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The stories behind the making of Apocalypse Now are as intriguing as the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola war epic itself. One such tale revolves around the late Marlon Brando (Col. Walter E. Kurtz), who died in 2004 and would have turned 96 Friday, and the late Dennis Hopper.
In an interview unearthed by The Hollywood Reporter, Hopper told entertainment and sports journalist Bob Costas that the two men hated one another after a simple misunderstanding.
“We had a lot of problems together,” Hopper began. “He refused to be on the set the same time I was. I like to think he was doing me a favor, honestly.”
It all began when Brando, who was notoriously difficult work with, arrived to set weeks after he was scheduled to begin, which meant the rest of the cast and crew had to wait on him. Hopper noted he had only agreed to do the film on the condition he get one line onscreen with Brando. Coppola agreed.
“When Brando finally arrives, I had been down there a month and a half. And I have this crack unit; we’re doing drills, we’re doing karate, we’re doing Jiu-Jitsu, we’re climbing trees, we’re scouting … we’re a crack unit,” explained Hopper, who played an unnamed American photojournalist and disciple of Brando’s Kurtz in the film.
While he was in “training,” Hopper had been given a special services “little red book,” used by the Green Berets, he said. And one night, once Brando had arrived, the cast all went to dinner. That’s where it went south.
“I didn’t know this, but Francis had been on him for not reading the book, Heart of Darkness (which the film was based on), and we have to do a story conference and there’s no ending,” Hopper explained. “And I say to Brando, sitting across from him at dinner, I bet you haven’t read the book. And he thinks I am talking about Heart of Darkness, but I don’t know this at the time. He gets up and says ‘I don’t have to listen to this! I don’t have to take this!’ And he is screaming and yelling ‘Why do I have to hear it from him? I have to hear it from this punk!’ And he storms out of the house.”
Hopper took the outburst and insults “very personally” and made it a point to antagonize Brando the rest of the evening, first at a boxing match, then at a theater, he said.
“We go to see the Seven Samurai in a movie theater and I am sitting behind him. And at one point, I get up and say, ‘There’s an actor in here that said of a dead friend of mine (James Dean) that he wore his last year of Levis, drove his last year of motorcycle and did his last year of bongo drums, and I sure would like [to fight him].” Hopper said. “And I storm out and stagger into some motorcycle and fall into some bushes.”
He continued, “The next day, everything’s shut down and Brando and Francis go off on a two-week river excursion and come back with a script. Brando said, ‘I’ll work with him, but you come in and do your scenes first and then I’ll come in and listen to you, but we’ll never be on the set together.'”
Watch the full segment below.
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