It's been a busy year for Dennis Hopper. He's had supporting roles in six different films, from Isabel Coixet "Elegy" to Wim Wenders's "Palmero Shooting to Larry Bishop's "Hell Ride." He's currently starring in Starz! original series "Crash," based on the Paul Haggis film. And until January 19th of next year, is being saluted with his own virtual reality retrospective at the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris. indieWIRE spoke to Hopper last week about this recent work, and what he really wants to do with the future.
When asked about his recent acting roles, which also include Bill Maher's "Sleepwalking" and Joshua Michael Stern's "Swing Vote," it's clear that "Elegy" is the most dominant source of Hopper's pride.
"I loved 'Elegy,'" he said quite simply. "I think it was a terrific experience... They put together a really great team. I think the film is really good... Funny and humourous and tragic. It's what a really fine movie should be and that's what is."
"Elegy," a melancholic drama released to warm reviews this past summer, finds Hopper starring alongside Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz. Hopper plays George O'Hearn, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who persuades his friend, playing by Kingsley, to pursue a relationship with Cruz's character, many years his junior.
"All of my scenes were with Sir Ben," Hopper said of the experience. "And Sir Ben is a wonderful, giving actor. He has the same concerns that I have as an actor which is for the scene to be good... It was as if we'd known each other for twenty-five years. I don't remember rehearsing. I remember just starting and the two of us just doing moment to moment reality."
Hopper speaks just as highly of the film's director, Isabel Coixet. "She's a terrific director," he said. "She operates her own camera. She gives the actors all the freedom in the world. She casts really well. Isabel really creates a wonderful atmosphere."
The majority of Hopper's 2008 work has come from the independent film world, a world Hopper has slipped in and out of over the course of his career. From "Speed" and "Waterworld" on one end, to "True Romance" and "Red Rock West" on the other, examples of this are evident from any fraction of his now fifty-three year old body of work. However, Hopper doesn't feel that the distinction plays into his interest in a project.
"I think that if the people are good filmmakers and you have a good script it doesn't matter how much they are spending," he said. "I think you're going to have a quality project. It's hard for me to equate it as to whether its independent or not independent because there are some really good films being made that are not independent films. It really depends on the director, the script, the part... Those are the things that are really important, not whether you have a lot of money or not. I think Isabel Coixet, the director of 'Elegy," is an accomplished director. I don't know why she would need a lot of money to make a quality film but if she did need that kind of money, I would think that she would use it wisely."
"Elegy" proved to be one of the bigger indie successes of this past summer, but obviously not all independent films - or Hopper's for that matter - have been so lucky. Many have struggled to even find distribution. But Hopper isn't sure if it represents a changing industry. "You know, I never really think about it," he said, simply. "I used to think a lot about financing and distribution but I really don't think about it at all anymore. But I would imagine it probably hasn't changed very much. I think it's very easy to make an independent film but its very difficult to distribute it."
Some might disagree, as they might in regard to Hopper's optimism surrounding female directors, of which Isabel Coixet stands as a relatively rare example. "I think that if somebody's talent they are going to make it whether they are male or female," he said. "It's very difficult to become a director period. This is not an easy thing. I don't think about whether it's a male or a female director. It's a very difficult thing to become. So I've never thought about the percentages. Isabel is an accomplished director, no matter male or female."
Directing hasn't been easy for Hopper either. After garnering considerable acclaim for directing films like 1969's "Easy Rider" and 1988's "Colors," Hopper hasn't directed a film since 1993's "Chasers."
"What I really want to do is direct films," he admitted. "But I haven't heard anybody giving me any offers, you know what I mean? And I've really been too busy to come up with a concrete script besides some ideas that I toss around to people which [then] they run for the elevator. I would love to direct something. I think I'm a really accomplished director. I know I am. But I haven't had any opportunities recently to do that. As a matter of fact, it's been sixteen years since I directed a movie. It's really a drag. Because every year I've been having that project that I wanted to direct. It gets to be boring after a while."
Though part of what has been taking up Hopper's time was surely anything but boring. For the past three and a half years, a group from the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris has been researching him for a retrospective that is running now until January 19th. Hopper had just arrived back from Paris when he spoke with indieWIRE.
"They took the whole fifth floor of the Cinematheque in Paris, and they've done a virtual reality," Hopper explained. "They have like twenty monitors as you go through this whole thing of the films I did, starting in 1955 and 'Rebel Without a Cause,' going all the way through. Part of my art collection and part of my own paintings and my photographs intermingled with the politics and what was happening at the time... the Kennedys being assassinated or Martin Luther King or Malcom X... all the way up to Obama running for president. It goes through my whole career and they've really done an amazing job. "
It's a career - some 300 roles and counting - that is certainly worth revisiting, even if in the confides of your own reality.