April 2003
City of Ghosts : An Interview with Matt Dillon

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

City of Ghosts: An Interview with Matt Dillon

Matt Dillon is one of those actors who could be blend in any role he has. He could be the lead or supporting guy in a film, and it wouldnít make a difference because he brings the same passion to the film. From playing the older kid in The Outsiders to making an audience laugh in Thereís Something About Mary, Matt has proven to be one of the best versatile actors in the business. After so many years acting, Matt has decided to elevate his skills in the business by directing. His first effort was directing an episode of the HBO drama series OZ a few years ago. With some time gone, his next effort is a film set for theatrical distribution this week. In an interview with blackfilm.com, Matt Dillon talks about his film directorial debut with City of Ghosts, which was shot in Cambodia.

WM: Itís been 20 years since you came into the industry with ďThe OutsidersĒ. Are you shock about being still being in this business?

MD: Well, itís been a long time to now. Iím really pleased with where Iím at now with the directing. I remember as far as back to ďThe Flamingo KidĒ and talking to Director Gary Marshall. I said to him ďGary, I would like to direct one day.Ē And he said ďNah kid, you donít want to do that.Ē ďYou have to get up too early in the morningĒ, he said to me. Iím not surprised so much. I could have done it (direct) a lot sooner. Things have a way at working at their own pace. No matter how much you try to will it to go forward, it just takes time.

WM: How has your perspective of Asia changed since filming there?

MD: Well, I think the whole experience of making this film. Itís the longest endeavor Iíve ever undertaken for me. As an actor, the longest Iíve ever spent on a film was five months and thatís with everything included such as the preparation and shooting. Here, I was on something and committed to making for 6-7 years now, so that changes you a little. All of a sudden, that becomes a time period in your life that youíll always remember. ďOh, it was right around when I was making City of GhostsĒ is something that will always be there for me. In a funny way, it took a chunk of my life. On a personal note, I discovered things about myself while making the film. I learned to trust my instincts. As a filmmaker, you have to make so many decisions in such a short time that you have to trust your instincts. Plus, I discovered things about myself as a storyteller. Prior to that, I had only acted in films. I had never written a screenplay or made a film and I discovered I really liked it and that I had knack for it. As a kid, I remember having an interest in creative writing at a young age. I also think as an actor having read scripts over the years that actors are storytellers. Having worked with so many filmmakers, I think that really helps.

WM: How were your living conditions where you stayed at?

MD: In the provinces, in Kampot itís a little rougher. It was a big Chinese run hotel with a big karaoke bar downstairs. Jimmy did karaoke but I didnít. I didnít stay there. Jimmy Caan and I stayed in a little guest house on the water there. It didnít have an air conditioner when we first checked in but they put one in. It was run by this Italian guy who used to be in the timber trade with the Kamira Rouge He was quite a character himself. That was what it was all about; to be on the Gulf of Siam out there in this old colonial town, sort of dilapidated with one and a half restaurants.

WM: What were some of the dangers of shooting in Cambodia?

MD: The real dangers that we faced working there were obviously heat exhaustion, parasites and getting sick. We had problems; thankfully we were very lucky on all fronts. We needed good security. There are a lot of guns and a lot of crime in the country. Thatís a reality there. Itís a country thatís sort of going through post-traumatic Vietnam War aftermath. So there is kind of palpable sense of danger that comes up from time to time. I really am realistic and humble enough to admit that we got lucky for the most part. We took precautions. We did have to clear some areas for land mines that we were shooting in. It was one of their last hold-outs. We also had to rebuild roads. We didnít want to lose anybody driving up the mountain. I enjoyed the obstacles and overcoming them. That to me was part of the fun, part of the excitement.

WM: What was the situation involving the electronic team

MD: There was some insanity going on while we were making the film. There was one day the electric department was held hostage. I was onto to the next location rehearsing and the intervention police wouldnít let them leave without some payments.

WM: I hear working with the monkey wasnít easy. Is that true?

MD: We had a monkey that was uncontrollable. He attacked the prop lady. I had to smuggle a monkey in from Thailand and we were fighting the light trying to get a monkey to snatch a pair of sunglasses off.

WM: Besides the monkey, I hear you had other animal issue to deal with. Could you elaborate?

MD: We were shooting at the top of a casino and itís an area thatís really a national forest. The area is mined and nobody really knows what the wildlife is up there because thereís a lot of it. The guards were constantly telling us when we were scouting there, Ďoh thereís a tiger seen over by the pagoda.í We had brought up water buffaloes and billy goats and I said I want these goats at the top of the mountain (many of the goats didnít survive the tiger). I donít think thatíll go over too well with the animal rights activists! I remembered the day I was talking to the production manager and we were really behind the first day shooting up there. It was a long haul getting up to the top of that mountain. There was a big sequence with Jimmy Caan and he had to get back to the United States (it was his 60th birthday) and we had to finish shooting. The production manager wanted to shoot all the scenes with the water buffalo today? I said, Ďno we canít do that. We gotta finish shooting James Caan.í I said, Ďwhatís the problem.í He said, Ďwe have a tiger and heís been drawn to the scent of the buffalo and weíre afraid he wonít last till the morning.í Heíd been hanging around the elephants where the camp set-up was. So the production manager put the water buffalo near the generator because the tiger might not go there and left another goat out. Tigers like goats! Kill a goat, save a water buffalo!

WM: Was it difficult shooting the brothel scene?

MD: Shooting that scene was interesting to me because I felt this strong need to put this on the screen to show what these places are like. I had seen these places. Itís a brothel like in the film. Young girls, primary Vietnamese, are behind these glass walls and thereís a sign that says ďSTOPĒ to prevent customers from touching the girls, should they be drunk. I saw that place and decided to shoot a scene exactly as I saw it. It was hot and difficult because we were press for time. I had my line producer shouting at me. ďYou donít care about the crewĒ, ďI donít care you; Iím pulling the plugĒ is what he would say to me. I then said ďPull the plug, fuck youĒ and hung up the phone. That was some of the stuff I was battling all the time. Shooting the film was difficult. We had a finite amount of money to work with and a difficult schedule. Of course, I did care about the crew. I care very much about them and appreciated their effort and he was right. You donít want to burn out the crew but we didnít any other option. We were up against it and people passed out from heat exhaustion. Some had to go to the hospital for IV drips. Thatís not uncommon. That happens on movies. It goes with the territory. It just happened a little more on this set than usual.

WM: How do you feel now that the film is completed and ready for a U.S release?

MD: I had an opportunity to bring my own voice to life on the screen. Thatís a great feeling. I donít think anything can touch that for me. For me, Iím never one to recognize my own growth as a man. Itís the last thing I recognize. I donít recognize changes but they happen and I did not want them to be obvious in the film because I really do feel itís a very sloppy messy thing, spiritual growth itís messy man. I wanted it to be gray. I didnít want him to have this moment where a halo would come around his head. Maybe it was my own thing but I wanted this film to be about something other than just a thriller or a film about betrayal and friendship. I wanted it to be deeper, about a guy whoís going through some personal self discovery along his way. He goes on this spiritual journey; heís spiritually dissatisfied. What I discovered was thatís the harder thing to show that on film. The only way is through relationships with other characters. There were things that sounded interested but then it seemed heavy handed.

WM: Did you capitalize on ďThereís Something About MaryĒ? Do you have any comedy projects lined up next?

MD: I think I might do a comedy next. Iíll answer that question first. I donít think I capitalized because I think people respect me as a comedic actor but they donít think to send me the scripts that they would normally send to comedic actors, so I get very few offers to comedy. Thereís one I have now that I might do. Itís been mentioned in the papers and itís with Steve Zahn and Christina Applegate. I like this project. I enjoy making a comedy and those guys, the Farrelly Bros., are very stand up guys. These are two guys that are honorable and funny.