“I wrapped a towel around my bloody cock,” Matt Dillon says, “and called the doctor.”
It’s T minus 74 hours till Dillon’s famous brow is due at the Kodak Theater to sweat out his Best Supporting Actor nod at the Oscars. There will be no need, however, for Isaac Mizrahi to let the universe know about any discomfiting stains on the crotch of the man’s tux. The unit in question, thank Jesus, is not his. We’re eating lunch in sunny Hollywood. Dillon’s explaining what he will not do for a film. What he cannot do for a film. He’s quoting Bukowski by memory, after I’ve pestered him sufficiently about a scene in the upcoming adaptation of the author’s novel Factotum. I’m curious about a particular moment when a guilt-ridden Jan (Lili Taylor) drops to her knees and helps Henry Chinaski swaddle his equipment in gauze after the guy has overmedicated a crabs infestation.
“Parts of the script were coming directly from the book,” Dillon continues, punctuating his sentences with quick fork swipes. “Lines like ‘Jan looks at Hank’s cock and it’s inflamed red.’ There’s no way they’re going to be able to film that!” Dillon keeps talking and wolfing down his salad like he’s Takeru Kobayashi at Nathan’s on the Fourth of July. He’s guiding the arugula—in a manner befitting his perennial status as a bachelor—onto his fork with his thumb. “I was wearing a jockstrap,” he explains, fork swipe. “We built trust with each other,” fork swipe. “And she taped it up,” fork swipe. “The thing I love about that scene is that it works. It could have been ridiculous. I think anytime you can do something you haven’t seen or done in a film before, it’s always a great day as an actor.”
Dillon, 42, is a graduate of the Lee Strasberg school—a method actor—so I’m compelled to ask if he was drawing from experience in that scene. “Move it on, man,” he says and laughs sheepishly, looking down at his plate.
This statement is about as direct an answer as Dillon will ever give. For the moment, there’s a manic, Peter Falk–as–Columbo quality to the guy. His hair is tousled, and he’s lurching forward as he speaks. He’ll take you from Point A to Point B, but because he likes to talk and is something of a perfectionist, you’ll be making unscheduled, semi-relevant (or not) stops at R, D, W, and E, and then, if you’re lucky, you’ll pull into Point B around dusk. “He’s a great storyteller,” notes Owen Wilson, who’ll star with him in this summer’s You, Me and Dupree. But no matter what is asked, Point B, for Dillon, is always about achieving more “great days as an actor.” Listening to Dillon and those around him, you begin to realize that this incessant drive, balanced with an intense pragmatism about the roles he takes, is what has kept him afloat during his 27 years in the business.