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Flamingo Kid grows up to be a director & a ‘conman’

Los Angeles, April 24 (Reuters): In just over two decades, his career has gone from teen idol to leading man to comic sidekick. Starting on Friday actor Matt Dillon takes on a new role — director, in his film, City of Ghosts.

Dillon, 39, said his career is in somewhat of a transition, though he has no plans to leave acting altogether.

Many of the roles he had been offered in recent years, he said, seemed similar to roles he had played since becoming a Hollywood sex symbol in 1984’s The Flamingo Kid, then serious leading man in 1989’s Drugstore Cowboy, and an actor who can play for laughs in 1998’s There’s Something About Mary.

Not coincidentally, in City of Ghosts, Dillon portrays Jimmy Cremmins, a 30-something con man who, after an insurance scam he runs comes under an FBI probe, skips New York for Cambodia and undergoes a personal transformation.

“This is a transition, but I still want to work as an actor,” he told Reuters. “But it’s definitely not a one-off (chance to direct), because I had a great time.”

Typically of an independent, low-budget film, City of Ghosts debuts in New York and Los Angeles on Friday and spreads to major cities on May 9.

Dillon, who also co-wrote the film with his friend Barry Gifford (author of the novel Wild at Heart), said what he most enjoyed about writing and directing was watching the parts grow from character sketches to their onscreen incarnations.

The movie features James Caan and Stellan Skarsgard as Cremmins’ accomplices, Natasha McElhone (Solaris) as his love interest and Gerard Depardieu as a French expatriate whose Phnom Penh bar serves as a hangout for foreigners.

City of Ghosts opens to a hurricane wracking the Atlantic seaboard, and news of ruined homes and their owners. Cremmins sold bogus policies to the people and funneled the money into a pyramid scheme, never intending to pay claims in a disaster. When the FBI comes calling, Cremmins heads to Cambodia to cash out from his partners, Kaspar (Skarsgard) and Marvin (Caan), who has been Cremmins’ mentor in crime.

Finding Marvin turns out not to be quite as easy as Cremmins thought. By the time he is located, Cremmins has decided he wants out of the con game altogether.

Of course, walking away from criminals is never as easy as quitting a job because there are guns involved. And, predictably, Cremmins needs the love of a woman, Sophie (McElhone) who is in Cambodia to help save its ancient artefacts from ruin.

The story has enough plot twists to keep audiences guessing how it will turn out, but what is most interesting, perhaps, is its look inside modern-day Cambodia. The country has not seen a U.S. feature film made there since“Lord Jim” in 1964.

Dillon traveled to the country in 1993, and returned fascinated by its people and culture, its period of French colonialism and its devastating spell under the bloody rule of the Khmer Rouge. It was a country changing rapidly between old traditions and new ways of life.

He said he met expatriates who came to the country because it lacked criminal extradition treaties with many western countries and as a result, had become a sort of haven.

In short, Cambodia seemed a perfect setting to tell a story about a person transitioning from con man to caring man.

As much as the history, the country's lush tropical setting juxtaposed against the bustling capital city Phnom Penh proved to be a perfect locale.

”I wanted to capture this really rich environment and texture,” he said.

Being his own director proved to be his biggest challenge, but he said that as long as the preparation for lighting, camera placement and other technical aspects of filmmaking was done well, he had few problems.

For moviegoers and Dillon's fans, that is good news because with over 20 years under his belt as an actor and, presumably, a long career ahead of him, audiences will likely see a lot more of Matt Dillon the director in years to come.

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