In a lengthy but interesting interview with New York Magazine, Stephen talks about everything from “Somewhere”, to living out of hotels, to his upcoming film “Immortals”.
Stephen Dorff wants an Amstel Light and an afternoon cigarette, but as we head out to the courtyard of the Chateau Marmont — the famous Los Angeles hotel where he spends the bulk of Sofia Coppola’s new film, Somewhere — one young woman in the lobby won’t let him go. “Stephen Dorff!” the blonde repeatedly exclaims. A casual acquaintance named Holly (at the Chateau, everyone is a casual acquaintance of everyone else), she is insistent that Dorff adopt an animal from her and has the disconcerting habit of always addressing him by his full name. “Stephen Dorff, are you going to take the dog?”
“Maybe,” says Dorff, flashing the amiable half-smile of his Somewhere character, the dissolute but softhearted actor Johnny Marco. “I have to meet a dog before I take him.”
“Well, when are you gonna meet him, Stephen Dorff?”
“I dunno. Let me get through the next few days.” Like Marco, who’s ushered from event to event by a phalanx of publicists and agents, Dorff is in the middle of a crowded schedule of press obligations. He’s just arrived at the Chateau from a luncheon that he and Coppola attended with awards bloggers and industry pundits, and he’s beaming, proud to be front and center in such a well-received movie (Somewhere took home the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion).
How was the awards luncheon?
The “Pundits Express”? It was good. I’ve never really done this before. I’ve never done the Academy dance … I’m happy to do it, though. My biggest thing is I was just so stoked when we won Venice. I was so happy and humbled to be included in the mix, because you’ve got great movies there, great filmmakers. To just be there was awesome.
Were you still there when it won?
No, I was back in L.A. Sofia was in Paris, and usually if you win the Gold Lion, the director comes back. She still didn’t know we had won the big one, but me, of course, I knew all the awards you could win and how the rules worked — you can’t win Best Actor if you win Best Movie, things like that. She said, “I think we won, but I don’t know what we won.” I said, “Look, I’ll tell you what it could be. Best Director, Special Jury Prize, or the big one, the Gold Lion.” So then when she got there, she was like, “We got the big one!” We had a Champagne celebration from Malibu to Harry’s Bar.
What was the screenplay like when she sent it to you? So much of it feels improvised on the day.
She’s kind of famous now for writing shorter screenplays. Lost in Translation was 60 pages?
And this one?
This one was about 48. They’re usually about a 120, and this script was a pamphlet, almost. I felt the whole movie there, but I had a lot of questions. Obviously, I completely wanted to work with Sofia going in, so if she had given me something that was two pages, I would have said, “Let’s do it, I’m down for this experience,” but I’ll give you an example. The script was completely laid out as far as the dialogue that’s there, but the Guitar Hero sequence was scripted in one line: “Scene 48, Johnny and Cleo play Guitar Hero, sun’s blasting through the windows of the hotel room, Sammy’s on the couch.” So in shooting, we start playing our songs, we start vibing and making things up, she’ll say, “Ooh, I like when you said that thing about the whammy bar, but go back and do it earlier.” Though I would say that of the whole thing, maybe only 20 percent was improv. The rest was there.
She’s not interested in telegraphing things. Your character has an arc of being transformed by the presence of his daughter, but you have to underplay it in the extreme.
She never states the obvious, she wants to have it all said with one line. I found it the most raw and naked performance I ever had to give, so in that way, it was the most challenging thing I’ve done. I find that if you give me makeup or a machine gun and there are explosions going off … I mean, there are a lot of cheats with acting. I can mimic anything, and if I sat with you for a few hours, I could mimic the hell out of you. When I played Candy Darling in I Shot Andy Warhol, that was easy to play that part. They made me into a woman, I’m in heels, I’m waxed, I’m gonna find the femininity and lay on the bed and take the voice of an old movie star. This part, I had nothing. No tricks, no accent, no game, nothing — no prop, really, except for my smoke and my beer, sometimes.
Sofia asked you to move into the Chateau to prepare for the role. How much of what we see in the movie sprung from that?
Ultimately, she knew that by living here, that things would happen to me as Stephen the way they probably would for Johnny. Sofia would come in the morning and say, “Any gossip from last night?” I’d say, “Funny enough, I had a dry rehearsal of our elevator scene. I was in the elevator with that actor Olivier Martinez, and I didn’t know him all that well — I’d just met him once. We were riding in the elevator and he had scripts under his arm and he said, ‘What room are you in?’ And I said, ’69.’ He said, ‘Oh yeah? I had a party in 69 once… ‘” And she said, “Oh I like that, let’s use that in the scene with Benicio [del Toro, where he shares an awkward elevator chat with Johnny Marco].” I don’t think there were any lines written in that scene — originally, it was supposed to be Vin Diesel in the script. Then he decided he didn’t want to do the part — he didn’t get the joke, I guess.
Elle Fanning plays your 11-year-old daughter in the movie. Is this the first time you’ve ever been a father onscreen?
Oh yeah. It’s the first time I’ve ever been around kids this much. My friends are having babies, I’m a godfather to one of my friend’s babies. It’s like, “Wait, man, when am I gonna have a baby?” One day, hopefully… The movie, to me, is about an adolescent father becoming a dad. Elle’s character is way more sophisticated than her dad, and ultimately through her, the end of the movie is his beginning. It’s been so special and unique, man. I’ve made 30-some movies, and nothing’s ever been made and executed the way this film was. I mean, it’s on another level for me, creatively.
Read the rest of the interview at NYMAG here.