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Changing His Ways

Stephen Dorff goes mainstream as he takes on more `commercial' projects

Toronto Sun

HOLLYWOOD -- Only Stephen Dorff would see fit to smoke a cigarette while nursing a sore throat. "Yeah, I'm deathly ill," he says in a raspy voice.

"Guess I shouldn't be doing this," adds Dorff pointing to his Marlboro.

Guess not. But then there is no accounting for Dorff's choices, whether it be a flu accessory or career moves.

If there was a poll taken among current actors, Dorff would certainly be voted the most likely to make the most unpredictable and the least conventional film selections.

Although he had worked in TV commercials since age 11, the 23-year-old former San Fernando Valley boy made his official debut at 17 as the kid boxer in The Power Of One.

He followed that movie with a string of low-profile film endeavors, mostly defined by his quirky portrayals -- his drag queen Candy Darling in I Shot Andy Warhol and his Kurt Cobain-like martyr-victim in S.F.W.

Only Dorff's Backbeat portrayal of the fifth Beatle Stu Sutcliffe hinted at commercial potential and an easy-to-identify style.

Unfortunately and ironically, Dorff chose all of those parts to avoid cliches, but inadvertently became one -- a rockin', hard-livin', die-young rebel -- because of the associations with his characters.

While he maintains that reports of his rock 'n' rollin' nightlife have been greatly exaggerated, Dorff went through a year or two where he was picture-perfect as the exiting last-call party man.

His touring with the band R.E.M. two years ago sort of galvanized his "free-and-easy alternative" image, as did unconfirmed reports that he was having a relationship with R.E.M.'s bisexual singer Michael Stipe.

Those "confusions" are far behind him now as he ponders what seems to be a bright, not dark, mainstream, not independent, future.

"Ultimately," says Dorff, "I want people to see my movies. I was getting frustrated because they weren't."

All that might change. Dorff is currently filming Blade with Wesley Snipes, a mega-budget sci-fi flick. His co-starring role in City Of Industry with Harvey Keitel will be on screens in March, and he can be seen opposite Jack Nicholson in Blood And Wine, which opens Friday.

"It's weird," acknowledges Dorff, "I didn't do any big commercial stuff before, because I always preferred to be the victim or the more active one in the story."

Blockbuster now has a whole new meaning for Dorff after stepping on to the Blade studio soundstage.

"It's massive," Dorff says. "The sets are like 8,000 storeys high. Everything becomes so much bigger."

For City Of Industry, Dorff witnessed the intensity of Keitel, but it was THE Jack experiences he most vividly recalls.

"I would have paid him to be in his movie," says Dorff of the Nicholson vehicle. That would be the Bob Rafelson-directed Blood And Wine, also co-starring Judy Davis, Michael Caine and Jennifer Lopez.

Dorff plays Nicholson's stepson, who confronts his wine-merchant father while he's in the middle of an affair and a heist. The interplay between Nicholson and Dorff is familiar and forceful, and for good reason.

"Working with him was the most incredible and unbelieveable experience I have ever had," says Dorff who admits to being initially intimidated by Nicholson when they met on location in Miami.

"Then he said" -- Dorff does the requisite Nicholson impersonation -- "`Glad to have you on board.' And he was immediately normal with me.

"I thought he was really kind to me, and it allowed me to act with him, because it was pretty scary and nerve-racking. But we just got in there, and jammed hard."

Nicholson and Dorff got out there and had some fun, too, according to the Miami media reports of their nocturnal wanderings.

Dorff smiles as he takes a drag from his cigarette. "Like I said, I would've paid Jack," he says.

Not that Dorff worked for free. In fact, his price tag per movie is going up, "although I've never let money get in the way of something I've wanted to do."

Dorff says that he's also proud of the fact that he's never regretted decisions he's made to pass on films he decided weren't appropriate.

"I'm really glad I waited," confides Dorff. "I know some people who have gone crazy because they turn down roles, and the people who take them over have become huge stars. Most of the time I've been pretty accurate when I thought something wasn't going to work.

An example of a turn down? "Like Mad Love," he says, referring to the Chris O'Donnell role in the Drew Barrymore Gen-X bomb. "I really didn't understand that script."

But he did understand the motivation. "The movie studios like obvious, but I'm not into playing it."