Matt Dillon on The House That Jack Built: 'I was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle it'

Matt Dillon on The House That Jack Built: 'I almost didn't do it because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle it'

credit: Christian Falsnaes

Oscar nominated actor discusses being involved in Lars von Trier's latest provocation

Matt Dillon is pondering the implications of his latest – and arguably most controversial – film in his four decades on screen. He's the lead in Lars von Trier's latest provocation, The House That Jack Built. Played by Dillon, Jack is a serial killer with a long history in murder and maiming. When the film premiered in Cannes earlier this year, some of the more graphic and disturbing moments caused walk-outs. 'I understand why people are upset,' he says, 'I get it. I'm upset! I almost didn't do it because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle it.'

From Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy to Paul Haggis' race drama Crash, which won Dillon an Oscar nomination, the 54 year-old has never been afraid of challenging projects. But this taboo-busting tale took some steel from the actor, who almost quit in the run-up to the shoot because of one scene that 'troubled' him, as Jack carves up his own girlfriend (played by Riley Keogh) in a particularly shocking manner. 'In the end, I did it, because of Lars,' says Dillon. 'He takes on very dangerous topics and he does them with certain flair and turns [them] into art in a way.'

The same could be said for Jack, who arranges his corpses tableaux-like, the ultimate presentation of his life's work. Sick and twisted? Yes. But compared to mainstream action movies with high body counts? 'The violence is not gratuitous. It's graphic and he [von Trier] wants you to be horrified,' says Dillon. 'If you're upset, I think he wants you to be upset in those moments.' It's all about freedom of expression, he continues: the director has the right to show you, just as you have the right to turn away or walk out. 'But it's not real, it's art.'

The New York-born Dillon has always made a beeline for artists; he worked with Francis Coppola on 1983's Rumble Fish and The Outsiders back when he was starting out. But I wonder how he's enjoyed such career longevity in such an unforgiving industry? 'I just never gave up doing what I do. I very much believe in myself. Maybe more than other people do sometimes. That happens. I try to learn as I go. I've been trying to learn all the time.' So what did he learn on The House That Jack Built? 'I learned on this not to be a perfectionist. Let's allow ourselves to fail. So we can do something even greater.'

The House That Jack Built is in cinemas from Fri 14 Dec.

The House That Jack Built

  • 2 stars
  • 2018
  • Denmark / France / Germany / Sweden
  • Directed by: Lars Von Trier
  • Cast: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Sofie Gråbøl

Jack (Dillon) is a serial killer who takes up murder after an annoying woman suggests he doesn’t have it in him. Dillon is convincingly sinister, but it’s just Von Trier playing with killer thriller tropes and poking fun at perceptions of himself, and it’s difficult to get offended by such an obvious attempt to provoke.