Dennis Hopper (1936-2010)
- Sal Mineo, Rebel Without a Cause, 1955.
Among director Nicholas Ray’s initial thoughts for poor Plato. So were Mineo, Bill Gray, Jeff Silver - and James Dean’s roommate, Jack Simmons, who finally played Cookie. Dean’s death haunted Hopper for years. Leading to the drugs, andf booze,“The greatest emotional shock of my young life He taught me so much.” They’d been together, during Giant and beyond, nearly every day of Dean’s final eight months. “His death blew my mind. My life was confused and disorientated for years… My sense of destiny destroyed - the great films he would have directed, the great performances…, the great humanitarian he would have become... I was influenced by Jimmy and I believe my friendship with him hurt my career.”
- Edd Byrnes, Darby’s Rangers, 1957. Warner Bros suspended Tab Hunter for refusing to go to war and simply drafted 77 Sunset Strip’s Kookie. Minus his comb. Hopper and John Hudson were considered - after making Gunfight at the OK Corral., the year before.
- Warren Beatty, Splendor in the Grass, 1960. “It’s the one film I wish I’d got,” said Dennis, “because I’ve never had any great roles.” Co-star Natalie Wood’s ex-lover was up for Bud. (Brando’s nickname). However, director Elia Kazan went for Beatty and almost regretted it. “Warren was a little snotty - I don't know a better word for how he behaved and can’t find one in my thesaurus,” noted Kazan’s 1988 autobiography, “but he was able to grow into a formidable man.” Wood said Beatty did not shower enough for her olfactory tastes. (And Hooper did?). Natalie’s affair with Beatty began long after the filming - and not before but after her divorce from Robert Wagner.
- Scott Glenn, Apocalypse Now, 1978.
- Donald Pleasence, Halloween, 1978. Hitchcock fan and auteur John Carpenter searched high and low for his shrink, Dr Sam Loomis: Peter O’Toole and the Hammer horrors, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee versus Charles Napier, Lawrence Tierney, Abe Vigoda. The $300,00 shoestring budget couldn’t afford any of them! Same for the kinda obvious Lloyd Bridges, David Carradine, Kirk Douglas, Steven Hill, Walter Matthau… and such off-the-wall surprises as John Belushi, Mel Brooks, Yul Brynner, Edward Bunker, Sterling Hayden, Dennis Hopper, Kris Kristofferson… and Dick’s brother, Jerry Van Dyke. Loomis, incidentally was named after John Gavin’s character in Pyscho; his screen lover was Janet Leigh, mother of Carpenter’s heroine, Jamie Lee Curtis. So it flows.
- Topol, Flash Gordon, 1980.
Change of mad scientist Dr Zarkov as directors switched from Federico Fellini and Nicolas Roeg (who saw Flash as a metaphysical messiah) to Mike Hodges (who didn’t). “I should’ve been dead ten times over,” said Dennis. “It’s an absolute miracle that I’m still around. My last five years of drinking was a nightmare. I was drinking a half-gallon of rum with a fifth of rum on the side, in case I ran out, 28 beers a day, and three grams of cocaine just to keep me moving around. And I thought I was fine because I wasn’t crawling around drunk on the floor.”
Harry Dean Stanton, Repo Man, 1983. After 13 years away, Hopper had finally moved back to town, to remind people that he was still alive. (They must have known. He’d made 18 films in that time, from Mad Dog Morgan to Apocalypse Now). Director Alex Cox wanted him as Bud. The suits did not. Too erratic!“Dennis didn’t take the part - instead, for more pay, he made a film about road racers on Mullholland Drive - but our meeting stuck in my mind. I kept writing roles for him, though it would be a few years before I could snag him in my net, with Straight To Hell.” That’s how Dennis missed what critic Roger Ebert called the first movie combining punk teenagers, automobile repossessors and aliens. “The kind of movie that baffles Hollywood, because it isn’t made from any known formula and doesn’t follow the rules” - a perfect summation of all things Dennis. (He got his own back in 1986, taking three roles - and an Oscar nomination - from HDS!)
- Marjoe Gortner, Euer Weg führt durch die Hölle (US: Jungle Warriors), 1984. A Mexican locationtoo far… Hallucinating that people were being tortured, even burnt alive in his hotel’s basement, Hoppper ran naked into the streets. Police found him and attempted to cover him. “No, shoot me like this. I wanna die naked.” Sitting between two hefty stuntmen, he was flown home to rehab. To this day, he has no memory of my previous five lines...
- Harvey Keitel, The Two Jakes, 1989.
- Bob Hoskins, Heart Condition, 1990. Too used to playing total pigs, white bigots, Hopper passed (like Hackman) and Hoskins rushed in. “Guys, where do I sign? When do we start?” Hopper’s electric charisma made him big, said his Mad Dog Morgan director Philippe Mora. “He had a great face and as Samuel Fuller said: The human face is the greatest landscape of all. Starting out as a pretty boy was a burden for him and so he relished acting nasty. His face then became a weapon.”
- Steve Buscemi, Reservoir Dogs, 1991.
- Robert Loggia, Innocent Blood, 1992. Jack Sholder’s line-up was Dennis, Lara Flynn Boyle and Miguel Ferrer - before the project moved to John Landis - and died on the vein. Hopper’s higher than a kite acidhead image was both true and a mask - a show he felt expected of him.
- JT Walsh, Red Rock West, 1992. Where’s the meat? Hopper turned down the sheriff, begging to be the hit man known as Lyle from Dallas... after John Dahl’s Lyle guitar. Hopper said (surprisingly) he wanted to be an actor “from the time I saw my first films, which I think were singing cowboy pictures like Roy Rogers.”
- Ed Harris, Running Mates, TV, 1992. Running for the White House, that is.Planned as the comeback for - of all people - the screen’s perennial virgin Doris Day.She must have been scared off by the idea of Dennis as her husband, let alone as a presidential candidate! For TV, Diane Keaton ran with Harris.
- Eric Roberts, Doctor Who (The Movie), TV, 1996. Hollywood goes Who. Why? For the pilot of a USeries to exhume the BBC science-fiction cult, buried since it ran out of puff after 26 seasons in 1989. As if to prove this was big deal LA in action (!), some 63 actors were listed for Doc8 and a further 71(well, some were on both lists) for his foe, The Master. Such as… James Bond, Caligula, Dracula, Gandhi, Freddy Krueger, Magnum, Jean-Luc Picard, Han Solo, Spock and - hey, they’re doctors! - Emmett Brown and Frank-N-Furter. Aka… Timothy Dalton, Malcolm McDowell, Christopher Lee, Ben Kingsley, Robert Englund, Tom Selleck, Patrick Stewart, Harrison Ford, Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Lloyd. Tim Curry. And a certain Frank Booth…!
James Gandolfini, Perdita Durango, Mexico-USA-Spain, 1996. Quit when Madonna left the lead. “I don’t know how I made it. I should really be dead. [Ten times over!]. I got so insane and crazy out there [in Taos]. I should have just died. Or been killed by a number of people. I don’t know how I made it.” Once, he was positive that he was on a Mafia hit list.
- Scott Glenn, Lesser Prophets, 1996. Change of Iggy, a wisecracking detective with a pregnant missus in a laboured indie that seemd to star New York more than any of the excellent cast: John Turturro, Jimmy Smits, Elizabeth Perkins, Amy Brenneman.
- Woody Allen, Deconstructing Harry, 1996. Woody tried to get Gould or De Niro, or Hoffman, or Hopper… “There are plenty of actors and actresses... saying ‘I’m dying to work with you so I’d do anything’ - that are not available or they can’t work for the pay I’m offering.” Harry was a slimeball. Not whenWoody played him.
- Jeremy Irons, Lolita, 1997.Oh, that smacks of sheer desperation by UK director Adrian Lyne.
- Daniel Benzali, The End of Violence, 1997. An odd title for the Denniscannon. He was too busy and TV’s Murder One bal die took over in Wim Wenders’ quickie for the 50th Cannes festival.
- Benicio Del Toro, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, 1997. After directors Hal Ashby, Ralph Bakshi fell out, Martin Scorsese tried with Nicholson (suggested by Dr Hunter S Thompson, himself) and Dennis (suggestedby Jack, of course). UK auteur Alex Cox was Hopper’s #4 Henchman - “the writing henchman, called upon when Dennis needed a quick wash-and-rinse on a script… including a terrible screenplay called Easy Rider 2." He also studied a draft of Fear and Loathing… "It convinced me the book was unfilmable. We had more success with a script called Backtrack. Dennis was a tremendous boss: unlike the financiers and studio executives, he actually read the script and gave us comprehensible notes on it. And he stuck up for the writers when the money people asked for stupid, contradictory, anti-dramatic things.”
Ed Harris, The Truman Show, 1997.
“It was the only time in my life I’ve ever been fired... ” Some say he was too sinister for the TV creator of “the show.” Rubbish! Dennis was always whatever the director wanted him to be. Peter Weir seemed happy enough to have Hopper as Christoff, creator of “the show” - the Australian director had considered playing him, himself.. “I did months and months of preparation,” Dennis told Tony Shafrazi in 1999. “I went down and sawPeter Weir twice in Florida. I spent six months on that picture and then did one day shooting, and Scott Rudin, the producer, who I’d never even met - he never wanted me for the part - he said he’d wait for one day’s rushes and if he didn’t want me in the picture, he was going to fire me. And he did. Anyway, that’s my story. But I enjoyed the picture and I thought Ed was really good in… a terrific actor.” Hopper immediately joined Ron Howard’s somewhat similar Ed TV.
- Ernest Borgnine, Blueberry, France, 2004. While looking at various Americans, including Val Kilmer for thetitle role, realisateur Jan Kounen envisaged Dennis as the paraplegic sheriff Rolling Star - eventually the140th film of Borgnine at 83.
- Mike Patton, Firecracker, 2004. Dennis lostan Easy Rider reunion with Karen Black because, frankly, he was too old at 69. His successor was a rocker aged 37 - promote dfrom the small (and cut) role of The Green Man to one of two dual role leads in what Chicago critic Roger Ebert hailed as a cross between In Cold Blood and Freaks “with the look of Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre.” Crowded.
- Clive Swift, Doctor Who #188: Voyage of the Damned, TV, 2007. Who’s calling again… Dennis as Mr Cooper was a bizarre idea. (Then again, why not?).. The Christmas special is famous for the Doctor admitting to being… 903 years old. Dennis was replaced by the very British/tweedy/Tory Swift. But then, the Hollywood rebel had been a (secret) Republican since Reagan was voted US President in 1981. Sad. No matter. Dennis remains one of my favourite LA people - and interviews. Always full of suprises… “I wanted to be an actor from the time I saw my first films, which I think were singing cowboy pictures like Roy Rogers.”