Meeting Dennis Hopper
Dave Calhoun recalls his meeting with the late Hollywood wildman, Dennis Hopper
He began our interview – it was 9am on a weekday – by knocking back a frightening bunch of pills, vitamins, dietary supplements, that kind of thing. We were sitting round a little table in his suite in one of the city’s best hotels and he took one of those little glass bottles of mineral water in one hand, a bag of pills in the other and poured both into his mouth at the same time, swallowing them in just a few gulps. I expressed some surprise and he just shrugged and laughed that crazy laugh. He looked good then. He had already grown the goatee he wore in his last years and shed the stocky look he carried in the 1980s and '90s in films like ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘Speed’. He looked thin and distinguished.
He had some grumbles about how times had changed. ‘I was at a party the other night in Los Angeles with friends and we had to go outside and smoke, like naughty boys,’ he moaned. He was more than happy to reminisce about old times. He had agreed to an interview because I was working on an issue of a magazine dedicated to the theme of rebellion. He liked that. He liked being called a rebel by a younger generation. He wasn’t embarrassed by it. He embraced it. It appealed to his vanity and his myth. He didn’t even wince when I repeated stories from Peter Biskind’s ‘Easy Riders, Raging Bulls’, which had been published just a few years earlier and had packaged all the old tales about him blowing himself up, snorting sacks of cocaine and tying one of his wives to a radiator. He seemed proud of them.
But by 2001 he also had at least one eye on his legacy as an artist. He explained how he’d been taking photos and making art almost as long as he’d been an actor. In Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, he had carried a camera everywhere and his surviving photos chronicle the city’s art scene at the time, featuring artists like Ed Ruscha. He spoke about his paintings too, but he was dreadful at explaining them. If I remember rightly, he just mumbled something about abstract expressionism and left it at that.
Riding a lift with him down to the street after spending an hour talking in his room, I asked him who he had voted for in the recent election. ‘Bush,’ he said, proudly. There was a pause as I nodded politely. At the time I was shocked to hear that this man who had been a living symbol of the counterculture – ‘Easy Rider’, ‘The Last Movie’, ‘Apocalypse Now’ and all that – had voted for Bush. In retrospect, I suppose Bush in 2001 wasn’t the Bush we know now, post-9/11, post-Iraq, but still… Yet, somehow, it made sense. Hopper was a give-a-fuck individualist – a lone rider in Hollywood and a lone rider in his personal life, too, if all those stories of drink, drugs, retreats to Mexico, thumping wives and messy divorces are to be believed. Of course he was a Republican. They say he voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and that doesn’t sound like such a contradiction either. If one thing unites Obama and Bush, it’s that they positioned themselves, however craftily, outside the system. It was a place where Hopper felt most comfortable.
We walked through Amsterdam after the interview. He was heading to the Stedelijk to continue preparations for his show and I said I’d keep him company on the way. As someone who had lived in Los Angeles for most of his life, he was dreadful at negotiating European streets and traffic. He was nothing short of paranoid when crossing the road and I remember laughing at him and him turning a bit testy in return. At one point, I was walking in the gutter alongside the canal and he was on the pavement and grabbed my arm when he heard a car coming behind me. He was nervy and funny. Good company. A gentleman and a survivor.
Author: Dave Calhoun
Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.
The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards
Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow
Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.
The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.
Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'
'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.
Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.
The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'
The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.
Read our interview with Michael Haneke
The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.
Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'
Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.
Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us
Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.
Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set
The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.
Read our interview with Tim burton
Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.
Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'
Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.
Read 'Film guilty pleasures'
What will Disney do to 'Star Wars'?
Read about the new 'Star Wars' trilogy
Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.
Read 'When teen stars turn serious'
From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.
Read '50 years of James Bond'
The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.
Read the interview
Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.
Read 'Hilarious horror films'
The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.
Read the interview
We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.
Read about this Autumn's best horror movies
Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.
Read 'On the set of Skyfall'
Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?
The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.
'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’