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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 3)

Dillon released one film in 1994, Golden Gate, but the 1950s detective story was virtually overlooked by the public. Last year, he was in two films, Frankie Starlight and To Die For. People will better remember him for the latter. Although just a supporting role, Dillon's portrayal of Larry, the slightly vulgar Italian husband of the film's beautiful villainess (Nicole Kidman), attracted wide praise. He is on screen for a little less than two-thirds of the film--he's bumped off as the title suggests--but he gives the film an added dimension. "I felt like it was one of the funniest, most clever scripts I had ever read," Dillon says. "I really wanted to work with Gus. But I wasn't so sure about the film. [The character] is a little simple and he doesn't see through his wife. He just can't believe that his little sweetheart could kill him. It is a blind spot for him and he pays for it. It was fun doing it but it wasn't exactly a great challenge. I really wasn't satisfied with it personally for that reason."

Dillon has some more challenging parts in his forthcoming movies. He has three films due for release this year: Beautiful Girls, Albino Alligator and Grace of My Heart. Dillon is most enthusiastic about Albino Alligator. Part of this is due to the opportunity to work with Faye Dunaway, who Dillon says is "fabulous," but he also loves the plot. At the time of the interview, he didn't want to give away too much about the film, which was directed by Kevin Spacey. He said it focuses on three small-time crooks who pull a job and get cornered by police in a small bar with no back exit. "It becomes a lot more than just a hostage situation movie," he says. "I remember Kevin Spacey used to say to me, when people would say that this film is really a hostage drama, he

would tell them that they just don't get it. I love it...a hostage drama. So when I'm asked about the film, I'll just tell people that it's a hostage drama! It makes my life easier because it is about more than that. It takes place in more or less real time. We shot it in continuity and 90 percent of the action takes place all in one room, one location. It was a great experience because Kevin was the director and he's an actor, plus he's a pal and it was a great cast."

Beautiful Girls might be slightly less original by comparison, but Dillon remains very positive about the film. He calls it "a slice of life" movie about a small group of guys in their thirties, living in New England and driving snowplows, and how they relate to one another and sort out their lives--particularly their love lives. "It's funny that the title is called Beautiful Girls because it's really about guys talking about women, their relationships with women and, of course, their friendship. There were a lot of things in this film that hit home because the characters were so real. They're just regular guys doing their jobs and they make fun of what they do...there's a certain dignity that they have. I think a lot of people will relate to the characters."

Dillon has a supporting role in Grace of My Heart, a film about a young female musician, played by Ileana Douglas, and her various relationships. Dillon plays a musician, loosely based on Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who becomes involved with Douglas' character. "My character writes pop songs but he is kind of a genius," Dillon says. "It is a movie that follows the girl, who is a songwriter in the '50s, Carol King and that sort of thing. At first I am very sweet and then she finds that I am not all there. It was a good script and was interesting to do."

However, as interesting as all his films may have been to do, Dillon still lacks "the big picture" in his portfolio. He has never had the blockbuster film that will keep his name in the minds of Middle America and not just the movie cognoscenti. It's already happened to some of his peers who shared movies at the beginning of their careers. The most obvious examples are Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez and Patrick Swayze, all of whom Dillon worked with in The Outsiders. "I do a movie and I hope everybody gets to see it," Dillon says. "I'm not somebody who only makes cult movies. Sometimes they become cult movies and that's fine, but that's not why I make movies. I would love to do a really good audience picture, but sometimes it just doesn't get offered to you and that's just the way the ball bounces. I want to do big movies. I like big escapist films, certain action films, like The Fugitive."

Dillon apparently has been offered a few big action films in the past, but he has declined the offers. Of course, he didn't know when he turned down the parts that they would be huge successes at the box office. Besides, he doesn't like to talk about the ones that got away. But does he ever regret turning down a role? "It's hard to say, because I have a tendency to always think, to thine own self be true," he says. "I really believe that. You shouldn't do a film for the wrong reasons. I've got no regrets. I always feel like if I did a film, especially a big audience picture [for the wrong reason], maybe Tom Cruise or someone else would do it and it would be a hit, but if I do it for the wrong reason--maybe I'm not into it or whatever--then it's not going to be a hit. It's a tough one to say, because it's that 'what if?' scenario. Sometimes you can get into that [mind-set], and it doesn't make sense to do that."

To date, Dillon is happy with the choices he has made. "I've worked with some really great actors," he says. "I remember one time saying to my manager, 'Why do I always have to prove myself?' And he says, 'Guess what? You always will have to.' And that shut me right up. I don't like to throw clichés out, but there is a kind of truth to the one that you are only as good as your last picture. Your whole body of work is really important, but it's your last picture that people remember."

Part of the problem with not getting the big part in a major movie is that Dillon remains typecast in some people's minds. Some continue to remember him as the angry young man. "There's a lot more that I am capable of doing than I have done," he says. "There's a lot more that I have to offer people. Some people would be surprised. If you really look at my body of work, it's not nearly as typecast as one might think. I have done a lot of roles and not just played brooding, angry young men."

What makes sense to Dillon at this point in his career is to try his hand at writing and directing. "Lately, I've been leaning toward developing my own material, because you end up spending a lot of time waiting for something good to come along," he says, adding that he has already directed several music videos for friends such as members of the alternative band Dinosaur Jr. "Of course, there are intangibles, like does the director want you or not, or maybe you like the project but they don't like you for the project. So I'm thinking, I have ideas, I should be putting them into something, try to bring them to fruition. That takes a certain kind of focus and discipline."

Living in New York, Dillon must contend with a lot of diversions. He's basically a bon vivant of cigars, restaurants, wines, museums, films, parties, exhibits, music, books and, of course, family and friends. It was a buddy, a chef named Pep Meyer, who got him into cigars. "I always enjoyed cigars before," the actor says, nursing his Trinidad down to the last inch. "I would go out to a good restaurant and I always would have a cigar. But I wasn't really into them. I couldn't tell a good cigar from a bad cigar. But Pep got me into it. It's another world, man. It's such an enjoyable thing. It's all about taste."

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