Crash

SOUND BITES

Which director would you like to work with that you haven’t before?? “Martin Scorsese. He represents everything that’s good about American film. Also, Werner Herzog and Norwegian director Bent Hamer.”

How do you balance art vs. commerce?? “Like Scorsese does when he says, ‘One for them, one for me.’ You have to pay the bills. I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of the things I’ve done — writing and directing — without doing a couple of commercial projects. That’s the movie business.”

Up next: “I’m filming ‘You, Me and Dupree’ with Kate Hudson and Owen Wilson, directed by the LaRusso brothers. I’m co-writing a script about an unkillable gangster I once knew named Crazy Eddie Maloney. And I’m working on another script with Brian Hamill about Moondog, the famous New York street musician, admired by Stravinsky.”

In “Crash,” director/co-writer Paul Haggis turns up the heat under L.A.’s already simmering melting pot by having a white LAPD officer roust an elegant black couple out of their SUV.

Matt Dillon plays everyone’s worst fear of a bad cop, testosterone-pumped and corrupt with racist power. Terrence Howard is a television director and Thandie Newton’s character is a bit drunk coming back from a party.

“I was surprised when Paul told me to run my hand up her skirt during the frisk,” Dillon says. “It wasn’t something I would’ve thought of, but when he said, ‘Go for it,’ I felt the danger. It was the hardest scene for me to do.”

The viewer feels the danger too, and the nasty insinuation, which is one of the things that makes Dillon’s performance memorable.

During a 26-year career that began with 1979’s “Over the Edge,” Dillon has endured the rigors of showbiz. He’s co-starred in seminal films such as “The Outsiders,” “Rumble Fish” and “Drugstore Cowboy,” as well as the comedy blockbuster “There’s Something About Mary.”

With “Crash,” Dillon got to tackle a character with a conflicted soul, a role that, as an actor, he relishes. “I’ve never been one to stay away from controversial characters, like Jack Ryan,” he says. “I like dimension. The most important thing for me was to find some humanity in a toxic, bigoted character who sees himself and his father as victims of racial politics.”

Dillon prepared for the role by hanging out with LAPD officers and accompanying them on ride-alongs in a squad car. “Being behind a badge in a black and white gives you an incredible sense of power. This was the only place where Ryan felt in control,” Dillon says.

On working with Haggis, directing only his second film, Dillon notes, “You like someone who’s passionate but not a screamer. He knew what he wanted and didn’t get hung up. He was specific. That’s important.”

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