A Laid-Back Kevin Dillon Follows Big Brother Matt into Teen-Star Heaven
Now the kid brother is also in films, though compared with Matt's run of hits (My Bodyguard, Tex, Flamingo Kid), Kevin is barely out of the starting gate. He appears in the recently released Heaven Help Us, a saga of growing up in a Brooklyn Catholic boys' school. Kevin's role is that of Rooney, the class cutup given to sabotaging the furniture to create crashing effects. He plays the sort you'd love to loathe, yet somehow end up liking.
Does art reflect his own life? "I was a class clown," admits Kevin, who graduated from high school last year, "but I'm not a bully." Rooney, for example, uses "faggot" as his standard salutation. "I don't use that word," says Kevin, "Oh, when I was younger, I might have said to one of my brothers, 'Come on, you faggot, play football,' not meaning a homosexual, but a sort of wimp. Anyway, the word means a bundle of sticks. That's what the dictionary says."
Dillon's experience with parochial school was limited to the elementary grades. "If I stepped out of line, the nuns grabbed me by my ear or hair. That hurt," he remembers. But he is quick to add that he was usually at fault. Coming from a family of regular churchgoers, Kevin says, "I'm a good Catholic—most of the time."
His previous experience as an actor was limited to school plays. In the eighth grade he was a leather-jacketed Petruchio on a motorcycle in a modernized version of The Taming of the Shrew. "I go onstage like a slob, and everyone says, 'Hey, look at this guy.' " he says. "The dialogue was hard to pick up—you know, a lot of 'thees' and 'thous'. But it was fun."
A nice thing about having an actor brother is that you can accompany him to New York Film Festival premieres, which is where Kevin was discovered at 17. A theatrical agent asked whether he would be interested in acting, and he replied coolly, "Yeah, I could be." One thing led to another, and a year later he got his first role in a low-budget TV film called No Big Deal. "And that's what it was," says Kevin, laughing. To date, the show has not aired.
Then last year, during the casting for Heaven Help Us, Kevin met director Michael Dinner, who was not immediately impressed. Dinner recalls, "There's already such a wave of younger brothers around—the Rob and Chad Lowes, the Christopher and Sean Penns—that I really wanted to avoid the whole syndrome." Once Kevin went before the cameras, though, the director changed his mind. Dinner explains: "Kevin is an instinctual actor with a lot of self-confidence, which is one reason why he's so camera-smart. Like Matt, he has a natural quality, and also there is this sweetness about Kevin. I needed someone who could be a little rat and also be sweet, and that's what Kevin brought to his character."
A family with actor brothers seems perfectly suited to nurture sibling rivalries, and Kevin has not completely escaped them. He resents, for example, always being introduced as his brother's brother. "We have the same cheekbones, but we have different-looking faces," he says. "Matt's hair is wavy, mine's curlier. He's a lefty, I'm a righty. I have a different-looking nose, and my ears are pointed. I want to be myself." Yet, beginning with their dad, Paul, an investment manager, and their mom, Mary Ellen, both in their 40s, all the Dillons seem close-knit. There's Paul Jr., 22, now a model with the avant-garde Click agency, followed by Matt, Kevin and their only sister, Kate, 17, followed in turn by Tim, 16, and Brian, 13.
Kevin seems almost the generic teen. His conversations are punctuated with "heys," "yeahs" and "ums." He favors tight faded blue jeans and a black leather jacket. He wheels around on his Kawasaki motorcycle. He admits to no steady girl, only to eclectic tastes ("I like tall ones, short ones, you name it"). An "okay student" by his own description, he has not yet thought deeply about his future or career. If acting doesn't work out for him, he will go to college or perhaps take up art seriously. Still, for the moment, he says, "I like everything about acting. I like the feeling that comes from watching myself up there become someone else."