Stephen Dorff: Movies are so bad these days – the whole business is in terrible shape

Stephen Dorff was just a teenager when he landed his first major film role in the 1987 horror The Gate.

Since then he’s gone from child star to leading man, and his career has seen him play a range of characters including a vampire overlord in Blade, the fifth Beatle in Backbeat, and one of the leads in HBO’s lauded crime anthology series True Detective.

As someone who’s worked consistently and received critical acclaim, Dorff is well placed to give an insider’s view of the film industry. Currently, he’s not impressed.

Stephen Dorff stars as an MMA fighter in Embattled. Pic: IFC Films
Image:Stephen Dorff stars as an MMA fighter in Embattled. Pic: IFC Films

“Movies in general are so bad these days that to find a gem of a script, to find even something that’s remotely original, remotely exciting, a filmmaker that I believe in, I mean you can count these things on your hands and maybe you get one a year – maybe – if that,” he tells Sky News.

“The whole movie business I feel like is in terrible shape, so if we can make a great movie, it’s like a miracle, especially I think with just the amount of content being created – 80% of it is so terrible, then you get 20% that’s interesting.

“I just try to find the good ones, man, in the s**t, and it’s getting harder and harder.”

Dorff’s new film sees him playing MMA fighter Cash, a man who’s had huge success in his career but treats his family despicably.

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The star says he immediately liked the script, written by David McKenna – known for Blow and American History X – but that it was not an easy part to play.

“It’s probably the most uncomfortable performance that I’ve ever had to give just because I didn’t like him,” he says. “It was hard for me working with kids and having to be so nasty, you know, physically nasty, verbally abusive – this guy’s really a piece of work.”

Continuing his point, Dorff can’t resist alluding again to his dislike of certain aspects of the film industry.

“Sometimes it’s harder to play the nastiest of people, you know, and at the same time you try to find some sort of humanity as well, because you could also go so dark that it becomes fake.

“None of the screenplay was fake, it was all very real and non-Hollywood. It felt like no executive had touched it and changed it and wanted to make a happy ending.”

Stephen Dorff stars as an MMA fighter in Embattled. Pic: IFC Films
Image:Stephen Dorff stars as an MMA fighter in Embattled. Pic: IFC Films

Playing the character meant inhabiting a dark space for a while, and Dorff says it took time to get away from him again – but that the end result was worth it.

“It took about a couple of weeks for me to shake this guy. I remember going like, all right, enough, the camera’s done, let’s end this guy, let’s put him to death, let’s kill him already…

“I am proud of the movie and I think Nick [Sarkisov] did an incredible job directing it, and the cast and all the performances I think are really, really strong.

“I don’t think there’s an MMA movie out there that could touch it, so I like being the one that made the best one so far.”

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Like many actors, Dorff’s work stalled in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

He says he found the lack of structure difficult to bear. “Actors don’t do well sitting, you know what I mean? If you have a normal job, maybe it’s nice to be at home, you have family, get to be with your kids more. I don’t have any of that you know, I just have me.

“If I’m not [working], my brain doesn’t understand what I’m doing. I need to know, okay, I’m doing this movie in September, so now I can, in July, prepare for that movie in September, I need to know what I’m doing.

“Whereas this year I had no idea when I would ever work again or if the world was going to end, so I just bought a lot of guns and was waiting on my ranch wondering when the world was going to end.”

He ends the conversation laughing.

“But now it looks like it’s coming back, so let’s go make some movies again!”

Embattled is out on digital download from 5 July

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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