Stephen Dorff has been a working actor since he was a pre-teen - and launched himself into features at 19 with The Power of One in 1992.
But while he was able to play a variety of characters early on (everything from John Lennon's best friend in Backbeat to a John Waters hero in Cecil B. Demented), Dorff has suffered certain career doldrums, mostly having to do with playing villains and acting in genre pieces.
So the chance to star in Sofia Coppola's Somewhere - as Johnny Marco, an actor going through an existential crisis - seems like the perfect opportunity to reboot his career. Which is what he said when we spoke on the phone shortly before Christmas 2010.
Q: You're involved in a long press day of interviews and phoners. How does that feel?
A: I'm feeling like Johnny a little. It's a busy day with a lot to do, a lot of phoners. It's all good. I love talking to people when I've got a movie I love.
Q: Does not that happen often? That you're in a movie you love?
A: Most of the time I love the movie I'm involved with. But this one is on another level. It's a challenge I've never had as an actor, a movie I'd never seen. It's a radical, beautiful, poignant movie. It's an intimate character portrait. It makes you feel like you're in a very invasive place. It was just incredibly challenging. It felt like making a studio movie but covertly. The essence of the process bleeds through the film from the way (writer-director Sofia Coppola) set this up.
Q: How has your career been like Johnny Marco's?
A: I identify with his isolation. As an actor, when you're making a movie, you're in the zone. You've got a lot of responsibility - and then everything stops. And a very strange thing happens. You wonder, Now what? You don't go to an office or have a normal rhythm to your life as an actor. It's like you're dating a girl and it ends - and then you pick it up again. Every actor who's seen this movie says, This is my life. Johnny Marco is a naïve guy who's been thrown into the mix. He's every broken guy who has everything but doesn't know who he is anymore. I always understand stories about really talent peopled who have a hole in their heart, who get lost along the way. That's where he's headed.
Q: How much of it was scripted and how much was improvised?
A: The script was very specific and a lot shorter than most scripts. Sofia doesn't spell everything out. I feel very privileged. She doesn't send it out to a million people. It's a specific template. I had to communicate all these things with two lines. It will say, "Johnny smokes a cigarette on a couch" and you're not aware as you're reading that it's going to be a five-minute shot. Some of the scenes were improvised. Like when I meet Benicio del Toro. Sofia had me living in (the Chateau Marmont, where the film is shot) because she knew I'd get into certain situations. Weird things happen. And I ran into Benicio and we started talking: "What room are you in?" "Yeah, I stayed in that room once." And it ended up being in the scene. By creating that organic atmosphere, she created the movie.