Dennis Hopper's son set to lead Wes Craven's next


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 unknowns to avoid giving viewers any preconceptions of who will 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."

The father and son have always been close. "He's always treated me like an equal, never an authority figure," Hopper said. "I relate to him like a friend who's been around 50 or 60 years more than me."

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?' "

"As a personal choice, I don't drink or do drugs," he said, "because it distracts you from the truth, and we have enough distractions." This separates him from a lot of children with celebrity parents, but even before Hopper chose to share their limelight, it found him last summer. Hopper vividly recalls Perez Hilton running a photo of him with his dad at a London gallery opening with the word "cute" written in a halo over his head, along with a description that he had "a bit of the gayface." He wrote Hilton a note saying the gossip's forthrightness and openness was inspiring. "Unfortunately I'm no gayface, but thanks anyway," he added, which Hilton said he took as a compliment.

"I don't have a problem with the Hilton sisters and reality stars, but how is it we live in a world where people are no longer judged by merit or talent or the ability to translate emotion?" asked Hopper, an Ellen Page fan whose greatest acting inspiration is Peter Sellers.

The young actor followed in the footsteps of his father, a student of Lee Strassberg, by studying Method acting at the late actor's institute 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.

Hopper also worried about how people would view his art or music if he became known as an actor. He manages to discuss his artwork without seeming pretentious or precocious -- from the way he was influenced by thermodynamics to the 10-foot sculpture of found objects he and his friends created (then violently destroyed) an outside a Los Angeles gallery -- but said he recently made a decision not to care about others' preconceptions. Being a self-professed "huge sci-fi horror nerd" as the Craven offer came in certainly helped.

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.