafoe is the only “name” among the cast.
“I was quite late being cast. Sean’s key was to first find the little girls, Moonee, and her 5-year-old friend, Jancey,” Dafoe explained. “He worked with them quite extensively before we started shooting.”
The actor also commented on the surreal quality of shooting amidst the actual, day-to-day workings of the motel. “We were inhabiting a world that exists,” he said. “That motel is a functioning motel: People work there. When I’m not doing my scene in the back office, the real staff sits there. The families living there really rooted and guided us, just by being there. Some of them participated as advisers, as extras, you know, working. It was a complete world for us.”
Dafoe’s character, Bobby, is the owner of The Magic Castle in Baker’s world, and is a capable and kindly steward for the establishment, helping the residents above-and-beyond what might actually be expected of his role.
“He’s only doing what is decent and right, not only in the context of his job but in his life,” Dafoe went on. “He wants peace because when everything is running smoothly in the hotel it’s good for everyone.”
When Oscar buzz is mentioned, Dafoe isn’t coy: “If there is buzz, I’m glad to hear it. It’s good for the movie, it’s good for me.”