Rebel with a Cause
Matt Dillon Is trying to shed his angry young actor image.
From the Print Edition:
Matt Dillon, Spring 96
(continued from page 1)
Dillon never thought of being an actor in those days. His father was a sales manager for Union Camp, a manufacturer of packaging materials. His mother stayed at home and took care of the children. "I grew up in a very close family but by no means sheltered," he says. "None of my friends were sheltered. Most of the guys came from dysfunctional homes. I can't imagine coming from a too perfect family. That would be too sheltered. I wouldn't be the way I am today. I had a healthy balance.
"I ran with some pretty colorful characters [in high school], but I never doubted what would happen," he says. "I had direction in my life at a young age. Some guys around me were a little lost and some paid the price for it. I was fortunate to have direction and clarity. My career helped with this, but also it was my family. It was a very loving house. I know it may sound corny. But it was like that."
He started at 14 in the critically praised but seldom seen film Over the Edge, a story of disaffected youths living in a suburban housing project. The story most often told about how Dillon landed a part in the movie is that he was cutting class and some talent scouts who happened to be at his school asked him to take a part in the movie.
"That's kind of true," he says, slightly irritated to have to tell the story yet again. "But it wasn't so much that I got discovered off the bat. What happened was that they were looking for kids for the movie, so they went to my high school. I had seen them walking about and talking to kids. They asked 10 kids from my junior high school to audition. I remember I didn't want to audition, but they saw me in the hall because I wasn't in class. So, they asked me if I wanted to go for an audition. I said yes. For some reason, I knew I was going to get the job. I don't remember why. Maybe I was just naive or stupid."
He never really thought about a career in acting after Over the Edge; it just worked out that way. The casting director for the movie, Vic Ramos, became his manager and still is today. Dillon never graduated from high school. He was just too busy. Is he sorry he quit school? "No, not necessarily," he says. "I learned a lot anyway. I don't recommend it [dropping out] but it's the best thing I ever did. It's not like I really dropped out.
"A lot of people say I've missed out on a lot because I started acting at such a young age," he says. "What's so obvious to me is that I actually was really lucky. I gained a lot and I got a head start in what I wanted to do in life. A lot of people in their late 20s, early 30s are just beginning to figure out where they want to go."
You get the feeling that the older Dillon gets, the more he is enjoying himself. The days of being the pinup in just about every American teenage girl's bedroom are behind him. He is much more comfortable as Matt Dillon, actor, than Matt Dillon, teen idol. As a result, you don't get a lot of the "star" behavior out of Dillon. Most of his free time is spent with longtime friends, most of whom work outside of the film industry: businessmen, writers, painters, even chefs. "To be honest with you, there's nothing that bores me more than sitting around with a bunch of actors talking shop," he says. "I love actors and I've got friends that are actors. They're interesting people. But for some reason, usually when it comes round to talking shop, there's a part of me that doesn't like it."
This may be why he's seldom dated actresses and other celebrities. Periodically, his photograph appears in a tabloid newspaper or glossy magazine with a well-known pretty face. The most recent was actress Ellen Barkin in a December issue of Women's Wear Daily. "This happens all the time," he says. "I am just friends with Ellen. I haven't seen her since July. I wonder where they got the photograph.
"I am not involved with anyone seriously at the present time," he adds. "Generally speaking, I have not been involved in relationships with actresses or celebrities. If I meet an actress that I worked with, I might be interested. But it might be too complicated."
He says that he has never felt in a hurry to settle down anyway. "I do think about settling down one day, but I guess in some guys, it seems more imminent than others. Sometimes I'll be in a department store or something and I'll hear some kid scream and I'll think that's really scary. The thought of dealing with that. But of course what I really think, is that if you are with the right woman and you decide to have kids and the time is right, it's great. But in the abstract the thought is kind of frightening.
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