It’s fun talking to Stephen Dorff. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and he definitely doesn’t take Hollywood that seriously, either. That’s what happens when you’ve been in the business as long as he has. You start to loosen up. Dorff, who got a much needed career boost when Sofia Coppola cast him as an adrift actor in last year’s Somwhere, spent last weekend promoting his new film, Immortals. It’s a CGI-heavy, three dimensional tribute to abs and killing, artfully directed by the visual extremist, Tarsem Singh. (The movie debuted to a strong $32 million this past weekend.) In it, Dorff plays Stavros, the rascal-y sidekick to hero Theseus (played by future Man of Steel Henry Cavill), and between making passes at Freida Pinto and stabbing people, Dorff does a pretty good job of playing an ancient Greek version of himself; basically, your cooler, older brother.
After Dorff and I got passed the mandatory Immortals chatter, the actor opened up about his disappointment with Somewhere’s US release (a film and experience he’s still clearly attached to), his struggle to find worthwhile projects, and the extreme letdown that was Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star.
Tell me about the filming process.
We basically shot in this place called Mel’s, which is eight stages, and just took over the place. The cool thing about the film is that Tarsem really had these huge sets built. Normally, in these green screen movies, you don’t have anything, really. It was cool that these huge sets were built so the green screen just kind of went behind that, and on our sets we had real people, real extras, real horses. It actually felt like we were in it, opposed to just standing there. I don’t know if I could do that just standing thing.
You haven’t done a big film like this in a while.
It was cool to do a big popcorn movie again. I felt like Stavros was kind of a character that wasn’t as serious as everybody else, more of a Han Solo type.
Tarsem really uses 3D to its full potential in this film. Are you down with the whole 3D craze?
That’s what’s cool, because nowadays, they’ll put “made in 3D’ on fucking anything, you know? They’ll remake European Vacation with Chevy Chase in 3D. It feels like this one maybe at least enhances the experience, because I’ve seen a lot of these 3D movies, and they just bother me because I didn’t really gain anything from it. But this one, I think, if you get into the experience of it, it seems like its going in the right direction.
Was it your first time making a movie on only a soundstage?
Yeah, I would say a lot of the first Blade was shot on a stage too. If anything, it reminded me of the scale of Blade, but even bigger. Immortals has more characters and more people and big battle scenes, and sometimes I’m amazed that you can shoot a movie inside like that, but Tarsem is all about creating these worlds, and he does it so well.
Was Tarsem unlike any other filmmaker you’ve worked with?
Every filmmaker’s just a different animal. Working with Sofia Coppola is a lot different than working with Tarsem. I’ve been lucky enough in my career so far to work with some amazing directors, whether it’s Oliver Stone, Michael Mann, or Sofia Coppola, who I’d put right at the top. Tarsem’s a visual master, but I think he’s also really good with storytelling and I think the best asset that Tarsem has is that on a movie of this scale, you need a real captain to sail it. He has a great energy, and he’s really powerful, and he never stops. The guy just never, ever gets tired. He’s the king of multi-tasking, so that’s what you want with a movie like this. I think that’s probably why Relativity put him right onto the Snow White one, because he’s just got a talent for these kinds of movies, and hopefully they deliver. I enjoyed working with Tarsem. I, myself, prefer movies like Somewhere more. I prefer more character-driven movies.
The last time I spoke to you was for Somewhere, which you were obviously really excited about. How’s everything been going since then?
It’s been good. I wish we’d had some better traction in America on it. It was this huge movie overseas that won the Venice Film Festival, and we had this huge ride going in, and then in the end we weren’t really feeling it was supported the right way. It kind of got denied the award run and all that, but it got some incredible reviews. But for me, it’s been incredible. I’ve got great movies I’m making with great filmmakers. I’m in a much better place than I was, so that’s cool.
I noticed on your IMDB page that you have a lot of movies in various stages of development. Tell me about some of the ones you’re excited about.
I would never believe that site, because it’s always wrong. The movie I’m excited about is something I did called The Motel Life, which is something I did with Emile Hirsch and Dakota Fanning that’s just a really, really beautiful movie, and I think that will probably blast off next year, probably go to Sundance, Cannes and that will be my drama probably. Then I did this cool one called Boot Tracks with the filmmaker David Jacobson, who did Down in the Valley. It’s with Michelle Monaghan and Willem Dafoe, and kind of like a Badlands Southern love story, a kind of weird sexy thriller. Michelle was really cool. I produced this little movie called Break that IFC is going to put out theatrically next year, and we’re shooting a film, it’s kind of an ambitious movie that I produced and made in ten days that no one really knows about. It’s hard when you do something as strong as the films I’ve been doing, whether they’re Sofia’s or Motel Life. They don’t come around all the time, so it’s hard to go and make something you don’t like when you just had such a great experience. That’s my biggest challenge, is that there’s not that many great movies out there.
After you do something like Somewhere, you kind of need everything to be that good.
Yeah, I just want to keep that bar high, but there’s only a handful of those filmmakers, and they make movies once every three years, and if you don’t get in those movies you’re screwed. I pretty much read everything, even movies I wasn’t getting. I love to read everything so I know what’s out there, or at least know enough. I feel like I got one that’s definitely the best, so I feel like as long as every year I can grab one on that level, I’ll be happy.
Are you talking about Motel Life?
Yeah, that was Motel Life. It’s a beautiful script. It’s such a great movie, man. I don’t want to say anything because it’s early, but I think it’s pretty damn good. Emile is a great actor, and Dakota is so fantastic in the movie, and it’s got soul and it’s really original. I’m really excited about it. Now I’m reading bad zombie scripts.
Of course. They’re the new vampires.
I hope I find another good one, or I’ll start working at the Four Seasons making bloody marys or something.
Or at the Chateau Marmont.
Exactly, I can get a job there for sure. I’ve got some clout there now.
You’re one of the few actors that’s worked with both Fanning sisters. That’s pretty cool.
It’s funny when I go to the Chateau, and see these other actors. Sofia just got that movie so perfect. People do just sit out there and just drink beer, big actors, all day.
So you just see a bunch of Johnny Marcos running around the Chateau?
I don’t know if they have stripper poles like Johnny Marco. Yeah, I love that movie. I think that movie will hold up for many years to come. I want to make a movie again with Sofia one day. She’s starting a movie soon with kids, so I’m like, I can be a kid or play a grandpa.
What happened with Bucky Larson? People were really mean about that movie. Were you surprised by that?
Yeah, I don’t know man. I thought it was pretty fucking funny, and I think that Nick Swarsdon is a comedic genius. I think this studio really marketed it weird and the commercials were really dumb, I thought. I don’t know if they didn’t totally back Nick, but obviously critics are never going to like that movie because they shit on everything Sandler does, you know what I mean? But I would have thought that the movie would have done better than it did. But again, it came out on a weird weekend and that Contagion movie made 20 million dollars out of nowhere. Bucky bombed, Warrior bombed. All the cool movies bombed that weekend, but I think Bucky will be big on DVD, probably like Grandma’s Boy. The movie’s hysterical. Have you seen it?
No, but I interviewed before it came out, and he was so excited about it.
Yeah, I feel like they were trying to plug this Happy Madison thing more than the movie, and people were confused, man. Nobody knows who’s in this movie. It was kind of weird. I just didn’t think it was marketed right. But I think it will be big on DVD and in the end, it makes me laugh more than most comedians today because I just feel like he’s fearless and he commits. To be able to even just play the character he played in this movie and make you care about him is a hard thing to do, and he does it. There’s a sweetness to the Bucky character. It was a bummer. I was bummed for Nick, and also because it was kind of like my first comedy, and not too many people saw it. It’s a pretty classic character I play.
A porn star, right?
Oh yeah man, full on. Fucking hair extensions down to my back, a full on Grenada Hills porn legend. It was fun. It reminded me of an early Farrelly brothers movie, and I love those early movies. I love Something About Mary, I loved Kingpin. Kingpin bombed when it came out too, but it was a great movie.
Does it bum you out when a studio bungles a movie’s released because of some poor decisions?
You just don’t have any control. I’m kind of a nemesis in that film, so I just kind of support Nick. I wanted to be there because I like the movie. I like being in a comedy, which is so different from Somewhere. Sofia really encouraged me to do that, because she thought it would be kind of trippy. Then I went back in my zone in kind of a serious way for some of these other movies. Now I don’t know what I want to do.
How do you pass the time when you’re not working?
I don’t know. I’ve been busy because I have all this press, and it’s usually like one thing rolls into the next, but this is probably the longest break I’ve had. I’ve been off for a month now, so I’ve just been chillin in my house for the first time in a while, because I’ve been on the road. I’m a gypsy. I travel my whole life, so sometimes when it slows down, it’s good to take a breather.