Matt Dillon's controversial role in ''Factotum'' -- The ''Crash'' star takes on Bukowski's drunken alter ego

By Dave Karger
August 25, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

He’s a former teen idol who’s starred in almost 40 feature films and earned his first Oscar nomination earlier this year at the age of 41. So naturally, our first question for Matt Dillon is, What’s it like to be Entourage star Kevin Dillon’s brother? ”Yeah, yeah, right,” he answers good-naturedly. ”I’ve had people come up to me and go, ‘I just wanted to tell you, I loved …,’ and I’m like, ‘Thank you very much.’ And they’re like, ‘…your brother’s show.”’ He grimaces and collapses into the table. ”But I’m happy for him.”

But don’t worry about Matt Dillon — he’s fielding plenty of compliments on his own. After his young-punk, teen-heartthrob days in the early ’80s (The Outsiders, The Flamingo Kid), he flew under the radar for the next decade, despite roles in plenty of notable films (To Die For, Drugstore Cowboy, There’s Something About Mary). It’s only with last year’s Best Picture winner, Crash, that Dillon finally received recognition for the daring and unexpected choices he’s been making all along. ”I don’t think it’s my best performance,” Dillon reveals of the role that earned him a Best Supporting Actor nod. (Instead, he gives that prize to his turn as a homeless schizophrenic in 1993’s The Saint of Fort Washington.)

He’s particularly proud of his latest project, Factotum, a moody drama based on Charles Bukowski’s blunt 1975 novel, in which he plays the author’s often drunk and rarely employed alter ego, Henry ”Hank” Chinaski, with a mix of hatefulness and empathy. (The film is now in limited release.) ”Some movies you’ve got to stay focused and stay in character more throughout the day, otherwise you lose it,” says Dillon over a New York lunch across Central Park from his Upper West Side apartment. ”I had to keep Hank close. If I moved away from him for too long, then I’d have to ramp up again. At the end of the day I was able to leave the character behind me, but I would go home and I would read Bukowski or watch interviews he did.” On the set, the hours of homework certainly paid off. ”He had a depth that stopped me in my tracks,” says costar and longtime pal Lili Taylor. ”This period in his life is like a blossoming, not only as a man but as an actor. Johnny Depp is at a similar point — he’s coming into himself in this great way.”

While Depp has become something of a family-film star, Dillon has embraced his lurid side. With equal parts booze, cigarettes, and domestic violence, Factotum is another tough role for Dillon, coming the year after his morally bankrupt Los Angeles cop in Crash. ”I like characters that are controversial and have a dark side to them,” he says. For better or worse, Hollywood seems to be catching on. ”Recently I was reading a script that they sent to me to play this guy who was a racist, pedophile criminal,” he says incredulously. ”I was like, ‘O-kay.’ I do have standards.” (In other words, don’t expect to see him in that one.) With one memorable Factotum scene that involves a case of crabs and a roll of duct tape, however, Dillon is loosening his standards on showing some skin. ”This is the first time you’ve seen me full-on bare-assed,” he says. (Yep, not even in that Wild Things three-way.) ”I draw the line understandably at frontal nudity. But it was written in the script and I accepted that it was there.”