Back in the 90s, Stephen Dorff was one of the hottest rising stars around. With his good looks and natural screen charisma, the American actor looked set to become one of the biggest actors of his generation, yet all these years later his celebrity status has subsided somewhat – and it seems that Dorff prefers it that way. Here are some facts about the actor you might not have known.
20. He was raised “half-Jewish”
Stephen Hartley Dorff was born in Atlanta, Georgia on the 29th of July back in 1973.
He was born to Nancy and Steve Dorff – which of course means his full name is Stephen Hartley Dorff Jr.
Dorff’s father is Jewish while his mother was Catholic. Speaking about his upbringing, Dorff has said he was “kinda brought up half-Jewish.”
Dorff’s father is a composer and music producer who worked in Los Angeles, and it was here that young Stephen first got into the acting business.
He began acting as a child, and appeared in commercials for brands such as Kraft and Mattel.
He then went on to make guest appearances in shows including as Diff’rent Strokes and Married… with Children.
19. You probably didn’t recognise him in his debut film
Early in his career, Dorff could be seen in a number of TV commercials and in small roles on sitcoms New Leave It to Beaver and Diff’rent Strokes.
Dorff then went on to make his film debut in 1987 supernatural horror film The Gate.
This creepy horror movie centres on two young friends who accidentally open a portal to Hell.
Dorff was a somewhat slight boy of 13 when he shot The Gate, and you’d be forgiven for not immediately recognising him.
Dorff starred in the film as Glen alongside Louis Tripp, who played Glen’s best friend Terry.
Dorff’s career continued to blossom after his appearance in The Gate; he went on to star in The Power of One in 1992.
18. He got his big break in an Aerosmith video
By the early 90s, the adolescent Dorff gained some critical attention for his role in the acclaimed drama The Power of One.
He attained real teen heartthrob status, however, for his appearance in the music video for Aerosmith‘s hit single Cryin’.
Dorff appeared in the video alongside Alicia Silverstone, who had herself been introduced to audiences by appearing in a succession of Aerosmith videos.
Silverstone starred in the video as a teenage girl who falls out with her partner – played by Dorff – after catching him cheating.
Dorff’s performance as a lustful womaniser helped cement his image in the media as a ‘bad boy.’
The Cryin’ video was a huge success, becoming MTV’s most requested video in 1993. It also went on to earn the band several awards at the Video Music Awards.
17. He came close to playing Jack in Titanic
As a handsome, charismatic young actor in the 1990s, it’s hardly surprising that Dorff was among the contenders for one of the most coveted roles of the era.
Dorff was keen to land the role of Jack, the romantic lead of James Cameron’s Titanic.
Of course, Dorff missed out on the part to Leonardo DiCaprio, but he doesn’t seem too upset about this.
Dorff has since scathingly described Cameron’s mega-blockbuster as “pretty soppy and pretty vanilla.” Ouch!
Dorff wasn’t the only hot young actor who was seriously considered for the role of Jack.
Matthew McConaughey, Chris O’Donnell and Billy Crudup were all also in the running for the part.
16. He thinks all modern TV and film is “garbage”
Dorff has not lately been shy about his belief that the entertainment industry is losing its magic.
In a bizarre interview with The Herald, Dorff ranted about his opinion that all modern TV and film is garbage.
“Anyone who tells you the business is thriving and it’s amazing is clueless,” the actor said.
“Sure, you can make money in this business. And I can act in anything. But as far as content, as far as the movies that are being made, it’s an embarrassment.”
“It’s an embarrassment for anybody that’s good at what they do, I think,” he continued.
“Yeah, I’m jamming in a world of garbage… I don’t know if you’ve seen a good movie in the last couple of years? I haven’t, except for Embattled and maybe Nomadland.”
15. He almost starred in a Blade prequel all about Deacon Frost
Of course, Dorff starred in 1998 superhero film Blade as the evil vampire villain Deacon Frost.
But did you know that he almost starred in a prequel focused exclusively on his character?
In a 2008 interview with the Daily Mail, Dorff spoke about an upcoming Blade movie where he would reprise his role.
“It will be a prequel to the Blade movies, Deacon’s story. It’s a new trilogy the director has created. It will [be] cool,” he said.
However, no prequel to the Blade movies has ever materialised and Dorff is yet to reprise his role as Frost.
Two more Blade movies have been made since the release of the original – Blade II and Blade: Trinity – and a reboot starring Dorff’s True Detective co-star Mahershala Ali is on the way.
14. Paul McCartney called his performance in Beatles biopic Backbeat “astonishing”
One of Dorff’s major breakthrough movies was Backbeat, the 1994 film about the early days of the Beatles.
In the film, Dorff played the Beatles’ original bassist, the late Stuart Sutcliffe, who is often dubbed ‘the fifth Beatle.’
Surviving Beatle Paul McCartney was critical of the largely fictionalised movie, but he was impressed by Dorff’s performance.
Despite his disappointment with the film, McCartney said: “I was quite taken […] with Stephen Dorff’s astonishing performance as Stu.”
Sutcliffe performed with The Beatles in their early days and accompanied them to Hamburg in the early 60s.
While there he fell in love with artist Astrid Kirchherr and decided to remain in Hamburg while the rest of the band returned to Liverpool. He died of a brain haemorrhage in 1962.
13. He was a backing singer on Lenny Kravitz’s American Woman
Dorff’s involvement with rock music isn’t just limited to his appearance in an Aerosmith video.
For one, he’s also appeared in videos with Limp Bizkit and Britney Spears; and secondly, his vocals are featured on a hit record.
The actor was a guest vocalist on Lenny Kravitz’s 1999 recording of American Woman (originally recorded by the Guess Who).
Kravitz’s 1999 version of the song was recorded for the soundtrack of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
Dorff provides backing vocals in the song: specifically the distinctive ‘uh!’ vocal which can be heard throughout.
The popular cover went on to reach the top 20 in Australia, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, and Spain.
12. He considered quitting acting when his brother died
Stephen Dorff was the older brother of Andrew Dorff, who enjoyed a successful career as a songwriter before dying suddenly in 2016.
The unexpected loss hit Dorff very hard, to the extent that he considered walking away from acting.
But a succession of good roles (including a stint on TV’s True Detective) managed to get him back on track.
Dorff recalled the traumatic time while speaking to The Independent in 2021: “I was in a terrible place when I lost my little brother.”
“I didn’t really want to act anymore. But then all these nice things started happening,” he said.
He continued: “I don’t know if that’s because of the gods or what. My brother would want me to act […] so I should probably do it.”
11. He trashed the 2021 Oscars show
The Academy Awards ceremony of 2021 has quickly become infamous as one of the most shambolic in the history of the awards show (thanks largely to safety measures required due to Covid-19).
Dorff openly blasted the ceremony when talking to The Independent in 2021, calling it “the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever seen.”
The actor said: “My business is becoming a big game show. You have actors that don’t have a clue what they’re doing.”
Dorff then moved on from the Oscars and began to criticise the state of the entertainment industry at large.
“You have filmmakers that don’t have a clue what they’re doing. We’re all in these little boxes on these streamers.”
“TV, film – it’s all one big clusterf*** of content now,” he continued. “I’ll find that kid director that’s gonna be the next Kubrick and I’ll act for him instead.”
10. He appeared in the first movie made specifically for the internet
Although Dorff is critical of contemporary streaming services, back in 2000 he was ahead of the curve on the new technology.
Dorff appeared in Quantum Project, a 40-minute short film which was the very first movie made specifically to be viewed on the internet or as a digital download.
Directed by Eugenio Zanetti, Dorff’s co-stars in Quantum Project included John Cleese and Fay Masterson.
Dorff starred in the film as physicist named Paul Pentcho who is working on advanced particle acceleration technology.
Audiences could download or stream the movie for $3.95 and it was available exclusively on the web for one year.
The film was praised for its creative concept and received a generally positive response from critics and audiences alike.
9. He was in a groundbreaking Marvel movie…but has since called the studio’s films “embarrassing”
Back in 1998, Dorff co-starred alongside Wesley Snipes in Marvel adaptation of the comic Blade.
Blade is widely acknowledged as a key film in setting the stage for the contemporary superhero genre.
While expressing pride in this film (and calling Blade director Stephen Norrington a “genius”), the actor has also been critical of Marvel Studios and the modern blockbuster climate.
Dorff told The Independent, “I don’t want to be in Black Widow. It looks like garbage to me.”
It looks like a bad video game. I’m embarrassed for those people,” he said. “I’m embarrassed for Scarlett [Johansson]!”
“I’m sure she got paid five, seven million bucks, but I’m embarrassed for her. I don’t want to be in those movies. I really don’t.”
8. He was the only Backbeat cast member that could actually play an instrument
Dorff starred in the 1995 film Backbeat as fifth Beatle and John Lennon’s best friend Stuart Sutcliffe.
Of course, portraying members of the most successful band of all time meant that Dorff and his co-stars had to get comfortable with handling musical instruments on screen.
However, Dorff was the only actor of the group who actually know how to play an instrument.
Ironically, in real life, Stuart Sutcliffe – Dorff’s character – could not actually play the bass guitar very well.
Sutcliffe usually stuck to playing simple bass melodies and root notes, and allegedly often played with his back to the audience.
Beatles historian Richie Unterberger was particularly scathing about Sutcliffe’s playing style, describing it as an “artless thump.”
7. He apologised to the cast and crew for his “aggressive” behaviour on the set of Embattled
Dorff has a bit of a reputation for being a bad boy, but according to him the angriest and most aggressive he’d ever been on set was while working on Embattled.
The film saw Dorff star as a violent and temperamental MMA fighter named Cash Boykins.
“I was the angriest and most aggressive person I’d ever been on a movie set,” he told the Independent in 2021.
“To the point where I don’t think many people liked me on that set. After the movie wrapped, I apologised.”
He also put on 10 pounds to play the role of Cash. “I knew that I wanted to put size on,” he said.
The actor went on to put on 10 pounds of muscle in just four weeks by following a strict training regime and high-protein diet.
6. Jack Nicholson is his “biggest supporter”
Dorff revealed in an interview with the Guardian in 2021 that Jack Nicholson has always supported him over the years.
“My biggest teacher and my supporter over the years has been Jack Nicholson,” he said in the interview.
“I worked with him, we became very good friends and, every time I hit a low moment, I go visit Jack.”
He went on to say in another interview that he didn’t care about criticism as long as Nicholson approved of his work.
“To me, there’s no critic I care about more in the world than Jack Nicholson,” the actor explained.
“If Jack gives me his thumbs up you can write every bad review you want! That’s all I care about.”
5. Oliver Stone thought Dorff was too “cute” to appear in World Trade Center
Back in the mid-2000s, Oliver Stone was working on World Trade Center, a film based on the 9/11 attacks.
Stone was trying to decide who to cast as the cop who discovers Nicolas Cage’s character buried in the rubble of the South Tower.
Dorff wanted the role but apparently Stone initially refused to give it to him because he thought Dorff was too “cute” for the role.
“He said, ‘Stephen, I like you, you’re a good actor, but you don’t look like a cop. You’re too cute,'” he told the Guardian in 2010.
Responding to Stone, he said: “What are you talking about, man? I look like this now cos I’m not playing the part!”
“If you give me the part, I’m gonna look completely different, I’m gonna sound completely different. That’s my job. Are you telling me that I can’t do my job?” Ultimately, Dorff won him over and landed the role.
4. He turned down a place at The Juilliard School
The Juilliard School in New York City is one of the most prestigious performing arts schools in the world.
The school has some seriously impressive alumni, including Viola Davis, Val Kilmer and David Ogden Stiers.
Dorff never went to Juilliard. Instead, he got offered a place there, only to turn it down.
The actor revealed this during an interview with Owen Wilson for Interview Magazine in 2009.
“I thought I was just going to go to college. I had auditioned for a couple of theater schools, like Juilliard,” he said, adding that he got accepted too.
Ultimately, Dorff decided to dive into the world of work and accepted a role on The Power of One instead of going to Juilliard.
3. He used to pick up Elle Fanning from school to prepare for their roles in Somewhere
Dorff starred alongside 11-year-old Elle Fanning who played Johnny Marco’s daughter, Cleo, in Somewhere back in 2010.
Their on screen relationship as father and daughter largely appeared so authentic because Dorff and Fanning made an effort to get to know one another off-camera.
Speaking to Vanity Fair in 2010, Dorff admitted that he knew acting with Fanning would be a “challenge” and he confessed to being “a little nervous.”
“But when I met Elle, there was this effortless chemistry we had that just felt very natural—mixed with all the cool exercises that Sofia gave us.”
“One day, I had to pick Elle up at school; I was cleared by her parents to take her out for ice cream and do something for a couple of hours.”
“Elle was my equal, and sometimes I forgot that she was 11. Sometimes I still forget that she’s 11 because she’s going to be six feet tall,” he said.
2. He called True Detective the best role of his career
Dorff has played a variety of characters in his time – from fifth Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe to newly-famous actor Johnny Marco.
But his favourite role of his entire career was as detective Roland West in True Detective.
Speaking to Business Insider in 2019, Dorff revealed that Roland was “the best role [he] ever played.”
“How Nic wrote Roland it was a dream role because every line hit,” he went on to say.
“I knew when I read it this was special,” he continued. “You just don’t get roles like this anymore.”
“Movies are all comic books now. Maybe you get a good character part in a small movie. I never got a chance to take a character like this on a journey. I had it.”
1. He moved into the Chateau Marmont to prepare for his role in Somewhere
In an effort to get into character, Dorff moved into the Chateau Marmot to get into character for Somewhere.
“It was cool. I basically checked in as Johnny Marco and I stayed there for about seven weeks,” he told Cinemablend.
“At the beginning of the movie I wanted to live quite rough, I wanted to look kind of screwed up and really be out of it, so I lived pretty hard.”
“And then I thought he slowly wakes up, he should start looking more fresh, he should start becoming clearer.”
“But obviously it was the perfect creative thing; I’d just leave my room and go right down into Johnny’s bed,” he said.
Dorff went on to add that he later realised that Hunter S Thompson once stayed in the same room as he did.