What the Hell Happened to Matt Dillon?

matt dillon - 2014

Matt Dillon was “discovered” while cutting class as a teen.  Not surprisingly, he made a career in the 80’s playing the kind of kids who got into trouble.  In the late 80’s and early 90’s Dillon successfully transitioned to adult roles with some critically acclaimed performances in smaller, independent films.  He also appeared in several popular, mainstream Hollywood movies.  In spite of all of this success, Dillon never established himself as an A-list box office draw.

What the hell happened?

 dillon - over the edge

Dillon was discovered while cutting class at the age of 14.  He was cast as a juvenile delinquent in the violent 1979 cult movie, Over the Edge.

Dillon played a teen living in a seemingly idyllic suburb.  But the teens are restless and are not receiving the proper oversight.  Eventually, an incident leads the parents to hold a town meeting at the school to discuss what is to be done.  While the meeting is taking place, the kids lock their parents in the school and go crazy destroying everything in their path.

Talent Scout, Jane Bernstein, was tasked with finding teens who could play the film’s out-of-control youth.  At first, they asked school administrators for their suggestions.  But they quickly realized that the kids they wanted weren’t spending time at school.  Bernstein described discovering Dillon:

“On our last day in Westchester, we were walking through the crowded halls of this one school, and the bell rang and everyone ran back to class. But there was this one kid—and he really was a kid, like 12 or 13—who was soft and young but who had a toughness about him. He was skipping class, just wandering the hallways. He had this chipped tooth, and he was presenting himself as a tough guy from the wrong side of the tracks. Which was ridiculous. As we later learned, he was from a lovely family in a beautiful section of the suburbs of New York. He was as middle-class as they came.”

Director, Jonathan Kaplan, recounted directing the film’s young actors:

“You had to be creative with how you directed these kids. It was great in a way, because there was no baggage. But I had to invent ways of directing that weren’t by-the-book.  In Matt Dillon’s case, he would often look in the wrong direction. I would tell him that on the screen he would be looking in the right direction, even though it felt wrong when he was shooting it. Trying to explain this to a 14-year-old kid who was already suspicious about the whole thing wasn’t easy. So I’d put a $20 bill on my forehead, and I’d say, ‘Matt, if you look at this $20 bill, it’s yours when the shot is finished.’Over the course of the movie he made about $200.”

Around the time the film was set to be released, a few other violent movies made headlines for incidents of gang violence.  Most notably, the film The Warriors was linked to a couple of violent headlines.  Orion, the studio who owned Over the Edge, didn’t want to run the risk of bad press.  So they barely released the film in theaters.  According to producer, George Litto:

“The real problem with the film was that it dealt with suburban white kids who cause a bit of violence—never against people, mind you, but against objects. If these kids had been urban and black, I think it would have scared Orion less.”

Over the Edge showed in only a handful of theaters before Orion pulled it.  But two years later, it started showing to great reviews in New York.  Once again, the film didn’t make waves at the box office.  But the good reviews lead to it being shown frequently on HBO in the 80s.  Gradually, the film achieved cult status.  In the 90’s, singer Kurt Cobain claimed, “Over the Edge pretty much defined my whole personality. It was really cool. Total anarchy.”   It served as an inspiration for the Smells Like Teen Spirit music video:


In 1980, Dillon appeared opposite Tatum O’Neal and Kristy McNichol in the teen sex comedy, Little Darlings.

The film’s plot is familiar to fans of the genre.  Two teens at camp make a bet over who can lose their virginity the fastest.  (Note to self: Don’t ever send kids to camp.)  What separates Little Darlings from other teen sex comedies is that the protagonists are girls.  McNichol’s character views sex as no big deal and sets her sites on Dillon’s character as a way to win the bet.  However, as the trailer makes clear, everyone grows up a little by the end of the movie:

Reviews were mixed.  O’Neal and McNichol who were rising stars at the time, were both singled out for criticism for giving wooden performances.  Although Roger Ebert commented that Little Darlings “somehow does succeed in treating the awesome and scary subject of sexual initiation with some of the dignity it deserves.”


Later that year, Dillon appeared in the teen drama, My Bodyguard.

Dillon played a school bully who terrorizes that kid from Meatballs (Chris Makepeace).  Without Bill Murray’s camp counselor around to look out for him, Makepeace’s character resorts to hiring a bodyguard played by a young Adam Baldwin (who would later go on to play the gruff renegade, Jayne, on Firefly.)

Reviews were mostly positive and My Bodyguard was a modest hit at the box office.

Next: Tex and The Outsiders

Posted on August 18, 2013, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 109 Comments.

  1. forrestbracket

    Lebeau have you heard any stories about dillion. I heard he was nice but wondering if you know anyone who met him. Similair to harrsion ford story


  2. forrestbracket

    I know but I have buddies who met dillion film festival said he was kind.Everyone one not just actor have their off days no one is perfect. Even hanks who reputation as a nice I am sure can be a jerk at times. This comes no shock to you but I have my off days too lol. I am sure you gather from interviews hes cool guy.


    • Sure.

      I had someone swear up and down that Brendan Fraser was a saint. I have had others tell me horror stories. I take all of these with a grain of salt. The worst person in the world will make a good impression some times and vice versa.


      • Hehe, yeah, Dillon was definitely a jerk, but again, I didn’t take it personally. He was out with friends and didn’t wanna be bothered. I was just trying to joke with him when I told him he had crushed 8-year-old me all over again, and I guess that made him mad, so he said, “F___ you!” and threw his cigar at me. We were standing in the road and a car was coming by so my girlfriend and I just started walking away and blew it off. I thought about grabbing his cigar off the street. The only other star I can think of that I’ve met who was also a jerk, is John Malkovich. He yelled at me to “Go away!” as he was hailing a cab, but other than that every other star I’ve met has been kind.


  3. forrestbracket

    Nice some celebs act nice for pr. Better to focus on their work not their persoan life. There here to entertain us. I enjoy sean penn dustin hoffman gene hackman sena connery and russell crowe but i know there jerks in real life.


  4. I heard dillion is nice but everyone has off days. celebs want privacy too. John Malikocah does seem pretentious. i heard Tobeymaguire and cameron diaz are mean with fans,


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