At the movies

Stephen Dorff goes to the dark side in ‘The Motel Life’

Andrew Toth / Getty Images

Stephen Dorff realizes he has been in almost too many movies to count. Try to pin him down as a specific type and it’s nearly impossible: a boxing hero in The Power of One, a psychopath in Cold Creek Manor, a cop in World Trade Center, a wack-job director in Cecil B Demented, real-life musician Stuart Sutcliffe in Backbeat.

The Atlanta native has never played an amputee — until now. His latest character, Jerry Lee, is a tragic drifter in The Motel Life, co-starring new dad Emile Hirsch as Frank, his equally down-on-his-luck brother. We talked to Dorff from New York about the movie based on a novel of the same name, now playing at O-Cinema:

What attracted you to someone as broken as Jerry Lee?

I loved the script. I thought it was a great take on this relationship and the amazing loyalty and connection between two brothers and how strong it was. I have a younger brother, and I definitely want him to see it. Jerry Lee has become a burden to Frank, but he would never see it that way. They have each other’s back. They are each other’s family.

The movie is pretty depressing, but there are some lighter moments, like the use of animation peppered through.

True, these guys don’t have the prettiest layout for themselves. They have pretty much hit rock bottom. But I always thought of them as diamonds in the rough trying to find their way. They have a certain charm, and I think that comes through. I never saw this as a dark movie. There’s a lot of sadness, but every time it gets too heavy something whimsical and human and funny happens. I liked that balance.

With all that snow, it seems the weather cooperated with the mood.

When we rehearsing, Reno was like the Bahamas, so sunny. The book is set in the cold. Suddenly when we started filming for real we got dumped with tons of snow. That’s when we knew we were into something special.

How do you keep from getting pigeonholed in your career?

Hollywood likes to do that. After I played a bad boy a few times, those were the only kind of scripts I was getting. It was starting to scare my grandma [laughs], and it was getting boring. You want to hit a lot of beats as an actor; that’s why you get into this business. A turning point was in 2010 when Sofia Coppola gave me a big break in Somewhere. I got to play a bad boy but a vulnerable one. Now if this movie is successful I’ll only get parts like Jerry Lee, but that’s OK.

You filmed [1996 thriller] “Blood and Wine” in Miami. How was that experience?

Ah yes, I had a blast! I would go out at night with Jack Nicholson — he was playing my dad — and he wanted me to stay out until the sun came up. The problem was I had to be back at work at 6 in the morning. Jack comes in when he wants. He’s Jack Nicholson!

Madeleine Marr

Read more People stories from the Miami Herald

  • Celebrity birthdays on Aug 1

    Actor-director Geoffrey Holder is 84. Singer Ramblin’ Jack Elliott is 83. Blues musician Robert Cray is 61. Singer Michael Penn is 56. Singer Joe Elliott of Def Leppard is 55. Rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy is 54. Rapper Coolio is 51. Singer Adam Duritz of Counting Crows is 50. Actress Tempestt Bledsoe is 41. Singer Ashley Parker Angel (O-Town) is 33.

  • Celebrity roundup

    Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Kirstie Alley no longer speak: Is it because of Scientology?

    Que paso? Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Kirstie Alley used to be so close. They met as partners on Dancing with the Stars and stayed in touch but these days they no longer speak. “She stopped getting along with me,” Chmerkovskiy told Andy Cohen on Bravo's Watch What Happens Live. “I got a message now that I am associating with other people that she can't be associated with, I am no longer to be spoken with, and sorry, but it is what it is.” Jennifer Lopez, rumored to be dating the dancer, is besties with Leah Remini, who recently left the Church of Scientology, and that perhaps doesn’t sit well with Alley, who remains loyal to Tom Cruise’s church.

  • On the shelves

    At 88, Hollywood legend Lee Grant looks back in ‘I Said Yes to Everything’

    Actress Lee Grant came that close to washing Shampoo out of her hair when co-star Warren Beatty told her how to play the scene when she learns he has seduced her character’s daughter. The matter got resolved after she spoke to the actual director, Hal Ashby, and then to Beatty again. Not only did she win an Oscar for the role, but she and Beatty became great friends, even sharing a few passionate kisses after filming ended.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category