The exclusive interview in the beautiful Grand Hotel of Villa Cora
The appointment is at Villa Cora, on a May morning. Stephen Dorff is in Florence to present the new film that he stars in, Zaytoun, shown as part of the series dedicated to cinema from the Middle East, Film Middle East Now. The role of the Israeli pilot that he plays for Eran Riklis is completely different from the one that made him famous with the general public, the Hollywood star Johnny Marco, who lives in the legendary Chateau Marmont Hotel, and is as famous as he is bored, spending the days surrounded by beautiful women, alcohol, cars and loneliness, until he has to take care of his eleven year old daughter.
That movie was Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, which won the Golden Lion at the 2010 Venice Film Festival. There were rumours that both of Stephen’s lives – the real one and the one on film - were very similar. The person I encounter on this sunny day looks completely natural in jeans, T-shirt and boots. “They’re Red Wings, do you know them? They’re the same ones I wore in Somewhere, a gift from my dear friend Sofia.”
His eyes are still a bit sleepy. “Last night my Florentine friends took me to dinner at this really great restaurant, full of paintings and music, and we stayed late... Il Garga?” He seems far from the typical spoiled and bored American star. Between one coffee and another, he admits that there are very few good movies, and often the best ones don’t find funding. It’s essential to travel, so as not to be trapped in the glamorous but purely business reality of LA. Culture is to be found elsewhere and blending different experiences and sets is crucial for growth.” He is a bit embarrassed when I ask him about the meaning of the numbers tattooed on his arm. “It’s the date on which my mother passed away.”
Or when he tells me that, “There is something that children add to your life that I can’t explain, something magical. I don’t have any children yet, but when I am down I go and visit my younger sister and I feel better.” Again with great humility, “I’m lucky because I’ve had opportunities in life that many people haven’t had, like working with great artists. I do what I love every day, and hope to continue to grow and learn.”
Let’s go back to Zaytoun. We are in Beirut, in 1982, at the height of the conflict between Israel and Palestine...
The film isn’t directly about politics, although it revolves around the two countries’ issues, but it shows the beautiful relationship created between my character, David, an Israeli pilot whose plane is shot down by the Lebanese Forces, and Fahed, a twelve-year-old boy living among the Palestinian refugees. He is used to shooting at people like me, and I am trained not to believe in his causes. But two enemies who find themselves forced to spend a lot of time with each other learn to communicate on another level, a human level. It’s a simple movie but very strong. I was hooked right away.
What other roles are you particularly fond of?
Definitely Somewhere. Sofia Coppola is an extraordinary director. We became very good friends. And The Motel Life, which won the Audience Award and the Best Screenplay at the International Film Festival of Rome. At the screening, they gave us a standing ovation, an extraordinary moment.
It is said that 40 is the new 30, and life begins at this age. If you were to write your autobiography, where would you start?
As a child I always wanted to be with adults. At 11, I preferred to be on the set for a commercial to being at school. For my first film, The Power of One, I was in South Africa for six months and on my return I took a long trip, first to London and then to the United States. This is when I became independent and I knew what I wanted to do. I think I would start it with this trip.
And today, what does Stephen Dorff want to do?
I would like to devote myself more to music. I like to write music and play the piano (he performed for us in the Hall of Mirrors at Villa Cora, and he is very good, ed.) Playing is the thing that makes me proudest. It’s a passion I inherited from my father. He always told me that when you have a good ear, you can do a lot as an actor.
Andrea and Diego Della Valle have called you the new Steve McQueen and for two seasons they have chosen you as the testimonial for Hogan. How did this collaboration come about?
We met at the Venice Film Festival in Venice, through a mutual friend, Charles Ross. They invited me to their event in Paris and since then we have become friends. And it’s much more than a mere professional collaboration. Every time we see each other I feel at home, like family. I like Italians and I love your city. Maybe I should marry an Italian woman and move to Rome. Why not?