Willem Dafoe did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Klaus Daimler in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
Willem Dafoe is probably best known for his various villain roles he played, or even some of his non-villainous roles which usually are rather emotionally intense. That is not the case here were Dafoe actually plays very much against type as Klaus Daimler the engineer of Zissou's crew and easily his most loyal man. Dafoe plays the accent with a very German, German accent. I mention his accent because Dafoe does it so well. I would not say he goes for a wholly realistic accent but it never feels cartoony either. Dafoe find just the right balance in to make Klaus quite a character but not just a caricature. It feels wholly natural to his Klaus, and actually it does a pretty wonderful job of covering up Dafoe's normal voice which tends to be slightly intimidating even if he's not trying to be.
Not exactly everyone is all that happy in Steve Zissou suffering some emotional problem or the fact that the new film seems set out to be a disaster. One consistent bright spot can be found though with Klaus and the way Dafoe plays him. Dafoe is so incredibly endearing with his performance with his bright smile and general affable attitude. In the wrong hands Klaus could have been very easily cloying but Dafoe with his great energy only ever makes him rather, for the lack of a better word, adorable. There's nothing but likability in that smile of his, and the entire way that he carries himself here. There's such a genuine sweetness that he brings that really is surprising to see out of Dafoe, but he completely nails this part that seems so out of character for the hard bitten roles he usually plays.
For me Dafoe easily makes himself the comedic highlight of the film as he so consistently funny with every chance given to him. Technically the reason is because of how "straight" Dafoe technically plays the part. He makes Klaus's general sweetness so honest that whenever he does something seemingly stupid it comes off as both funny and charming in its own way. It's hard to say which of my moments is my favorite whether it's when he gets so enjoyable sad after being given a slap without warning, his discontent at being named team B but then his pride when he is reminded that he is the team leader of team B, or when he so dramatically crosses the line to support Steve only to have to quickly run back when finding out the line was for those who wanted to quit. Dafoe in every instance makes the naivety of Klaus just so genuinely sweet, that it's hard not to love the guy.
Although we are only given a little view into their past in terms of the film, Dafoe makes anyway though almost wholly through the way he reacts to Murray's performance. There is such a fierce loyalty that Dafoe conveys in every moment as no matter how anyone else is reacting Dafoe always shows Klaus fiercely devoted to the word of his captain. I particularly the moment where Steve does name him to team A and Dafoe shows Klaus's reaction to be that of soldier ready to fight to the end. Of course Defoe acquits himself in the various small moments that do focus on Klaus throughout the film always making the most of any scene where he is given the spotlight no matter how brief that may be. This mostly is a truly supporting performance in that much of his performance is when Klaus is supporting Steve. In this way Dafoe also excel bringing such a simple warmth through the supportive Klaus. It's lovely work that adds so much to this great, that's right I said great, film.