For a long time, Matt Dillon was a teen idol known mostly for his Tiger Beat-ready looks, but he was able to make a successful transition from pubescent star to adult actor. As he grew, his physical attributes -- the dark, pretty-boy eyes and glacier-cut cheekbones -- matured with him, making him well-suited to portray characters whose golden-boy pasts have been eclipsed by adult experience.
A native of New Rochelle, NY, where he was born on February 18, 1964, Dillon was a product of a pop-culture milieu. The nephew of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond, creator of Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim, and Rip Kirby, he was named for the protagonist of the TV Western Gunsmoke. Dillon was raised as the second oldest of the five sons and one daughter of a stockbroker and a homemaker. He began acting in elementary school, and, at the age of 14, he was discovered by Warner Bros. talent scouts while cutting class. After making a memorable impression on casting director Vic Ramos with an eerily accurate impersonation of the character he was asked to audition for, Dillon won the part and made his film debut as a school bully in Jonathan Kaplan's 1979 teenage drama Over the Edge. His work in the film opened the floodgates for roles in similar teen movies, and over the next few years, Dillon could be seen as the photogenic mouthpiece for adolescent discontent in such films as My Bodyguard (1980), Little Darlings (1980), Tex (1982), Rumble Fish (1983), and that seminal exploration of teenage alienation, The Outsiders (1983).
By the mid-'80s, Dillon sought to move beyond the teen mold and began taking more adult roles. His breakthrough into the grown-up realm came with his somber, unheroic portrayal of a junkie trying to come clean in Gus Van Sant's acclaimed Drugstore Cowboy (1989). His status as an adult performer firmly established, Dillon went on to star in films of varying quality, doing some of his most memorable work in Singles (1992), as the egocentric slacker head of a terrifically bad grunge band; To Die For (1995), as the well-meaning but tragically dim husband of a psychotic weather girl (Nicole Kidman); Kevin Spacey's Albino Alligator (1995), as a small-time New Orleans crook; and Beautiful Girls (1996), in which Dillon was perfectly cast as a small-town snow plower unable to make good on the promise of his high-school glory days.
Dillon had pivotal roles in several Hollywood hits between 1997 and 1998. The first, In & Out, called for him to caricature himself as a peroxided movie star who unwittingly outs his ex-high school teacher on national television. The following year, he again proved his capacity for bottom-dwelling when he played a woefully unqualified high-school guidance counselor in the delightfully trashy Wild Things and once more when he starred alongside then-girlfriend Cameron Diaz in There's Something About Mary as a sleazy personal investigator, only to drop off the radar for three years before starring in the disappointing One Night at McCool's (2001) with John Goodman and Liv Tyler.
The year 2002 found Dillon in the director's chair as well as on the big screen in The City of Ghosts, in which he played a young man under suspicion of insurance fraud. Though the film -- which Dillon also helped write -- received mixed reviews critically, Dillon was lauded for a nonetheless impressive directorial debut. The same year featured Dillon as a mobster in director Scott Kalvert's Deuces Wild and later as an interviewee in the documentary Rockets Redglare!, which also included Steve Buscemi and Willem Dafoe. After participating in 2003's Breakfast With Hunter, which centered on gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson, Dillon went on to film 2004's Employee of the Month with Steve Zahn and Christina Applegate, which screened at that year's installment of the Sundance Film Festival.
2005 would prove to be quite a big year for Dillon, with him appearing a no less than four films of varying size. In addition to the lead in the low-budget Charles Bukowski adaptation Factotum, the actor could also be seen in two ensemble dramas: the Kevin Bacon-directed Loverboy and Crash, a film from Million Dollar Baby scribe Paul Haggis about the intertwining lives of a group of Los Angelenos that would earn Dillon his first Oscar nomination. He also appeared as the villain in the rebirth of Disney's classic Lovebug series, Herbie: Fully Loaded.
Dillon would spent the coming years appearing in a wide variety of projects, like the Oscar winning ensemble drama Crash, the wacky comedy You, Me and Dupree, and the action thriller Armored. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi