Speaking | Matt Dillon
emily blunt interview
you want something done...write and direct it yourself. Oh yeah, and star in it
since you're a "name" actor.
Dillon's new film, City of Ghosts, finds him wearing
all these hats. Is the film just another celeb egofest extravaganza? Nope. This
life long actor decided it was time to stand behind the lens. And his directorial
debut, City of Ghosts, written with his long time friend Barry Gifford,
is not just some flighty cookie-cutter studio piece. No siree Bob. Matt and Barry
set the complex story in (get this) Cambodia. Then Dillon was brave enough to
tell financers he wanted it actually shot in Cambodia - not Toronto or
Vancouver made to resemble parts of Cambodia. Bravo.
Matt Dillon's a
huge talent in my eyes. He effortlessly volleys between outlandish comedies back
to dark misfits and can run away as the leading man - when he wants to - too.
He does whatever the script reads, develops a style, and delivers purrfection.
I admit I was spying on Matt at TriggerStreet.com's LA launch party...lurking
really... conveniently at the bar when he was...standing by Dana Brunetti when
he was...but of course I didn't have the nerve to actually communicate. I thought,
"So what's a handsome fella like this - talented clean cut and smart as a
whip - doing stag at a hunkfest party? Meow...purr. " He's used to being
"looked" at since he's a studmuffin of a decidedly unique recipe and
probably figured the mute blonde vixen everywhere he was just a tad bizarre. The
novelette of my life. But I digress...
of you may recall Matt from as far back as his Little Darling days. Matt
played the "cute guy" in many a chickflick. Who could forget Flamingo
Kid? On he went as kind of a rougher good boy going bad version of John Cusack's
angsty young guy in things like Rumble Fish (with the once gorgeous Mickey
Rourke battling for a gal's affections) and sweet Tex.
here's the really great thing, Matt's managed to mature (like a 500.00 bottle
of fine Merlot mind you...) and still be a commodity in film. I mean there are
a handful of that escape the Hollywood Logan's Run Factor by which a talented
young star seems to evaporate leaving a few aged classics in their dust - they're
86'd once they shave regularly - thankfully not Dillon.
So what made you decide to tackle directing and writing?
Matt: I'd always
had an interest in it in directing, and I think that it was a combination of things.
I remember that I was sort of disappointed because I didn't get a job in a film
that I didn't even want to do! And I said, 'Wait a minute, I think that I've sort
of lost my way somewhere here.' [laughter] I was upset about not getting a part
in a movie that I didn't even want. So, I figured that I better do something that
I wanted to do.
Emily: Yeah, but you wrote City of Ghosts too.
Matt: Yeah. I had this idea for this film. And that was one of the things
that made me want to go into directing and writing. It was something that I was
interested in doing anyway, and I think that just wanting to branch out and do
Emily: City of Ghosts is not exactly a sound-stage
production. Were there many challenges?
Matt: Oh yeah. I mean every
step of the way there are challenges. Although, I thought that the process of
writing, directing, editing, those things were really rewarding. I think that
the part for me that was difficult was the politics of it; raising money and that
sort of stuff. That was the hardest part for me, and once you start, you know,
basically, I had a very simple idea about a story of a guy who travels to south
east Asia to regroup with his mentor, but the catch was that he wasn't supposed
to go there because of some criminal activity that they were involved in the past,
and what happens as a result of his going there.
Emily: But there's
so much more, especially, in your character of Jimmy.
Matt: Yeah. That
was the basic idea, and I wanted it to be a story that involved a kind of redemption
and a guy who goes through a spiritual transformation and you just don't know
where something is going to take you.
Emily: What part was the hardest
in the road to production then?
Matt: When I started out writing it,
I had never written a story before, and that was, you know, that was kind of an
interesting discovery for me, myself as a storyteller which was really great,
that I really liked doing that and I had never done that before. I think that
once you do that, it's like, 'Okay, it's one thing to write this script and these
characters in this setting and then, it's another thing entirely to go out and
get it made.' For me, at that point, it was already a reality. I had already committed
a lot of time, and there was no turning back for me. So, you get to a certain
point with the promises that you sort of made for yourself, you can't turn back
on those, and so, that becomes a responsibility.
Emily: From what I
am hearing it took awhile to get made?
Matt: Yeah, it took a while. It
took seven years until about now.
Emily: Was the story always set in
Cambodia? I mean one doesn't think, "We're makin' a movie. How 'bout Cambodia
for a backdrop."
Matt: Yeah right! No, it was always Cambodia. It
wasn't that the decision sort of presented itself to me. I didn't say, 'Oh, you
know what, I'll do this story, but I think that I'll set in Cambodia.' It was
Cambodia that sort of presented itself to me, or, I should say Southeast Asia
in general. I'd been traveling there in the early nineties, and I was traveling
in Southeast Asia and didn't plan on going to Cambodia and found myself there,
and you know, I very little about the place prior to that except whatever kind
of knew, the Vietnam war, poverty, a war torn country, but what really struck
me was the beauty of the country, and the city. I thought that the fact that the
culture was so distinctive which is really, when you think about what happened,
with the Khmer Rouge doing everything within their power to destroy and bury the
culture, and start from scratch which is what they wanted to do, and they killed
everyone, and you know, so that was what really opened my eyes. I said, 'This
is a really beautiful country.'
Emily: So the setting - the town filled
with ex-pats and vets - people really live like that over there? I have never
Matt: Yes they do. And well you know, interestingly enough, David [ Brisbin
the production designer] was like a historian about Cambodia. He called me and
we met, went to lunch. I brought him by - this is during pre-production - and
I brought him by the Bellville, the bar and the hotel when we were shooting and
he goes, 'This is the place,' he said when he was with the Foreign Service Office
when he was just out of the military, he said, 'This was the spot where all the
Corsicans owned bars and cafes in the sixties,' prior to the Khmer Rouge coming
in which I had no idea of that.
So you ended up right where a fellow like
"Emile " (Gerard Depardieu)
would have owned a place? That's pretty cool.
Yeah, I just happened to chose
that, and interestingly enough, where the cafe was, that was a building, that
was a very long building in actuality that was sort of subdivided and that was
that Andre Malrel first stayed in when he came before going up to the river to
see them plundering temples and robbing the temples and ended up in prison for
[ oops he thought I knew way more about the region than I did- just smile and
avoid technical questions....or look stoopid] There must have been logistical
Logistically, there were many challenges that we were faced with. I think that,
you know, if you sort of go with it and accept with the challenges that you're
faced with in that part of the world, it's fine, it's fine. It works out fine.
It's when you end up fighting against it that it'll
bury you, it'll destroy
you and so, everyone sort of said, 'Okay, you have to start from scratch. There
are no campers here, there are no portable toilets.' Those things had to be built
or brought in. So, there was a lot of stuff like that, we had to get roads. There
were a lot of things that were sort of unconventional that ran through it; rebuilding
roads and we had to do
a landmine clearance .
Emily: I loved the
film - but you gave yourself quite a job first time out. Couldn't you have picked
an easier project?
Matt: [Laughs] Yeah, I guess that I could've, but
it's not my style, it's not my style in a lot of ways, but really, more importantly,
I wasn't doing it to made it difficult on myself. I felt really that the atmosphere
was so important to the film and just to get back to what you were asking about,
you said that the film in Cambodia, I'll just get back to that for a moment; I
was struck by the beauty of that country, and the duality of life there, the extremes.
I mean, the dream like quality, and the nightmarish quality that was there, I
always wanted that to be a part of it. So, that was, I mean, the feeling that
I had from the place when I first got there. Now, two years later, I found an
article in 'The Herald Tribune' was a release from Interpol which said that the
number of the world's most wanted criminals were thought to be in Cambodia to
take advantage of the lack of extradition treaties in foreign countries, not just
in Cambodia, but in the Southeast Asia and in general, but that's how it sort
of presented itself to me, and I started to think about how this was a very interesting
story, and a very interesting world and I thought about certain people that I'd
met and so, that's where the idea came from. So, it was always Cambodia, and I'm
sure that it could've been Guatemala, I'd never been there, but I know that Guatemala
is a place where people will often go to hide as well. I just wasn't making a
movie about Guatemala.
Emily:[man this guy's a manly man...focus...focus...]
I never knew Cambodia was an X -Zone. Didn't really think about I suppose. What
were the challenges of directing yourself or is that fair to ask?
Directing myself, that was the thing that I was the most frightened, the most
concerned about. You know, my experience, what little directing that I had done
prior to that, I found it to be the antithesis to what you do as an actor, you
know. It's a totally different thing, and it's more of an internal process and
approach. You have to communicate things, but it's selfless in a certain way.
You become insignificant, but as an actor, you always have to do this internal
work, constantly, and so, that was a concern that I had, and so, I knew that I
had to have a game plan and I felt very strongly that my responsibilities as an
actor are very specific. So, I needed to be prepared as an actor stepping out
onto the set, and as a director, secondly. So, that meant that we needed a lot
of preparation. So, that's what we had, good prep time. That really saved me in
that way. I knew what I wanted when I stepped on the set.
When your say, "Prep time" do you mean like a rehearsal period as the
Matt: No, for me, prep time as a director. So, knowing what I
would need to make the scene, knowing what kind of coverage that I would need,
have a good idea so that when I stepped on the set, I'd already been to this location
and I knew what I wanted from it and I sort of already put myself in the mindset
of all the characters. So, I had a general idea about how it was going to play
out, and of course, I didn't have the luxury of a long rehearsal period. I was
able to work with all the actors before we started shooting and read through the
script and talk it over with them, and so, naturally, actors are going to inform
the scenes, and I think that really helped. I relied on the monitor. Someone sort
of advised me to do that, an acting teacher. He said, 'Listen, you've got good
instincts.' I said, 'Listen, I don't even like looking at myself in dailies,'
and so, that took a little bit of getting used to, but I did find that I was able
to trust my instincts by looking at the monitor often and it didn't slow us down,
and there were time that I didn't need to look at the monitor because I could
kind of tell that we'd gotten what we needed, and so, that was the game plan and
it worked out for me. I think that if I was playing a character that was a bigger
stretch for me and more physically demanding and if I had to do a different dialect,
that might've been too much.
Your "driver" in the film, played by Sereyvuth Kem, is he a Cambodian
Matt: No, he'd never acted. Casting is always difficult. I've
learned this now, and now, I understand when a guy is trying to get me to commit
to a movie, I understand what he's going through, a director, but this guy. Finding
a Cambodian. I wanted these people to be truthful and authentic and I had met
with many Asian actors; Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, but Cambodians are very
different. The accent is different and it was just a thing and I knew that. It
was hard for me. There were very many good actors there, but I had a very real
feeling that this guy had to be Cambodian and I couldn't find anyone in the states.
Although, I was encouraged when I did meet with some Khmers who were non-actors
that you could see, that was truthful. They were Cambodia and that was very important
for me, but I had difficulty finding anyone until I got to Cambodia and even then,
I had trouble. Then I met this guy - on the street - and he was very funny and
he was a moto-taxi driver and he was very clever and a very witty guy, and I started
joking around with him, and I thought, 'This guy might be the guy.' So, I sent
his picture and I sent him around the corner to the casting office. Then, he came
in later, and I remember, when he came into his first casting session, he was
wearing a policemen's uniform and it turned out that he was a policeman. He was
an administrative policeman. He didn't walk a beat with a gun or anything, but
he did administrative work, and a policeman in Cambodia make eleven dollars a
month, if you can imagine. He had to subsidize his income. So, that was
why he was a taxi driver. He has a wonderful, expressive demeanor, and really,
he's dear. I see him as a brother to this day. I love him so much and we became
good friends, and he was natural, naturally, his quality was great, but the best
thing was his willingness to learn and there were a lot of things. Acting, he'd
never done that, but it was pretty natural and he needed to feel more comfortable,
and I found an acting teacher that had been living in Cambodia who was from the
UK. That was good fortune, and so, he worked with him because I was very busy
a lot of the time and his own story informed the character. You know, I started
to discover how his own story - it was interesting - how much of it paralleled
what we'd written, but yet, there were things in it that we could never have written,
and things that were much more interesting than anything we could've written so
we used aspects of his own story.
Wow, that itself is a great story! How'd you get "Jimmy" Caan involved?
Well, first of all, I don't think that there's an actor of his generation that
would've been better for the part because he has all the dark qualities that the
character needs to have, all the intensity and that kind of command and strength,
but he's also got this persuasive kind of charm that that guy needed and that
kind of humor that Jimmy has naturally and he brought to that, and I was, you
know, absolutely overjoyed when I found out that he wanted to do it because I
had inquired when the film was set up three years ago, three years prior to all
of this and the money fell through, and the one time that I inquired, I found
that he was busy for a year and a half. I found that a lot and that was the same
thing with Gerard Depardieu. 'Oh, he's busy for the next two years,' and of course,
we didn't get the movie made for another four years, and so, yeah, the in the
cast, I had an interesting mix like Jimmy and Gerard and then, you know, I had,
on the other hand, all these nonprofessionals and you know, that was really an
Does City of Ghosts have any personal father/ son inspirations intermingled?
Matt: Well, it was less then an obvious kind of comparison than my father
and this guy being my father, but more to do with the idea that the father represents
a prior life, a prior existence, a world that Jimmy inhabited that he was no longer
comfortable living in. A world which is corrupt, morally bankrupt and that his
breaking away from old ideas; this is what that represented in the big picture.
So, to me, that's what I thought about it, but personally, I felt that I wanted
to go through it, I wanted to change, I wanted to move on in life, and I always
wanted it to be a guy who goes through self discovery and this character of Marvin
has always had this sort of tragic flew which is that he believes that you get
to certain point and you can't change. You have to be that way for the rest of
your life, and he tells Jimmy that, and I thought that was always something that
was really a tragic belief that he has.
Emily: I got an email recently
telling me I should, as a woman, boycott City of Ghosts. I saw the film
and I don't understand. They said all the women were portrayed as lowclass prostitutes
- when clearly Sok's wife, Emile's wife the church doctor and so forth were strong
women.Can you tell me about this controversy ?
Matt: Well you know, the
way that I was involved ...we had a screening in Arizona, and I guess that there
was a couple of upset viewers who were from a women's group. I felt honestly that
the people... it was a very PC thing and they were using it as a platform for
their own agenda. Honestly, I felt the responsibility to portray those places
as they really were and that's what I saw in my scouting. My film wasn't
about that. I felt like in actuality, if I really look at the film, there's not
all that. Certainly, female characters in the film and there's not that many,
and there's a doctor. I mean, there is a balance with all that sort of thing and
we are dealing with people in this circle. These guys are ex-pats, they're damaged
guys and they're not going to relate to sweet women. They're not going to seek
out normal relationships with women. They're going to comfort themselves with
prostitutes, and they're running with corrupt, ex-military types, killers, thieves,
crooks and that's the world that they inhabit.
I get ya. I have to say I wasn't thinking ,"This jerk made all the women
whores" at all. So on a much lighter note, tell me about working with Barry
Matt: We wrote a lot for many years, and it just seemed like
a lot of rewriting and it felt like we ended up writing in a lot of different
places. Mostly in my apartment in New York. But we always worked together. It
was originally my idea, and I came to Barry. We were friends. We worked together
and it seemed to make sense. He was a friend of mine and it seemed like the idea
that I had was something he'd be drawn to and he was. So, that's how it came about.
been steadfast in choosing projects that are always well done. I loved One
Might At McCool's....rent it you'll see. His "Chompers" character
in Something About Mary is actually now a family imitation in my clan -
long story- and I don't think my mom would really appreciate it...He stole scenes
when he worked with William Fichtner and Gary Sinise in Albino Alligator.
I could go on for days about what he's "done" but I dug this new film
so much I wanna make sure you get out and see it and I am sure Dillon's enthusiasm
for the film shines through.
City of Ghosts