Later, I talk to Dillon’s Factotum costar (and old friend) Fisher Stevens, who tells me, “Matt’s very—I don’t want to say proud, but he is who he is. He’s incredibly perceptive, and he sees a lot more than one would think.”
After a couple of days it dawns on me why the Mike Kelley banner resonates with Dillon and his journey. By the time he took a gamble and did Drugstore Cowboy—then only Gus Van Sant’s second movie—he was struggling, perhaps, to define himself outside of the teen-idol scope, in pictures not even your crush-having older sister went to. And the Dilaudid-loving Bob, trading lines with William S. Burroughs, muttering about the “TV babies,” was just the “Fuck you” he needed to deliver. It gave him enough critical acclaim to buy him at least another decade of seeking out and winning roles that moved him. That mood must have struck him again in 1998, when he got started on City of Ghosts, an idea percolating in his head since he first visited Cambodia in 1993.
But then you realize it’s not a once-in-a-decade panic welling up inside Matt Dillon. It’s a way of life. Point B is the journey to Point B. Example: In the span of a year Dillon both earned a Disney-size paycheck for making a Nascar--driving character interesting and funny in Herbie: Fully Loaded and played a writing, drinking pickle-factory employee in Factotum, a film made by an unknown Norwegian director and shot in Minneapolis, with a budget, Dillon guesses, “of less than a million dollars.” You come to respect the man’s balancing act, knowing that while the results may get weird, they will never be boring.
When Dillon returns to New York, he gives me a call on a Tuesday morning as he’s walking around the city, grabbing a coffee, waiting to go to Rockefeller Center and have a writing session with the cast of Saturday Night Live. From his tone, I gather that the pragmatic, get-it-done side of him wants to take me off his checklist early in the week so he can focus on preparing for the show, or maybe I’m just bugging him too much about Oscar night.
“It went fine,” he says, quite possibly rolling his eyes. “Somebody said, ‘Hey, you might not have won, but they showed you on TV a lot.’” He struggles to deliver me a sound bite, and it’s the only time in our chats that he sort of throws in the towel. “It was a fun night, but I don’t think I have anything that interesting to say, because basically what everybody is doing is going from party to party, schmoozing. I don’t know what to say other than that.”
But it’s Matt Dillon, and he won’t give up. “The best part of it,” he continues, “was the buildup of the whole thing.” Ah, nostalgia. He doesn’t wallow in it for long, and slips back into pragmatist mode. “I’ve been reading The Better Brain Book,” he says. “Maybe it has to do with pressure, but I find myself not remembering names. One of the things it talks about is doing what you enjoy to keep your mind young. We get caught up in all the stress—‘Got to do this, is this the right thing for me to do?’—but what about the thing you want to do? That’s what’ll keep you young. It’s empowering, not becoming a prisoner of some other person’s idea of what you should be.” And with that we arrive safely at Point B once again, with a dash of “Fuck you” to boot.