Somewhere – Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning
Somewhere – Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) and Cleo (Elle Fanning) © 2010 Focus Features, Photo by Merrick Morton

Stephen Dorff has certainly had a diverse career since his first movie, The Power of One. He portrayed the ‘fifth Beatle,’ musician Stuart Sutcliffe in Iain Softley’s Backbeat, and cross-dressing film star Candy Darling in Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol.

In his new movie, Somewhere, written and directed by Sofia Coppola, he portrays an actor named Johnny Marco, who lives at the infamous Chateau Marmont Hotel in Hollywood. Johnny has it all – success, fame, money, girls, cars, drugs, but none of it is satisfying. Then his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), from a failed marriage, arrives unexpectedly, and their experiences together prompt Johnny to seriously look at the way he’s living his life.

Was Johnny Marco the best role you’ve ever been given?

Somewhere – Stephen Dorff
Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) © 2010 Focus Features

It was a gift of a role, personally and professionally. I think the gift as a role because it’s a total character study for 95 minutes on film, and these movies don’t exist anymore. I got the best of the best this year. Very rarely is there a young guy as a lead of the movie anyway, but I think there’s something about a young father that’s very interesting,

This film for me, beyond the Hollywood aspect and the decadence of the film, the core of the movie is about life and it’s about an adolescent father trying to find this opening to getting back to himself and becoming a man. So much of the film my little daughter, played by Elle Fanning so beautifully, is more sophisticated that her father. This character has everything, he has a Ferrari, he has this hotel suite, he obviously has money and fame and his dream, and yet he’s still miserable. Why?

It can happen to anyone, we can all have a hole in our hearts and have that disconnect happen if we’re in trouble and if we’re in pain. It doesn’t become about any of those things by the end for him. I think what he realizes in the end is he’s going to be a great father and he’s going to get his life together, and then maybe he’ll come back and make some movies.

Maybe they’ll be better than the Berlin Agenda, and he’ll even feel happier as an artist. Because I always thought, and I told Sofia this, Johnny probably would have rather been making Somewhere than this action movie that he became famous for, because he seems to crave art.

How much of a reality is his life at the Chateau Marmont, with the girls, the strippers, is that a caricature?

Somewhere – Elle Fanning and Stephen Dorff
Cleo (Elle Fanning) and Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) © 2010 Focus Features

It’s very real, because no matter how many strippers or how many girls he has, it’s so clear that he’s bored with that and doesn’t want that. It just becomes part of the day like getting his morning paper. Meanwhile he’s broken inside and that’s not going to fix anything. If you have every supermodel in the world, which he has a lot of them in the movie flashing him, it’s still not going to cure his happiness. I think that’s very true to life.

I think Sofia nailed the life of an actor, because I think no matter how much you have there is a loneliness and a very strange thing that happens, because we don’t go to an office, we don’t have a normal life. There are incredible assets to being an actor, and I love my profession, but it’s a trippy job.

What was it like working with Sofia?

Somewhere – Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning and Chris Pontius
Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), Cleo (Elle Fanning) and Sammy (Chris Pontius) © 2010 Focus Features

Sofia made a 70s film that most directors would ever be able to get away with making. She made this universal film within this very European way of making a film, and yet audiences are responding, which I find really exciting.

I love to break rules. I’ve always wanted to do something original, play a real character, have a director spend the time, and this movie is the extreme of spending the time, to be a fly on the wall and almost feel invasive in this guy’s world, and very few movies do that.

Talk a little about your onscreen relationship with Elle.

My sisters are, or have been, near Cleo’s age and I’m very close to them. I pulled from that a lot for my scenes with Elle – who is a brilliant little thespian and also a real, sweet girl.

Being around Elle was a change for me, since I don’t have a child. I felt this when I was driving her in my car one day [before filming]. Usually I’m in my car smoking and cursing when someone cuts me off – because we do have the worst drivers in L.A. – but I had to stop doing all that. [Instead], it was ‘Seatbelt on!’

Can you talk about your next movie, Immortals?

Somewhere – Stephen Dorff
Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) © 2010 Focus Features

Immortals, if you look at the Star Wars set up, it’s like I’m Han Solo, Freida Pinto is Princess Leia and this kid, Henry Cavill, plays young Theseus. and we all go after this evil king, played by Mickey Rourke.

It’s a sword and sandal movie, but I think it will be quite different, and I think we’ll do justice to the 3D world as opposed to one of these movies that’s just converted to get on the bandwagon. This is a film that [director] Tarsem Singh shot 3D when he wanted it to be in 3D, and he shot 35 when he wanted it be in 35.

It should be a visually [stunning movie] that I would hope delivers a little something different than the normal film.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.