See the First Trailer for Laurie Collyer’s Powerful ‘Sunlight Jr.’

With an affinity and talent for the highlighting the grit and authenticity of the struggles of everyday people endure just existing and attempting to live their lives in the face of hardship, filmmaker Laurie Collyer’s Sunlight Jr.—which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last springis an incredibly brave and visceral film that examines the lives of a couple on the verge of poverty and the day-to-day strain of their life and love. And with a principle cast of Naomi Watts, Matt Dillion, and Norman Reedus, the film is elevated by their powerful performances, completely immersed in their characters. 

To be honest, Watts is always at her best when panicked and desolate and knows just how to convey a tremendous amount of anxious emotion without ever begging for our sympathy. In Sunlight Jr. she completely disappears into the role and thanks to Collyer’s direction, delivers one of her best performances in years. And with the film’s release coming up this November, there’s finally a trailer for Florida-set drama. Take a look below.
 

Gone Fishing: An Interview With the Legendary John Lurie

What first attracted me to John Lurie as an artist was a passionate sense of nonchalance. A contradiction, yes, but as a wildly talented man who focused on his varying artistic endeavors, he seemed to exude a sense of ease and agility, weaving his way between mediums while creating something idiosyncratic and bizarrely unique. Since the early 1970s, the prolific man of talents has become a cultural icon, transcending movements and finding new ways to reinvent himself as an artist. Starting out as the frontman for illustrious jazz band The Lounge Lizards, Lurie played a mean sax before pursuing acting, starring in some of Jim Jarmusch’s best films—Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law, among others. But it was the 1990s television show he conceived and directed which really catapulted him into a cult obsession: the strange, wonderful, and hilarious Fishing With John.

The concept of the show was simple: each episode, Lurie would take one of his pals to a certain locale around the world and fish. Just real men doing real things. Those pals also just happened to be Jim Jarmusch, Tom Waits, Willem Dafoe, Dennis Hopper, and Matt Dillon. From Maine, Jamacia, and Thailand, Lurie would travel with his guest of honor and set out to brave the elements, search new territory, and, of course, catch some fish. The result was a fantastic exploration of finding the comedy in the mundane—the pleasure of watching two men sit on a boat in the heat or freezing to death on a frozen lake heightened to the surreal, with a narrated voiceover that could double you over. Tom Waits gets cranky, Jim Jarmusch is bored, Willem Dafoe dies, Dennis Hopper is…well, Dennis Hopper, and naturally a bit of disaster ensues.

Fishing With John is currently streaming on Netflix, but has also been released by the Criterion Collection, and tonight, Lurie is headed to Nitehawk Cinema for the second time. After a screening and Q&A back in November, he will be returning to show three episodes of the Fishing With John, in addition to his 1979 film Men in Orbit and two of his short films . 

Personally, I had seen the series a while ago and loved it. But recently, my friend and I spent a Friday night sitting in my bed watching all six episodes, rediscovering just how enjoyable it truly is, and coming to the conclusion that I’d have to get the chance to talk with Lurie myself. Thankfully, he agreed to carry on an email interview with me to talk more about his early jazz days, the late-night inception of Fishing With John, and his more recent work as a highly acclaimed painter.

Can you tell me a little about the beginning of your career in the late ’70s and the beginnings of The Lounge Lizards? New York was obviously a very different place then; did that breed a certain kind of creative energy for you? You’ve always had a very idiosyncratic sound but how was the music scene for jazz at that time?
That is kind of a book of a first question. I came to New York as a saxophone player and was interested in the jazz scene. But the jazz scene was pretty thin. The musicians I admired could barely get gigs and were struggling to make ends meet. I was shocked actually because they were heroes of mine and I thought of them as stars. But what was happening around that time and was very alive; it was a scene that bubbled out of the punk movement. Everything was wild and irreverent. I had come from London when things like the Sex Pistols were happening but found it kind of silly—not the Sex Pistols, but the attitude, the nihilism and the spitting. Everyone was doing things they didn’t know how to do. And through Eric Mitchell, I started making Super 8 movies. I almost had to hide the fact that I made sure to practice the saxophone every day because that was sneered at. And I most certainly did not think of anything in terms of a career at that time.

And how did you meet Jim Jarmusch and begin working together—as an actor and musician.
I met Jim on Eric Mitchell’s movie Red Italy. He was the bar tender and I danced around like a freak. He was a film student which made us all go, ick.  Being a film student to that crowd was like being an accountant, not cool at all. And if my accountant reads this, I don’t mean you PJ. Although PJ did once show me the music on his playlist and I said, See, there are no accountants with taste. He didn’t smile. But the first thing I did with Jim was play the saxophone on the street in Permanent Vacation. I gave him some music for that.

Jumping forward a decade, where did the idea for Fishing With John come from? What did you want the show to be exactly? Did you know who you wanted to bring along as guests on the episodes?
The idea came from coming home late one night, or I guess morning really, and the only thing on any channel was a fishing show. And I thought, I want to do this. I had always had this thing since I was a kid where I would watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with Marlon Perkins and he would always be telling you what the animals were thinking, and I just always wanted to do my own show where I would tell you what the animals were thinking. So I was talking about it, more like a joke, a threat—I am going to make a fishing show. And then it sort of fell into place. 

Were there certain places you knew you wanted to travel or were they specific to each guest?
It wasn’t so thought out who I would go with or where. Tom and Jim seemed obvious. Long Island was the first one, the pilot, and was the closest, cheapest thing to do. Dennis wanted to go to Thailand. Willem decided on the ice fishing in Maine, I thought he was nuts.

Ice fishing with Willem definitely seemed the most dangerous but that one is so good. Were you nervous about going into it?
No, that wasn’t really dangerous. It wasn’t even unpleasant actually; that cold is so intense that it is kind of exciting. There is a thing that’s in the show where I get water in my glove and my hand is numb in seconds. I was actually in a bit of trouble then, but that was kind of it. There was a thing with the camera mounts on the snowmobiles, where the mount broke and the camera went flying into the air, then one of us ran over it. The sound is still going, but there’s no picture and you can hear the guy who installed the mounts screaming over the black screen, "Am I fucked now! I am so fucked now!"

And what Dennis, did you know him before going to Thailand? 
I met Dennis in Tokyo. We were doing this thing for Commes Des Garcon. We hit it off immediately. But I didn’t think he would actually do it. It was kind of amazed that he did.

 

So going into each epsiode, did you have an idea of how it would go or was it pretty much on the fly?
It was mostly on the fly. And a lot was decided in the editing room.

How did you find Rob Webb to do the voice-over? How scripted was his narration? It’s pretty perfect.
Of course it is scripted. I worked hard writing that, you think he just made it up on the spot? Damn.

No, no I didn’t think he made it up on the spot at all. Maybe I was thinking more along the lines of how you went about writing that narration because it really does make the show so entertaining. Did you anticipate the show gaining the cult following that’s gathered over the last decade?
I don’t know what I anticipated. I didn’t really think about it.

Did you run into any major sort of disasters or problems while shooting? 
It was kind of all disasters really.

Was it difficult transitioning into the art world as someone who was known for your music and film work?
Music was by far the most important thing to me, and then because I got so sick I couldn’t play anymore. I couldn’t even listen to music any more. Wasn’t really a career transition. I was stuck in my home for years and I made them, I don’t know why.

What are you drawn to as a painter or what inspires you?
I have no idea what inspires me to paint, or even why I do it at all. I think I would probably do them even if I knew no one would ever see them—meaning, if not even another human were to ever see them. There is something that compels me to do it. And I feel cleaner when I do it.

I imagine painting is a lot like creating music in that it’s about intuition and requires a spontaneity but also the structure and skill there to back that up. Do those two interests—music and painting— play off each other?
I never imagined that painting would be as real as the music was. But it is now. The best music I wrote and the best music I played, it was almost like John wasn’t there at all. The best paintings are like that now.

Something I love about a lot of your paintings is how alive they feel, in that, between the colors and the figures and the amalgamation of all the elements, you’re getting a lot of feeling from somewhere that feels very psychological. When you’re creating, is it sort of a subconscious effort?
I often invent techniques as I go. I usually have a few paintings going at once. Sometimes if I haven’t worked on one in a while and start working on it again—let’s say I was doing the side of a building by using oil pastels and graphite, but now I don’t remember exactly how I was doing it—I go, how the fuck did I do that? I think I remember, and then start but it doesn’t look right at all.

You have some pretty great titles to your paintings—I especially love ones like "the skeleton in my closet has moved back to the garden" and "there is a caveman in my apartment examining the fur. i wish he would leave." How do you go about naming a piece?
Man, I am baffled by questions like that.

Below are a few of John’s paintings but to see more check out his site or follow him on Twitter.

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Invention of animals

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Give up. Americans have the right to bear arms

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Birds of hideous divine

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You have the right to the pursuit of happiness. Good luck with that

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Panther outside of house as photogrpahed by Abraham Zapruder

Tribeca Film Festival Announces Half Its Narrative Feature Slate

The 2013 Tribeca Film Festival is but a month away and we’re already starting to gear up for what amazing new features, from across the globe, are in store for us. And today, the good people over at Tribeca announced the first installment of their slate for World Narrative and Documentary Competition Films, as well as their out-of-competition Viewpoints section.

Taking place from April 17th to the 28th, the festival will feature 89 films for the official program, selected from 6005 submissions. Frederic Boyer, Artistic Director Tribeca Film Festival says, "Our competition selections embody the quality and diversity of contemporary cinema from across the globe…The cinematic proficiency that harnesses this lineup is remarkable and we’re looking forward to sharing these new perspectives, powerful performances, and multifaceted stories."

This year, half of the productions are American and half are from all around the world, a testament to Tribeca’s desire to illustrate the universal power of film. Genna Terranova, Director of Programming, went on to say that, "The films in this year’s documentary competition deliver tremendous insight into the challenges of our ever-growing global culture as well as highlight how individuals affect and react to change.  With varying styles of filmmaking, this mix of American and international voices are pointed and thought-provoking."

Check out the Narrative Features below and head HERE for the Documentary and Viewpoints slate.

Alì Blue Eyes (Alì ha gli occhi azzurri)
Directed by Claudio Giovannesi, written by Filippo Gravino and Giovannesi.
(Italy) – International Premiere.
Claudio Giovannesi’s award-winning second dramatic feature captures one week in the life of sixteen-year-old troublemaker Nader, who, despite his mother’s threats and family’s insistence that he respect his Muslim roots, fights, steals and pursues an Italian girlfriend. A stunning example of contemporary Italian neo-realism, Alì Blue Eyes is an engrossing coming-of-age story about an immigrant who will stop at nothing to fit in. In Italian with subtitles.

Before Snowfall (Før snøen faller)
Directed by Hisham Zaman, written by Kjell Ola Dahl and Zaman.
(Norway, Germany, Iraqi Kurdistan Region) – International Premiere.
Director Hisham Zaman brings the moral crisis of honor killing front and center in this dazzling, international drama. When his older sister Nermin flees an arranged marriage, Siyar must atone for the slight. He tracks her from Kurdistan to Istanbul, where a fateful encounter with a street girl creates cracks in his resolve. Then Nermin escapes into Europe, and Siyar must continue a search that will forever change his notions of loyalty, dignity, honor and love. In Kurdish with subtitles.

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Bluebird
Directed and written by Lance Edmands.
(USA)  – World Premiere.
On a freezing January evening, school bus driver Lesley (Amy Morton) completes her route, but her final inspection abruptly ends when a bluebird comes into view. What happens next shakes her small Maine logging town, proving that even the slightest actions have enormous consequences. Co-starring Adam Driver, Margo Martindale, John Slattery, Louisa Krause and Emily Meade, Lance Edmands’s absorbing feature debut is a perfect encapsulation of the interconnectedness of life.

The Broken Circle Breakdown
Directed by Felix van Groeningen, written by Carl Joos and van Groeningen.
(Belgium, Netherlands) – North American Premiere.
Elise runs a tattoo shop. Didier plays in a bluegrass band. When their daughter Maybelle is born, their happiness is complete, until a tangle of complications forces these two very different lovers to fight to save their marriage. Belgian director Felix van Groeningen follows his acclaimed Cannes entry The Misfortunates with this powerhouse melodrama of star-crossed lovers laced with emotional bluegrass performances. In Dutch with subtitles.

Hide Your Smiling Faces
Directed and written by Daniel Patrick Carbone
(USA) – North American Premiere. During a hot summer in rural America, brothers Tommy (Ryan Jones) and Eric (Nathan Varnson) are confronted with devastation as death forces its way into their young lives. This stunning debut feature explores the nature of the relationship between boys, as both violence and support is encapsulated in quiet storytelling and breathtaking photography. With incredibly sensitive performances by its two leads, Hide Your Smiling Faces packs a subtle but powerful punch.

Just a Sigh (Le temps de l’aventure)
Directed and written by Jérôme Bonnell.
(France) – International Premiere.
In the short break between performances in Calais, stage actress Alix (the stunning Emmanuelle Devos) makes a quick escape to Paris. On the train she meets a mysterious English stranger (Gabriel Byrne) and, for the most fleeting of afternoons, imagines what the future could hold down a different road. With masterful performances by its two acclaimed stars, Just a Sigh is an imaginative, lushly filmed Parisian romance from young and versatile director Jérôme Bonnell. In English, French with subtitles.

Lily
Directed by Matt Creed, written by Amy Grantham and Creed.
(USA) – World Premiere.
Nearing the end of her treatment for breast cancer, Lily focuses on life with newfound clarity, reevaluating her relationship with an older man and her feelings about her long-absent father. In wandering through atmospheric New York City streets and lingering in intimate, charged moments with Lily during this vulnerable period, first-time director Matt Creed and actress Amy Grantham create a mature, stylish character piece reminiscent of classic French New Wave.

The Rocket
Directed and written by Kim Mordaunt.
(Australia) – North American Premiere.
Set against the lush backdrop of rural Laos, this spirited drama tells the story of scrappy ten-year-old Ahlo, who yearns to break free from his ill-fated destiny. After his village is displaced to make way for a massive dam, Ahlo escapes with his father and grandmother through the Laotian outback in search of a new home. Along the way, they come across a rocket festival that offers Ahlo a lucrative but dangerous chance to prove his worth. In Lao with subtitles.

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Six Acts (Shesh Peamim)
Directed by Jonathan Gurfinkel, written by Rona Segal.
(Israel) – North American Premiere.
Naïve teen Gili is determined to improve her social status by hooking up with her new school’s coolest guy. Afterwards, he passes her off to his friend. Happy at first for the attention, Gili soon finds her situation deteriorating, as this average girl is increasingly consumed by a culture of oversexed teenhood. Director Jonathan Gurfinkel questions conventional ideas of consent, exploitation and complicity in this edgy and perceptive feature debut. In Hebrew with subtitles.

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Directed by Sam Fleischner, written by Rose Lichter-Marck and Micah Bloomber.
(USA) – World Premiere.
When autistic teen Ricky is scolded for skipping class, he escapes into the subway for a days-long odyssey among the subway’s disparate denizens. Meanwhile, his mother wages an escalating search effort above ground. Based on a true story and set in Far Rockaway, Queens, in the days leading up to Hurricane Sandy, these parallel stories of mother and son take the viewer on a touching journey of community and connection in and below New York City.

Sunlight Jr.
Directed and written by Laurie Collyer.
(USA)  – World Premiere. Quickie-mart employee Melissa (Naomi Watts) and paraplegic Richie (Matt Dillon) are very much in love. Supported only by Melissa’s small hourly wage, they are nevertheless thrilled to learn that Melissa is pregnant. Then their situation deteriorates, and their tenuous financial situation threatens to bring their happy life crashing down. Norman Reedus also stars in this a moving romantic drama from Laurie Collyer, director of the Golden Globe-nominated Sherrybaby.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?,
Directed and written by Arvin Chen.
(Taiwan R.O.C.) – North American Premiere.
Straitlaced optometrist Weichung is finding the typical married life difficult. Then he bumps into an old flame, setting off an unexpected array of dormant emotions. Meanwhile, his sister Mandy flees her sad sack fiancé, coping via food and the fantastical appearance of a daytime soaps star on her couch. Arvin Chen’s sophomore feature is a fresh and playful comedy about the odd realities of desire in a traditional society and what happens when you seek a big change. In Korean, Mandarin with subtitles.

Matt Dillon is On the Money in ‘Armored’

Who wants to be a millionaire? Matt Dillon’s character Mike Cochrane does, as well as the rest of his crew of thieves, in the new movie Armored. The Oscar-nominated actor plays the leader of a group of professional armored truck drivers in the Nimrod Antal-directed film. Newbie to the group Ty Hackett (Columbus Short) gets hired to join the armored car team, but he’s soon hit with some major financial woes that include losing his home. Cochrane convinces him to join forces with the others to rip off an upcoming load of $42 million. Hackett agrees with one provision: nobody gets hurt. When someone gets shot, Hackett becomes a born-again good citizen and sends the perfect heist into a tailspin. Dillon took us inside the ultimate inside job.

Tell me what attracted you to doing Armored. I enjoyed a film that Nimrod Antal did called Kontroll. We met and I really liked him. I think Nimrod is a real talent. We talked about working together and that’s how Armored came about. Then, I read the script and I liked it.

What did you find to be most interesting about the script? I think one of the things that I liked most about it was the relationship between my character and Ty. They have this bond because Ty’s father is my mentor and I have become a mentor to him. Ty’s struggling and in danger of losing his home. It becomes clear at a certain point that my character is sort of manipulating Ty. I like manipulative characters.

Your character, Cochrane, is a pretty complex guy. When we meet Cochrane at the beginning of the film, he seems like a by-the-book kind of leader. He’s a solid, reliable guy who has a code. He’s also charming and cares about Ty. Then we realize that Cochrane’s a manipulator. He’s a guy who is determined to get things done, and he does whatever it takes to get them done. He’s absolutely ruthless. Now, these are things that are already in him from the beginning. But I think those feelings he has at the beginning for Ty are real. I think he does like this kid and doesn’t want him to lose his home. On the other hand, Cochrane feels betrayed by Ty when things go wrong. Ty wants out and locks himself in the armored truck with half the money and won’t get out. My character feels betrayed by that. How could he do this to me? I liked the fact that my character had a lot of layers.

What was the most important thing that you wanted to convey on-screen in this film? I think the most important thing for me was that we really needed to give the audience a sense of what the bond was between this group of guys. The camaraderie had to be real. And since this ensemble was really a good group of team players, we all connected.

What did you find to be the most difficult part of making this movie? I think that the most challenging part was making sure everything was real and honest. Because it’s a heightened reality, you have to make sure that it’s truthful. Some of the scenes where I had to rope Ty into the scam were challenging. I felt good about them. One of the biggest problems with scripts that I read is that the protagonist is made passive. That’s because it’s easy to take the protagonist and just have him be a witness to the events as opposed to being somebody who is actually the catalyst to the events that are happening in the story. There’s a big difference.

The last time you worked with Laurence Fishburne was 26 years ago on Rumble Fish. How was it to team up with him again? It was great to work with Laurence. He’s a terrific guy and a real actor’s actor, with natural leadership skills. Laurence is an asset to any movie because he brings so much heart to whatever he does.

You have worked with a lot of top directors during your career. What was it like working with Nimrod Antal? Nimrod has great taste and I trusted his instincts. If he said he got it, I believed him. I can’t say that I’ve always felt that way with every director I’ve worked with, but with him I did. He’s a talented guy who drives home the importance of being prepared. When I directed, I did a tiny bit of storyboarding. Nimrod storyboarded the whole movie out, and I loved what he came up with. He’s passionate and really gets into what he’s doing.

You directed City of Ghosts in 2002. Do you have any plans to get behind the camera again? Yeah, directing was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. I love working with actors, and it’s a very fulfilling job. I’m working on a couple of things, but it takes what it takes to get it ready. It’s not that hard to get a screenplay finished, but it’s another thing to get it made. So you have to get it right before you send it out there.

You’re a longtime New Yorker. What is there about New York City that inspires you as an artist? I think it’s the diversity of New York. The entire world seems to pass through New York at some point. I feel more motivated and I absorb more by living in New York.

With the current economic crisis, do you think this movie might give armored truck drivers some ideas? [Laughing] When we were in pre-production, Nimrod showed me a newspaper article about a recent armored car heist. The ringleader’s last name was Dillon, which I thought was funny. I think most of the jobs that go on are inside jobs. I have known two people that have been involved in armored car heists. Both were inside jobs, and they both went to jail for it. I don’t know the specifics of it, but this stuff does happen.

Nightswimming: Brief Encounters with Famous Men (& Women)

imageI love a good brief encounter. Just the other night, I ran into downtown sensation Justin Bond on First Avenue. He looked radiant, and raring to go for a night out. I was on my way to see The Wrestler. (He hadn’t seen it, but his cute friends said they liked the trailer.) “Well, I’m going to see people,” Justin said in his uncanny delivery, and he and his two pals were off to the Metropolitan Bar. Not a minute later, while en route to Sunshine Cinemas, I stopped into my local coffee shop for a surprisingly delicious vegan red velvet cupcake, and in walks BlackBook’s Icons issue cover star Matt Dillon. I was happy to hear that our story elicited such “great feedback — I got so many emails and calls about it.” He had seen The Wrestler and gave it serious praise.

I understood why a little while later: Mickey Rourke’s career-resuscitating performance had as much heart and soul as anything I’d seen recently. It was Rourke’s film, but the supporting cast held me in thrall as well: Marisa Tomei has never been so convincing, and Evan Rachel Wood? She wasn’t on screen for long, but the brief encounter left a lasting impression. Her raw strength and vulnerability packed a wallop nearly as big as her on-screen errant father’s crushing belly-flops onto his opponents. It reminded me of another memory-searing character part in theaters now: Viola Davis in Doubt. She stole the movie in under ten minutes. Fellow Doubt cast member Amy Adams raved about Davis’ awe-inspiring performance when BlackBook caught up with her recently, summing it up in two brief words: “My god!”
Brief Encounter Tickets Mcguire Proscenium Stage Guthrie Theater Tickets Minneapolis Tickets

Bar Pitti: Matt Dillon’s Favorite Restaurant

imageSo where does the King of Cool prefer to dine when in New York? Matt Dillon prefers Greenwich Village’s Bar Pitti. But forget about the al fresco dining in summertime beloved by other Pitti fans; paparazzi attention makes it impossible for Dillon, so he’s looking forward to fall and the requisite retreat to the more private indoor tables. May we recommend the penne arabiata?

Matt Dillon on the Cover of BlackBook

imageNovember is the “Icons” issue of BlackBook, and Matt Dillon takes the cover with ease. The mag hits newsstands today; inside we also profile Karl Lagerfeld, Perry Farrell, John Varvatos, Stella McCartney, and Philippe Starck, among others. Get it in print, and watch this space for highlights and exclusive extras. And take a gander at our complete cover gallery while you’re here.

Matt Dillon: Tough Guy

He sits alone, slouching on the phone at an outdoor table at the Maritime Hotel, in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. All grown up now, a little scruffy around the edges. Not in a bad way, just not trying to look perfect, wearing the kind of canvas jacket and jeans you might see on a handyman-style hipster.

Matt Dillon has been a movie star since 1979, when a film director spotted the 14-year-old, black Irish altar boy from New Rochelle cutting class one day, and promptly cast him in the anarchy-in-suburbia, teen angst drama Over the Edge.

For young girls, Dillon’s low, slow, gravelly voice suggested he definitely knew his way around a game of spin-the-bottle; it didn’t hurt that his bone structure was as pretty as Ali McGraw’s. Next, perhaps inevitably, came Little Darlings, the seminal teen devirginization film, where Dillon played the agent of Kristy McNichol’s deflowering.

So began Dillon’s iconic reign as the tarnished crown prince of early ’80s, troubled teen films. He filled a gap in the brotherhood of leather jacket rebels somewhere between Fonzie (too light) and James Dean (too dark). It’s not that his characters weren’t brainy; it’s more that brains weren’t the point of them—they required feral instincts. His boys weren’t bad, per se—just sort of not conscious enough—street toughies with surplus animal magnetism who were too uncivilized to know they were a little too slick. His characters had no sudden blasts of realization that profoundly redeemed them; they were barely redeemable.

Matt Dillon fans post montages of his glamour stills on YouTube, enshrining the boy in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. Girls just can’t seem to forget that skinny white cobra spine curving up from his hips, that torso that always looked a little too long for his pants. Even in those hard-boiled, gutter-boy roles, one could recognize the humanity in Dillon, in the one condition he has always delivered especially well: bewilderment while confronting uncontrollable circumstances. Weary awe in the face of his plight as a small cog in an unknowably large machine. Parenthetical arches crease his forehead. His eyebrows, thick bars as straight as black Band-Aids, form an inverted V over quizzical round eyes, still and reflective as cold coffee. A cigarette dangles out of his wide Kool-Aid lips. White shoulders shrug the straps of a wife-beater. It’s a face that registers the ultimate human question: What’s a guy supposed to do?

After the luckless pretty-boy roles came a spate of comedies, in which Dillon, an unlikely candidate for such fare, proved to be surprisingly capable. Then came 2005’s Crash, the most unexpected turn of all, for which he earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a racist cop, signaling a new phase in the evolution of Matt Dillon’s screen persona: the serious heavy.

In this mode, Dillon has three films on the near horizon, including Armored, a heist movie with Jean Reno and Laurence Fishburne, and December’s Nothing But the Truth—a drama inspired by Judith Miller’s role in the Valerie Plame Wilson case—costarring Kate Beckinsale. The latter film, he says, focuses primarily on the First Amendment, and a journalist’s right to protect sources. Dillon plays a character loosely based on the lawyer Patrick Fitzgerald. “I think the script was written maybe before all the facts came out,” he said, of the Plame case. “It’s a different take on the thing.”

For a gal of my generation, interviewing Matt Dillon is more or less the equivalent of your average Joe journalist trying to responsibly interview Pamela Anderson. He’s a guy whose teenage body I’ve seen topless on bedroom walls a thousand times. Meeting him also carries with it the fear of too many potholes, too many ways to project one-way intimacies and unprofessionally flirty vibrations.

And so, I ask him, Were you smoking when you were first discovered for Over the Edge? “No,” he replies. “Back then we used to smoke in the girls’ bathroom.” You were a badass? “I thought so. At 14, I thought I knew everything.”

From the looks of it, he kind of did know everything. For instance, that scene where he meets Kristy McNichol in Little Darlings was so sophisticated. Their chemistry looks so adult. It’s so frankly sexy. One can’t imagine that movie going over at all, today—everyone would be arrested. “Oh, watch The Bad News Bears,” he agrees. “It is so politically incorrect, you cannot even believe. It could never be made now. Walter Matthau driving drunk, the kids drinking beer, smoking cigarettes. Using racial slurs.”

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Dillon, a sex object at such a young age, says today that he doesn’t feel exploited by the outpouring of glossy photos back in the day showing him in a variety of All-American shirtless hunk poses. “It was an outlet to promote the films,” he recalls. “I probably wouldn’t have done that today. I didn’t think of it as a big deal. I never liked that stuff. I guess I did a fair amount of it… It was part of the journey. It was fairly innocent.” Such was his preeminence as a Tiger Beat heartthrob that teenage girls screamed, Beatles-stepping-off-a-plane-style, at the sight of him.

“Yeah, I got chased down the street in Tokyo,” he recalls. “I remember being so drunk. I was 15 years old in a bar. They had hostesses who would pour your drink for you, and put their hand on your knee—pretty innocent stuff. People were getting up, singing karaoke. I sang ‘On the Road Again’ with some people. And then… it’s almost like, did I do that? Did I pick up the hostess, run up the stairs and run down the street in the Ginza area of Tokyo? It was crazy. If a 15-year-old actor today was doing a press tour, it would be frowned upon if he was drinking whiskey and getting hammered in a karaoke bar and running down the street carrying a hostess. In those days, people could have fun.”

Watching the nuances of his acting in films back then, it’s clear that the young Dillon used different muscles to interpret his character, most notably those in the eyebrows and tongue. “You did a lot of tongue acting,” I tell him. “I don’t know what that means!” he protests.

But he ought to know. The tongue figures heavily in a lot of earlier Dillon close-ups, up to and including Drugstore Cowboy. It is especially evident in a scene from Little Darlings. The camera lingers an extra beat while Dillon’s tongue unconsciously rolls around in his mouth in a subtle wolf pant. Even now, the scene is so jam-packed with innuendo, it’s amazing that it didn’t lead to the reinstatement of the Hays Act.

Dillon’s shift to comedy in 1998 may have initially confused his fan base. Suddenly, the greasy lover-boy sported a mustache across his upper lip, coming across like a slightly more mookish version of Dan Ackroyd or John Cleese. Not exactly the straight man, but not exactly the screamingly funny guy either in There’s Something About Mary and You, Me and Dupree, Dillon built nuanced characters who entertained precisely because they weren’t overtly milking the audience for laughs. Were these performances fully appreciated? Could anyone really notice refined artistry in “dick-in-the-zipper” comedies? I wondered if Hollywood, and moviegoers in general, were confounded by Dillon’s switch.

“There are a lot of people out there who don’t go to movies that often, and they catch a comedy and they think of me as being ‘that guy,’ ” Dillon says. “Certain people latch onto certain roles. There are guys who grew up in New York in the early 1960s, who latch onto that Flamingo Kid, car-parking, cabana-boy thing. There are recovering drug addicts who focus on Drugstore Cowboy.”

If I had to explain Matt Dillon to aliens and had to do it in one video clip, I tell him, it would probably be Rusty James from Rumble Fish. “You would explain me as that?” he counters. “I was still developing. I mean, I was 18 when I did that. Naturally, I’d pick the movie that I wrote and directed [City of Ghosts, 2002]. That was a truer expression of what I was doing at the time. Let me ask you something. What have you seen of my recent stuff? You know what the worst thing you can tell an author is? ‘I loved your first book!’ ” “But I’m writing about you as an icon,” I say. “I’m thinking about your whole body of work.”

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He’s not having it. “If you look at the lineage of my movies, I would connect Over the Edge to the two Coppola movies (The Outsiders, Rumble Fish), to Drugstore Cowboy to City of Ghosts.” Of all the things underappreciated about Matt Dillon, City of Ghosts perhaps best captures the man’s taste, work ethic and creative powers. A six-year labor of love, the film, co-written and directed by Dillon, was shot primarily in Phnom Penh in 2002 and studies the karmic payback of an insurance salesman gone bad. But that’s not the only project that Dillon is proud of, and it’s not the only one that shows his mastery of challenging material. “I did a film with Danny Glover,” he says, “called The Saint of Fort Washington where I played a homeless schizophrenic. Did you see that?”

“I’m sorry!” I say sheepishly. This makes Dillon flail with gestures of mock desperation. “You did all this research on the Internet,” he says, “but you didn’t see any of my movies! Please… catch up!”

There are far less pleasurable ways to spend one’s time. A close look at Dillon’s resume reveals that he is an actor who is comfortable taking risks, including a couple of haphazard, improvisational projects like an episode of Fishing with John [Lurie], in which an unregistered prop-plane deposits Messrs. Dillon and Lurie into a remote jungle outpost of Costa Rica to learn a native “fish dance.”

Another of Dillon’s favorite below-the-radar performances is his ode to Charles Bukowski’s alter ego, Henry Chinaski, in Factotum. “It was risky,” he says of the 2005 drama. “I had to do a scene where I have the crabs, and Lili Taylor puts this sumo diaper on me and I’m walking around… I never thought I’d do that.”

As for his Oscar-nominated turn in Crash, Dillon is disarmingly humble. “I didn’t know how it was going to play out,” he says. “I’d tell my friends, ‘Yeah I’m doing this movie where I play the racist cop.’ ” The role did more than work out for him; it was a pleasant surprise for critics that his craft had matured to such a high degree. Dillon finally got the respect he craved as a teen, as an actor who could really deliver gravitas. I ask Dillon if he thinks of himself more as a character actor these days, giving him an opening to discuss actor craft. It’s a suggestion that he sidesteps as quickly as if it had been on fire. But here’s a generous thing about Matt Dillon: Even if you ask him something he’s already said he doesn’t want to talk about, he’ll sigh, think about it and try to give you a genuine answer.

“I didn’t used to know how to do melodrama,” he says. “I didn’t have enough confidence in my technique when I was younger. I had a hard time acting in scenes where I didn’t necessarily believe what was going on. I had to believe everything the character was doing all the time, or I couldn’t bring conviction to it. Now, I feel confident that I can do that. Gene Hackman gave me the best acting tip. He said, ‘Before you do a scene: Fill up!’ Two words. I totally understood! It’s just about being conscious in an emotional way.”

Dillon seems happy to change the subject from acting to a recent concern for the situation in post-cyclone Burma. Inspired by the life and recent passing of his friend (a Kenyan activist who inspired the Rachel Weisz character, Tessa Quayle, in The Constant Gardener), Dillon recently joined the board of Refugees International, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C., to educate himself and raise global awareness about the catastrophe.

“There was a major humanitarian crisis in Burma prior to the cyclone,” he says. “Tens of thousands of kids died of preventable diseases there every year before the cyclone. They were suffering from malnutrition. Refugees International is something I’m doing more on a personal level to get involved, to look outside my minuscule universe. Actors, we get so self-obsessed. We are human ‘beings,’ not human ‘doings.’ There are other things—it’s not just about my career. There are a lot of great stories in Burma, a lot of great stories in the world. I’m still not sure what I can do that can be ‘dutiful.’ A friend of mine in Burma said he wanted to be ‘useful.’ He had been raising money from friends in the West, using the money to buy supplies and then ferrying these goods down to people in the delta. He was burned out from it! He was tired! But he was doing humanitarian work. He wanted to be ‘dutiful.’ If we’re no longer useful, then what the hell are we doing here? If I’m not useful in some way to somebody… That’s the beauty of the Buddhist culture. My friend said if you take the phrase “I want peace” and take away the “I” and the “want”… that’s Buddhism.”

In this spirit, I thanked him for the interview. “Hope I was dutiful,” he said. We shook hands, and he went off into the New York night.

I went home and watched Factotum. It is, in fact, a great, underrated little poem of a movie. The script is beautifully patient, tender—and non-obviously hilarious. The nuances that were somewhat wasted in Dillon’s work with the Farrelly Brothers were well used in the character of Henry Chinaski.

In Barfly, Mickey Rourke’s Chinaski was a ham-fisted, baloney-faced antihero—an accident of fine artistic feelings, crudely wrapped in a drunken buffoon. Dillon took a harder road. He used no bluster, and went for big, quiet ironies. He transmits a powerfully stoic acceptance of life on its grisliest terms, and finds a kind of masochistic royalty and delight in the wretched beauty of the human condition. Factotum is the synthesis of two diametrically opposed Matt Dillons: the rough-edged, asphalt lover boy, and the flawed, unglamorous grown-up, who has nonetheless gained a certain refined humility through hard hits, achieving a kind of monkish glory in his devotion to art.

Matt Dillon is likeable, if a little guarded. He tells you, “I’m guarded” and crosses his arms over himself. Then he tries, with admirable humanity, to un-guard himself for you. The adult Matt Dillon is a Matt Dillon who seems to have traded vanity in for something more useful: a color-palette of nuances and delicately tuned emotional truths. You don’t have to be an actor or a Buddhist to notice that Matt Dillon has impressive interior design—he’s done a dutiful job of his own character construction.

Not that he couldn’t still be vain if he felt like it. He still has movie-star good looks. He just prefers to wear the beauty inside out these days. He’s filled up now, and looks better than ever.

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Photography by Ben Watts, styling by Elizabeth Sulcer.