Embattled's Stephen Dorff: 'I never wanted to be famous, I just wanted to be an actor' (exclusive)
Stephen Dorff does not conform to Hollywood's norms. That includes shunning social media.
There have been times when the 47-year-old star of Blade, True Detective, and Backbeat has been asked by studios to sign up to Twitter or Instagram, to help promote a flick, but he’s always refused. In an age when fame-hungry actors plaster themselves over every available platform, Dorff is simply content to let the work speak for itself.
“I'm not one of these celebrities that likes to talk about myself or go on chat shows,” he says. “I'm much more, if you want to see me, see me in the movies or buy an article in a magazine. I’ve pretty much kept to my guns that way. You know, I don't do any social media, I hate it. I'm not on Instagram, I'm not on Twitter, I've never been on Facebook, I don't have a website. I don't give a flying f*** about about any of that.”
This mystique around Dorff is likely the reason why he’s able to land roles as dramatically different as True Detective’s Roland West, and new release Embattled.
Read more: Dorff reveals True Detective secrets
“I've never wanted to be famous. I just wanted to be an actor,” he states. “And I think I'm the only actor in the business at my level that’s not on any social media. That I kind of love!”
We’re used to booing the great movie villains, from Darth Vader to Saruman to Thanos. But often the most hissable big screen bad guys are the ones that are the most human. Real people, with real problems, in the real world. There’s not much to like about Dorff's Embattled character Cash Boykins — he’s a racist, a homophobe, a terrible father, an abusive husband — but a brilliant MMA fighter.
“He’s a villainous character, when you break it down,” Stephen Dorff says of Boykins. “I mean, he's just not a nice person.”
‘Not a nice person’ is hardly something you could ever say about Dorff, however. As he chats with Yahoo over Zoom, he’s the model of gentlemanly politeness, and it seems the only thing he shares with the monstrously self-absorbed Cash is they’re both a mass of muscle and tattoos.
That said, even the normally ripped Dorff was forced to pack on more beef for the role. He gained 10 pounds of muscle in the four weeks prior to filming and, by the start of production, he probably could have gone toe to toe with Jorge Masvidal or Nate Diaz, he’s that convincing. But despite the brutal training, he believes getting inside the head of Boykins was the harder job.
“The physical isn’t exactly easy, but it's just a regiment you go through, and I've done that many times for parts,” he says. “This was a situation of how do I find the mental game of this guy. So much of him is his bravado and how he carries himself. And that then leads to what happens in the ring.”
A touching, if bone-crunchingly visceral father-son drama, Embattled comes from the pen of David McKenna, who has form shining a flashlight on the evils of toxic masculinity.
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“I met him on American History X, cause I loved that script,” Dorff says, “but I was kind of in the middle of the ages that year – I was too young for the Ed Norton part and I was too old for the Eddie Furlong part. David is a very smart, thoughtful writer – he knows emotion.”
It’s an especially personal story for McKenna. His son Colin, who has Williams Syndrome, plays Cash’s son, a character often at the receiving end of some of his father’s most brutal and callous comments.
“I thought did such a great job,” enthuses Dorff about the teenage actor. “It was kind of uncomfortable for me to play some of those scenes. He was a sweet kid. It was really about making him understand that this is acting, and I'm going to be aggressive and rude in some scenes, but it's not who I am.”
Dorff may not like Cash very much, but it’s a part that’s winning him rave reviews. It’s difficult to process that this is the same guy who, 30 years ago, played ‘fifth Beatle’ Stuart Sutcliffe in Backbeat.
And who 23 years ago was the seductive Deacon Frost in Blade. Then there’s his turn as Vietnam Vet ‘tec Roland West in the third season of True Detective. Few screen careers are as dizzily eclectic as Stephen Dorff’s. But is there one role he’s most recognised for?
Read more: Wesley Snipes is 'all good' being replaced as Blade
“It's always different genres of people,” he says. “I mean obviously, I get the Blade thing a lot. With the artier crowd I’ll get [Sofia Coppola’s] Somewhere. People in Europe, they love that film – they tend to have a better taste in movies over there. [Laughs] But yeah, it's always different.”
Since making his debut in 1987 horror The Gate, Dorff has notched up well over 50 movie appearances. But despite growing up on screen, he’s not keen on revisiting his older roles. If he happens to catch one on TV he might, he admits, sneak a little watch of it, but for him, the pleasure of working in the movies is in making the film itself. Everything that comes after, not so much.
“Once it's out I'm kind of done with it,” he shrugs. “But I like to see how it does, because I care, but at the same time, I don't really sit there and watch myself. I find it kind of awkward. I like to play the character but I don't want to see myself on camera.”
So, what goes through his mind when he does catch a snippet of an old movie? It must bring back a flood of memories.
Read more: Jared Leto wants Blade-Morbius crossover
“Oh definitely,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s like, ‘Holy s***, man, I was 17 when I did that,’ or ‘God, I was 21 when I did this movie with Reese Witherspoon!’ See I grew up in the movies, so that's my childhood. My life has been in the celluloid world so I'm sure it gives me a kick in the butt when I see certain things or when there are memes of me flying around.
"Recently, there was some meme about Blade that took fire and I got sent it by 100 people. You know, I'll laugh, but I’m really more about making the movies.”
Embattled will be released in the UK and Ireland on digital download from 5 July 2021. Watch a trailer below.