He Broke Heads in My Bodyguard, but Matt Dillon Was Born to Break Hearts

updated 09/29/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/29/1980 01:00AM

As the bully who picks on small-fry hero Chris Makepeace in the new hit movie, My Bodyguard, Matt Dillon, 16, is a high school horror even more fearsome than trigonometry or cafeteria food. With his smoky, deep-set eyes and a sensual upper lip that can curl quickly into a threat, young Matt has proved dangerous in other ways, too. Last spring he played the monosyllabic stud who deflowered a willing Kristy McNichol in the R-rated Little Darlings. After such precocious conquests, Dillon is being trumpeted as the first teenage romantic leading man since Andy Hardy, but somehow Matt is not the sort of kid you'd find sipping malts down at the sweet shop.

"I used to get in a lot of fights, but I've only been in about three since the movies," shrugs Matt, who was named for an uncle and not the marshal on TV's Gunsmoke. "One kid got mad at me because his girlfriend liked me in Little Darlings. He said, 'You can play American Gigolo someplace else.' I walked away, but he made me look bad, so I slapped him around. The others," Matt continues, "were dumb macho fights. I don't start fights now."

Matt doesn't have to. He is already beginning to elbow aside Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett and Rex Smith as the dream hunk in teen fanzines. He receives as many as 200 letters daily, and 5,000 of the swooners have dipped into their allowances for $6 memberships in his fan club. Yet, refreshingly, somehow the adulation still hasn't caught up with the kid who two years ago cut a seventh-grade class at Hommocks Junior High in suburban Mamaroneck and swaggered into a Manhattan audition for the violent youth film, Over the Edge. "I really didn't give a crap," Matt relates. "I went down with a couple of buddies to wise off at all these movie people. I used to make fun of the kids in school who acted or went to dance class." But his attitude changed drastically when he found he was a finalist. "I was really nervous. By the time I got back home, I wanted that movie."

He got it, and now Matt is less of a wiseacre with glittery movie chums like Brooke (Blue Lagoon) Shields, whom he took for a one-time whirl at Manhattan's Roxy roller disco, and co-star McNichol, a sometime date when he's in L.A. Dillon frets, however, that the steady girl he met at Lee Strasberg's acting classes, Lily Suarez, 17, an aspiring actress from New Jersey, won't understand. "Lily knows me and Brooke are just friends," he says fiercely. "Kristy and me are friends, too. She's good people. The dates go with the business, it's something we have to do for publicity."

Right now, Matt is more concerned with his rep among cronies at Mamaroneck High than living up to teen-throb stardom. Passing a group of cigarette- and joint-smoking students, Matt observes: "That's where the heavies hang out, the druggies. Half of them are my friends. They get a kick out of seeing me in the movies. It's something to talk about instead of grades." As for his peers' other palpitating interest, Matt says, "Teenagers are acting like sex is so big, and everyone should do it by the time they're 13. I don't feel sex is bad. It's natural, but you can't just jump into bed without protection or without thinking about it first." Then he adds, "Those who do all the talking are the least experienced. Maybe it's no different from the days when my mom was in school."

That's a comforting thought for Matt's sales manager father and housewife mother, though they are concerned about Matt's ambivalence toward college. "We feel his education is still No. 1," says Mom. The family's only previous brush with celebrity came through Matt's great-uncle, Jim Raymond, who draws the Blondie comic strip, and Jim's late brother, Alex, who created the Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim strips, modeling Flash's appearance on Matt's grandfather.

The Dillons have lived in the same tree-shaded three-story home for eight years, and Mom still hustles all six kids to Mass every week. The only set of wheels is the company car that Dad uses for work. Matt doesn't even have a learner's permit yet. For recreation, he walks the family's mutt, Hitter, camps in the woods within hiking distance of the house or catches a rock concert. Right now, most of Matt's $40,000 movie money is in trust until he's 18. Then he plans to buy "a great big black van." For now his only extravagance has been a "ghetto blaster" (a high-volume, portable tape deck), that ironically was ripped off by three toughs on a recent train ride home from the city.

What's next for Dillon? "My father always asks me what I'll do if I lose my hair," Matt laughs, noting that his dad is already bald at 45. "But I don't want to push the teen idol image anyway, and what will save me is my acting," he declares. Although his manager has him taking voice lessons (and Matt dreams of playing the film bio of rock legend Jim Morrison), bubble-gum singing is out. So were seven different TV series projects that he didn't regard as substantial enough and a "six-figure" movie offer he felt was exploitation. "Can you imagine going back to school and telling everyone I did a nude scene?" Matt scoffs. "That's hard for a kid to take."

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