Stephen Dorff: A party animal grows up

He had a wild time in Israel filming Zaytoun. But this time, everyone's favourite actor on the brink of the big time is hoping for more than just a fun ride, he tells Kaleem Aftab

Can we step into the bathroom?" asks Stephen Dorff when we meet in a hotel room. It's lunchtime and it's impossible not to be intrigued by such an out of the ordinary request. And so I find myself chatting to the 39-year-old star while sitting on the edge of a bath. He has made sure the smoke alarm is out of commission before lighting up.

It's common knowledge that Dorff likes to party. He's constantly being pictured living it up at glamorous locations around the world. Even while training with the Israeli army to play a pilot in Zaytoun, it didn't take long for Tel Aviv to know that the Atlanta-born star was in town.

"Yeah it was pretty wild," he guffaws, the tattoos on his bicep creeping out like vines from under the sleeve of his white T-shirt as he puffs on his cigarette. "They definitely like chasers. The word I heard most was 'chaser', which were these shots, everywhere we went, every day and every night, 'Stephen do you want a chaser?'. I was like, no! I'm dying here."

Then there is Dorff's justification for being out so much during the three-month shoot: "The truth is that there were a lot of public holidays. Every time I got into a rhythm of shooting we had a four-day holiday. So what are we going to do?" Quite.

It was playing the "Fifth Beatle" Stuart Sutcliffe in 1994's Backbeat that many first became away of Dorff's talents. Sutcliffe has always been marketed as the quintessential nearly man, almost famous. It's a fate that almost befell Dorff, before his career was jacked by a mesmerising performance as an actor stuck in an existential crisis in Sofia Coppola's Venice Golden Lion winning film Somewhere.

"Somewhere was like a dream part, a dream experience," he reminisces between puffs. "Sofia embraced me at a time when I really needed it."

An example of why Dorff's career needed a boost in 2010 can be found in a game that I play with my friends. Mention the actor and without exception everyone says how cool he is. After all Somewhere confirmed him as one of the hottest properties in Hollywood. But ask someone to name five Stephen Dorff movies and suddenly they are clutching at straws. He has more than 50 credits to his name, but so far only one of my friends has managed to come up with five. Dorff is the actor that everyone loves, but they just don't know why. He's everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

It's an odd situation given that Dorff has starred in so many high profile movies: Blade, Cecil B Demented, World Trade Center, Public Enemies, I Shot Andy Warhol, Alone In the Dark, S.F.W and Space Truckers to name some of his more successful ones. He often plays the bad guy, vampire or errant detective.

The best analysis of his career comes from Dorff himself, who seems to have given his own trajectory some thought. "I was doing mostly character work," he explains. "It kind of started changing after I did this movie Felon [in 2008] that I produced. It was a film I did with Val Kilmer and Sam Shepard that got buried when it came out, but it became a massive movie and it seems like it's been seen by every young person in the world who is into UFC and fighting. It was this movie that Sofia saw. Then I did Public Enemies and some character work, but it wasn't until Somewhere that it changed. Now I'm playing good guys again, playing dads. I'll probably play a grandfather soon."

We move back into the easy chairs and Dorff begins scoffing a plate of chips in between sentences. Zaytoun sees the actor make a departure from the man-child roles that he often gets to play. Set during the Lebanon War of 1982, he plays Yoni, a pilot shot down over Beirut and captured by the Palestinian Liberation Front. Locked in a cell in a camp, he is guarded by a myriad of figures including a young rebellious 12-year-old boy who yearns to fulfil his father's dream of planting an olive tree in his ancestral home. The pilot convinces the boy that if he frees him, he'll help him do this. They then embark on a dangerous road trip and a friendship builds between the two enemies. "The natural instinct is to think of having an Israeli for the part," says Dorff. "But producer Gareth Unwin and director Eran Riklis wanted this to be a more international film. So I read the script and I was taken by this idea of friendship."

Dorff's dad, a composer and music producer, is Jewish. And religion was a part of the actor's young life growing up; in interviews he's always stated that he was raised half-Jewish. Zaytoun afforded him an opportunity to learn more about Israel and the conflict in the Middle East: "I learned a lot of things about Israel, even geographically how small it is. I just didn't know how tiny it is and how there are all these enemies around it. It's a very weird bubble. The air force showed me that when they are training they go up, then boom, they have to turn around as there is no airspace."

Dorff was given lessons on the history of the conflict. While learning about the Yom Kippur War and the backdrop of the 1982 Lebanon War, he met with pilots who had been captured. "I met one pilot who was incredible and opened up to me, He was captured by the Syrians in 1982 and for two years had them believe that he could not speak English." As to the thorny political question of whether Dorff thinks there is a possibility of co-existence. "I try not to get too involved," he states. "I'm not political in that sense. I know that there is definitely a huge argument there and the Palestinian people have that argument and every right to have that argument but I would hope at some point that it would all be resolved and there can be that co-existence.

"And also it feels like in Israel the people are so lovely and whatever that land issue is, it would be great if the people could just come to a happy medium."

'Zaytoun' is out on 26 December

This article appears in tomorrow's print edition of The Independent's Radar magazine


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star