The topic of Stephen Dorff came up in this week’s Solute Happy Hour, specifically how it could be that we all recognize Dorff and could name at least one performance of his that we adored – as the villain in Blade was a common one, but Cecil B. Demented, Cold Creek Manor and the most recent season of True Detective were also brought up. Yet, the guy has an unbelievable amount of dreck in his filmography. He appeared in two different Cinemascore “F” movies. In 2012 he is credited in seven different films, the most recognizable title arguably being Roman Coppola’s A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. Outside True Detective his most recognizable title in the last nine years is Leatherface, the maligned 2017 Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel.
This is, admittedly, a glass half-empty approach on my part. I haven’t seen most of his movies, and it’s possible I’m the philistine for missing out on Don’t Go (2018). Also, he’s worked on some very promising projects dogged with some bad luck. He’s worked with Michael Mann (on the more or less abandoned Public Enemies) and Sophia Coppola (on the underseen Somewhere) and Oliver Stone (World Trade Center). He’s recognizable from music videos in the past (Aerosmith’s “Cryin'” for example). The nicer take would be how cool is it that this working actor has periodically banged out some iconic work?
But on the whole his filmography suggests a lack of discernment. How much of this is personal preference/indifference can only be guessed. His first two imdb quotes offer two different conclusions: (“I enjoy my lifestyle, living by the beach in Venice. I’m not afraid to admit I enjoy the money,” followed by “I like to make movies about characters. I like smaller films, that’s what I love to do.”) So without the man himself available to solve the mystery (maybe? I guess I didn’t check the price), we’ll lay the blame at the feet of his agent, presumably a person in charge of protecting his interests and curating his options, and not just Stephen himself using falsetto on the phone: “Mr. Dorff requires a hotel with complimentary hot breakfast.”
There are curious filmographies driven by known factors. Nicholas Cage is the most visible example, his financial situation being a public explanation for his appearance in many strange roles for a performer of his renown. Eric Roberts has publicly acknowledged suffering from burnout in the Hollywood game and combating it by throwing the decision-making aspect of job hunting out the window. In a common, sad trend many women, like Dorff’s fellow double F-scorer Ashley Judd, have had their careers derailed by powerful abusers in the filmmaking system. But for many performers, like Malcolm McDowell, an icon who churns out movie after movie despite likely never needing to work again, the answer is simple: acting is the job they love to do. Why not do it whenever and wherever possible?
Your turn, Soluters! Who are the gems that make the little movies go? Who are the talents undone by the movies they’re in? Do you prefer performers who can turn up anywhere or do you gravitate toward the meticulously curated career? Do you have a different perception of the B-movie stars of yesteryear versus the straight-to-streaming magnates of today?