Why Matt Dillon is big on the small screen

MATT DILLON has been acting since the late 1970s, but is only now making his leading-man TV debut. It’s not, he clarifies, because he’s snobbish about the medium.

“There are great actors who work on soap operas, and that’s a horrible experience,” says the 51-year-old, who plays the lead in the upcoming psychological thriller, Wayward Pines. He rephrases. “I shouldn’t say that, because I haven’t experienced it, but I can imagine it’s very difficult,” he says. “You’ve got to make something believable in a very artificial environment. But I never feel snobby about anything like that.”

Laughing, he says: “Now you’re going to quote that.”

Dillon does believe, however, that TV has become more sophisticated and that it’s now less limiting. “In the past, if it’s successful, you’re trapped for four years. Why would I do that to myself?” says the actor, who’s only committed himself to one run of Wayward Pines, a 10-part series adapted from Blake Crouch’s novel, Pines, and developed by The Sixth Sense’s M. Night Shyamalan.

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It’s already been likened to David Lynch’s series, Twin Peaks, and Dillon can understand why.

Dillon plays Ethan Burke, a Secret Service veteran and married father-of-one who’s tasked with finding a former colleague — and one-time lover — in the small town of Wayward Pines.

But all is not what it seems. Following an accident, he is hospitalised, and as events unfurl, the viewer, like Ethan, is left wondering whether what he’s experiencing is real or not.

Shyamalan has revealed he was looking for “a guy’s guy” to play Ethan.

Dillon, a New York native and second of six children (his brother, Kevin, is in Entourage), was reportedly playing truant from school when he was spotted by scouts and cast in 1979’s Over The Edge, and his star rose through the 1980s.

“Fame is a weird thing, because I don’t think anyone’s prepared to deal with it, and everyone deals with it in a different way. I often feel like anonymity is a luxury often taken for granted. Yeah, there are some benefits, you can get tables at restaurants and people admire you, or whatever, but there’s something to be said for not getting recognised.”

In 2006, he earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance in Crash. Today, however, I sense he feels frustration with how his career has panned out.

“I always feel like I’m being typecast, because I feel like I can do a lot more than I’ve been given the opportunity to do,” he says.

By his own admission, he can be “very tough on material”, and, despite writing 2002’s City Of Ghosts, which he also directed, he says he’s currently struggling with a script.

“I’ve got a project that I’ve been trying to do for a long time, as a film, and, at every attempt, the story gets compromised, because I can’t find a way of compressing it to a 90-minute or two-hour format. I’m not smart enough to do that,” he says, laughing.

“No, I’m kidding, but it’s a difficult thing to do, because the character spans many years.”

Now, he says, he’s contemplating following the long-form approach of Wayward Pines.

“Having 10 hours is great to be able to tell a story patiently, and viewers can warm up to characters, sort of the way you read a book — you put it down, you pick it up,” Dillon says.

“I still love films, but I do think there’s something exciting about this.”

Wayward Pines begins on Fox on Thursday, May 14

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