He played a drug addict for Gus Van Sant, a street thug for Francis Ford Coppola and a serial killer for Lars von Trier: Matt Dillon, the US teen idol of the ’80s, is one of the most talented and versatile screen actors – and maybe in today’s Hollywood film industry one of the most underrated.

I had the honour of interviewing Matt Dillon (55) at the Rencontres 7e Art Lausanne in spring 2019. The noncompetitive film festival with screenings throughout the city and encounters with actors and film directors was launched in 2018 by Swiss actor and film director Vincent Perez. Even though I had to limit myself to ten minutes, I was really impressed by Matt Dillon’s knowledge of modern art and his love for contemporary artists.

(Above) Matt Dillon in Rumble Fish by Francis Ford Coppola (1983)
(Above) Matt Dillon has been in the film business for 40 years. He made his film debut in 1979 in the film Over the Edge.


A few days ago, you posted a picture of you and Julian Schnabel on Instagram. He’s going to be in Zurich in two weeks to promote “At Eternity’s Gate”, his new film about Vincent van Gogh. You never played a modern art painter. Who would you like to play, if you had the choice? Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí or Jeff Koons?

Can I choose my own?

Yes, of course.

There are obviously people I admire as artists. One of them is Francis Picabia (1879-1953), who was a great artist. He had the courage to work in so many mediums. Chris Burden (1946-2015) is another interesting artist because of his courage, his commitment and his intelligence. He created exciting and crazy pieces of art. Even though they were physical, his works of art involved his performance.

Your grand-uncle Alex Raymond (1909-1956) created the Flash Gordon comic strip in 1934. Art runs in your family.

I come from a family of artists. My two uncles were cartoonists. They’re both very famous for their work. My father is an oil painter and my grandmother was a painter, too. I’m not in the same creative vein, I’m limited in my technique, but I’m very creative in another way. I like to explore that side. The process of drawing, painting and making collage is not different from other areas of exploration. The work is much more interesting than anything my mind can conceive. It’s only the process that makes it more interesting. Working with Lars von Trier was like that, because the way in which we worked embraced spontaneity and freedom. There was no judgement. You’re forced to stay in the moment, which is absolutely essential.

You’re talking about freedom of creativity, but also freedom of interpretation.

Yes, freedom is the key for an artist. It could be the freedom to restrict yourself. In the Film Factotum directed by Bent Hamer (2006), my character goes into a bathroom, which is very small. In Hollywood, the film industry applies a rule: you make a bigger bathroom to fit the equipment, the lights and the camera. But Bent said: “No, I want the room to restrict me, because it forces me to make a determination work with the camera.” The limitation gives him more creativity.

(Above) Julian Schnabel and Matt Dillon at the Petzel Gallery in New York. The perfect picture for an interview with Matt Dillon on modern art.

Trailer: Matt Dillon as a serial killer in The House That Jack Built by Lars Van Trier

Trailer: Matt Dillon in Drugstore Cowboy by Gus Van Sant

Trailer: Matt Dillon in Rumble Fish by Francis Ford Coppola

Matt Dillon often posts pictures of his trips around the world on Instagram.

Video: Unravel the Mysteries of Picabia

Video: Picabia exhibition at the MoMA in New York in 2016

David Salle and Francis Picabia Exhibition in Paris in 2013

Cover photo: Everett Collection / Shutterstock

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