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Dennis Hopper talks!

10.09.2002

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with a Hollywood legend, man. An icon, man. A screen idol, you know. Promoting the well-known delayed release of KNOCKAROUND GUYS (set for release this Friday, October 11 - In the film, Hopper plays Benny Chains, a notorious Brooklyn gangster and patriarch), the mafia flick set in New York and Montana…of all places, Dennis Hopper scheduled interviews with some elite reporters at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant in Hollywood. Among that elite group of curious pressers was yours truly…'representin', if you will.

After sampling the delicious spread of rich, late afternoon desserts (gotta love Italians), I sat down and chatted with the man who made cross-country trips hip, and brought a new face to sinister villainy. From EASY RIDER and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE to APOCALYPSE NOW and THE AMERICAN FRIEND, from BLUE VELVET and HOOSIERS to TRUE ROMANCE and SPEED, Dennis Hopper is the embodiment of the anti-establishment, anti-Hollywood, and does it with so much damn coolness it makes me sick.

Anyway, enough butt-kissing for now. Wait until I start asking questions! But seriously, though, he was great. He talked about everything from his days on the set of the film, to his early years in the business, to golfing. So sit back and enjoy a brief glimpse into the mind of a screen gem. I know I did…

DENNIS HOPPER

How’d you get involved? It’s a small character, and you’re selective in your roles.

Well, I was playing golf with Charles Koppelman, Brian Koppelman’s father, and he said my son is about ready to direct his first movie. And John Malkovich is going to be in it. I said, man, what a great actor. He asked if I wanted to be in it, and I said if there’s a part for me, sure. Once I read the script I thought, man, this is terrific. It is a small part, and my criterion for small parts is do they have a life of their own inside the movie, like this character does, then it’s ok.

Are you a fan of the whole gangster genre?

Well, I’ve been in it all my life. And when I was a kid going to movies I loved Bogart and Cagney. They were great. And then you look at THE GODFATHER, both I and II. III I don’t know about. Also I thought this was a pretty interesting look at the mob now…It’s really a coming-of-age movie. It’s about Barry Pepper becoming a man and deciding what he wants to do, as opposed to what his father wants.

It seems your face is everywhere now, in commercials, etc. And EASY RIDER’s in a commercial now. How do you feel about all this?

The way that commercial was explained to me is that when I was taken out of that commercial, it’s because the guy was dreaming of being me. It’s ok. The commercials keep my family in shoes. And my wife has a lot of shoes. I told my son that, when he saw the movie SUPER MARIO BROTHERS. He said “I think maybe you’re a good actor, but why do you play bad guys like that?” I said because you need shoes. And he said, “Daddy, I don’t need shoes that badly.” But the commercials keep things going, with the exception of Gap commercials, which pay me absolutely no money. I wanted to do it because the Coen Brothers were directing it, who I admire very much.

What about EASY RIDER? I heard a rumor that there’s a sequel in the works.

They came to me and asked if I wanted to be involved and I said no. Sequels, I’ve never seen one that was better than the original. I just didn’t think it was a good thing to do.

Is Peter Fonda involved?

I think Peter is involved. But Peter and I don’t speak. I’m pretty sure he’s involved.

What’s next for you?

This is a hard one. I’m going off to play Frank Sinatra in an Australian film. It’s such a big challenge, more than I’d like to take on very honestly. But I’m going for it. I’ve never sang a song in my life. I’ve never thought about even getting up and presenting myself as a singer. Obviously, thank god it’s not going to be my voice, but I do have 7 songs to sing in it. And that’s a big challenge. Sinatra was such a great singer…And I’m not going to try and emulate him, or mimic him, because I’m not a mimic, but I’m going to try and play him as honestly as I can.

Are you at a point in your career where you’re finding it harder and harder to be challenged?

Yeah. I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights over this one, playing Sinatra.

Did you take a mentoring role with the younger actors in KNOCKAROUND GUYS?

No. When I come onto a movie as an actor, I’m there as an actor. I don’t think about directing at all. I think about playing my role, and that’s it. And these are young guys who are accomplished actors. They don’t need to be in fear of me, or intimidated by me. Sometimes they wanted to know about James Dean, so I’d tell them a story. But I don’t really like to think about the past. I focus on the future, in a moment to moment reality. And they are really wonderful guys. And Brian and David are really accomplished young writers. They gave me really good advice in my scenes…They wanted a businessman father, not an exaggerated Mafioso guy.

I know you’re a golf fan. How’s your game, and what else do you do in your down time?

Well, my golf game sucks. But I still do it as much as I can. I have a 12-year-old son. This morning I took him surfing. Took him out at 5:30 so he could catch a few waves in Venice. We live in Venice…It’s a thrill watching my son catching waves.

Will he be an actor?

I won’t try to stop him from being an actor. I want him to do what he wants. I think he probably will be an actor, but it’s not anything I’m leading him into. He plays guitar now. So maybe he’ll be a musician. I just want him to have a good life.

You’re having another baby, though. Right?

Yeah. I’m 66. And it’s going to be wonderful. And really, and my wife doesn’t like me to say this, but it’s going to fulfill her life too. She’s been a stepmother to my child, and is wonderful. But she’s much younger than I am, she’s 34. And for her to be able to have a child is a great thing. She’s sick everyday and she’s very happy.

Do you want to get back into directing soon?

I do have 3 films that I’m pretty sure I’m going to direct one of them. They’re out trying to get financing for them, these are scripts that I really like. And then there’s a film I’ve been writing for about three years, but I’m not really finished with that. So I’m going to direct something before that. But yes, I’ll direct something this next year, if I have to go out with a video camera and do it, I will. I need to direct.

Read my interview with writers/directors
Brian Koppleman and David Levien here

Knockaround Guys opens on Friday, October 11, 2002

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Dennis was great, as you can see. And he loves talking about his life above and beyond his work on screen. A true legend, and a cool guy to hang with on Friday afternoon as well.

To rail me, email joblo@joblo.com. To hail me, email me at johngunn@joblo.com. I’m outta here, man.

Source: JoBlo.com

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