How We Met: Angélique Kidjo & Willem Dafoe

'She leapt off the stage and launched into a killer hug that almost sent us crashing into the wall'


Angélique Kidjo, 49, is a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter from Benin whose slew of awards include a Grammy in 2008 for her album 'Djin Djin', featuring collaborations with Alicia Keys and eter Gabriel. She lives in New York with her husband, the French musician Jean Hébrail, and their daughter

I first saw Willem at a theatre performance of To You, The Birdie! in New York in 2002. He was doing what looked like a Japanese dance – halfway between sumo fighting and a geisha walk, dressed in a kimono – and I laughed so hard. We were introduced after. I remember saying, "You crack me up", we started laughing and he asked me to go for dinner. We talked about Africa, and acting – for me, he's up there with Marlon Brando – and we hit it off. I've met some actors in the past and they have nothing to say, they're a blank. But not Willem.

He's actually a bit of a prankster – he once came to watch me, watching one of his movies. I'm very noisy when I go see a film; I laugh loudly, I can't help making comments – it really embarrasses my daughter. So when [the 2005 Lars von Trier movie] Manderlay came out, I went to watch it on my own; I didn't know Willem was secretly there too. When I spotted him at the end he just said, "The movie wasn't on the screen, it was in the room, watching you, Angélique."

Willem has so much heart, but you see him in a movie such as Antichrist and you wouldn't know it. I remember a while ago when things were not going that well for me in my career, he told me what needed to be said: "You know how this industry works, use the moment to think about where you want to go." It really helped, and it reminded me of my father.

I don't have many friends as I can't help shooting my mouth off, but Willem doesn't seem to mind. Once I was around these stuck-up people, telling it straight, and they were telling me to "ease up". He said, "Well at least she has that capacity of saying things that she thinks." He's loyal to his friends and I think he likes the honesty.

Willem, however, is not like that. He'd rather say nothing than say something offensive. What's his most irritating habit? Sometimes he takes himself too seriously. But I'll always play goofy for him till he laughs out loud.

Life is short and when you meet people like Willem you realise that you have been blessed, and you don't take it lightly.

Willem Dafoe, 54, is an American film and actor best known for his roles in 'Platoon', 'The Last Temptation of Christ' and last year's highly controversial 'Antichrist'. He divides his time between New York and Rome with his wife, the Italian actress Giada Colagrande

I was invited by a friend to attend a performance by Angélique in New York, around 2002. I was quite taken by her performance; there was an energy, a James Brown intensity, so afterwards I went backstage to say hello. She seemed to exude warmth, but with a lively, devilish charm, which I liked, and we ended up going out for dinner. I remember thinking, "There is nothing delicate about your appetite."

After that, circumstance kept putting us in the same place. We both travel so much, but we kept on running into each other all over the world, and it became part of our bond. When I was shooting a movie a few years ago in Austin, Texas, I saw her name on a marquee above a club, so I secretly brought tickets to see the concert and surprised her backstage afterwards. I remember her response being typically over-the-top Angélique: she started squealing "W-iilleemmm", leapt off the stage, ran across the room and launched into this killer hug that almost sent us crashing into the wall.

After I'd been to a few of her performances, she started to come to see me in my [stage] productions. After one of her first visits she wanted me to teach her this little dance I did, which she got a real kick out of. So what we initially had was based on supporting each other in our work – although now it's so much more.

I don't have that many friends, partly because of the travelling, and in Angélique I realised I'd met someone who I really connected with, and it didn't take long to start sharing personal information and meeting each other's families. Now when I go over for to hers for dinner, I'll always take some time to go up to her daughter, Naima's, room and see what she's up to.

There is a big difference in our backgrounds and where we come from, but that's something I value. Maybe it's an African thing, but Angélique's "word" is strong; she takes a pride in letting you know where she stands. But I like her outspokenness – it makes me trust her. She's always saying things she shouldn't be saying, though. She particularly likes to rib me over my love scenes in films; in Antichrist she got a kick out of graphically critiquing how I was "getting down" to it.

But while she's a lot of fun to be around, she's also easy to talk to when you're going through tough stuff, such as my divorce [from first wife Elizabeth LeCompte, in 2004]. It was really useful getting a fresh perspective; that's what friends are for.

When we're away and come back and see each other, it gives me a sense of coming home; I guess with Angélique, her husband and Naima, I also get a sense of community.

Angélique Kidjo's new album, 'Õÿö', is out now on Proper Records

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