AN IMMODEST PROPOSAL: Stephen Dorff is the finest young actor in Hollywood.
Stephen Dorff is in the lobby of the MGM GRAND. He came to L.A on a whim to see the Rolling Stones. So has most of LA. That's why there are no more rooms. Stephen spots the VIP check-in, a glassed-in cubicle lit in gold with a receptionist with big hair and very strong, perfume sitting behind a desk,
"Hi, my name's Stephen Dorff, and I know you have this block of rooms that you save, so do you think you could give me one?"
"Well, I'll have to call our entertainment office," she says. "What are your credits?"
"Um. Well, my last movie was called BackBeat."
"BackBeat," she says into the phone. "Haven't I seen you before on MTV?" the receptionist asks.
"I've been in an Aerosmith video."
"Oh, I've seen that, "she squeals.
"I did Judgement Night, but I not really proud of it," (he once told a reporter it was so stupid he could have "phoned in the fucker.") "And I have this new movie SFW.
"Didn't Michael snipe wear a SFW hat on the MTV awards? Didn't I see you on the MTV awards?"
She did, Stephen presented with Sheryl Crow; Roseanne introduced him. According to Stephen, she was supposed to mention has upcoming movie but called it Who Gives A Rats A$$. Stephen had been on her show for three episodes as the boyfriend of Becky when he was sixteen.
"I made The Power Of One, my very first big movie, when I was seventeen."
He chose the role of a South African boxer rather than play the young Indiana Jones on television. He had already been on Empty Nest, Diff'rent Strokes and Family Ties, and he knew how ridiculous TV is. " I was in the HE-MAN commercials for Mattel." He was eleven and went from one month at the Young Actors Space in Van Nuys straight to the top of a plastic mountain to play with action figures and make tons of money. He bought his first car, a BMW, with HE-MAN money. "I came up with this voice for skeletor." He demonstrates loudly so entertainment can hear. "Give him the standard room," Entertainment tells the girl.
As soon as he gets to his room, there's a call from his friend Juliette Lewis; "Stephen, I don't have a room."
"Hit up the VIP lobby," he says, and runs down to see if the recognize her or if she needs to do the whole thing too. "Natural Born Killers. I was in, um, I did a movie called Cape Fear..." Juliette's room is a bit bigger than Stephen's. Stephen goes back downstairs and complains.
STEPHEN WAS INVITED TO MILAN--- All expenses paid, by Giorgio Armani to attend the springshow of his women's collection. Stephen was seated in the front row, in the spotlight next to Sophia Loren, his fantasy woman.
"All the big kahunas were looking at me, wondering who's this dude? I was kind of getting off on it because I was a fashion whore that week." Stephen wore his own black five-button Armani suit with no collar." I was pimping. The Italians loved it." At the show, Stephen couldn't take his eye off Carla Bruni (the model rumored to have almost broken up Mick Jagger's marriage).
Later that night, Stephen left a note for her at her hotel, but she never responded.
On OUR WAY TO DINNER, STEPHEN DRIVES-- past the Beverly Cinema, a fabulous run-down theater in Hollywood, and proclaims the following: " I want my movies to be shown at the Beverly Cinema, where A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, CHELSEA GIRLS, and SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY are shown. I want to know that in twenty years the movies I've made will still be shown here. I want to make '90s classics."
A few blocks later: " They want me to make big movies. I would like to make one with Stanley Kubrick, I want to work with actors like Sean Penn, John Malkovich actors that I know if I got on the screen with them, the screen would be just blown apart. I want to work wit Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, Woody Allen. If Russ Meyer makes another movie, I want to be in it. John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy was the movie that made me want to act. I was gonna make a movie with Schlesinger and Jon Voight, but it fell through. They are talking to five young actors about playing James Dean, but I'm not chasing it because no matter how brilliant I would be, it's gonna fucking work against me."
Which role would you like to play?
"Jack Kerouac. I'm the one. Gus Van Sant's writing it now and maybe by the time they make it, I'll be old enough."
And a few blocks later; "It's so amazing that I have even gotten to be in the movies that I have been in over the last two years. All anyone cares about is how many movies they've made. Well, I'm going to have along career and at some point I'm going to get all these people to kiss my ass."
WE'RE SEATED AT A HIGHPROFILE table at Pane e Vino, a high profile restaurant in Hollywood. Stephen is wearing a black Comme Des Garcons sweatshirt, green Dickies, and a white belt. He appears disheveled and ratty- until he brushes his forelock back and fixes his eyes on you. Stephen has the rugged good looks of someone six four; he's five nine. There are a lot of young actors in Hollywood. Some are more insular, less accessible. They never mouth off, never dine at Pane e Vino, never close homes, the grooviest bar in LA. Then there's Stephen Dorff. He's not quite a Hollywood star, but everybody in town knows him. It's as if he willed himself onto the public. He is one of the most respected young actors in Hollywood. He, Leonardo Dicaprio, and Christian Slater are usually up for the same roles. There are offers every day. They're always the most interesting, artiest films, but how many of those can he do? He wants to do movies people see. The wait is driving him crazy. Wine, women, and schmoozing are filling the void.
"My kind of girl is the twiggy of the '90s. Shes the girl I ran into three months ago. I went out with her when I was twelve and she dissed me. I was a kid. I did not grow up in a Hollywood home where people were having sex at twelve. I'm more old fashioned. I waited till I was sixteen."
Is the twiggy of the '90s a model?
"She's just a LA girl. She's got cropped hair and a perfect face and a perfect little body. She would be a huge model if I introduced her to the right people. I would if she wanted that." What does she do?
"She's a dancer. She calls herself an exotic dancer."
What happened with Courtney Wagner?
"I fell in love so strong at such a young age. I met her when I was eighteen, right after I got back from Africa, and I fell in love with her and she's still on my mind, but it's just too much. I mean I love her, but I can't be with her. It doesn't work."
Would she say the same about you?
"Yeah, I don't know man. There are obviously complexities. She lost her mom when she was six or seven. Her mom was Natalie Wood---she was the only daughter of Natalie and RJ Wagner. She's caught up in the LA trap of unproductive wannabe motherfuckers who suck you into their darkness and try to take everything away from you and nobody's happy for anybody. I'm not into that anymore."
Do you ever run into her?
"I run into her at Grandville. It's a strip club but it's not; it's more of a nightclub with exotic dancers. I'll run into Courtney there, but I don't want to talk to her in a club; it's too personal so I'll walk away."
What about those rumors about you and Michael Stipe?
"Yeah, I'm fucking Michael Stipe and Giorgio Armani too. I've impregnated Bridget Hall, and I married Liv Tyler."
Stephen was at Jackie Coppola's dinner party one night up in Whitley Heights. Jackie's sister Sofia, video director Spike Jonze, Jefery Levy, who directed SFW, and his wife Pam were there. Stephen, whose other passion is Photography, was showing some of his recent work, everybody was chatting, dinner was being prepared. Stephen went to his car to get his camera. He felt something on his right foot that appeared to be a really beautiful black cat.
Then he noticed a white stripe on its tail. Stephen was sprayed point-blank by a skunk. He stood paralyzed in the front yard for ten minutes, smelling up the neighborhood. Once inside, Stephen got nauseous, ripped off his clothes, showered, and changed. An hour later, Stephen went to the set of an REM video to take photos.
"Michael Stipe knows me better than anybody," Stephen says. "We've only known each other for three months. He's the greatest person I ever met"
Stephen and Stipe met at Jones. "Stephen was sitting at a table with my friend, "Stipe says. "And I walked over and we both started laughing really hard for no reason. We just hit it off right away."
Upon arriving at the video set, Stephen gave Michael a big hug. Michael said, "You didn't shower?"
The smell was back. In his skin, in the leather of his boots, in his wallet.
He had a big meeting the next day wit Agnieszka Holland, who directed EUROPA, EUROPA, and he didn't know how to get rid of the stink. Everybody told him to take a bath in tomato juice. At four in the morning Stephen went to the 7-Eleven. They only had those mini V8s that you put in your lunch box. He bought a hundred cans.
STEPHEN LIVES IN WEST HOLLYWOOD, on the same street where Bette Davis once lived. Stephen's two-bedroom apartment is a cross between a Spanish hacienda and a swiss chatcau: high, beamed ceilings, stucco walls, and a fireplace.
One room is a jam room crammed with musical instruments-a piano and guitar-and recording equipment. Like his father, Stephen is a composer; for each role he takes on, he writes a score to connect himself emotionally with the character. Off the living room is a small loft where he reads scripts.
In the kitchen, on the refrigerator, is a Polaroid of his truck: a mean black 1958 F-100 for pickup with a huge 351 "Cleveland" engine that came out of a soaped-up cop car. He bought the truck for $4,500 and needs to put another ten grand into it. Courtney hated it because rode too bumpy. The girls in his life during the last six months have ridden in Stephen's BMW 52Si. They've only heard about the Ford and seen the Polaroid. Also on the fridge is an old photo of his parents looking like hippies. They met in an elevator in an ad agency; she was an assistant and he worked in the mailroom. His father ended up writing the theme music for Growing Pains and twenty of so other sitcoms, scores for '80s Clint Eastwood movies, and mega hits like "Through the Years" and "I Just Fall In Love Again" that people get married to.
Stephen was just finishing SFW when his mom called and left one of those awful messages on his machine " Stephen, I'd love to talk to you. You can ask your father what it's about." After twenty-five years, his parents were getting a divorce. "My mom sounded horrible, and this shocked my whole fucking' world. I got really angry because in my mind the picture was destroyed. You know-the ultimate picture, the picture I took advantage of my whole life, that picture of the perfect family that really cared about me. My mom was too good to me, spoiled me too much and I could get away with murder. My life looked beautiful on the outside. We had money, we had the house and the pool, but I always had the anger inside me since the day I was born. Now that I think about it, that might have been the reason for some of my sadness; that maybe everything was just a facade. As soon as I left that house, I blanked all that shit out. But my parents' splitting up puts me in touch with that pain."
SFW'S DIRECTOR JEFERY LEVY saw a photo of Stephen Dorff on a magazine and thought, this is exactly how Spab should look. So he taped the picture to his computer while he wrote SFW. Lev's take on Stephen: "there is an incredible sadness about him which I exploited. He does not edit any of his feelings. You know, he's twenty-one years old, so he's got a lot to learn. But I have never met a more instinctual being that Stephen. He never formally went to school; I'm not sure he ever read a book. He doesn't have the attention span to investigate things. He could learn to relax a little. He drinks maybe twenty cokes a day and five cups of coffee."
REESE WITHERSPOON, THE FEMALE LEAD of SFW." Stephen has a lot of things he doesn't want people know. You see a lot of young male actors play that part. They act sad or emotionally torn, but Stephen really is tormented. I met him in a club two years before we made the movie. He just came up to me, talking the talk. I always had a crush on him. He's very charming and disarming, he can just have you completely reeled in."
What kind of date would he be? "I wouldn't date Dorff for all the money in the world. I really admire the girls who do hold Dorff's attention. I don't know if it's because he doesn't know what he wants, or that he knows exactly what he wants and if that person doesn't apply, he's going to find it somewhere else. You have to be comfortable giving him space. I'm not that kind of girl."
Calvin Klein is throwing a bash for author Fran Lebowitz at the Royalton Hotel in New York. Stephen has just arrived from LA he's in New York to have his photo taken, hang out with his friend Zoe Cassavetes, maybe go to some fashion shows. As he walks through the lobby, the party is mobbed with literary and art world luminaries. Stephen wasn't expecting quite such a welcome. He isn't sure who Fran Lebowitz is. " Shouldnt I know her?" he asks," are you surprised I don't?" Stephen spots Zoe at the party. Zoe and Stephen are very similar, except she's more relatable. She knows exactly who Fran Lebowitz is. For his twenty-first birthday, Zoe gave Stephen four books: What makes Sammy run, The talented Mr. Ripley, and a couple of others he doesn't remember. They're on a shelf with the other thirty books he owns and never reads. Zoe works for MTV House Of Style.
These days, the Royalton is the house of style. Stephen wouldn't stay anywhere else. One of the best stays was when Sean Penn screamed "Dorff!" across the lobby. Stephen thought, "How the fuck does he know me?" Surprisingly, Stephen has this thing where he thinks no one knows him. People always say how desperate actors are for love and attention. Stephen Dorff would be the first actor to admit it. A few nights later Stephen is sitting with Zoe and a table of people at Cafe Tabac, when all of sudden he starts feeling weak and nervous and tingle inside. He's sure he's having a heart attack. Actually he's having a full-blown anxiety attack. What's wrong? "I'm sick of seeing all these stupid models go out, get wasted, and kiss my ass." Later, he reconsiders. "It wasn't that. It was the pressure, the need to know what my next move will be, the parents thing, finding a new girlfriend, trying to deal with everything. The New York party lane is not the best place to go when you've got a lot on your mind."
Stephen is back in L.A on Melrose Avenue, at his favorite newsstand. He's kicking it there, doing the Melrose thing, sitting on a box, looking at a porno magazine. His hair is dark brown. On the cover of PAPER magazine his hair is white. A girl sitting next to him keeps looking at the magazine and then at Stephen. She's not saying anything. It starts to get annoying.
Finally he says, "Hello? Can I help you?" and she says " What's your name?"
"No it isn't."
"Yeah, it is."
"Are you an actor?"
It goes on for days. "What's your last name?"
"Dorff. Stephen Dorff."