[INTERVIEW] Dennis Hopper: Actor, Director, Art Collector & Standup Guy
Showing art is rather a different experience. Are you satisfied?
Yes. I sold two of my works for the first time, including a painting called Fragmented Woman, which is my Mona Lisa. It is inspired by a photo I took in 1964, and it has a woman with many mouths, each of which has different coloured lips. I also sold a large sculpture and many photographs.
When did you get started with the plastic arts?
I have always painted, even before I became an actor. On 16 February, at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, I will show in a comprehensive retrospective with cinema, photography, paintings, and sculptures.
Will you continue to act?
This year I only worked on one film, with John Malkovich. It is called Knockaround Guys, and it is a mafia film in which I play the part of a mafia boss.
Tell me about some of the great moments of your life?
I was the president of the jury at the Venice Film Festival. I won the Leone d’Oro award in 1971 with The Last Movie, which I directed as well as acted in. I am very fond of that project. I shot it in Peru after the success of Easy Rider, but I had it in mind even before.
Did you also write Easy Rider?
Yes. I wrote it with Peter Fonda and Terry Southern who also worked on the screenplay for Dr. Strangelove.
What significance does Easy Rider have for you?
It’s the first film I directed, and thanks to that film, I won at the Cannes Film Festival for best first film. I was also nominated for an Oscar for that screenplay. It only cost $350,000 and we made that money back in a week in New York in only one cinema. It represented the culture of young people at the end of the 1960s. Hollywood was still making films with Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Rock music didn’t exist in films, and marijuana was completely ignored as were the political changes that had taken place.
What did you do after Last Movie?
Out of the Blue, which wasn’t distributed, though it did become a cult film. Then I didn’t direct for 10 years until I did Colors with Sean Penn and Robert Duvall. It was a great success and earned $50 million in the United States alone.
You have had a career of highs and lows. You’ve also been an actor…
Yes, because my films haven’t been commercially successful. And to think that since 1969 up to now, I have only shot seven films. Even as an actor, I’ve had highs and lows.
Do you consider yourself a cinema intellectual?
No. More than anything, I am a compulsive creator. I work with the senses. I owe this to Lee Strasberg of the Actor’s Studio who taught me to get in touch with my senses.
Has America changed a lot since Easy Rider?
Before, America was a country in which blacks and whites couldn’t drink from the same water fountain. They couldn’t use the same toilet. They couldn’t sit in the same seats on the bus.
What kind of film would you make today?
I would make a film about the homeless and the people that live on the street, gravitating to the streets of Los Angeles. Or those that wander on the beaches of Venice or Santa Monica where there’s a burgeoning homeless population. I made a small eight-minute digital film, and I would perhaps make a long digital film. I have trouble getting financing. I certainly do have a desire to make more films.
Do you feel frustrated?
I have the same frustration in sculpture as well, but I have always gone against those in power because I didn’t have a choice. There’s no other way.
What relationship do you have with Hollywood today?
I play golf with the head of Warner, the president of Columbia Pictures and the vice president of Paramount. But we never talk about work. They want to make money and they don’t have time to waste. They only remember me for Easy Rider.
Have you tried working in Europe?
Yes. I lived in Paris for a year and a half, but I didn’t find money there either. To make films, you need millions of dollars.
But don’t you have a large art collection?
Yes. And I’ve let go of a lot of works. I am a compulsive collector. I live in a house full of pieces by Richard Serra, Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and Julian Schnabel. Before I divorced my first wife, I also had paintings by Jasper Jones, Rauschenberg, Oldenburg, Lichtenstein and Frank Stella. It was one of the first collections of pop art. And to think that then it was worth $25,000, and today it would be worth almost $100 million. Many of my paintings are in German museums today.
How does America seem to you today?
I love it. It’s a big country, and there is a lot to be critical about, but I love it all. I am very proud to be an American. I have always seen things through the eyes of a simple boy from Kansas. Sure, I have had a lot of problems, but that doesn’t matter. I am happy, and I have no regrets for what I’ve done because I know that a few of the films I’ve made will live on.
What do you think of Lucas, Spielberg, and Coppola?
They came after Easy Rider. They had a lot of money and they could make films. I don’t think they are more talented than I am. But, and let’s be clear, I am not jealous.
What do you think are the important films that came after Easy Rider?
Many European films that aren’t distributed in America. But even in Rome, there’s no more film industry like back during the Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson period. Perhaps only in France where there’s Canal+, which sponsors more than 50% of films. In the United States, it seems like there’s no more place for film history or foreign films. It seems like they prefer to make money off of the popcorn they sell at the cinema as opposed to on the films.
Are you saying that there is no longer any artistry in film?
I love many big films. And, all in all, I think there are good films today. Despite my age, I would like to continue to work.
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