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There's a scene in the last 30 minutes of Wonderland where Eric Bogosian gets to do something that millions of North Americans have only dreamed of doing: He tells Paris Hilton to get out of his face.

Of course, Bogosian is only playing the role of real-life scumbag Los Angeles millionaire Eddie Nash, but it's still a great moment for all those who have been enduring the paparazzi-fuelled, air-headed exploits of pseudo-It girl Paris, 23, and her equally vacuous sister, Nicky, 20, both heirs to the Hilton hotel fortune and famous for nothing in particular.

Bogosian's moment in Wonderland occurs in a key flashback that recreates the fateful day in the late 1970s when Nash (his real name is Adel Gharib Nasrallaha, a Palestinian emigré) meets John C. Holmes, a.k.a. Johnny B. Wadd, the famously endowed star of porn films with titles like Saturday Night Beaver and The China Cat.

In Wonderland (opening in selected theatres today), the Holmes played by Val Kilmer is, at 36, way past the prime porn studliness of his mid-seventies heyday. He's a luckless, hopelessly drug-addicted loser with an underage girlfriend (Kate Bosworth) who's spiralling ever downward into Hollywood's netherworld. Nash, the owner of several profitable nightclubs and a trafficker in cocaine and heroin, is relaxing on his yacht with sundry bimbos and hangers-on when he spots Holmes lounging beside a blonder-than-blond Paris Hilton, who plays one of his harem in a leopard-print bikini. Bogosian, recognizing the porn star ("I've seen all your movies, man. You've been very important in my life"), turns to Hilton and says, "You. Get outta here."

Shaking Kilmer's hand, he invites his new best semi-friend to visit his mansion in the Hollywood Hills. "We'll have some coffee."

In effect, all of Wonderland rolls out -- backwards, forwards and sideways -- from this encounter. The film, which had its international premiere last month at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a highly stylized retelling of the circumstances leading up to and flowing from the astonishingly brutal murders of four people at 8763 Wonderland Ave. in Laurel Canyon in the early hours of July 1, 1981. The killings were ordered by Eddie Nash after a group of heavily armed addicts and drugs dealers, who orbited the universe of Wonderland Avenue, had burst into his home to steal drugs and other loot.

Holmes was the hapless middle man in the disaster. Heavily in debt, a pariah to virtually every other drug dealer in Los Angeles, he'd taken up with the losers of the Wonderland gang as a last resort. After unsuccessfully "fencing" some stolen antique guns belonging to the gang's leader through his pal Nash, Holmes temporarily gets back in the gang's good graces in the movie by telling them he knows where Nash has a major stash in his house. He later arranges to leave the kitchen door unlocked for the gang's entry. Of course, it doesn't take Nash long to realize that 1 + 1 = Holmes, and faster than you can say, "Hand me that heavy lead pipe, will ya," it's clobberin' time.

There is nothing redeeming about Wonderland. Except, that is, for the brilliant, courageous performances of its ensemble cast, including Bogosian. Of course, Bogosian, who is 50, has done scuzz before, as bothwriter and actor in such acclaimed works as Talk Radio, Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Head and Drinking in America. But in Wonderland he seems to take it up a big notch, roaring around the movie wearing only bikini briefs and an open, flimsy bathrobe and just generally being the most menacing drug-addled badass since Al Pacino in Scarface.

"I go where the interesting things are," Bogosian explained during a recent interview in Toronto. "Which means you can't worry about what you . . . look like."

Doing Wonderland alongside Tim Blake Nelson, Lisa Kudrow, Josh Lucas and Dylan McDermott, was "such a pure acting thing for me," he said. Shot quickly in November, 2002, by sophomore director James Cox, the movie was decidedly a low-budget affair, but for Bogosian, who's acted in Charlie's Angels 2 , Dolores Claiborne, U nder Siege 2 and Atom Egoyan's Ararat, this was all to the good. "With a big budget, you have a lot of time to re-light a scene, think up different camera positions, that sort of thing, but here you were really able to stay in the zone. You couldn't be a bunch of stars; you couldn't be posing; you could be there, y'know, . . . I still have scars all over me from this movie."

W onderland for Bogosian also was a chance to do something akin to the 1995 hit The Usual Suspects. "When I saw that, I thought, 'Making that must have been great.' Not just for the ensemble thing with Byrne and Spacey and del Toro, but where the dialogue is a meaningful part of what you're looking at."

Not that Bogosian has anything against movies with decent budgets. "You've got a lot of time to kill when you're on those kinds of sets, so I'll stay in my trailer and write. In fact, I wrote an entire play between scenes when I did Under Siege 2 [in 1994] . . . For me, a part doesn't have to do with genre or budget; my character has to have an agenda; it's about finding the heartbeat, the method to the madness."

Bogosian is in a happy space at this point. "I'm certainly doing everything I wanted to do. I couldn't have written a better scenario for myself." With his pale, grey-green eyes, curly black hair and trademark black jacket and pants, he's still got the intensity that made everyone take notice 15 or so years ago, but now it seems thoughtful instead of abrasive or scattered. Then again, as his wife, Australian-born director JoAnne Bonney once observed, "people are always confusing Eric with his characters." Bogosian has acknowledged he can be indiscreet, loud and opinionated in real life but as he told a New York Times writer a few years ago, at heart he is, "I guess the word would be soft. Like some kind of snail outside its shell. Very vulnerable."

In the meantime, he writes novels, like Mall in 2000, that actually get published (a second is due soon). And he remains happily married to the same woman he met 23 years ago and with whom he has two children, ages 16 and 12. Admittedly, Bogosian thought he'd "blown it" in the early nineties after appearing in the film version of Talk Radio, directed by an Oliver Stone who was just coming off such hits as Platoon, Wall Street and Born on the Fourth of July. "I coulda moved to L.A. to capitalize on that . . . and I'd probably be a lot richer today. But my wiser self said, 'You like New York; the money's not that important.' Now I like the decisions I made. I have no regrets -- less and less so all the time."

Indeed, Bogosian seems to have achieved all the benefits of fame with very few of the negatives, including accusations of "sell-out" from critics and colleagues. And he still wants to find what used to be called "the edge." Asked what's coming up in the months ahead, Bogosian announced: "We're gonna go to India for Christmas." Why? "Just to get shook up."