A veteran of more than 40 films, American actor Matt Dillon, 36, is gearing up for an "atmospheric thriller" to be shot in the Kingdom.
AAveteran of more than 40 films, American actor Matt Dillon, 36, is gearing
up for an "atmospheric thriller" to be shot in the Kingdom. Michael
Hayes spoke to the movie star about his directorial debut on the big screen.
Post: Matt, when did you first come to Cambodia and how did you develop an interest
in making a movie here?
Dillon: The first time I came here was in 1993, and it was right before
the elections, and it was really hot so it must have been April or May. And I hadn't
really planned on coming. I was sort of burned out, I'd done like three films back-to-back.
I was a little zapped and so I decided to take an extended vacation, and I hooked
up with an old friend of mine who studied in Japan, and we planned to travel to Thailand
and then to Vietnam, and I hadn't really considered Cambodia at the time. And then
when I got to Bangkok a friend of mine told me I should drop everything and go to
Angkor Wat because, at that time, you could actually go there, there was a sense
of security. And so, that's how I first got here and, you know-Siem Reap, Phnom Penh-
I was really taken with the place. It really stayed with me. It was the most memorable
part of my two month trip travelling around.
And so that's how that came about then, and I remembered feeling that there was
something very cinematic about Phnom Penh, in particular.
Post: You were here for a couple of weeks?
Dillon: No, I was here for about a week and a half. And, it was amazing...there
were so many UNTAC vehicles around, but there was something about the place, underneath
all the hard times, there was something really magical about it, about the Kingdom...I
took a cyclo and it was beautiful, it was so quiet, you know, the streets...there
wasn't too much traffic. I think what's great as I come back is that a lot of...you
know it's changed enormously in seven years, for sure... but I'm pleasantly surprised
that the stuff that I really liked about it when I first came here still has this
sense of, you know, the Kingdom, the beauty, the sense of the city being on the river,
and all the Wats and things like that.
Post: Was it from that trip that the script [for your current movie] started
Dillon: Usually it's a lot of things, it's abstract things...I remembered
thinking 'Wow, it's really cinematic here. It should really be a great place to make
a film.' I didn't know what I wanted to make a film about at the time or what type
of things...I hadn't really thought about it. It came later. So then I started to
think about the type of film that would interest me would be something along the
lines of a lot of the films that I love, older films, like pictures of Carol Reed...The
Third Man, Odd Man Out and Outcast of the Islands ...And so, you know, there are
two places that I really love, that are really beautiful places and they held onto
the past, in some cases through tragedy...one of them is Phnom Penh and another is
in Cuba, so when I started to think about expats, I was in Paris and I was talking
to a friend of mine and he said 'You know, you should definitely be developing your
own material. You've been doing this for a long time' and I was thinking 'Well yeah,
but I'd have to do something that would involve me for a long period of time because
acting is a much shorter commitment and when you accept a writing project ...it's
a lengthy marriage and I started writing the script five years ago.
Post: So, this is the first script you've written?
Dillon: I've written some outlines ...but this is the first script that
I've actually completed. But while we were sitting there-I remember I was in Paris
and we were sitting near the pyramd-and I said [to my friend] I have two ideas, one
of them was set in Cuba and the other one was set in Phnom Penh...I didn't really
have a story yet but I had an idea...and I remember I got up to go the bathroom and
there was a chair...and it had a French magazine with a cover with Jayavarman VII
[on it] ...and I went 'Okay, that's it. That's what I have to do'...And I just kind
of had an idea about a young guy who goes to track down his mentor who's fled to
Cambodia and he wasn't supposed to track him down, he wasn't supposed to come looking
for him...And then it evolved as you go along...other characters started to come
into it, the cyclo driver that he meets on the street, an old Corsican saloon keeper.
Post: At the end of the day you've ended up with "Beneath the Banyan Tree".
How would you describe the film?
Dillon: I would say it's an atmospheric thriller...if I had to put in any
genre...I guess it's kind of a thriller but it's also...it's atmospheric so I don't
want it to be one of these Sigfield constructed stories that is tight so there is
no time to really soak up the feeling of it. It's also a story of redemption and
in a strange way a coming of age story. It's a little hard to call it a coming of
age story because the protagonist is a little old to be your classic coming of age
character but it is about a young guy who is breaking away from his past and this
corrupt relationship he has with his mentor-a father figure.
Post: And you're going to be the director as well as the lead actor?
Dillon: I'm a masochist in that way. I've decided I'm really going to make
it hard on myself.
Post: Have you directed a film before?
Dillon: No, I've directed some television and some music videos, but this
is my first feature. And I've never directed myself before which is even a bigger
challenge, but I have a really good group of people around me...and the only reason
I'm doing that is because I've always felt pretty strongly that, well, I never really
wanted to direct myself but because I wrote it and I lived with it for so long that
any director that I hired would probably want to kill me because I knew the material
too well...I'd be living in denial to think that I wasn't the director.
Post: Was it difficult to find the funds to pull all this together?
Dillon: It always is when you are doing a film. It's easier with really
small productions or bigger productions, and this one is lower but it's not one...you
know...the uncle is the gaffer and the cousin is the cameraman...The best description
I've heard for a producer is, for what a film is: 'A film is like a body that wants
to die, and the producer's job is to keep it alive." It's not that way when
you begin shooting and hopefully you have a good group of people and everybody is
committed to working towards the same goal...and you're under the gun, you've just
got to get it done.
Post: Where are you now and when are you going to begin to film?
Dillon: We're right in the thick of pre-production. We're casting. We've
got most of our locations scouted. We've got a really important Khmer crew, people
from the States, from Thailand as well. It's really a nice balance, a nice mix, an
Post: How has the cooperation been with the Cambodian government officials
you've been working with?
Dillon: Everybody's been great here, really good, supportive...the Khmers
have been tremendous really. I couldn't do it without them, really. Creatively, I'm
constantly always having to refer to them because this is their country, their culture.
We're filming here...it is a film about expats to a degree but it's also about Khmers
...it mixes all those elements, but they have been real supportive and I can't say
Post: How many people will be involved in this project?
Dillon: We have a sizeable Khmer crew, a sizeable Thai crew...I'd say around
400...I've found some really interesting, talented people.
Post: So, you will have Cambodians with speaking parts in the film?
Post: The Department of Cinema and Cultural Diffusion has looked at your script
and are okay with it?
Dillon: Oh yeah. We had some discussions about it and came to some conclusions...but
I think overall it's a positive piece and, you know, I love Cambodia and I wouldn't
be making a film here if I didn't...actually they've given me some great insights,
some things where I thought 'Oh yeah, I've got to change that'.
Post: And you will be filming where in Cambodia?
Dillon: We'll be filming in Phnom Penh and in Kampot.
Post: When does filming start?
Dillon: February 10th and then we're really flying.
Post: Are we going to see any other well-known actors coming in from the US?
Dillon: We have the great actor James Caan coming in to play Marvin...who
played Sonny in the Godfather...and Nathscha McElhone, a really good British actress
who's been in films like The Truman Show and Ronin ...[she has] a very beautiful,
Post: When do you think this will hit the big screen?
Dillon: It's hard to say....I don't want to say yet, we'll just have to
see when we finish [here]...I'm really excited...I have a great production designer,
a great cameraman and people that are going to make it a beautiful film... and the
locations are interesting, beautiful and dynamic.
Cambodia is really a distinctive country and I think the thing about it is that when
I go back to the States people say to me...they say 'How was your trip to Vietnam?'...and
you know there are people who think that Cambodia is part of Vietnam or Thailand.
It's unbelievable how ignorant some people are when it comes to their geography.
But I hope that this film will dispel some of that...and show Cambodia as it is.
Post: So you won't have Cambodians wearing Vietnamese hats like in Tomb Raiders?
Dillon: No Vietnamese hats, no.
Post: Can you tell me a little bit about the story itself?
Dillon: It starts off in New York, a young con man is involved in a pretty
high stakes scam that his mentor is the mastermind of. The scam goes awry and he's
forced to flee the United States to track down his mentor who spends a lot of time
in Bangkok, as well as Cambodia, but Cambodia is just something more recently. The
back story, although it is something not really talked about much, is that [the mentor]
is a Vietnam vet...who never really left Southeast Asia ...So anyway he's forced
to flee and track him down and when he gets here...he sort of becomes disillusioned
with the life that he has been living, Jimmy, my character, and he finds himself
ready for change, and when he finally meets Marvin, Marvin says 'Well, it's good
that you're here...I've got some new business schemes.' He's got a casino that he's
thinking about opening and meanwhile Marvin has burned some people back in New York
who very well may be looking for him. And Jimmy really wants nothing to do with this
new plan...it's pretty convoluted but it's well-constructed in the script.
Post: Once the film is done will you come to Cambodia to do a premier here?
Dillon: I'd love to do something like that...something in Phnom Penh. It
would be fun to do something outdoors.