In Somewhere, Stephen Dorff taps his inner lonely movie star
LOS ANGELES—Maybe the pole-dancing twins dressed as naughty tennis players weren’t exactly what she had in mind. Stephen Dorff’s mother had always wanted him to play a Steve McQueen sort of character, and now there he was, in the opening scene of Sofia Coppola’s latest film, Somewhere, lying on a rumpled king-size bed watching two identical blonds slide down their poles assways up. Somewhere in there, Dorff—or, rather, his character, Johnny Marco—fell fast asleep.
Watch the trailer for Somewhere.
“My mom was obsessed with Steve McQueen,” Dorff says. In an L.A. hotel room, the genial 37-year-old actor sports the same stubbled visage, T-shirt, faded jeans, and work boots as his Somewhere alter ego. All that’s missing is a cigarette. “She always said, ”˜Will you just do a Steve McQueen–type role where you’re vulnerable but tough?’ ”
Dorff has been acting in films since he was 17. He’s played everything from cross-dressing star Candy Darling in I Shot Andy Warhol to a bad vampire in Blade. Now he’s certain that Johnny is the part his mother—who died while he was filming Public Enemies for director Michael Mann, affecting him deeply—wanted him to play. As it happens, Johnny is a big movie star, living at the legendary Chateau Marmont on L.A.’s Sunset Boulevard. When not snoozing to private pole dances, he’s popping pills and hosting parties of pretty people he hardly seems to know. But mostly Johnny is alone, chain-smoking on his couch or floating in the swimming pool, existing in a state of ennui broken only by the occasional makeup test or press conference. Sometimes he takes his Ferrari for a spin.
“He has a hole in his heart,” Dorff says. “It shows you that no matter how much money, no matter how many Ferraris or pretty girls you have, you can still be miserable.”
In the weeks that Somewhere was filming at the Chateau, Coppola had Dorff move into the hotel to better inhabit Johnny’s world. In fact, the actor seems to have rather acutely identified with his character. “With actors, there’s depression that happens because we give so much of ourselves to these parts,” he says. “At the end of that movie, it all ends. The phone doesn’t ring unless you’re starting another movie or you’re going on to promote one. I don’t go to an office. I don’t know what to do with myself after the movie ends.”
When Johnny’s 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) from his failed marriage arrives on his doorstep, being comfortably numb is no longer an option. “You’re losing all sense that you have a daughter and she’s growing up,” Dorff says. “It’s not Monday, buddy; it’s Sunday and you need to wake the hell up. It’s a heartbreaking film at the core, I think, about an adolescent father becoming a man.”
Playing that adolescent father, the actor at the centre of Somewhere (which opens on January 14) had to submit to the camera’s often motionless scrutiny for long stretches.
“This film was the hardest I’ve ever made,” Dorff says. “I’m naked throughout this performance. I don’t even have a prop half the time. Once in a while I get a cigarette.”
Fortunately, the pole-dancing twins (played by Playboy models Kristina and Karissa Shannon) make a return visit.