Dennis Hopper talks with Capone about sex, drugs, and orgies (and that's just one project)!!
Published at: Aug. 17, 2008, 10:30 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. I think I have literally seen Dennis Hopper in three movies in the past three weeks. He pops up for what amounts to a cameo in Larry Bishop's confounding HELLRIDE. He plays the Democratic candidate for President in Kevin Costner's underachieving SWING VOTE. But probably his best role in years is in the recently released ELEGY, in which he plays Ben Kingsley's best friend. The two have a terrific chemistry and play off each other like two old poon hounds, which is exactly what their characters are. And it is ELEGY that is the reason for my talking to Mr. Hopper.
Dennis Hopper makes a lot of junk, and I think even he'd admit that. But every so often, he'll land a juicy part that he just rips into. Going back as far as REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and GIANT, opposite his long-dead friend James Dean. Take a look at what he does in GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL, HANG 'EM HIGH, or PANIC IN THE CITY. And then of course, you have EASY RIDER, which he also directed and co-wrote, along with THE LAST MOVIE. His extracurricular activities kept him from working regularly, and then Francis Ford Coppola pulled him in for APOCALYPSE NOW, and the bat-shit crazy door was flung wide open for Hopper. Coppola again called on him for RUMBLE FISH, and it started to seem like anytime instability was required in a character, Dennis was the go-to guy. It's a kind of cinematic shorthand. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2; BLUE VELVET; RIVER'S EDGE; HOOSIERS; PARIS TROUT; THE INDIAN RUNNER; TRUE ROMANCE; SPEED; even fucking WATERWORLD. The list goes on and on, and it's filled with titles I've never heard of, let alone seen, quite a few of which in recent years went right to DVD.
I remember really loving his role on the first season of "24" and being tickled seeing him in George Romero's LAND OF THE DEAD, but it wasn't until recently, probably beginning with the film SLEEPWALKING (a bad movie with a rock-solid performance by Hopper), that I started to notice hopper was making decent movies again. I'm very much looking forward to seeing him in David Zucker's AN AMERICAN CAROL, but my heart sings knowing that he's in the latest Wim Wenders' film PALERMO SHOOTING, since I consider THE AMERICAN FRIEND one of the finest examples of Hopper's great acting.
Needless to say, 10 minutes isn't nearly enough time to really interview Dennis Hopper, but I did my best to cover as much ground as I could (and extend my time by any means necessary). I hope you all enjoy this.
Capone: Thanks for agreeing to do this and being a part of such a really great movie. Actually, I should be more specific, because you’ve been in a lot that I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, but ELEGY is really beautiful.
Dennis Hopper: Isn’t it wonderful?
Capone: Yeah, and it’s weird. A lot of people…’cause I saw you in HELL RIDE and SWING VOTE last week. In the past, I think people have tended to cast you because (a) you’re a great actor, (b) casting you kind of gets a rise out of a lot of people. They have expectations when you show up. But, in ELEGY, it’s such a great, pure character.
DH: It's a a wonderful part, yeah.
Capone:…And, you’re not playing off anything you’ve done before. What is it you admire about this guy, about George, and his relationship with this old friend of his.
DH: Well, first of all, it’s terrific writing. It’s from the Philip Roth novel, “The Dying Animal.” It’s just a wonderful screenplay.
And, Sir Ben Kingsley, most of my scenes are with him and with Debbie Harry. But, working with Sir Ben Kingsley is really, really such an honor and such a pleasure. He’s so honest, and he’s so real, and he’s so in the moment that it just makes things so much easier. And, it gives you a criterion to work toward.
I just had a great experience on it, from reading the script, from working with him. He’s one of the most generous actors I’ve ever met. And, Isabel Coixet, her directing--she also works the camera, she’s also the cinematographer--she makes such a wonderful feeling on the set and lets you do your work, and then sees how she’s going to film it and tell the story. It’s just such a pleasure to work on something like this.
By the way, I was very disappointed in SWING VOTE when I saw it, unfortunately, even though I think it’s a charming movie, and I think Kevin [Costner] is wonderful in it. My part was just totally ripped out of it. I mean, I had this whole subplot where a young Mexican waitress wants me to come to her grandfather’s funeral. And, I shake off the Secret Service, and I go to the funeral, ‘cause we march with Chavez together, and I give this speech in the church, and this whole thing where I come to my realization of who I am, because my character is so off, doing all these things, and so I come back with this strength. And, that was all taken out of the film. So, when I saw it, I went, Oh, no!
When I saw this movie, however, I went, Wow, what a wonderful film. And, not just because I’m in it, but I just thought it was a really wonderfully mature piece of work that we just don’t have the pleasure of seeing very often.
Capone: Yeah, it’s the two relationships that Kingsley has--one with this woman and one with you--that somehow pair together to stabilize him.
DH: Right. Penelope [Cruz], by the way…Penelope gives such an incredible performance. She’s certainly this earth mother, Sophia Loren-type, you know. She’s not the little girl anymore. I thought it was just a great performance.
Capone: She certainly has become that. I think it’s the best thing she’s ever done in the English language, certainly.
DH: Well, I agree.
Capone: Did you and Ben Kingsley…did you actually call him "Sir Ben" when you worked with him?
DH: Yeah, you’re told to call him Sir Ben, and I did it with pleasure, actually. He is Sir Ben.
Capone: Yeah, yeah. Did you find time to do things when the cameras weren’t rolling to sort of bond and make that friendship seem a little more believable when you were shooting?
DH: Umm, no not really, not really.
Capone: It seems very natural. That’s just good acting, I guess.
DH: Yeah. It’s very difficult…First of all, if you’re in a scene with him and you’re acting, you soon realize that you’re acting and he’s not [laughs]. I mean, I’m not saying that he isn’t acting, but he’s acting on such a level that, like, it’s so honest and so real.
And, he’s so in the moment, so if you go one way, he goes with you, and if he goes one way, I go with him. I mean, it’s just a wonderful give and take. It was the way things should be. This movie was the way things should be, in my mind, how a movie should be made, from the directing on, directing/writing.
Capone: Even into your 70s now, are you still learning from people like Sir Ben about acting? Are you still picking up things?
Capone: Yeah? What did you learn from him?
DH: He gave me a little cadence that he used doing Shakespeare, you know, how he does his speeches and so on, that I thought was really interesting. And, I came out of Shakespeare, too, and it was wonderful working with him, I mean, just working with him. And, very honestly, I’ve found myself since then, if I’m working with another actor that I don’t really quite believe what he’s doing, I sort of substitute Sir Ben for him, so it gives me another thing to work off of. [laughs]
Capone: Right. And, of course, having Deborah Harry as your wife, you’re every-kid-growing-up-in-the-80s’ dream come true, I think.
DH: [Laughs] Yeah, Deborah Harry as my wife…She was wonderful, too, you know. She’s really a good actress.
Capone: I have to admit, I almost didn’t recognize her at first, and I’ve seen her act before, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her get so lost in playing a character before. She’s wonderful.
DH: Yes, she really is, yeah.
Capone: Let me ask you one thing about SWING VOTE…and, I’m not going to agree or disagree on the quality of the film. But, the pro-life commercial is the funniest thing in the movie, and I’ll leave it at that.
DH: When the kids are blowing up? [Laughs] Yeah.
Capone:…People who weren’t laughing at all during the movie were laughing at that scene. It’s so outrageous.
DH: I know, it is outrageous. The immigration thing is outrageous, too. No, I think the movie is fun, and I think Kevin does a great job, and I think Kelsey Grammer…I think all the…Nathan Lane, all of them. The acting is really wonderful. I was just disappointed that my part got minimalized. And also, it looks like there’s only one [contender], that Kelsey Grammer’s really the only one you should vote for.
Capone: I was going to say, Which one would you vote for?
DH: Yeah, really. After seeing this, there’s no question in my mind I’d vote for Kelsey. [laughs]
Capone: And, I think the message is good. I mean, why is it so crazy that a candidate should have to earn every single vote? That’s not a bad message at all.
DH: Right, yeah.
Capone: To play the part, did it help to be clean-shaven? I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen you looking like that.
DH: Yeah, it seems to help the part…if you’re clean-shaven, if you’re running for president.
Capone: Yeah, not too many candidates lately with facial hair. Exactly.
DH: I had facial hair before the movie, and I had it after, but not during. [laughs]
Capone: Do you feel naked without it?
DH: That's exactly right.
Capone: I also saw HELL RIDE, which has a great cast as well.
DH: HELL RIDE is fun, man. That’s a great romp.
Capone: And, it seems like it’s a bit of an homage to the kind of biker movie that you founded essentially…
DH: Right, the AIP, American International Pictures. And, that’s where Larry Bishop conmes from, too--Joey Bishop’s son, who wrote, directed and stars in it--comes out of AIP, those motorcycle movies. It is an homage to that period of time, but I think it’s funkier. Is it still X-rated?
Capone: I don’t think the version I saw was, but it was only a little bit away from being X-rated.
DH: Yeah, because we showed it at Sundance, and it was X-rated at that time. And, we had these great midnight showings, and we would have to turn away 400 people. But, it is a fun romp. I enjoyed it. It’s not much of a part that I had in it, but it was fun.
Capone: But, having you in it recalls the kind of films that you were talking about, maybe seen through the eyes of Sergio Leone, a little bit with the music and the desertscapes.
I noticed that, thankfully, for the first time in 30 years, you’ve worked with Win Wenders again in a film. Tell me about your relationship with him, because he’s probably one of my Top 3 all-time great filmmakers.
DH: Right. I think WINGS OF DESIRE is one of the greatest films ever made.
Capone: I agree.
DH: I think it was first time that literature and film ever really married. They’re usually enemies, and it certainly worked. Well, Wim is a great old friend, and I just love him, and he’s a terrific guy. Making THE AMERICAN FRIEND with him was a revelation after coming from APOCALYPSE NOW, going right into that. Actually, I came from the Philippines to Hamburg and got a haircut. We were off. But, it was wonderful.
And, in PALERMO SHOOTING, I played Death. I shaved off my hair and my eyebrows, I’m all in gray. It’s really a terrific role. We showed it in Cannes, and we got an 8½-minute standing ovation. But, the movie really is 20 minutes too long, and Wim went back to Germany and recut it. I just got a message from him a couple of days ago, saying that he had re-edited it and had taken 20 minutes out, which he really needed to do. And, hopefully, we’ll see it soon.
Capone: I can’t wait. Another film I saw you in during the last year that really kind of opened my eyes, was a documentary--and correct me, if I’m wrong on the title--COOL SCHOOL?
DH: Oh yeah, THE COOL SCHOOL
Capone: I learned so much from that, because I was really kind of oblivious to the birth of the Los Angeles art scene.
DH: I thought that was a terrific documentary.
Capone: Yeah, and I’ve heard this about you prior to seeing it, but it was nice to put it in some context…about how you are not only a photographer and collector, but a long-time supporter of that particular art scene. Do you still do photography?
DH: Yeah, I just had a huge retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. That was in 2001, and then it went to the MAK Museum in Vienna. And then, last year, I had five rooms at the Hermitage. I was the only living American artist ever to show at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg in Russia. And, then I had a huge show in Moscow.
I do assemblages with photographs, with objects, and large oil paintings, billboard-sized paintings, 20 ft. x 14 ft., and I do video. It’s a full, kind of rounded art kind of thing.
Capone: So, is that where we have to go to see anything else that you’ve filmed recently?
DH: Yeah, right.
Capone: Features aren’t really it?
DH: The Cinémathèque for the last five years has been doing research, and I’m having a show at the Cinémathèque in Paris at the Frank Gehry Building. October 13 it opens, and they’re showing 50 films, seven films I directed and the others that I acted in. And then, they’re showing half of my art collection and half of my work. They’re doing a whole virtual reality of my nightmare life. [laughs]
Capone: Oh, by art collection, you mean art that you own, as well as art you’ve created?
DH: Right, art that I collected through the years and my own work. So, it’s going to be a really interesting show. That opens Oct. 13 in Paris.
Capone: That’s like a scary version of “This is Your Life” taking place in Paris.
DH: Right, exactly. And, then Wim Wenders and I are doing a workshop. And Julian Schnabel and I are going to do a workshop. So that’ll be fun.
Capone: That’s great, It’s great that you get to mix up the mediums like that. You don’t necessarily have to focus on one thing.
DH: Julian Schnabel has done that really well, by the way. His last three films…I mean, his first three films and his last three films have just been brilliant.
Capone: I haven’t seen the Lou Reed [LOU REED’S BERLIN] one yet. It hasn’t come to Chicago.
DH: Oh, I haven’t seen that one either. That’s a documentary.
Capone: Yeah, but I still want to see it, because I think…
DH: That’s on his Berlin album?
DH: I haven’t seen that either.
Capone: Since our website talks about some genre films, some horror films, you’ve dabbled in that, including working with one of my heroes, George Romero, in LAND OF THE DEAD a couple of times. It strikes me as very funny, knowing George and just the two of you…Did you get along? Did you enjoy that experience?
DH: Oh, yeah, very much…Sort of like the college professor. I thought he was wonderful. It was wonderful working with him. He’s a great gentleman.
Capone: You don’t do a whole lot of horror, but then maybe some of the things that you work on sort of become horror.
DH: Well, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 with Tobe Hooper certainly qualifies. [laughs]
Capone: I was going to mention that. I know a lot of the guys who worked in that film with you--and, yes, they speak very highly of the experience of working with you.
And, then you did things like BLUE VELVET that aren’t pure horror, but they kind of become horror.
DH: BLUE VELVET to me is, like, the first American surrealist film. It has a very surreal kind of quality to it.
Capone: You and Ben Kingsley are two of the hardest-working guys in show business right now. You must be a very easy actor to work with, because everybody wants you in their movie. And, you seem busier than ever right now. Are you just that kind of work horse?
DH: Well, I enjoy working. I’m working a little harder than I enjoy right at the moment, because I’m doing a television series. But, the series is wonderful. It’s just great writing, but we’re doing some 17-hour days, which is just horrendous. But, nobody’s complaining, because the writing is so good.
Capone: This is “Crash” you’re talking about.
DH: “Crash,” yeah. And we’re going into our seventh episode on Friday. When I get back, I’ll start shooting the seventh episode, and we’re shooting 13. We didn’t do a pilot. We’re doing it for Lionsgate and Starz network is going to show it. And, it will be the first drama for Starz, they’re putting a lot into it. We premiere on October 17, they’re showing Part 1 and Part 2 at the beginning. Boy, the scripts have been incredible.
Capone: Are there any writers we might know?
DH: They’re the writers from the movie, Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco.
Capone: Who do you play in that show, because obviously it’s not based on the movie?
DH: Yeah, it’s structured like the movie, but there are different characters now, because the other story is all resolved. I play a Phil Spector-type music mogul, who is looking for the next big thing and plays with guns, knives, drugs and orgy-oriented behavior. But we have great scripts. We have no language barrier because it’s cable, no sexual barriers, so it’s as free as anything you’re going to get on television, that’s for sure.
Capone: Another day at the office for you.
DH: [Laughs] Yeah, right. Oh, yeah, great. That’s funny.
Capone: Alright, Dennis, thanks so much for talking to us.
DH: Where are you located? New York?
Capone: No, I’m in Chicago.
DH: Oh, Chicago. That’s cool, great city. That’s where Tom Rosenberg is from.
Capone: That’s right.
DH: Of Lakeshore [Entertainment, which produced ELEGY].
Capone: That’s right. Thank you so much, Dennis.
DH: The Lakeshore of Chicago. Alright, buddy. Have a good one, thank you.