Matt Dillon knows he's a little young to be at the Deauville film festival for a tribute to his acting career.
"Could you have another one when I'm gray?" the 38-year-old asked organizers, who awarded similar honors to more seasoned actors, including Harrison Ford.
Another surprise at Deauville: Dillon's directing debut, which premiered here this week and may not be what you'd expect from a former teen idol.
"City of Ghosts" is an atmospheric suspense film about American fugitives hiding in Cambodia, with a cast of veteran actors that includes James Caan, Gerard Depardieu and Stellan Skarsgard.
Dillon also stars as a con man in the film, which he co-wrote with Barry Gifford, who wrote the script for David Lynch's "Lost Highway." Juggling all his roles wasn't simple.
"I've never made things easy for myself," Dillon said Thursday.
Still, the star of films from 1983's "The Outsiders" to 1998's "There's Something about Mary" quickly has taken a liking to the director's chair. In a small gathering with journalists, he easily listed off his influences (including "Oliver!" director Carol Reed), while philosophizing about his interest in filmmaking.
"I guess it's because I have ideas, you know?" Dillon said.
"I like telling stories. Acting is great when the job is interesting--and sometimes it's not interesting."
The acting is a strong point in "City of Ghosts," which is scheduled to open in the United States next year.
The story opens in the United States, with investigators questioning Jimmy (Dillon) about the insurance company he works for, a sham operation that has ripped off people who lost their homes in a hurricane.
They ask Jimmy to stay in town, but he flees to Cambodia, where his mentor and business partner (Caan) is hiding.
Once in Cambodia, he meets a kind rickshaw driver, a beautiful Englishwoman who restores Cambodian art, a corrupt former Cambodian general and a mischievous monkey who steals his sunglasses from a hotel room.
As a director, Dillon says he was very interested in atmosphere. In one scene, his character wakes up disoriented after blacking out and finds himself in an orphanage, where children are watching over him and Buddhist monks in orange robes are kneeling at prayer.
On location in Cambodia, Dillon said, "I kept my eyes open, to use all that, the texture, the atmosphere."
He came up with the story idea after a trip to Asia, where he met some mysterious people who seemed to be running from their past. The idea crystallized when he saw a news brief explaining that many of the world's most-wanted criminals were hiding out in Cambodia.
"I like stories of intrigue," he said. "I like things in exotic settings, and Cambodia was an interesting place to me."
Dillon already is working on a new script with Gifford, which he says is similar in theme. And he's got other loose plans--providing his tribute at Deauville doesn't jinx his future projects.
As organizers called Dillon onstage to accept the honor, he joked: "I hope this doesn't mean this is the autumn of my career."
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