Stephen Dorff Takes a Brake
ABOVE: STEPHEN DORFF AT THE MERCER HOTEL, NEW YORK. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GABELLO.
“I used to live in this hotel,” mused Stephen Dorff when we met at the Mercer Hotel in New York during New York Fashion Week. “I made a movie about a hotel…I lived in this hotel.” Dorff is a character who has popped up frequently in Interview over the years, we have a special soft spot for Stephen, perhaps because he once played Factory star Candy Darling (who as you may recall from Lou Reed’s “Take A Walk on the Wild Side,” “came from out on the island”) in 1996’s I Shot Andy Warhol. It’s been a strange few years for Dorff, or perhaps even a strange few decades–who, at only 38, has already cycled through a lifetime of reputations–from promising young actor, to teen-beat crush object and bankable bad-boy, to yesterday’s news, to Sofia Coppola’s darling and back to bankable action star. These tumultuous career transitions are not lost on Dorff, who seems both content in his career and determined to take better control of its future. “I read everything,” explained Dorff, “even movies I’m not doing… I like to read what Ryan Gosling’s doing; I want to know what everyone is doing.”
When Interview met Dorff in February, it was to discuss his most recent movie, the spy-thriller, Brake, for which Stephen took on the dual role of producer and protagonist. The film is an ambitious one for Stephen; he is the only actor the audience can see for the first hour and a half of the film and, if maintaining an audiences’ interest solo wasn’t difficult enough, Stephen is locked into an extremely restrictive plastic coffin-like box for the majority of the film, unable to sit up fully. Whether or not the film pulls off this ambitious premise is another question, but it shows that Dorff is committed to diversifying his film experience. Brake is the first of many films that Dorff has lined up for 2012 and 2013, Stephen has also filmed Motel Life with Emile Hirsch and Dakota Fanning; Boot Tracks with Michelle Monaghan and Willem Dafoe; Officer Down with James Woods; and is off to Israel to start on a film Gareth Unwin (The King’s Speech).
EMMA BROWN: So, Stephen, what brings you to New York?
STEPHEN DORFF: I came in last night for Pam [Skaist-Levy] and Gela [Nash-Taylor]’s new fashion company; they were the girls who started Juicy. I didn’t make their show, but I went to their dinner. It’s kind of their new line, post the whole Juicy explosion [and] they were all excited, so I came to support them.
BROWN: Are you going to any Fashion Week stuff?
DORFF: Probably. There’s a bunch of little party things, but I didn’t want to go and do the shows, I feel embarrassed to sit there. When I was doing Immortals last year I went to that Victoria’s Secret show. [laughs] After all that attention, I was like, “I’ll sit this one out!” [laughs]
BROWN: Fashion Week can be so exhausting as well. All the running around…
DORFF: I know. How do you guys do it?
BROWN: I’ve seen your new film, Brake. Goodness, it must have been such an intimidating role to accept, you’re the only actor on screen for 90 minutes, and you’re so physically restricted in that plastic box.
DORFF: Yeah, this movie is a little different from the norm; it’s completely off the radar, I didn’t tell my agent I was making it. I had a gap of not even a month where I was going to be available, and then I had to go on the road with Sofia [Coppola] for Somewhere. I couldn’t take another [big] movie, because I would’ve missed Japan with her, and all these other things where I really needed to be there. [Brake] came through a friend of my family, out of nowhere—this 19-year-old kid wrote it, and I was like, “This is kind of interesting.” That movie Buried was coming out at the same time [but] I saw it, and I didn’t like it and I thought, “Oh, we could do much better.” I got beat to hell [filming Brake]. We made it in 11 days, 10 days in the box, 1 day out of the box. I shot it in order, which I never get to do; [we] started from the beginning [and got through] 10 pages a day. Basically there were some actors behind the black curtain that I was just reading off of. On a “real” movie—and when I say real movie I mean a normal production, we don’t get that kind of free run. I never shoot ten pages in one day, just ready to go. So on this one, it was really a free-for-all, so it was awesome. It’s the second movie I’ve produced, me and my partner Ryan are very involved in this in a way that I wasn’t for Felon, [the first movie I produced] .
BROWN: Was it hard to stay in character when you had all these cameras in your face and no other actors around?
DORFF: I’m used to having big movie cameras in my face, I pretend that they’re not there. But I actually like being on my own, I like being in the space. They were locking me in [to the plastic box], screwing me in, literally. A couple of times [the box] got foggy from [my] breath and the action and they couldn’t see me. I went out, I went back in. For me, it was a cool experience.
BROWN: How did you unwind after spending all day horizontal in a box?
DORFF: I was pretty bruised up. But I smoked a lot of cigarettes because I couldn’t smoke in that box! [laughsI really didn’t get much sleep. . .those ten days were pretty intense.
BROWN: It sounds it. It was intense to watch.
DORFF: Probably not the normal kind of movie you’d watch…
BROWN: I enjoy thrillers.
DORFF: Oh, you do?
BROWN: Yes. But, it made me feel claustrophobic on your behalf. Did being so involved in the film’s production inspire you to want to direct anything?
DORFF: I’ve always kind of wanted to direct, but I don’t want to do it yet. I’m waiting. I’m trying to find that one story that I really feel in my gut. I probably wouldn’t be in that movie, I would just direct it. I wouldn’t know how to direct myself, really.
BROWN: Do you prefer playing the villain or the hero?
DORFF: I’m kind of liking playing the good guy. Somewhere gave me a chance to show people that I could be [more] than just the bad guy, the badass, or whatever. I kind of got bored of that and I feel like I have a lot to offer in other parts. Sofia gave me this new born again screen life; now directors want me to play the good guy—fathers and all this stuff I wasn’t getting before.
BROWN: When and why do you think you were typecast as a “bad boy”?
DORFF: I think that when I was younger, and had my first round of big success and was plastered on magazine covers in the early and mid-90s, I was kind of outspoken and had kind of a pretty aggressive attitude in my life. That mixed with the fact that I was kind of an edgier dresser. Then [when] Blade happened [in 1998], it was incredibly successful and that became my [image]. I was a young guy just growing up. I’m now 38-years old and I’ve made a lot of different kinds of movies-I played a woman in I Shot Andy Warhol, for Christsakes! I’ve done some pretty risqué things. There’s a lot of idiots in Hollywood, a lot of people with no imagination, so as an actor you have to constantly re-show them [what you can do]. Sofia was a good person for me because she’s so loved by so many people, and she gave me a really incredible part.
BROWN: Do you feel that Somewhere has really changed things for you?
DORFF: Yeah, in a lot of ways. I hope that [Sofia and I] get to do another film together; she’s about to start a new one, in L.A. I’m bummed I wasn’t in it. It’s all young kids, really young—Emma Watson’s going to be in it. I’m getting too old. Sofia’s films don’t make the money that Immortals made, so as far as box office [success] , movies like Immortals are great for me, but Somewhere changed my image around the world. You get so much more press, and you do more magazine coverage, talk to more journalists. People are interested in the film, because she’s a special filmmaker and there are not that many of them. I always tell her that she made me cool again. It’s still a journey because there are not a lot of great movies out there; I don’t read Somewheres everyday, I read bad scripts. Not to trash certain movies, but I don’t want to be in these silly remakes of TV shows, I’d rather wait. I found this great drama that is probably coming out in the fall, called The Motel Life. It’s like My Own Private Idaho meets like a Rumble Fish, a beautiful script! Emile Hirsch and Dakota Fanning are in it with me. I’m really excited.
BROWN: Do you think you’re more careful in your film choices now that you’re a bit older?
DORFF: Yeah, I think I am. I still spend a lot of money though, so I’m always feeling like I have to do some bad action movie for money, but hopefully not. I might do a cool perfume ad here and there—I might make my money somewhere else and then I can just do good movies [laughs]
BROWN: Do you feel more comfortable in your career?
DORFF: Yeah, [but] I want to get more scripts that I like. I think I found a couple. Motel Life, I think, was one of the strongest scripts of last year. Still, though, the filmmakers didn’t see me in that movie. They didn’t want me in that movie. Constantly, I feel like I have to kind of…not sell myself, but show that I can do all these different things, even though I’ve done them so many times.
BROWN: How do you convince someone like that?
DORFF: Well, in that case it was different, because Emile [Hirsch] was cast first. I’m friends with Emile, he reminds me of when I was young. I said to him once at a party, “We’re going to play brothers on day.” And he looked at me like, “Stephen Dorff’s crazy. . .or he’s gay.” [laughs]
BRAKE IS OUT IN LIMITED RELEASE ON WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21ST.