Sunday, May 30, 2010

Remembrances of Dennis Hopper

As are many people, I'm very saddened by the passing of Dennis Hopper and it brought to mind my one encounter I had with him that I thought I'd share:

My short film, FILTHY FOOD, screened in competition at CineVegas 2007 - an awesome film festival that I highly recommend to everyone. Dennis Hopper was the Chairman of that festival so he was constantly popping in and out at screenings and parties. I met him briefly at a party, but didn't really talk to him. He was well-chaperoned by members of the festival staff who would guide him away from riff-raff like me so that I couldn't annoy him by asking him to be in my next movie. Understandable.

But I was lucky enough to be invited to a super-secret last-minute "filmmaker only" screening of BLUE VELVET with Mr. Hopper in attendance. Of course I was completely geeked-out about it and didn't care that I'd been up till 4am that morning with the screening at 10am the same morning. I was, however, pretty mortified that the cheese danish I ate that morning didn't agree with me and my stomach was gurgling throughout the entire pre-screening Q&A. It was embarrassing enough to keep me from asking him any questions. Well, that and the fact that I'd already read about most of what he was sharing with us.

There were maybe 15 of us in the theater (at most) and Mr. Hopper was gracious and accommodating (if not somewhat shy) in sharing his experiences about working on a film that I'm sure he'd grown sick of answering questions about over the past 25 years. He told the usual stories of how he'd landed the iconic role of Frank by calling David Lynch on the phone while he was having lunch with Laura Dern (or was it Kyle MacLachlan?) and telling him that he WAS Frank Booth and that Lynch would have to cast him in the part; and that the original script called for him to inhale helium which he thought was silly, so (knowing a thing-or-two about drugs) he suggested amyl nitrate to Lynch because it induced a sort of trance-like euphoria which seemed more appropriate for the character.

But there was one question he answered that really stuck with me that I had never heard about in any trivia about BLUE VELVET: Someone asked how he got into character for the role of Frank Booth. He thought about it for a second and said, "I don't know. I was really just trying to stay sober at the time so I really don't remember." This struck me as incredibly honest, courageous, human and, as someone who has struggled with similar demons, I found it quite inspiring. I really admired him for saying that. He didn't make a big deal about it - the moment flashed by in an instant - and I'd bet that only two of the maybe-15 people that were there even remembered that he had said it, but I thought it was pretty cool.

So, although I didn't know Dennis Hopper and I can barely say I met the man, I can say that he had a profound affect on me at that particular moment in time and I'll never forget it.

Plus he didn't say anything about the deafening sound of cheese danish gurgling around in my stomach, so that was cool. I mean, he must've heard it. It was loud.

Rest In Peace, Mr. Hopper.

-t. arthur COTTAM