Over the course of his four-decade career, Stephen Dorff has made just about every type of movie imaginable, from dramas (The Power of One, Somewhere) and comedies (Cecil B. Demented) to thrillers (Judgement Night) and Marvel blockbusters (Blade). Nonetheless, he’s never starred in anything quite like Divinity, a phantasmagoric sci-fi/horror saga in which he stars as Jaxxon Pierce, a mad scientist intent on completing his father’s (Scott Bakula) groundbreaking quest to achieve eternal life.
On a barren planet suffering from a 97 percent infertility rate, Jaxxon has found the key to humanity’s survival: Divinity, an elixir that prevents body and mind from aging. On the cusp of his breakthrough, Jaxxon is held hostage by two mysterious intergalactic brothers (Moises Arias and Jason Genao) who, with the help of a prostitute (Karrueche Tran), want to stop him from exacting his plans. At the same time, a group of otherworldly bodysuit-encased women on an alternate plane of existence (led by Bella Thorne’s commander) also strive to halt Divinity’s commercial circulation.
What ensues is a psychosexual head-trip of the craziest sort, full of hulking bodybuilders, supernova explosions, alien creatures, fantastical weapons and unholy mutations—the last of which have to do with Dorff’s megalomaniacal inventor. Executive-produced by Steven Soderbergh and written/directed by Eddie Alcazar (in his feature debut), it’s a surreal black-and-white fever dream about the high cost of beauty and longevity that melds live-action Lynchian insanity with stop-motion video game action.
Premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (in the “Next” section), the film is a uniquely out-there affair, and one that reconfirms its leading man’s go-for-broke adventurousness.
A respected Hollywood veteran who’s expertly navigated both the mainstream and independent scenes, Dorff is a big-screen presence who invigorates even the most familiar of projects. In the case of Divinity, his frenzied intensity is an ideal fit for Alcazar’s flights of freakish fancy. Following its Park City premiere, we sat down with the actor to discuss Divinity and his wide-ranging body of work. He didn’t hold back about his feelings regarding first-time filmmakers, the state of mainstream cinema and today’s “garbage” superhero movies.
Divinity is a sci-fi/horror hybrid, and you have a history with horror dating all the way back to 1987’s The Gate. Is it a favorite genre of yours?
No. A friend of mine introduced me to Eddie on the phone during COVID, and I saw his short The Vandal [executive-produced by Darren Aronofsky], which did really well in Cannes. When you see that short, you realize this guy is an original filmmaker. Originality is definitely missing in our business. The movies this year alone were horrific.
In general, I think it’s a tougher job to be an actor these days because there are less interesting filmmakers, there are less good movies. Scripts are terrible for the most part. When I see or read a gem, those are the ones I’ll want to do, because as an actor, that’s what you need—I need my director, I need my script, I need my pieces, and then I can do what I fucking do. Without those pieces, an actor’s job is useless unless you’re doing dinner theater or want to be in an off-Broadway play, and I’m not that guy. I make films.
How did Divinity come together?
I met Eddie over the phone, saw his short, and thought he was brilliant. Obviously, he has a huge fan base amongst really great filmmakers, because they put their names all over his movies. In this case, I knew Soderbergh wanted to make a picture with Eddie. We didn’t have a script, we didn’t have an idea. Through talking and getting to know him, I said, look, I’ll go on this journey with you and be in your first bigger entry into cinema. But what are we going to do?
“He said like an Elon Musk with Asperger’s—he’s going to be very smart and confused and broken inside from his father.”
He sent me a few things, but he basically just said he had an idea for this character, Jaxxon Pierce, who basically runs the world through this chemical he’s created. We’re somewhere in the future, but we don’t really know, and Divinity has basically taken over the world, and he’s doing it in an unorthodox way, and there are going to be a lot of secrets that are going to be unveiled. I said that sounds interesting, so what kind of character? He said like an Elon Musk with Asperger’s—he’s going to be very smart and confused and broken inside from his father.
Wow. “Elon Musk with Asperger’s.”
He started giving me all this shit, and then he got into the prosthetics of it all. I said it sounds like A Clockwork Orange meets The Elephant Man. I think of him in a Kubrick-esque way, because I think he’s doing things that nobody else is doing. I haven’t seen the other movies here, but normally at Sundance, it’s a lot of little movies, two people in a room talking, nice stories, heartfelt. This movie is for the world. This movie is going to be a juggernaut. There’s nothing like it. You really want to see it on a big screen.
At The Egyptian Theatre premiere, somebody had a seizure during our credit sequence, probably because it was triggered by our sound design, and it’s all over the news. The movie rocked.
I’m surprised to hear Divinity was such a collaborative partnership from the get-go. Is that common?
No, the whole thing was unorthodox. He built the part through me, and then built the story. I said, look, I don’t want to improv this shit. I want to know what I’m saying if I’m playing a guy who’s very different from who I am. I got to know how he talks, and Eddie would send me all these interviews of really intense back-channel web shit with these really smart guys in the Alex Jones world and beyond, and far-right, far-left weirdo tech guys. People I’ve never heard of, and don’t know who the fuck they are! [laughs] I’m watching these tapes thinking, Jesus, I’m going to talk like that?
I’m sitting on my ranch in Nashville trying to figure out, what the hell am I doing? Then I’m four weeks out, then I’m two weeks out, and I’m like, hmm, I still don’t know who the fuck this character is. I got to Joshua Tree, I bleached my head white, and I was still having a hard time locking in. I finally locked in once we started shooting, probably on the third day, so I wanted to go back and redo a few things.
Do you ever have concerns about working with a first-time filmmaker?
It’s just different. I could be cast in a friend of mine’s movie or I could be cast in a big Michael Mann movie and go work for eight months with Michael on something, and ultimately, I’m just there to act. On this movie, it was more collaborative. It was a little more work, because anything that’s difficult in filmmaking, he put into this film and challenged himself.
Whether it’s the rarest Kodak film stock on the planet, which has only been shot on for three movies ever: Pi by Darren Aronofsky, our movie, and a Japanese movie that I can’t remember. Or it’s prosthetics in 120-degree heat shooting at Joshua Tree, because that’s where the house was that he wanted to shoot at. Everything was a hurdle. It was an incredibly difficult performance for me in this movie. But I think the movie is really, really amazing, so it’s all fine and dandy if I can get through it.
What was it like working under heavy prosthetics?
It’s not fun; it’s terrible [laughs]. I’ve done prosthetics with the best. Mike Marino did me twenty-eight times on True Detective, and that’s five-hour makeup every day to turn me into a 73-year-old man. This was a lot shorter but a lot more intense, because at one point in the later stages, it was like 45 pounds of prosthetics on my head, and I also can’t see out of my left eye. I only have one eye of vision, so I have to be led to the set. I can’t see where I’m fucking going.
It was a very discombobulating, uncomfortable, vulnerable performance because I’m naked through the fucking movie, and Eddie bleached my fucking hair, shaved my eyebrows, put me in nude-colored spandex shots for the whole movie. It basically was a very tiring, intense performance. I probably wasn’t in the greatest mood while making the movie, but I love the performance and I love the movie.
Is it difficult to find mainstream projects that are as interesting and challenging as something like Divinity?
I mean, mainstream movies—the few movies that are coming out in theaters that are doing well, like Avatar and Top Gun—I don’t even know what it all is. It’s all stupid to me. I think film festivals are, in a way, kind of silly, with the exception of, it brings filmmakers and people together and gets an audience to see your movie and you can launch it and sell it there. But in general, most of the movies are selling to streamers anyway, so it’s not really about cinema.
I think Divinity should be bought by the majors, and if the majors were smart—if DC or any of these companies were doing cool things—they would look for the next Eddie Alcazar, because that’s the future. Not making Black Adam and worthless garbage over and over again [laughs].
Ha! Black Adam…
I’d do mainstream movies all the time if they were good. But if the one or two a year that happen don’t, for whatever reason, cast me in a role, I’m not going to lose sleep over it because I wasn’t one of fifty people in Oppenheimer. I mean, it looks cool, but to me, unless you’re playing Oppenheimer, I don’t want to be in that movie [laughs]. Unless it’s my friend’s movie, and then I’ll do a scene or pop up.
“I’d do mainstream movies all the time if they were good.”
I just did my first comedy. I’m going to be with Danny McBride in the entire new season of The Righteous Gemstones, and that’ll be incredibly cool. I play his nemesis in Season 3. That show is the funniest show on TV, and they spend a fortune on it! It felt like it was bigger than True Detective at one point. It was like, what the fuck is going on here?
Were you looking to do comedy?
Danny’s a lovely dude, and I had so much fun with him. I just like doing different things. Nobody’s ever really come to me with a lot of comedies. I’ve obviously done comedy with little things—Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere has some. But in terms of a comedic career, I don’t have one. Danny really wrote me a fucking great part, and we just had a ball. It’s the silliest shit you’ve ever seen. It’s going to be awesome.
How’d Righteous Gemstones come about?
I didn’t even know Danny; he just called me. I was like, dude, I’m so flattered, I’m going to tell [Adam] Sandler. Sandler met Jackie, his wife, at my 25th birthday party, and Sandler is obviously one of the biggest comedians on the planet, and he never hires me, and I always give him shit. So I texted him, “Hey Sandman, guess who I’m going to be working with who wrote me a great part? McBride, buddy!” And he’s like, get the fuck out of here, that’s awesome! All my friends are these big comedians, and in all my movies, I’m killing people or crying or mentally breaking down in a corner, or I’m naked in a chair in this movie being mutilated by two brothers from outer space.
Are there other genres, besides comedy, that you’d like to try, or revisit?
My life is pretty weird, but look, I love all kinds of movies. If comic-book movies were more like when I started when we made Blade, or the few that have been decent over the years, like when Nolan did The Dark Knight and reinvented Batman from Tim Burton, who’s obviously a genius…when they were interesting, like when Norrington did Blade, and Guillermo [del Toro] was fucking around in it. But all this other garbage is just embarrassing, you know what I mean? I mean, God bless them, they’re making a bunch of money, but their movies suck [laughs]. And nobody’s going to remember them. Nobody’s remembering Black Adam at the end of the day. I didn’t even see that movie, it looked so bad.
Marvel is used to me trashing them anyway. How’s that PG Blade movie going for you, that can’t get a director? [laughs] Because anybody who goes there is going to be laughed at by everyone, because we already did it and made it the best. There’s no Steve Norrington out there.
That’s definitely true.
What I love is, Eddie is the future, and that, to me, is important. As an actor, if I want to keep working, I need my guys. I need my visionaries. He’s my guy, and he called me out, I called him out, and we gave birth to this, and we’ll do many more together, I think. I’ve got to collect those guys, frankly, because the guys I came up with in my early years, they’re all too old or they’re not making movies anymore. I’ve got to get to know these young new people. And the truth is, most of them aren’t good. Most of them have terrible taste in actors [laughs]. I don’t really know how to work with those people. I’ll just stick with the great artists.