the hopped-up psychopath in Blue Vel-
vet. Lynch just assumed that Hopper
was still, you know, Hopper. Still
clutching the gun under his pillow.
The public doesn't know what to
think either. This is the former juvenile
actor from the '50s who was black-
balled from movies, then made a come-
back and a fortune directing and co-
starring in Easy Rider, right after
which he went to Peru to make The
Last Movie, with peyote stoking the
fires and everyone there to record the
joyride. Life's 1970 cover story began,
"Furor trails him like a pet anaconda.
At 34, he is known in Hollywood as a
sullen renegade who talks revolution,
settles arguments with karate, goes to
bed with groups and has taken trips on
everything you can swallow or shoot."
From there it only gets more colorful.
Hopper hastily writes a letter to Variety,
protesting that the only thing he ever
shot up in his life was vitamin B-12.
The Last Movie flops, and for years he
works only sporadically, and only once
again as a director, taking over in mid-
shoot Out of the Blue, a 1980 father-
daughter drama. When we see him in a
couple of Francis Coppola movies,
Apocalypse Now and Rumble Fish, he
looks like a human train wreck.
The popular image of Hopper con-
ceals another person, however, a person
with some very serious views on art.
Easy Rider, for instance, may now be
laughed off as a period piece, but it real-
ly does detail its era, and does so with
gothic perfection. The hilarious stoned
rap about spaceships was not an impro-
visation by Jack Nicholson, but a
scene written by Dennis Hopper.
And how many know that the type-
cast wreckage seen in Apocalypse Now
flew from that movie's Philippines set
to the German set of Wim Wenders's
The American Friendto playjust a day
later, someone entirely different?
Suddenly, in 1986 and '87, he is the
hardest working man in show business,
with seven releases in little more than
ten months, including December's
Hoosiers and February's triple feature:
Black Widow, Straight to Hell, and
River's Edge. Of course, it all started
last fall with Blue Velvet. As Frank
Booth, inhaling on a gas mask as he
sexually mauls Isabella Rossellini,
Hopper was so damn vile and violent
that just by the force of his voice and the
threat of his suddenness he made the
moviegoer sink down into his seat.
A few actors asked for the terrible
role, including, most improbably, sing-
er Bobby Vinton, who had a hit with
"Blue Velvet" in 1962. But it was Den-
nis Hopper who brought Frank Booth
to skin-crawling life. "He had been on
earlier lists," admits director David
Lynch, "but because of his reputation, I
16 Ampersand's Entertainment Guide
never really thought about him. But stars Robert Duvall, Sean Penn and
when I heard that he had cleaned up his Maria Conchita Alonso and is sched-
act, I got real excited. His manager uled to start shooting in February, a full
said, 'Look, please talk to the producers Hollywood production with an all
who have worked with him recently, union crew. And Hopper is to be ush-
they'll tell you he's fantastic. Then ered, finally, into the Director's Guild.
Dennis called up and said, 'I've got to The outsider is coming in from the cold.
play this part, David, because I am "He's probably in a very good frame
Frank.' He has so much power, and he of mind to direct now," offers Toback.
has a quality like Jack Nicholson has- "There's a point beyond which it be-
that is, you can't stop watching the guy." comes clear that every act might be your
last. I think that he already feels that
O DO WHAT HE'S been doing, he's living on borrowed time. There
the actor has to cut a deal with were X-number of occasions when he
his vanity. In River's Edge he could just as well have died as lived. 'All
is a biker who talks romanti- of a sudden you get a chance to direct a
cally of the woman he killed, sells dope movie again, and it's a gift."
to kids, keeps house with an inflatable
doll. In Hoosiers he is a former small- 'M DOING THESE ROLES Sober," re-
town basketball star who has become a ports a very sober Dennis Hopper.
town drunk. In all three movies, he gets "I used to joke and say I was going
little opportunity to say "Hey, it's only to write a book on The Six Drugs
me here, Mr. Wonderful, the guy you and How to Use Them in Acting. I
know and love." would drink if that would help me with
We shall draw the curtain of charity a scene, I would take cocaine."
over his role in Texas Chainsaw Massa- His eyes are clear and level. "I have
cre Part 2. But in this summer's James no problem," he hastens to add, "reach-
Toback picture, The Pick-Up Artist, ing the emotional depths without any
Hopper plays Molly Ringwald's fa- artificial help. I fell back on my train-
ther, an alcoholic gambler. There's ing: Strasberg, emotional memory."
something hypnotic, something en- Hopper's health is reassuring. I first
trancing about seeing this old dude try met him four years ago on the set of
on these motley suits of clothes and Osterman Weekend. A strong dramatic
stomp around the 50-foot screen. current ran through that set because it
Director Toback thinks Hopper's marked the return of Sam Peckinpah
chief asset is that he sees the humor in after many years battling heart ail-
everything: "He's one of the few people ments, movie woes and the bottle. Hop-
who has gone through those programs per had known him since 1958 when
and has cleaned out his system internal- Peckinpah directed the young actor for
ly and externally, and yet he is not at all the TV show, The Rifleman. In his
a prosyletizer or a voice of doom. Which dressing room he was pale and thin,
is frequently the case with former de- with his shoulders hunched up sorrow-
generates who have reformed. fully. Reflecting on Peckinpah, Hopper
Another twist in the plot for Hopper offered the doleful warning that al-
in jobs like River's Edge and The Pick- though a director may be surrounded
Up Artist is that young actors regard by people, he is still isolated and lonely,
him as an eminence grise, a hipster an artist-hermit. The actor went on
pathfinder. "He's a good spirit to hang preparing for his scene with a beer and
around on the set," Toback says. a joint. He was a devoutly thoughtful
Hopper's gamble on rough roles has fellow, ready to analyze anything, but
already paid off. The National Society his condition did seem shaky.
of Film Critics and the Los Angeles You can see the same hunched-shoul-
Film Critics thought well enough of his der posture in Hoosiers, but in person
uncorked portrayals to award him their Hopper is more solid. He carries a little
citations as Best Supporting Actor of more weight now, and it agrees with
1986 for Blue Velvet and Hoosiers. And him. An executive-strength forehead
the Golden Globe voters have nominat- looms over a craggy brow and a noble
ed him as well. While there is also plen- nose. He has a strong chin and a deli-
tiful talk about an Oscar nomination, it cate mouth, and the years and the
is likely that the Academy will be split graying hair have rewarded his face
between the two very different pictures. with a fine prairie dignity.
Whatever happens, it is already clear His house is a Frank Gehry-de-
that the renegade has been tenderly signed cube set down in the seedier
clasped to Hollywood's bosom-for fringes of the Los Angeles beach town,
maybe the very first time in his long life. Venice. Inside the cube is an angular
It was even announced at the turn of blend of styles. Industrial-looking
the year that, after far too long a wait- planes of gray walls and glass are set off
ing period, he was to return to the direc- by a bare lumber staircase. Film maga-
tor's chair. The movie, a police-vs.- zines and scripts are piled up on ancient
gangs drama for Orion called Colors, wood tables, and everywhere you look