Willem Dafoe's Oscar Nomination Is His Second Best Tiffany Haddish Moment This Awards Season (Exclusive)

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Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Appleton, Wisconsin, is very proud of Willem Dafoe. The actor's hometown was quick to claim him as its own on Tuesday when Dafoe was nominated for his third Academy Award: Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Florida Project. "Well, I hope they take me back," Dafoe laughed. "Because they were a little offended by me before."

Dafoe phoned ET mid-celebration to talk about how he learned of his nomination, why the third one might be the most special yet (following his nominations in the same category for Platoon in 1986 and Shadow of the Vampire in 2000) and his unforgettable awards season run-in with Tiffany Haddish, who went on to announce his name this morning.

ET: I have to start with the who, what, where's. Where were you this morning for the nominations? Who were you with when you found out?

Dafoe: I got in from Los Angeles late last night -- I got home, I'm in New York -- I woke up very early and I decided I wouldn't listen directly. I'd just wait for a phone call, at least initially. So, I did some things. I practiced yoga, and then just after I finished, I got the phone call. Very happy. I was nervous. I wanted it to happen. So, you know-- Just happy. Not too analytical about it right now, just very happy.

Who was that first call from?

It was from my assistant. [Laughs] Who's worked with me for many, many years, so she knew this was on my mind. And then shortly after, the people I work with also called me.

Brooklynn [Prince, Dafoe's 7-year-old co-star] tweeted you, "Congrats Mr. Dafoe!" Have you heard anything from her directly?

You know, I've been on the phone all day. I have communicated with Sean Baker. He was one of the first messages I got this morning, and I kind of just basically thanked him and commiserated that it was too bad that he wasn't recognized, but we're very happy that someone from the film got recognized.

Yeah, I was disappointed that Sean didn't get into Best Director and that the film was left out of the Best Picture race. I really thought it would get that nomination.

So did I. But, you know? I don't control that. [Laughs]

You said that you've not gotten too analytical about it yet, but this is your third nomination and your first in over 15 years. Does it feel any differently than the others? Does it mean anything different to you?

[To someone in the room] Let them in! We're still celebrating! [Laughs] Yes, it does. I'm very proud of this movie and it's a small movie, and that's not said as an apology. That's the only way that it could be made. It's the correct way to make this movie. So, with a small movie that doesn't, quite frankly, have a lot of well-known box office names to draw people to it, the distribution is always challenging. This kind of recognition certainly helps to create an awareness of the film and then once people see it, it seems to resonate with people. I think it's a movie I like a lot, so I'm simple-minded about the respect that if it gets recognition, it brings people to it.

You're nominated alongside newcomers this year, and it's quite rare to have two 20-somethings included in the Best Actor race: Daniel Kaluuya and Timothée Chalamet, who is the youngest Best Actor nominated in 75 years.

Wow! Wow! Congratulations to him. And beautiful performance.

Have you been able to see most of the films from your fellow nominees?

I have. I have. And I'm pretty close-mouthed about it, because I don't like to give shout-outs when I'm going to see all these people. [Laughs] Since you brought up those two, I enjoyed both of those. Very much.

It's been fun to watch you through this awards season. You give a great cutaway reaction shot.

Ay-ay-ay.

Do you have a standout moment from attending any of these awards shows so far?

I just like seeing people. I live a pretty nomadic life and I'm not in Los Angeles that often, so when I do go to something like that, you see a lot of friends or people that you've worked with. It's kind of a nice feeling. As far as moments, it was quite electric to be in the room when Oprah spoke at the Golden Globes. I find that [at] both New York Critics and L.A. Critics, there were some beautiful speakers, particularly those two evenings tend to be a little more conscious of film and spoke directly to changes in the film community in an articulate, interesting way. These are events not only to promote films, but it's a good forum for people to get together and talk about what's going on.

So you were there for Tiffany Haddish's speech at the New York Film Critics' Awards?

Not only was I there, I was the poor sucker that had to follow her! [Laughs] They presented me with the award after her. She was a hard act to follow!

You've been out promoting The Florida Project for a while now, since Cannes, and we already know you're going to have a big end of this year promoting Aquaman. After the Oscars, will you have any downtime for a break?

No. You know, I like to work. I've been working. The truth is, I just started promoting The Florida Project actually quite late, because I was in Australia filming [Aquaman]. And then I was in England and then in France and then Venezuela. No, I like to work. I'm going to keep on working. No breaks!

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