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Matt Dillon on ditching class, curiosity and the power of a good story

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  • | 2:49 p.m. April 18, 2014
UPDATE: Chillounge Night rescheduled due to forecast
UPDATE: Chillounge Night rescheduled due to forecast
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The local library is probably the last place you'd expect to find a class-ditching teen. But for actor Matt Dillon, it was his hangout of choice. He says his curious nature consistently led him out of the classroom and into the stacks.

Oddly enough, this type of truancy is also how he broke into a successful, three-decade film career. It was during one of his class-skipping sessions in his home town of New Rochelle, New York that talent scouts happened to discover the 14-year-old Dillon, who then landed a role in the 1979 film, "Over the Edge," propelling him into a string of street-wise youth roles and laying the groundwork for the rest of his career.

Today, he says the same curiosity that drove him as a teen still fuels his ambitions as an actor, director, producer and documentarian.

During a visit Wednesday evening to Ringling College of Art and Design as the final guest in this season's Film Lab series, presented in collaboration with Future of Films, Dillon discussed the evolution of his prolific career, his upcoming projects and what lies at the root of his passion.

After establishing himself as an actor, Dillon branched out in 2002 as a director with his film, "City of Ghosts." He says the experience broadened his understanding of the industry and that he gained a new respect for actors who were willing to "go on a journey with the director."

He recalls James Caan's willingness to learn — and sing karaoke in — Khmer, the native language of Cambodia, where the film was set.

"It was amazing to watch someone like that be willing to commit to my vision," says Dillon.

Dillon has also branched out into documentary work. He's currently working on a film titled "Fellove," about the life and influence of the Cuban soul musician known as El Gran Fellove, and he hopes to recruit Ringling students to help with animation, editing and production. When asked about the broad range of topics that interest him, Dillon says it all comes back to his natural sense of curiosity and his love of a good story.

"Reading the script of 'Over the Edge,' I felt like I knew these characters," he says. "It was like they were real people, and that's what made me fall in love with acting. It wasn't a desire to be on camera; it was because I wanted to bring this characters and these stories to life. The most important thing is that it be honest and real. That's what I try to do. I just like telling stories."


— All photos by Cliff Roles, courtesy of Ringling College of Art and Design.


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