We've got another Dennis Hopper renaissance going on. There he was at last month's Independent Spirit Awards, hilariously terrorizing host Rainn Wilson live and on video in full "Blue Velvet" psycho mode.
The 71-year-old actor has a new movie, "Sleepwalking," in which he plays the worst grandfather any kid could imagine. And on April 4 at the Silent Movie Theater, there will be two rare screenings of "The Last Movie," the unfathomable 1971 meta-picture Hopper directed after the phenomenally successful "Easy Rider" briefly made him Hollywood's rebel king.Now happily living the life of a respected photographer, painter and art connoisseur in his architecturally impressive Venice home, Hopper is long past his gun-toting, drug-addled, system-fighting days. He's even a Republican who hawks retirement plans now. But there's still something wild and unpredictable about Hopper and his work that age and sobriety, thankfully, just can't diminish.
So, you play this horrid old farmer ...
I didn't see him as an evil man. I saw him as a person who was probably disciplined strongly as a child and given a work ethic, whether right or wrong, and that's the way he treated people. And that place, if you look at it ... boy, working that farm alone is not a joy.
I was raised on a wheat farm in Kansas. It was a similar situation, and I was whipped, man, when I was a kid if I screwed up. That's just the way it was.
What about raising your own four children?
My 17-year-old son got really upset at the Academy Awards when Jon Stewart said, "And Dennis Hopper's here. I'll have to mention that a few times because we don't know whether he knows he's here or not."
Because I got sober 24 years ago, my son, who's never seen me drunk or using drugs or anything, said "Don't they know you at all?" I said, "Man, I never go out, so how could they know?" Anyway, it didn't upset me, I thought it was fine. But he just thought it was ridiculous that Jon Stewart was so out of touch that he would say that.
What do you think of "The Last Movie" now?
I'm very proud of "The Last Movie." I won the Venice Film Festival with it. It wasn't distributed because Universal wanted me to re-edit it. I own "The Last Movie," actually; I should get it out on DVD one of these days. It's a far-out movie; it has rhyme and reason to it if one is interested in figuring that out.
What do painting and photography do for you that acting doesn't?
Well, it gives me the opportunity to work alone. Also, you can do it when people haven't given you a job!
I went under contract with Warner Bros. when I was 18 years old. That afforded me a career in culture; I never had to go back and dig ditches and wait on tables, do any of
the stuff that I did before. So, even though there were hard times, it still allowed me to have enough money to continue taking photographs and painting like I had since childhood. I never thought about stopping it.
And those commercials.
I think it's totally ironic that I'm representing a retirement fund. But listen, it's fun. I love doing it.
And when did you become a Republican?
During Reagan's time, though I was never really a big fan of him as president. I believe in the Jeffersonian idea that you really need to change parties in a democracy every 20, 25 years, otherwise things stagnate. It's probably time to go back the other way now.
So McCain can't count on your vote?
My wife is a co-chair of Women for Obama in California. I went back with her when he announced his candidacy in Springfield, Ill. He'd spoken to thousands of people. Then we were all shoved into an elevator, and after this whole day, he turned to me and said, "I'm so sorry to hear about your mother." My mother had died three months before; I'd never said anything, but obviously my wife had mentioned it at some point. And I thought, on this day, to have the presence of mind to remember something like that when we've barely met well, that's some good guy!
So I'm a big fan of his. But I'm still on the fence, still watching the candidates. Any survivor's wisdom?
I love movies and I love art, and I love the fact that I've been able to play in these fields. It doesn't matter how hard it is or how many mistakes I made or how many mistakes Hollywood made or whoever made them. The point is, we're all still around and we're all going strong and it's OK.