Lost At the Chateau Marmont

From party girl to Oscar winner, Sofia Coppola's journey to 'Somewhere'

“It’s like the flip side of Entourage.”

*     *     *

“I despise that show. This is the opposite.”

Stephen Dorff is on the phone from San Francisco, where—shades of the movie he’s promoting—he’s exhausted and borderline disoriented after an all-night flight and grueling schedule.

“I think being an actor is a very lonely job, and that’s probably the reason why you read about a lot of people that go off the deep end. In a hotel room, when the party stops, when the camera stops, when the junket stops, it’s like, ‘What now? What do I do?’”

Coppola admits that both Fanning’s Cleo and Dorff’s Johnny contain elements of her personality and autobiography (and certainly, if you read Eleanor Coppola’s memoirs, you’ll find that parts of Somewhere are direct dramatizations of Coppola family history). But Dorff lived this story before it was written: The actor crashed at the Chateau for two months when he was 19, shortly after filming the role of Stuart Sutcliffe in the early-Beatles biopic Backbeat.

“I got back from England, and I didn’t want to go home,” he explains. “I had all this money, so I decided to just stay at the Chateau until they were like, ‘Uh, Stephen, you have to go get another job.’”

Paying the bills seems to have been a primary motive of his career. Dorff’s IMDb page mixes starring roles in undistinguished genre films (Blade, FearDotCom) with interesting indie character work (I Shot Andy Warhol) and straight-to-DVD schlock (Remember .45? I don’t). “I could never get the leading man [parts],” he says. “My mom was always getting upset with me. ‘Why are you always a bad guy?’ ‘Ask my agent, ask Hollywood. I don’t make those decisions, Mom.’”

His mother died, Dorff says, “right before this movie just kind of dropped into my lap. I was not in a good place at all. I was shooting with Johnny Depp on Public Enemies for, like, you know, two years or however long that movie took. It was more like six months, but it felt like forever, and I was very lost.”

As Coppola was writing the role of the also-very-lost Johnny Marco, she had Dorff’s image in her head. “I thought of this kind of bad-boy Hollywood actor character, and then he came to mind,” Sofia says. “When I finished the script, I sent it to him and asked him to come meet with me because I hadn’t seen him in many years and just see, you know, if we were on the same wavelength.”

“I went to Paris to talk to her about the film and spent about a week with her,” Dorff remembers. “She was, I’m sure, observing me, but it wasn’t like an audition. It was more just talking, hanging, seeing each other.”

Coppola and Dorff had run in the same circle in the early ’90s, while she was going through her “flaky” phase. “I think the first time we met might’ve been at a fashion show in New York, some Anna Sui fashion show, maybe in like ’91,” he recalls. “Zoe Cassavetes was one of my best friends—we never dated; we were just best buddies—and Zoe and Sofia were best friends. I was invited to some of the festivities around Lost In Translation time and just remember being so proud. I had never had a friend close to my own [age], especially a woman, up there winning an Oscar. And Francis was always kind of interested in me.”

Dorff came close to working with Sofia’s dad a number of times: He was up for the role of Neal Cassady in an On the Road adaptation that never happened; he screen-tested for the Matt Damon role in The Rainmaker; and he very nearly played the role that eventually went to Tim Roth in Francis Ford Coppola’s self-financed passion project Youth Without Youth, even work-shopping the role with the director at the Coppola estate. “When I had screen-tested for Rainmaker, I was in a hotel, and then I was driven to the property, whereas this time, it was just me and Francis, and Sofia was off finishing up Marie Antoinette and I was staying in Sofia’s room. I remember texting Sofia, saying, ‘I’m staying in your room, and I’m eating steaks and drinking wine with your dad.’”

The director and her male muse may have had a shared history, but little on Dorff’s résumé had prepared him for a film like Somewhere, which has him onscreen in every scene, often saying virtually nothing. “You know, dressing to play a woman, [like] in I Shot Andy Warhol, it’s a piece of cake for me. I look in the mirror; I look like a girl. I just find a voice, walk around in some heels and do it. I find that kind of acting the easiest. I found this the hardest because I have nothing but myself. I’m so raw and so open. There’s no cheat, there’s no tricks, there’s no . . . there’s nothing, you know?”

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