Dennis Hopper


  1. Sal Mineo, Rebel Without a Cause, 1955.  
    Dean pal Dennis was among director Nicholas Ray’s initial thoughts for poor Plato. So were Mineo, Billy Gray, Jeff Silver – and James Dean’s roommate, Jack Simmons, who finally played Cookie. Sidney Lumet had launched  James Dean, Sal Mineo  and Paul Newman (a Jim Stark candidate) in his  New York TV shows.  Dean’s death haunted Hopper for years.   Leading to the drugs and 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.”

  2. 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.
  3. Martin Gabel, The James Dean Story, 1957. 
    The Rebel Without A Cause  scenarist Stewart Stern knew  who he wanted for the narration.  I’ll only do it if it’s for free,said Brando. But nobody else can take any money either.Stern said sorry, that’s not how it’s going to be. Brando added: You need a young voice, It’s a young subject.”  OK, Dennis Hopper, said Stern. But Warner Bros, was  still ruling James Dean beyond the grave  – and  preferred Gabel’s deep, booming voice.  “I said it would ruin the film … and it did. You might as well have Rabbi Magnin!  I had no power. Whatever was pretentious about my script, the narration only added to it.A great disappointment for Stern. Jim’s death was a terrible personal loss to me. I felt it as I had felt no other death in my life. I almost can’t explain why becuse it was such a short reltaionship… But he was an absolutely unique human being. Astonishing… given the background he had. You could not account for it anymore than… for the genius of Mozart as a child.That could have been Dennis talking about his friend, men tor and idol. Stern  collaborated with Hopper on  the infamous Last Movie, 1970.  They co-wrote the story and Stern penned the scenario. His last gig before quitting Hollywood in  the 80s was a short called  Rebel– a sequel, in fact, to his 1955 classic, with the dead Plato’s pals looking for Jim Stark and Judy.

  4. 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.
  5. Scott Glenn, Apocalypse Now, 1978.
  6. Donald Pleasence, Halloween, 1978.    Hitchcock fan 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 Lloyd Bridges, David Carradine, Kirk Douglas, Steven Hill, Walter Matthau… even 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. Pleasence said he only made the film because his daughter told him to! She’d loved Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13… He also told Carpenter he’d never read the script. “Only later,” said Carpenter, “after [we] became close friends, did I realise he was finding out how much I loved the movie I was making.” Incidentally, Loomis was named after John Gavin’s Psycho character; his screen lover was Janet Leigh, mother of Carpenter’s heroine, Jamie Lee Curtis. So it flows.

  7. 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.”
  8. 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!)

  9. Marjoe Gortner, Euer Weg führt durch die Hölle (US: Jungle Warriors), 1984.  
    Mexican location  too far…  Hallucinating that  people were being tortured, even  burnt alive in his hotel’s  basement, Hopper  ran naked into the streets. Police arrested him and attempted to cover him. “No, shoot me like this. I wanna die naked.”  Dennis was fired from  his higest-paid job in a long while. Sitting between two hefty stuntmen, he was flown home to a psychiatric ward. And rehab. He’d survived all the 50/60s’ experimentation. Somehow. ”I should really be dead.” All he recalled  – 20 years later – was masturbating before a tree, the Mafia stalking him, thinking he was a galaxy, feeling WWII had begun and his friends being machine-gunned and “being guided by a spaceship… controlling my mind.” It doesn’t stop there…  His replacement was the former four-year-old boy evangelist and faith-healer from Long Beach. But of course! 

  10. Bruce McGill, Miami Vice #26: Out Where The Buses Don’t Run, TV, 1985.  While  discussing his guest rôle of an eccentric, retired cop, McGll revealed Hopper was supposed to play Weldon – except for a row over pay. 

  11. Dennis Farina, Midnight Run, 1987.   A great buddy movie (better than the same director Martin Brest’s Beverly Hills Cop), has skip-tracer Robert De Niro (in top comedy form) and Vegas embezzler Charles Grodin on the run from he FBI andthe Vegas Mob, represented by Farina (a Chicago cop for 18 years before turning actor). His rivals for the gig were Alec Baldwin, Dennis Hopper, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Ron Perlman.

  12. Harvey Keitel, The Two Jakes, 1989.

  13. Tracey Walter, The Two Jakes, 1989.

  14. 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.”

  15. Sam Shepard, Thunderheart, 1991.  UK director Michael Apted’s first thriller was inspired by 57 unsolved murders on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the 1970s as The Traditionals fought Tribal government goons… making Pine Ridge (pop: 1100) the Murder Capitol of the Nation. The only clichéin sight is the usual pairing of old cop-young cop (or FBI agents here), the rest was the usual Apted brilliance.  He shuffled eleven choices for the older agent, Frank “Cooch” Coutelle: Brian Cox, Robert De Niro, Scott Glenn, Dennis Hopper, Tommy Lee Jones (also up, at 45, for the younger Ray Levoi), Harvey Keitel, Stephen Lang, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Ron Perlman.  So where was Marlon Brando?  “He’s gone on record so many times about the current state of the Indians, I almost expected him to ring me,” Apted told me in Deauville, France.  “I asked him to play the head of the FBI – just one day’s work in Washington.  I thought it might appeal to him – as a cause.”  It did not.
  16. William Richert, My Own Private Idaho, 1990.   Director Gus Van Sant thought Hopper was joking when he passed on Bob Pigeon role as he’d prefer playing one of the (teenage) leads!  One of them, River Phoenix, recommended Richert, who had directed him in A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon, 1987.
  17. Steve Buscemi, Reservoir Dogs, 1991.
  18. 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.  
  19. 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.”
  20. 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.    

  21. Eric Roberts, Doctor Who (The Movie), TV, 1996.   
  22. 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.
  23. 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. 
  24. 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.
  25. Jeremy Irons, Lolita, 1997.Oh, that smacks of sheer desperation by UK director Adrian Lyne.
  26. 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.

  27. 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, the “televisionary creator” of the show – although the Australian director had considered playing the role, himself. “I did months and months of  preparation,”Dennis told Tony Shafrazi in 1999.  “I went down and saw Peter 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.

  28. 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 (suggested by 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.
  29. Ernest Borgnine, Blueberry, France, 2004.     While looking at various Americans, including Val Kilmer for the title role, realisateur Jan Kounen envisaged Dennis as the paraplegic sheriff Rolling Star – eventually the140th film of Borgnine at 83.
  30. 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.

  31. Clive Swift, Doctor Who #188: Voyage of the Damned, TV, 2007.  Who’s calling again…  Dennis as Mr Cooper was a whacky idea. (So were most Hopper offers! In case you’re interested, Hopper thought  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, 1987, and Super Mario Brothers, 1992,  were the worst movies he’d ever been in.   Compared to – Queen of Blood, 1965..?) 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.
  32. George Costigan, Doctor Who #188: Voyage of the Damned, TV, 2007.   No to Cooper, so how about Max Capricorn (ex-Collisto)? But no, he was not available for either. And so missed Doc10 David Tennant admitting to being 903 years old. Dennis remains one of my favourite LA people. Always full of surprises… “I wanted to be an actor from the time I saw my first films… singing cowboy pictures like Roy Rogers.”



“As an actor, Denis stands out because of his edge, his sincerity, the honesty he portrays. But Dennis also paints. He takes pictures. He’s got an extremely fine eye for life. Hel’s a great appreciator with a great vision. Ad he does thjngs his way.” – Jack Nicholson.

“I l oved him on-screen and  – at the 1976 Cannes festival  – he was one off the best interview of my life (up there wiyu Halle  Berry, Clint Eastwood, Anthony Hopkins, Stefania Sandrelli, Jean-Louis Trintignant).  We were at the bar at the Hotel Carlton  – and suddenly  Michael Douglas turned up.  They  shot off to the loo. When they returned, they were still  rubbing their noses and  I’d swear their feet were not touching the ground….” TC









 Birth year: 1936Death year: 2010Other name: Casting Calls:  32