by Debra Jo Immergut

Todd Solondz talks about Heather Matarazzo in his film
"Welcome to the Dollhouse"


Heather Matarazzo, who plays Dawn, is a natural, a perfect fit for the role. Did you find her out in the wilds of Jersey?

No, I wish I had -- only because it's a better story if I could say that I found at her at Baskin Robbins at a mall in New Jersey. I did spend many weekends with my casting director looking for kids in malls, but ultimately she was submitted by her manager. This is her first feature film, so I can't say she had much in the way of experience, but as you see she made my job so much easier. If you have the right actor in the right role, it becomes very easy to direct.

When you have Branden, the school bully, threatening to rape Dawn, it's fairly harrowing. Or an 11-year-old talking about finger-f***ing...

When we were casting, there were many kids who were eliminated once their parents read the script. Even though there's no sex, no nudity, no violence in this movie, it is rated R. And the movie is very unsettling in ways -- it's as if all that sex and violence is there, but not on any literal level. And I think adults and parents recognize this and so it's not a comforting film. But I hope that it's an engaging one for people, that people find it funny and even poignant.

I did -- I even thought that Dawn's sweet little kiss with Branden was kind of erotic.

That's out of your mouth, I'm not gonna say that, but I will say it's very tender -- and moving for me, because in fact it was Heather's very first one in real life as well. It really is a very special sort of coming together of these two characters, the two extremes of the class, one the bully and the other the persecuted and picked-on. And together they find a certain kind of bond with each other that I think is very unexpected -- and yet when it happens it seems very natural and very real.