The City of Absurdity Interviews & Articles
related to the works of David Lynch
The Dark Stuff

Fragment about Blue Velvet from the Dennis Hopper interview/article
The Face no.88, August 1987
with many thanks to Dominic

Hopper wasn't going to blow it again. There would be more Oscar ceremonies to attend – many more – more parts to inhabit and more films to conceive and direct. Dennis had returned with a vengeance.

Ironically, some rows in front of Hopper, David Lynch and Isabella Rossellini were seated. Lynch was a nominee (best director for Blue Velvet) and, like Dennis – whose performance in the director's disquieting study of naivete and corruption in a sleepy Mid-Western town as the genuinely monstrous Frank Booth, Rossellini's obsessive captor, had so helped the film's notoriety quotient – he lost out to Platoon as well that night. The Hollywood hierarchy can deal with trauma on celluloid as long as the reality of the subject matter has been defused. Vietnam has been over now for what – a dozen years, barring the subsequent burden of guilt and belated gnashing of teeth at the senselessness of it all. The forces of dread and sensory derangement that Lynch and Hopper mainlined into for Blue Velvet, however, remain as chillingly real today – if not more so – than they ever have. David Lynch and Dennis Hopper were dark horses in this race which figures because ladelling out that dark stuff is Hopper's stock-in-trade. No-one does it better right now, and with the creation of Frank Booth Hopper's own character has become irretrievably entwined in the anarchic viciousness of the part. Or so say the media. For instance Ian Penman defined 'Frank' in his FACE review of Blue Velvet as "a hideous phallic monster from the American subconscious he is Dennis Hopper in fact." David Lynch himself recalls the numbing phone call he received clear out of the blue a week or so after having started location shooting for Blue Velvet in North Carolina. "Dennis Hopper called me up one day after reading the script. He said, 'David, you have to let me play Frank because I am Frank'. That scared the hell out of me!"

"Yeah, David was apparently pretty shaken up by my call. He said to Dean (Stockwell, Hopper's best buddy who was already cast as Ben). 'My God, I've just spoken to Dennis Hopper and he said he had to play the part because he was Frank. And the scariest thing is, I believe him'."

Dennis Hopper is up in the 'War Zone', a room in his downtown Venice apartment littered with scripts and works of art, many of them his own abstract creations. just behind him stand three live-size papier macho skeletons - each one six foot in height - which Hopper picked up as perfect examples of Mexican art ("There are no skeletons in the closet in this household," he chortles with a parched chuckle, "they're all roaming loose, on display out on the balcony"). I am querying this whole Dennis is-Frank schtick which has created a new pinnacle for what Stockwell wryly defines as 11 the great Dennis Hopper madness". Hopper, who's been at work all day editing Colors, a chore he hopes will be finished this coming October "unless this fucking directors' strike happens", kick-starts his reply at a rattling pace, before really getting going.

"I know exactly the kind of guy Frank is, I've met that character lotsa times. His drug intake is a vital thing because he's warped out on a certain chemical . . . uh . . . imbalance. Uppers, a whole variety of pharmaceutical 'ups' and a lot of alcohol are what shapes Frank's whole point of view. I've been there and when I read the script actually I hadn't even seen a David Lynch film beforehand - but I read the script and it was . . . right - I have to have that part! So I knew David had started filming and, knowing this one phone call was crucial, I became Frank. I had to cut through the shit and let Lynch know he needed me. There was no other choice. And," he cackles, "it worked.

"YOU know, Christ, man, this guy had the nerve to ask me just after the movie had opened and people were flipping out about the scenes involving me slapping Isabella around - blah, blah, blah - and this jerk asked me, 'Mr Hopper, why did an actor such as yourself actually get involved in the portrayal of a monster like Frank Booth?' I almost decked the jerk, but being a reformed man, sanity prevailed, and so I simply spelt out the facts. Which are (he starts shouting): only a complete arsehole would even contemplate turning down the part of Frank Booth because Frank just happens to be one of the great romantic male leads of all time! The part is a fuckin' dream man! I mean he fuckin' worships Dorothy (Rossellini) and Dorothy is hot for him because when the kid Jeffrey, played by Kyle MacLachian) gets physically intimate with Dorothy she suddenly wants him to slap her around just like Frank does. Frank and Dorothy – that's a great love story of our time! "Frank . . . well, he may be kind of sick think of the drugs in his system, that's his gig - but he's for real. Frank's ablaze with desire for Dorothy. Here's a guy who'll go to any lengths - he kidnaps her, cuts her fucking husband's ear off with pair of scissors, which isn't an easy thing to do, and ultimately he even shoots the cop he's in cahoots with. Now if that isn't true love what the fuck is?"

"And at the end of the movie, in those last images, there's the shot of Dorothy - she's sitting in some park with her little son in her arms. David's intention – 'cos he told me this – is to let the viewer know that it's not over, she's still thinking about Frank, still longing for him. Frank's dead but she'll always love him."

I query Hopper about Frank's, uh, exact vocation. "Hey, Frank's really just a businessman y'know. Give him a break! Crime's a business, dope pushing in the States is big business, vay big business. The Mafia, all these factions, are always calling the shots. So he has to be a pro right? So he has to put a hit on certain, uh, maverick types who are attempting to muscle in on the operation. Frank likes his job, Frank's good at his job. Hell, a guy's got to make a living."

The aforequoted is delivered with a dark chuckle. "My main concern was to make Frank more . . . not sympathetic so much, because that would involve in some way patronising the fucker, which would be an insult to him and the audience. But when he's in the club and Dorothy's singing you see him crying, tears rolling down, all over this maudlin old pop tune. That was one of my main contributions. To make him more human, more real. I think there's a little of Frank in every man, don't you?

"Over the years so many people have asked me, 'Was that guy you played in such and such for real? These stories don't actually happen in real life do they? These characters don't really exist do they?' Well Goddam right they exist. Those faint hearts just haven't had the experience or the bad breaks to find themselves on the darker side of the street. Maybe I'm doing 'em a favour, giving 'em a good look-see at the kind of guy you can find yourself tangling with if you . . ." He stops for a second and looks out the window at the run down buildings surrounding him. "Man, in this area, in my little neighborhood patch, I could get killed whilst just walking along minding my own business if I happened to innocently stumble upon a drug deal going down on some otherwise deserted pavement. This would definitely constitute, y'know 'Adios Dennis'. And that would be a fucking shame. For me - yeah, up to a point (he smirks), for my loved ones more to the point (his tone becomes less sardonic).But the biggest loss of all would be the future of the American Cinema.

And has renewed success affected Hopper? "Well, y'know. since Blue Velvet a lot of guys and a helluva lot of women have approached me telling me ho much they admire Frank. I keep hearing people whispering 'Don't you fuckin' look at me! Don't you fuckin' look at me!. It's kind of weird but I've grown to quite like it. "Christ," he concludes, "it's better than y'know, 'May the force be with you'." And he chuckles darkly again.

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© Mike Hartmann