Stephen Dorff: “I don’t want to be in Black Widow or any of those movies – I’m ashamed of Scarlett!”
Stephen Dorff is in despair over all of this. âThis year’s Oscars was the most embarrassing thing I have ever seen,â he snaps, through puffs of an electronic cigarette. âMy business is becoming a big game show. You have actors who have no idea what they’re doing. You have filmmakers who have no idea what they’re doing. We’re all in these little boxes on these streamers. TV, movies – that’s a whole big bunch of content now.
Dorff, that grizzled, swaggering star of Backbeat (1994), Blade (1998) and Somewhere (2010) does not know a sentence that it cannot make a monologue. Ask a simple question and dozens of different threads emerge in its answer. His famous cheekbones slowly shrouded in smoke, he goes from awards shows to stories of Hollywood agents, the future of cable TV and the times. pulp Fiction makes John Travolta a star again. No matter the detour, however, it all seems to end in the challenge.
“I always chase the good shit because I don’t wanna be in Black Widow, “he said.” It looks like garbage to me. It looks like a bad video game. I’m ashamed for these people. I’m ashamed for Scarlett! I’m sure she got paid five, seven million dollars, but I’m ashamed for her. I don’t want to be in these movies. I really don’t. I will find this young director who will be the next Kubrick and I will play for him instead.
The 47-year-old may be talking about Zoom from his home in Los Angeles, but the vibe is like an unofficial hanging in the back of a dive bar. Dorff is honest, faulty at times, bold and energetic, and wears his age well. He has the self-conscious ambivalence of someone who has clearly lived a lot of life and had a great time doing it. âI don’t have a family yet and I don’t have five ex-wives I have to pay for,â he jokes. âI only have almost myself to manage yet. “
In the mid-90s, Dorff was often hailed as one of Hollywood’s next big things. He had a fascinating history – he is the son of a successful country music songwriter, and was something of a devil in his youth, having been kicked out of several Los Angeles schools; he also had a reputation for partying, promiscuity and abuse. In 1996, he shared a Vanity Fair cover, one of those annuals proclaiming the stars of the future, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey and Will Smith. But there was always something a little less refined about him than these future icons.
He found a niche playing Agents of Chaos – the nemesis of Wesley Snipes’ vampiric Blade; a kamikaze filmmaker in John Waters Cecil B Dement (2000); a checkered misanthrope in the Gen-X thriller SFW (1994). besieged, his new film, follows suit. It’s a gripping family drama with Dorff as an MMA fighter. We meet his character, the volatile Cash Boykins, bragging about the gargantuan size of his appendix. He spits out homophobia and suffers regularly, and treats his teenage son (a loving Darren Mann) like a punching bag. The film is about the masculinity, fatherhood and corruption of celebrity. Dorff struggled to let go.
âI was the most angry and aggressive person I have ever been on a film set,â he explains. âSo much so that I don’t think a lot of people liked me on this set. After the movie was over, I apologized. I had to do what I had to do. But that’s my job here. This is not a summer camp, I am not here to be everyone’s best friend. It breaks, then accelerates again. âNormally I can turn shit on and off like nothing has happened. I am not really a follower of the method of action, but this [character] was hard to lose. For about two weeks, I just couldn’t get rid of that fucking king energy. It was worth it, however. âA year later I saw the movie and was really blown away, you know? I thought … Jesus.
Dorff’s surprise at his own acting ability is a kind of growth. In his early twenties, he was happy to declare himself Hollywood’s most talented movie star. It was 1994, a year after Dorff became a pin-up thanks to a video of Aerosmith – he was Alicia Silverstone’s dirty boyfriend in “Cryin” – and arthouse dramas as The strength of one (1992), and he had just given an infamous interview to Movieline magazine in which he threw occasional grenades at almost all of his peers. Christian Slater, Chris O’Donnell and Mark Wahlberg have all been beaten. He bragged about being the best the industry has to offer, and that ultimately the projects he chose and his resistance to the movie star machine will prove it. “At the end of the day,” he promised at the time, “my filmography is going to be pretty cool.”
Dorff was arrogant, of course, but he also turned out to be right. While he did not play in The perfume of a woman or Titanic – he was O’Donnell and DiCaprio’s second choice respectively – he never seemed like the right candidate for romantic tracks anyway. Instead, his resume is full of fascinating quirks: the wild sci-fi comedy Space Truckers (1996), Lee Daniels’ X-rated pulp thriller Shadow boxer (2005), or her remarkable turn as a trans icon Candy Darling in I shot Andy Warhol (1996). âI don’t like to play things too cautiously,â he says today. âFor me, Hollywood is always too safe. When I needed the money, of course, I did a few weeks on a film that I didn’t want to make. You see, I like money too, because I like to buy things and I like art and real estate.
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But you also need a balance. He remembers that his agents wanted him to make “a shit movie” that he doesn’t remember, and that he chose to do Cecil B Dement rather. “Why don’t I make a John Waters movie?” The other movie sucks! They’re like, well, it won’t do anything for your career or your money. But I’m going to go to Cannes and we’re going to have a standing ovation, and kids around the world, art students and John Waters fans are going to love this fucking movie, which they still do today. Why shouldn’t I do that? He smiles. “So I fired these agents.”
Dorff has mellowed a lot from his wildest years, but there’s still a rebellious streak there. Passing under the bravado will not be possible with the time I have in his company. But there are glimmers of a more humble self here and there – in his reverence when he talks about his family, or his enthusiasm for the films he has in the making, or his continued love for Jack Nicholson, his co- star in the dark underrated Blood and wine (1997). In 2010, when Sofia Coppola was asked to explain why she chose Dorff to play a multi-faceted but directionless movie star in her film. Somewhere, she said he was an old friend of hers, with personality levels most don’t see. âHe has a real sweetness that contrasts with his kind of macho image,â she said. IndieWire. “But he’s actually a really sincere and kind guy.”
Why did he tend to be so hidden from the world? âI think most of the films I make tend to be more daring,â he says. “But Sofia saw something in me.” He moves his jaw from side to side. âLook, I’m not – in my personal life I’m pretty funny and I’m pretty light-hearted. I don’t walk around like some of my drama friends. They seem to be tortured all the time – not me! I’m not going to sit here and say how nice I am, but I always felt like I was quite genuine. I’m not a *** ter bull. I’ve never really been a fan of it. I can read people in two minutes, whether I like them, or whether I think they’re smart or I think they’re fucking idiots. I have a very good radar for that.
Somewhere arrived in Dorff’s lap on the first anniversary of his mother’s death. His recent streak of strong roles – besieged, the acclaimed third season of Real detective and the experimental country musical drama Roller – it all came about as a result of the death of his brother, songwriter Andrew Dorff. âI get all these gifts after losing people and it sucks,â he said, as if he was still confused by the timing of it all. âI was in a terrible place when I lost my little brother. I didn’t really want to act anymore. But then all of these beautiful things started to happen. I don’t know if it’s because of the gods or what.
He is silent, for the only real time of our conversation. Then he lets out a hoarse laugh, inhales with his e-cig and comes back to life. “My brother would like me to play and that’s what I do, so I probably should.”
‘Embattled’ is available as a digital download from July 5