This guy was it. An actor with that old school stuff. Perhaps the finest true villain to ever grace a reel of film, and by the end of his career, an A-List juggernaut.
Dennis Hopper can be mentioned in any one of numerous lights. Above anything else, Dennis Hopper should always be known as a maker of art. He was an artist in every sense of the word, and he was never shy about making that known. Dennis Hopper was a famed photographer, painter, and sculptor. His art can be seen in galleries in the United States and abroad. None of that art is what gains him today’s Spotlight however; it’s not the reason he is on the Hollywood walk of fame, and it isn’t the reason I call him an artist.
Hopper was one of the most notorious actors and directors of the 20th century. He just kinda had the stuff. His acting is meticulous and if not for his sporadic off and on relationship with mainstream Hollywood, he would have had alot more big deal roles to his credit (though he has 200+ as it is).
His early connections to best friend James Dean helped him earn the persona of a rebel, and he wore it well-deserved for the rest of his life. Hopper became known as a difficult person to direct, often pushing directors away from their plans, improvising lines, and stopping mid-scene to ask for rewrites. After not long, he was blacklisted from mainstream film, and forced to do B-movies and TV spots.
He found his way back to the big screen eventually with roles in big pictures like Cool Hand Luke
and Hang’em High.
These were only a prelude for what would come just a few years later, and what many (not me
) would reference as the greatest contribution to film that Dennis Hopper ever made. Hopper was just an incredible method actor
, and he had a way of totally divorcing from himself, and putting on the face of the man he portrayed, who later in life often times wanted to KILL EVERYONE.
In 1969, Hopper wrote, directed, and starred in the Oscar-nominated Easy Rider. Have you ever heard someone talking about music from the 60′s and say something like “it was the soundtrack for the revolution, man?” Right. Well, this was the film for the revolution, man. This picture echoed an age of rebellion and freedom from the tyranny of governmental suppression in the protest years of Vietnam (I wasn’t there or anything, but this stuff is pretty well documented). It was released in theaters in July of 1969, just a month after President Richard Nixon finally agreed to withdraw some troops (25,000) from Vietnam.
Easy Rider told the story of hippie drug users on a tour of the American countryside, with just their choppers, their killer 60′s style, and an attitude that spat in the face of anyone trying to control the young people of this country. It took a time when free love, music, film, art, and sexual exploration was at it’s peak, and put it right in your lap. With Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper was back in the graces of the masses, of all the film makers and especially the eyes of the young moviegoers. This film projected Hopper’s career to the A-list, and did wonders for other young actors Peter Fonda and some other guy named Nicholson, I think it’s Jack?
Hopper was more quiet in 1970s because quiet frankly at this time, we was a drug addict, struggling with small roles and in and out of rehab, but splashed back into Hollywood hugely in Apocalypse now, as a crazy Vietnam soldier gone AWOL.
After this… the fun really started. He got into a serious rehab program in the early 80′s and cleaned up his act a bit. Then came a few roles that would change everything. Hopper put himself on the map for his outstanding acting and total dedication to his characters. He was just straight up EVIL in Blue Velvet…like Darth Vader kinda stuff, the essence of evil. He had some more great roles in the 80′s like Hoosiers, but it was all the villains that he would portray that would really catch my eye at a young age.
There have been a few actors over the years who just play villains better then anybody else. Names like Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Daniel Day Lewis, and just for fun let’s toss Ralph Fiennes in there too.
Straight up… none of them get near Dennis Hopper.
For anyone who was ever born bad, Hopper was the baddest of them all. I know, I know, you’re thinking about Bill the Butcher
, and Hannibal Lector
, and thinking to yourself… Dennis Hopper wasn’t the baddest. Maybe you are right. Maybe he’s just my favorite
It started early on for him playing the bully in Rebel Without a Cause
, and his villainy only grew from there. Hopper’s most notable evil doers turned up in amazing films like Blue Velvet
I mentioned already, (the most evil of them all
), big budget action movies too like Super Mario Brothers
and a slew of unknown gems like Paris Trout
. This guy just had that look down cold, the killer instinct. He was BAD. EVIL. SCARY.
He was so bad, that he was good. It’s neither here nor there I suppose, but he is so evil, such a good villain, that I found myself rooting for him, and hoping all the good guys would go down in flames.
The last really great villain role of his career came to Hopper in 2002. A big television company was putting a ton of money and effort into a big new show
that over the course of the next decade would receive 68 Emmy nominations, with 20 wins. No big deal.
They needed a great villain for this show, didn’t they? The true face of evil. Guess who they picked to play Victor Drazen
? Yeah, that’s right. Dennis Hopper signed on (unadvertised
) to finish the last 5 episodes of the 1st season, to give them the edge they needed. No shocker, Dennis Hopper made a perfect terrorist, and had me hoping Jack Bauer would catch two in the head.
Wow… this is getting long already. Ok, well I hate to try and breeze through this last part, but I will anyways. I will close by telling you about my favorite scene, in any movie, ever. My favorite scene for sure of all time. Numero UNO. And in my opinion, Hopper’s greatest contribution to the history of film.
Imagine a young man on the run. He has a suitcase full of a drugs, and a dead gang member in his wake. Who’s he running from? THE MOB. They have a few clues, but for the most part they are out of luck. What they do know is that he was last seen living the trailer home of his father, a security guard in the second half of a pretty lame existence, reluctant to mention all the years he was a drunk cop, and a poor father.
Now back on his feet from what we gather has been a not-too-positive decade, this man walks into his home only to be broadsided with a sucker punch. When he comes to, he is bloody and disoriented, and surrounded by gangsters. The leader of this crew explains to him they want to know where his son is… and they want to know RIGHT NOW. The only thing is…he isn’t going to tell them. Period.
Thus begins my favorite scene in the history of film. The movie…TRUE ROMANCE. The Players? Christopher Walken, James Gandolfini (barely) and Dennis Hopper. The man who played all the bad guys plays the true hero of the day in this one, the loving father, who doesn’t care what happens, he is not giving up his boy, so you can all just go to hell.
Wow, I get JACKED up just thinking about it. Alright. Fin.
Dennis Hopper. Rest In Peace, sir, and thank you.