- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Stephen Dorff was earmarked early on for stardom. Instead, the Atlanta-born actor has been on an eccentric career trajectory, bouncing from one peculiar project to the next.

His resume includes such offbeat items as "Backbeat," "Entropy," "City of Industry" and "I Shot Andy Warhol."

His choices have proved excellent for honing his craft. The latest proof is his performance in the title role of "Cecil B. DeMented," the latest movie from Baltimore-based cult director John Waters.

Mr. Waters is notorious for such campy fare as "Hair Spray" and "Pink Flamingos," but he has toned down the outrage in recent years. In "Cecil B. DeMented," Mr. Dorff tackles the part of a crazed indie film director who kidnaps a top Hollywood actress (played by Melanie Griffith), forcing her to star in one of his films.

The movie was a long time in the pipeline for the filmmaker and his star.

"John Waters offered me this movie over three years ago," Mr. Dorff recalls. "I read it, and it was the craziest script I'd ever read. So I wanted to do it. Then, for whatever reasons, the money didn't come together. It was quite a big budget, and the financing fell through, so he went off and wrote 'Pecker.' By that time, he had a lot of people wanting to play Cecil.

"But John was loyal to me, came back and said we're going to make it. John is one of the last true original movie makers out there. He does his thing and doesn't compromise. And his movies are incredibly funny."

Mr. Dorff handled the clearly insane Cecil in a straightforward fashion.

"I just didn't know how it was going to be played," he says. "The script was over the top, but I didn't want to play this campy. I wanted to play it real. It's funnier for Cecil, with his tortured insides and his commitment to his vision, just to be completely straight.

"You believe every moment, even the most ludicrous things. John always said to never wink at the camera, just play it like a serious drama, and it'll work out."

A staple of the indie scene, Mr. Dorff confides he would enjoy a higher profile in the business, but the competition for major studio work is stiff.

"The business has changed so much now," he notes. "There used to be five young guys in my category, and we'd all be up against each other for every big Hollywood movie where there was a young guy. Now there's like 85,000 young guys. Me and my friends talk about who's up for scripts we all read and wonder, 'Who is this guy that's up for it?' And it turns out he's on some WB show.

"Film used to be film," Mr. Dorff complains. "TV was TV. Music was music. Now it's just one big swirling maelstrom of chaos. For me, I had the great fortune of having my first real big feature when I was 17, 'The Power of One.' I started out in a classy way, being in Africa with Morgan Freeman, being the lead in this big epic about apartheid, working with amazing filmmakers. So from that, I just wanted to be very serious about what I did.

"I never wanted to do 'She's All That' and those kinds of movies," the 27-year-old continues. "They'd love me to do a movie with Britney Spears or a movie for my teen-age audience.

"I'd love to do a movie for the young girls. I think it's important to include them in your work. I did 'Blade' for my audience, and it made a boatload of money. I'm not against teen movies, but most of them are silly."

Mr. Dorff, whose father composes film scores, was born into a show-biz family. You can still catch him in "Family Ties" reruns. He boasts extensive television credits but disdains the medium.

"I don't like TV," he concludes. "I could have done a series a long time ago and gotten really rich. I've been offered so many great miniseries and movies, and they tell me we'll win Emmys. I don't want to do it.

"I'd rather work with the filmmakers and have people go see the movies on the big screen. That's what I do. I'm different that way."

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