Walk of Fame: Dennis Hopper

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Dennis Hopper's career came to an abrupt halt late last year when the actor-artist was rushed to the hospital; he subsequently underwent chemotherapy for prostate cancer. But his struggles with illness didn't prevent the 73-year-old from looking back at a career as actor and director that has spanned such major works as "Giant," "Rebel Without a Cause," "Easy Rider" and "Blue Velvet," in conversation with The Hollywood Reporter's Elliot V. Kotek.

Dennis Hopper timeline
Gallery: Dennis Hopper remembered
Gallery: Dennis Hopper Walk of Fame ceremony

The Hollywood Reporter: You trained in Shakespeare, and then went to work with James Dean in 1955's "Rebel Without a Cause."

Dennis Hopper: I thought I was the best young actor around, you know? That came out of Shakespeare. (But) I had never seen anyone improvise before Dean and I asked him if he would help me. So he advised me on various things, and it was difficult in the beginning. Then I went and studied with Lee Strasberg for five years, to solidify.

THR: Do you think of Dean as the greatest actor you ever worked with?

Hopper: Yes.

THR: Is there anyone else that came close?

Hopper: Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift.

THR
: An amazing thing about your directing debut, "Easy Rider," is the cinematic context of the film. At the Oscars that year, John Wayne won best actor, and films such as "Hello, Dolly!" and "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" were nominated. Sitting among these projects were "Easy Rider" and Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman's "Midnight Cowboy."

Hopper: Well, there were circles around the block to the Fox Theater in Westwood for "Easy Rider," and across the street "Midnight Cowboy" was playing and there was nobody there. That's how strong it was.

THR: Let's talk about 1986: "Hoosiers," "River's Edge" and "Blue Velvet."

Hopper
: My first year of sobriety. I did them all back to back. I shot "Blue Velvet" in Wilmington, went straight to Indianapolis and started "Hoosiers." When I got to L.A., I did "River's Edge." Now, of those three films, I like the one that didn't get any play -- "River's Edge." It wasn't because I had a better part, because I didn't; I just thought it was a really interesting movie.

THR: When you reflect on your projects that went well, are they the critical or the commercial successes?

Hopper: Both. "Speed" was a terrific movie and it was a big money maker. "Giant" was a terrific movie. "Rebel Without a Cause" was a terrific movie. Those were all commercial hits. "Easy Rider" was a commercial hit, (so was) "Colors." And I got the best reviews anybody had ever gotten at the Venice Film Festival for "The Last Movie" and "Easy Rider."

THR
: How do you recall your films -- by your performance or the plot line?

Hopper: Well, if the movie's bad and my performance is good, then I remember my performance. It's always good to have a good film, otherwise nobody sees it. If you're making art films then you're making them for your friends, you're not making them for business.

THR
: Are you continuing to work to make art or pay the bills?

Hopper: (Laughs) Hopefully I get to slip art in every once in a while.
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