Playing a character out of rehab hits home for Dennis Hopper

[31 August 2009]

By Luaine Lee

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

PASADENA, Calif. — For Dennis Hopper it’s deja vu all over again. The actor, who has become a legend in his own time for films like “Easy Rider,” “Apocalypse Now” and “Blue Velvet,” is reliving his past in his latest role on Starz’s “Crash.”

Hopper plays a former music tycoon who has just returned home after a year in rehab in the premiere of Season 2, debuting Sept. 18.

Hopper himself suffered through rehab twice before it finally took. “I was in Mexico making a movie called ‘Jungle Fever’ and I caught the fever,” he says seated in a slipper chair in a hotel bungalow here.

“I was supposed to play the head of the DEA down in Mexico, and I was at the height of my using and I thought it was some sort of setup to bump me off. So I did a lot of drugs and a lot of alcohol and arrived in Mexico. They’d been told by my manager not to give me anything to drink or any drugs, so I was taken off everything and I started having hallucinations and the DTs and I thought the Third World War had started,” he says.

“I went off naked into the jungle. It was totally crazy. I was seeing holograms in the middle of the night, it was just unbelievable. (I was seeing) my mother being tortured in the next room. It was really insane. So the stuntman finally found me five days later. I’d been in about three different jails in Mexico. So they got me back to the United States and I was in rehab for about six months.”

The treatment only stopped his drinking. “I came back out and started cocaine again and I had to go back in for a second time. And the second time I got it.”

Substance abuse didn’t seem to harm his career, says the 73-year-old. “The drugs and alcohol didn’t change things at all. It was at a time when everybody was using drugs. It wasn’t like I was the only one in town doing it. They were passing out cocaine on a silver platter, as I remember. When I finally got sober, the first three films I did were ‘Blue Velvet,’ ‘Hoosiers’ and ‘River’s Edge,’ which were probably the best work I’ve ever done,” he says. “I did ‘Blue Velvet’ when I was three weeks sober the second time.”

Hopper had always been a rebel, even when he began.

“I went under contract with Warner Bros. when I was 18 and did ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ and ‘Giant’ with James Dean. Then I got into trouble and went to New York and studied with Lee Strasberg for five years.”

The trouble began with director Henry Hathaway, who insisted that Hopper read every line and perform every gesture the way Hathaway dictated. “He was a screamer, yeller. When I came in the last day on the picture, he said, ‘You know what that is, don’t you?’ I said, ‘Yeah, those are stacks of film.’ He said, ‘I’ve got enough film there to shoot for 4 1/2 months. I own 50 percent of this studio, (20th Century-Fox) and you’re going to do this scene my way.’ We fought through the whole picture ... (Hathaway said) ‘You’re going to do it my way or we’re sending out for lunch, we’re sending out for dinner. I have sleeping bags over there we can be here as long as you want.’”

Finally Hathaway wore him down, but Hopper was blackballed from films for a time.

“I just wanted to be the best actor I could be. I thought I WAS the best young actor till I saw James Dean,” says Hopper, who’s dressed in a charcoal grey suit and a green knit tie.

“I’d come out of playing Shakespeare and doing line readings and gestures and full of preconceived ideas and I’d never seen anybody improvise before, and here he was improvising. The things he was doing weren’t on the page. I didn’t really understand what he was doing at all. I finally ended up going to Strasberg and staying for five years.

“I just had great passion for acting and still do. I’ve been in a lot of really bad movies but I’ve always tried to be as good as I possibly could be. And I’ve been in some terrific films.”

Hopper is married to his fifth wife, Victoria, and has a 6-year-old daughter, Galen, with her. “I’ve been with the same woman for 18 years and we’ve been married 11,” he says. “I’ve been with her longer than anyone else, but I’ve always had a child in my life.”

In fact he has four children — three daughters and a son by various wives, and one 7 year-old granddaughter who lives with him. But he says he’s learning all over again with Galen. “I have more time and a little more understanding, also I’m very sober. It’s been wonderful.”


The snippy Omarosa (of “The Apprentice”) is turning up on another reality show called “Life After,” premiering Sept. 13 on TV One, which targets African-Americans viewers. When asked why she would want to do another reality show, Omarosa says, “I was working in the White House, $56,000 a year, 18-hour days, didn’t see my family. I come out to L.A. and do a reality show for $100,000 and we shoot for 12 days. Why wouldn’t I do it? And you just do what it is that you want to do. There’s some freedom. If you do the math, then you probably wouldn’t ask that question.”


Laura Leighton and Thomas Calabro will be two of the former characters from “Melrose Place” who wind up in the courtyard of that famous address when the CW exhumes the title for a whole new cast of good-lookers and bad-doers on Sept. 8.

Calabro, who played the wicked Dr. Michael Mancini on the original, says, “I wasn’t looking forward to anything specific, but I was more interested in the ideas they had bringing the show forward. And I was very excited to find out he had even more money than before and ultimate power. So I thought, if he continues to be an evildoer, that bodes well for his ability to do so. So that’s what I kind of got excited about.”


Jane Lynch, while not a household name, is a household face. She plays Charlie’s sarcastic psychiatrist on “Two and a Half Men,” and has co-starred in three of Christopher Guest’s improv movies. But her new role, as the arrogant, acerbic gym teacher, Sue Sylvester, on Fox’s “Glee,” should finally make her a star.

Lynch says she’s not really like the characters she plays. “I love that lack of shame, and I find it fascinating that a lot of people walk through life that way, thinking they’re really something and they can be that mean. And I guess I’m attracted to that on some level. I don’t think it’s first and foremost in my personality, but it’s a lovely delicious thing to call upon, and I love doing it, obviously. I do it a lot actually, but I think it’s reached a pinnacle with Sue Sylvester. She has to be the most scheming, unashamed, entitled person I’ve ever played, and I’m just adoring it.” “Glee” premieres on Sept. 9.

Published at: