Matt Dillon Interview

The actor does Charles Bukowski justice on film

Matt Dillon gives his finest acting performance since Drugstore Cowboy in Norwegian director Bent Hamer's adaptation of Factotum. The film is a compilation of Charles Bukowski's booze-soaked novel and various short stories. It's a welcome diversion to an incredibly dismal August. There's something entertaining about a drunken Matt Dillon espousing life advice.

Your weight fluctuates quite a bit in the film. How did you physically prepare?

Matt Dillon: I grew the beard obviously. The hair was done a certain way. I shaved my hairline back a little bit, just a little bit. I let myself go, I put on some weight, I didn't come up with, you know, "oh I'm gonna put on thirty-five pounds for this part." You know you hear about actors "oh I put on forty pounds for the role." I don't know how much weight I put on but I put on a little weight. He was a guy who was physically defeated, the way he carried himself physically was that the material world had sort of defeated him. He surrendered to that, but yet he was very bright, very sharp and was very strong mentally. That's what I got from him, this defeated effortlessness. It was written on his [Bukowski's] tombstone, the words "don't try." And that really helped me.

Henry Chinaski is really Bukowski's alter ego...

Matt Dillon: That really helped me with the character. He doesn't try to live up to what his father wants him to be. He doesn't try to fight for his job. He doesn't try to stop drinking. He doesn't try. The only thing he really tries to do is to get published as a writer. That finally happens at the end, but, he's not even aware of it; he's not even there to partake in it. The other thing that helped me with the physical character was, I spoke to Linda, his wife She said that he felt misunderstood and that really bothered him was that he was often depicted as dirty, as kind of a slob, like physically. You know, unwashed. And it really bothered him. She said he was very neat. He was certainly disciplined as a writer, he was very disciplined in that way, so it was a sense of order with him. At times he was homeless in the film. It's not that he would like rub his face in the grime and get down in the gutter, that's the natural inclination. That's what you typically see. But he still manages to kind of keep himself. Like get up and comb his hair, get dressed.

Is this also a Charles Bukowski impersonation? Why play such an unglamorous role at this point in your career?

Matt Dillon: Well, everybody's too handsome compared to...I felt pretty much the way Bent [Hamer, the director] felt, not that I was too handsome, but that I wasn't really physically right for the part. When they approached me about it I was like, "Are you sure you got the right guy?" Once it was made clear that I wasn't expected to become Charles [Bukowski] I felt much more comfortable. He had this alter ego called Hank, for whatever reason; he created this alter ego. It gave me a sense of relief. As long as I don't have to do an impersonation of him, I'm ok. So I studied him and I saw footage of him. That was a tricky balance. He didn't like doing these readings, but there was kind of an affectation he had in his delivery. I think there's a little bit of that in this it's more with the poetry. I wanted to capture that because he has that sing-song quality. His voice is very different for the most part. He's got that kind of high almost feminine sing-song thing, which is strange because when you read him he sounds like, you know, Warren Oates, or Lee Marvin.

Did you ever think that maybe I shouldn't slap Lily [Taylor] here?

Matt Dillon: At one point they talked about her slapping me. I thought, "Nah, that's not Hank". I think that's part of the flaw of nature of who that guy is. The dichotomy, I mean on one hand he's this guy who is a poetic guy who wants to be a writer. On the other hand, he's this flawed alcoholic drunk and they have this totally dysfunctional relationship. It's inexcusable. He forgives her for giving him.

You're so good at these scoundrel type roles. What draws you to these womanizing parts and the dark side?

Matt Dillon: Whatever it was that drew me to it is probably the same thing that drew me to read Bukowski when I was in my early twenties. He just lays it out there. He sees things that nobody else sees. The ups and downs of his life, I like that kind of thing. I like that kind of character. I like conflict, drama's conflict and if you don't have that in the character it's really not a worthwhile role to play for me. I like a challenging role and often those characters are. I think his view of the world is so dark. I think his view of the world is a fun view. Like he looks at the humor, he sees the middle of things. He's able to laugh at himself and the world around him. I think that's what I loved about him; I would often wish that I could see the world like that a little bit. To be able to laugh in the worst of situations, I can never forget when I was reading "Ham on Rye". That's when he had that horrible acne when he was a kid and he overhears the doctor saying, "Jesus, this is the worst case of acne I've ever seen in the history of Los Angeles." He goes, "Doesn't this asshole realize that I can hear every word he's saying?" But I always like the way he speaks, you know, he speaks plainly. I do think that it is connected with a certain true line in my career, which is like maybe the first movie I did, "Over the Edge", "Drug Store Cowboy".

So much of this film is about making a living. What's the worst job you've ever had?

Matt Dillon: You're asking a guy who started acting at age fourteen so I didn't have too many jobs before then. I mean I did work a job while I was an early actor. I didn't have any bread and I was loading trucks at a nursery, a plant nursery place, and it sucked. The woman was like horrible. She always managed to cut down your salary. They worked my balls off at that job. I didn't stick around too long needless to say. Thankfully, but I never really had any of the stuff that he went through.

It is a long career now. Looking back at your career, what's your take on where you are today?

Matt Dillon: I don't try to figure it out too much. I just keep moving ahead. The only thing I'd say about it is that I was young, so to me I look at it that I was pretty green then. But that's the old hindsight is twenty-twenty kind of thing. I don't really know. I don't really dwell on it that much, learn from your mistakes and move ahead. I don't hang onto the past very much.

Are you going to be directing anything?

Matt Dillon: Eventually I'd like to be. I don't have anything that's in pre-production now or anything like that. I really think I should direct again. I really had a great experience doing it.

Factotum hits limited theaters in NY and LA on August 18th, opening wider later. The film is rated 'R' for language and sexual content.

Julian Roman at Movieweb
Julian Roman