Young Hopper, Rogue to chill

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Henry Lee Hopper, Denzel Whitaker, Shareeka Epps and Emily Meade are prepping to star in Wes Craven's tentatively titled horror thriller "25/8" for Rogue Pictures.

Hopper, the son of Dennis Hopper, will play the lead role of Bug, one of seven teens haunted by a serial killer who supposedly died when they were born 15 years earlier. The film takes place over the course of a day as the mystery of who (or what) is stalking the small-town high schoolers unfolds.

Epps ("Half Nelson"), Whitaker ("The Great Debaters") and Meade (the upcoming "Assassination of a High School President"), who are all expected to be part of the cast, are teens with several projects under their belts. But "25/8" marks Hopper's professional acting debut. Craven is casting relative or complete unknowns to avoid giving viewers any preconceptions of who might die onscreen.

Hopper landed the lead after meeting Craven at a party for his godfather, Julian Schnabel. The pair bonded while discussing art, including the abstract expressionist paintings the teen made in his Venice, Calif., home studio. Craven said he fit the role of the initially naive, innocent Bug who is changed by strange events, and Craven invited Hopper to audition.

One might expect any son of Dennis Hopper to be perfect casting for a horror film. But the greatest surprise is that he appears to be a seemingly grounded teen despite being raised by one of Hollywood's most infamous wild men.

"I never really got the brunt of all that," said Hopper, who was born to actress Katherine LaNasa when his dad was 54. "I have two older (step)sisters that did, and I think it was really hard for them. Alcoholism played a big part in it all, so sobriety is something that's very valued in our family. Everyone has a dark side to them, and he's overcome it, so I don't feel outraged by it."Hopper was 14 when he first watched his dad huff gas in "Blue Velvet" but didn't find it that disturbing. " 'Speed' was a lot scarier because he got his head chopped off," he said. "But I wondered, 'Why does he always play these bad guys?' "

The young actor followed in the footsteps of his father, a student of Lee Strassberg, by studying Method acting for three years. He's also delved into "experimental noise rock" in a few bands with some friends. But the experiences of his dad and the parents with whom he lives on alternating weeks — mom LaNasa and stepdad French Stewart ("3rd Rock From the Sun") — kept him from pursuing acting professionally. "I've seen how the business aspect can drag you through a lot of shit," he said.

He will attend Cal Arts to study fine art right after Sept. 11, the day he turns 18 ("No one ever forgets my birthday," he noted), but he won't act outside of his summer breaks. He has no professional representation aside from attorney Lief Reinstein but is considering it, though other pursuits might win out over acting.

"I was raised to value creativity and being myself," he said. "Through my family and their friends, I got a real education in what it's like to be alive."

Principal photography on the Craven film is set to begin in Connecticut in mid-April.
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