It's surprising to hear Willem Dafoe — who sucked blood in Shadow of the Vampire and went criminally insane in Spider-Man — voicing a good guy in Disney's Finding Nemo. "Well, shame on you!" he protests, chiding us for spoiling his rotten rep.

As moorish fish Gill, he kindly takes Nemo (Alexander Gould) under his fin, as they hatch a plan to escape from their fish tank together. Still, Dafoe's deep, gravelly voice adds a bit of mystery to the role. "I think that's played with," he says, "because certainly this Gill character has an ominous entrance. And there's always a little bit of slight tension about what his motives are."

A true actor's actor, Dafoe even appears to be looking for subtext in the kid flick! "On some levels, I always think of it as a prison picture," he ponders. "Gill's from the ocean, and when Nemo comes into the tank, it rekindles his desire to escape."

The 47-year-old star may need some sort of emergency escape plan himself, since doing Disney will earn him many fans of the pint-sized kind. He's not too worried, though. "It was fun," he grins. "Some of my earliest experiences with movies, and with popular culture, were with Disney movies. So to see that now, many years later, I'm connected to that lineage — even in a marginal way — is kind of titillating to me."