Matt Dillon and Thandie Newton give the scoop on the compelling urban drama, Crash
Q: So what kind of reluctance did you have to embrace this character's flaws?
Matt Dillion: I wanted to be very truthful with this character. I recognized things that I felt to be true totally in the script about human nature and I wanted to be honest about it. I wouldn't have gone into this project with any other agenda. I‘ve never been one that has been that concerned with my character looking good and with this one, there's redemption in the story. I guess I didn't have a lot of identification with the character although I know the LAPD's reputation for being very aggressive. So I could recognize that with being true.
Q: Do you drive in L.A.?
Matt Dillion: Yeah. I used to have this fear and I still I think have this free floating anxiety when I pull up to a light and see an LAPD cruiser and think oh,no here it comes, I'm going to get pulled over. They definitely do a lot more aggressive police work and we know about a lot about racism in the police department, not just in LA, but around and police brutality. What I liked about the film is it went deeper and explored the more personal nature of this racist cop so we got to see the other side, the loving son who was frustrated with his life, the fact that his father was sick, terminally ill. It doesn't make his action excusable but it puts a human face on the character which as an actor, we always look for alanced characters in that way.
Q: The film really explores and deal with racism. What are the toughest things you guys have to deal with in life?
Thandie Newton: As an actor?
Q: As a person.
Matt Dillion: Well I can tell you that for me generally speaking that I think things that I deal with are all to do with not accepting things, not excepting life on life's terms. My life becomes a lot easier when I'm willing to just accept. I don't have to like circumstances as they are, but I have to accept them and that's where I always seem to get thrown, when I try to will my way instead of accept things the way they are.
Q: Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco said they both used racism to explore fear so what I was going for was the one thing this movie is about is something else.
Thandie Newton: I think when I read the script that's exactly what came to the surface that racism was just a tool to deal with frustration and pain and that people are in denial about the way we feel and desperately trying to control their environment the way their lives are. And ultimately their scapegoats aren't going to make them feel better, it's just going to increase hatred and the problem gets worse and worse. That's what's so wonderful about the film is that it allows you to see their motivation and to see that actually behind the aggressive cop is a man in pain, behind the frustrated housewife is a woman who feels betrayed. You see the motivation which is so much more valuable than the stereotypes that we usually see in the movie. Yeah, racism is just one piece to the whole puzzle that the film offers.
Q: Can you talk about working together, having to do that molestation scene?
Matt Dillion: I was hoping that when I knew Thandie Newton was in the movie that oh wow, we get to do a love scene together.
Thandie Newton:Crash 2.
Matt Dillion: Really, Thandie was so nice and cool. There was a sense of trust that she had with me and that I had with Paul. There had to be that. I'll let Thandie speak too, but I think we needed to trust the director.
Thandie Newton: Absolutely. With something like this, it's such sensitive material and obviously has to be dealt with such sensitivity. It was important that Matt and I got along as people and have a clear understanding of the importance of this scene on the story and with a script like this, the story is what's important. There was no ego, no role was more important than the other. We all had an objective was to get this story right. We were basically very open and keen to let Paul guide us.
Matt Dillion: It's great working with such a big ensemble too.
Thandie Newton: Yeah it really is.
Matt Dillion: Even though I didn't have scenes with the majority of the cast, it was mostly with Thandie, Terrence, and Ryan, but the point was it was really interesting. Just to be a part of the great ensemble was really exciting. And to have a director as passionate as Paul was, it's not like a job anymore.
Thandie Newton: In the same token, it was very challenging having to do what we had to do.
Matt Dillion: Physically too.
Thandie Newton: Physically and psychologically but what us able to do that was knowing where it was going to end up. We knew what the resolution would be; we knew these characters were going to be able to explore this dilemma. If it was left open-ended…. It's a truthful scene, you know. If it was left like that, it would have been very difficult to address in any way so we knew where it was going.
Q: LA is very much a character in the film. I know you don't live here, Thandie. Matt do you live around LA?
Matt Dillion: No, but I do spend almost half my time here for work and stuff.
Q: What kind of perspective do you have on LA being somewhat outsiders?
Matt Dillion: Well, my view of LA is there's that Dorothy Parker quote, "There is no there there." I think she was actually talking about Oakland but it's attributable to LA in a way because it's so spread out that you don't really have a sense of a center like most cities. There's a sense of segregation here. It is a melting pot but it's spread out. It's not like Chicago, NY or London where people are more integrated somehow. It really is designed for LA, the story. I think the circumstances of most of the characters in the film are universal in a way, people making sweeping judgments about others and conflicts between relationships with characters like Thandie and Howard's character but that's universal. But there's something about this story that makes particular sense for LA. The fact that people are isolated from each, breeds fear and ignorance in a certain way, certainly for my character.
T: As a result there's potential for more extreme behavior because of that spread out, segregated, geography of the place.
Q: But that doesn't mean there's no racial problems in places like NY either?
Thandie Newton: Certainly not. But it's a particular problem here though.
Matt Dillion: I remember feeling though in NY after the LA riots that's it's not going to happen here because people are whether you live on Park Avenue and are a billionaire or live in the South Bronx, people in that city, for some reason, are forced to deal with each other regularly. So it's much more difficult to make these sweeping assumptions about each other because they see each other on a regular basis. It's a walking city.
Q: Thandie, is it possible to have that same kind of movie in London?
Thandie Newton: No. I think it's interesting that you have to get in your car and drive long distances everywhere. That's why "Crash" is such a great metaphor for this film in a way because, like Don Cheadle says, you have to literally crash into each other to feel something.
Q: You have made enormously budgeted films. What draws you to a movie like this one?
Matt Dillion: The money of course. [Laughs].
Thandie Newton: When you read a script like this, talk about three dimensional characters, try five dimensional characters. But also there's real punchy energy, entertaining, the layout, the way the movie's put together, the way the characters interweave, the situations are so dramatic, all the contradictions, all the twists and turns, it's hugely entertaining and satisfying. The audience doesn't sit back and let it happen. You have to participate and apparently we've been hearing that people shout out at the screen. That's a good feeling.
Matt Dillion: I hope they don't participate too much, especially with my character.
Thandie Newton: It was very apparent from reading the script that this film could be really special, really exciting. Obviously, it's nice to get paid for your work but at the same time, there's that sacrifice that you really want to make when it's worth it.
Matt Dillion: I look for really great characters. I say great because as long as they're really good, there's something you can do. And really good storytelling. And when people ask me what the story is, I say it's really several stories really. They're intermeshed. I feel like filmmakers, as actors, the first purpose for making a film is that it's entertaining and engaging and I felt this script was that. I also felt there was a deeper reason for this film to be made. You can't ask for more than that. And yet most of the characters don't have more than five or six scenes in the film and yet there's this incredible arch for most of these characters and that's a tribute to really good writing.
Q: Have either of you had a very unpleasant experience with police officers?
Matt Dillion: I've only had horrible experiences with the LAPD. [Laughs] Well maybe there was one time in Oklahoma. Yeah, I had my own prejudices about the LAPD. Not active resentments but the fear that when I pull up next to a cop, that I'm going to get pulled over. It's just a free floating anxiety that I feel. When I started to do my research on this film, and I felt the script was pretty accurate from everything that I know, personal experience, what I read in the papers…that's not what drew me to do, though I felt it was well sketched out in the script but what drew me to it was the personal nature of the character – the relationship with his father, that we have an understanding where his bitterness is born out of. The thing that I discovered, interestingly enough, is when I started to do my research with the LAPD, was that most of the people that I came in contact with where like people like everybody else trying to do a difficult job, not making much money for it. They were very helpful. They were very open and honest about the fact that there are cops like that. There have been in the past and there probably still are, you know. And it opened my eyes to the reality that most of these people are just like you and me, and they're not disciplinary robots.
Q: But they do have power.
Matt Dillion: They do have power. I said to them, "My character is a racist cop who abuses his power and his position and he's been around the force for awhile." And they said they have guys like that and they told me how they behaved. I said can you just give me an idea on how they would do their policing. And they were very helpful about it. So in some ways, my eyes were open to the LAPD. I went in saying I want to find out just how nasty these guys can be and what I found out, it wasn't all that simple. Most of them were just trying to do their job and that, yeah, there are some bad eggs, but it's not everybody. And I think that's what the film is trying to do.
Q: This movie is about assumptions people make about strangers, people that you don't know. Do you think this holds true in Hollywood too for actors like yourself when they say, "Oh, yeah he's that guy" and "That's her?"
Thandie Newton: It's so much easier, yeah. Because Hollywood is such much about economics. He was in that movie doing that and it sold well so let's have him do that again. It's that kind of thing. It's not across the board. Pigeon-holing is classic. But as actors it's great because it gives you a challenge to try and do something different.
Matt Dillion: It's really nice to be able to do something that you've never done. I think that's the gift of being an actor because I get to play a cop, a racist cop and I've never done that before. It's nice to inhabit these other worlds especially when you get to work with great actors. Not with just established actors like Don or Thandie but with actors we don't see that often, doing great work.
Dont't forget to also check out: Crash