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THE SUNDAY CONVERSATION

With Garret Dillahunt

Something in the brutal horror film 'The Last House on the Left' resonates in tough times, he says.

March 15, 2009|Choire Sicha

Garret Dillahunt stars as a terrible, horrible person in "The Last House on the Left," which opened Friday, and he is the first title character of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." He recently appeared in "No Country for Old Men" and in "John From Cincinnati" and "Deadwood." He was at home in Burbank in Levi's and "house slippers."

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You've developed a stuttering problem. What's going on with that?

I don't think it's a real problem. But I don't know why! Maybe my memory is starting to go and I have to search for words. It seems the more desperately I try to make a point, the more I stutter. At the moment it's merely amusing. It hasn't reach the alarming point.

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Are you one of those people who has fundamental changes in yourself based on your work?

You mean like roles affecting you outside of the job? You know, I don't think I am! There wouldn't be much craft in it if you actually become those people. I like feeling like I have some skill.

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I feel like you are going to have to defend "The Last House on the Left."

You mean to you? I'm real proud of it, which is an odd thing to be proud of. I'm proud of this rape-and-pillage movie. There are reasons that I consciously did the thing -- but there's something about that basic story that is speaking to people, and I think did to me when I read the script. And I think it's because the job situation is getting weird, people feel so powerless right now. People feel like they've been raped by -- fill in the blank, the economy, 9/11. Wes Craven last night called 9/11 the ultimate home invasion. Not meaning to be glib -- but that feeling of violation we all had. People are really responding to the film in a visceral way -- and I think it gives them some release. I kind of feel like it will defend itself. Wow, I got so deep there.

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OK. I will see this movie.

It's an art-house horror film. I saw it with a couple friends and, man, it's so relentless and believable. I felt mugged. Sort of happily mugged? Is that possible?

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I do hate reading a synopsis with the word "disembowel" in it.

I don't think we disembowel! Sara Paxton, who plays Mari Collingwood, the victim of the assault, I've worked with her before. I was happy about that at first. Then I thought maybe it's a bad thing -- you don't do this to friends! But she was so game and tired of playing mermaids and Snow White kind of characters. So she really went for it.

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You're at that age now where you feel like she's really young, right?

I'm kind of in between. You're like, oh, she's of age now. And then you're like, oh, pervert!

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But you've been married forever, right?

I've only been married for a couple of years. We've been together for a long time. We don't have to write about any of that!

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Do you get "Terminator" blow-back from fans?

I get recognized more -- it's one of the first characters I played that looks like me. There's a lot of "Terminator" fans out there, which belies the ratings!

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The "John From Cincinnati" set -- I got the sensation that this was a very weird time and experience for people.

It seemed very similar to the "Deadwood" experience for me. I love writers! I get nervous around writers, because I'm a frustrated writer myself. I'm a terrible writer. I have a degree in journalism, and I thought that was what I was going to do. And I drifted through college and found acting kind of late. [David] Milch was so good to me, and it really changed me -- I don't mean professionally, it changed things for me, in the way I view material. . . . Working that inspirationally must be expensive, which you have to be realistic about if you're a network or a money guy. What made "Deadwood" special killed it, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. For anything! And I owe a lot to that experience. Spiritually. Praise the Lord! I do that too. I get embarrassed about waxing on and I cut myself off at the knees. That's a nice little trait there, FYI.

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Why did you think you bombed out as a writer?

I might be a little hard on myself. I was a fine writer! I worked for my little hometown newspaper. I thought I was going to write fiction.

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And how do you do when you have to do TV?

A lot of shuffling of feet and blushing. But I've tried to minimize the stuttering. I try to look happier. I think I just have one of those faces. I can be having the greatest day and strangers will pass me and say, "Smile!" And I'll say, "What's my face doing -- and . . . you!"

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