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In Depth

People In Film | Stephen Dorff

Stephen Dorff | Somewhere Boy

In Somewhere, Stephen Dorff plays Johnny Marco, a movie star who is living at the Chateau Marmont hotel with his 11-year-old daughter Cleo, played by Elle Fanning. Dorff himself knows something about growing up close to the entertainment industry: his father is songwriter and music producer Steve Dorff, the man who wrote the theme song to the Clint Eastwood movie Every Which Way But Loose, and Dorff has childhood memories of being around Eastwood, and legendary singers Ray Charles and Johnny Cash. And getting a sniff of the grease paint inevitably drew Dorff to become part of the showbiz world himself. During his teenage years, he began appearing in TV shows (The New Leave It To Beaver, Diff’rent Strokes) and then gained traction from his performances in the sci-fi feature The Gates (1987), his big screen debut, and TV movies like Mutts and Hiroshima Maiden (both 1988).

Stephen Dorff | Breaking Through

Dorff became a breakthrough star in the early 1990s due to his roles in the South Africa-set coming of age film The Power of One (1992), opposite acting heavyweights Morgan Freeman and Sir John Gielgud, and Backbeat (1994), in which he played Stuart Sutcliffe, the “fifth Beatle.” Dorff’s compelling performances and striking good looks won him acclaim from critics and heartthrob status from audiences, however – as he told Owen Wilson for Interview magazine – he was almost too convincing in those roles. “First I was doing English–South African [in The Power of One],” says Dorff, “and then I used the same dialect coach to do Backbeat, which was a Liverpudlian accent. That one was hard. I remember I once had a meeting with Sydney Pollack and the playwright Tom Stoppard, and they thought I was English. I said, ‘I’m just from the Valley!’”

Stephen Dorff | Working with the Best

Throughout the 1990s, Dorff showed that he was just as interested in being in smaller independent films that would challenge him as an actor as he was in solidifying his status as a movie star. He appeared in the darkly comic indie S.F.W. (which stands for “So Fucking What”) opposite a very young Reese Witherspoon in 1994, two years later played transgender actress Candy Darling in Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol, and then the crazy eponymous film director in John Waters’ 2000 film Cecil B. Demented. “I really made a conscious decision after The Power of One, that I wasn’t really in it for the money,” Dorff told Interview. “I wanted to build up a good filmography. I wanted to get a chance to work with the best, and that would help me and make me better. So I was always conscious about like, who’s in the movie? I would almost ask that even before reading the script: ‘Is Jack in it?’” (The Jack in question, of course, is Jack Nicholson, who Dorff got to work with in Bob Rafelson’s 1996 Blood and Wine.)

Stephen Dorff | Action Hero

In The Power of One – which was directed by Rocky helmer John G. Avildsen – Dorff played a talented young boxer growing up Apartheid-era South Africa. He brought a real physicality to his performance, and that particular talent marked him out as an ideal casting choice in action movies. As a result, he went through rough neighborhoods with Emilio Estevez and Cuba Gooding Jr. in the urban thriller Judgment Night, traversed the galaxy with Dennis Hopper in the sci-fi adventure Space Truckers, robbed banks with Harvey Keitel and Timothy Hutton in City of Industry, fought drugs gangs on the streets of Brooklyn with James Franco in Deuces Wild, and survived a brutal prison regime with Val Kilmer in Felon. Ironically, the action role that Dorff is possibly best known for is not a hero but a baddie: Deacon Frost, the vampire villain in Blade and Blade 2, who is pitted against Wesley Snipes’ good-hearted neck-biting hero.

Stephen Dorff | Comeback Kid

Despite being seen by some as an action specialist, Dorff was the perfect casting choice for writer-director Sofia Coppola in Somewhere. “He has a real sweetness that is a contrast to his kind of macho image, but he’s actually a really sincere sweet guy, and I thought with a story with a kid it was important to have someone that had a lot of heart that would come through,” Somewhere’s writer-director Sofia Coppola told indieWIRE’s Anne Thompson. “I think directors all regard him as a really talented actor,” Coppola continues. “I remember there was that initial excitement …but I always thought he was a good actor.” Dorff’s move back to Hollywood prestige movies began with roles in Oliver Stone’s 2006 World Trade Center and Michael Mann’s 2009 Public Enemies, while ahead are also Tarsem Singh’s Immortals, and Black Water Transit for American History X  director Tony Kaye. “In the last few years, there's all these movies coming out and working with so many of these great directors,” Dorff told interviewer Greg Hernandez. “In the beginning, I did all these great movies then did a few I shouldn't have done. …If you stay true and work with great directors, that's all I can hope for. Right now, I feel the most solid and my work is the best it's ever been. I feel fortunate.”

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