August 7, 2008 / 9:39 PM / 10 years ago

Just a Minute With: Dennis Hopper on "Swing Vote"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It’s a very long way from starring as the stoner rebel of “Easy Rider” to playing a presidential nominee in the new Disney comedy “Swing Vote,” which is now in U.S. theaters, but for Dennis Hopper it’s all in a day’s work. Or make that a life’s work.

Actor Dennis Hopper attends a panel for the Starz drama series "Crash" at the Television Critics Association 2008 summer press tour in Beverly Hills, California July 11, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

After appearing in over 150 films and almost as many TV shows, the one-time wild man of Hollywood has earned his status as elder statesman of entertainment.

Now 72, Hopper looks every bit the distinguished Democratic politician Donald Greenleaf in “Swing Vote” as he courts the vote of Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner), an apathetic small-town loser whose single ballot holds the key to the election.

In person, Hopper is tan and fit, and he sports a goatee. He was upbeat as he sat down to talk to Reuters about his new film, presidential politics, and the 1960s.

Q: “Swing Vote” and its story about the importance of voting could hardly be more timely.

A: Yes, it’s a comedy but much more. When we had the Bush-Gore election, it got down to Florida’s being the last state. It could easily have gotten down to one vote and a failed machine, so the scenario (in the film) is possible..

Q: Did you see parallels with real life when you and Kelsey Grammer, who plays the incumbent president, descend on this small New Mexico town to try and win over Bud?

A: Of course, and we both change our positions to get this one vote, and it’s very similar to watching what’s going on in the larger race.

Q: Are you hopeful about the current political scene?

A: Yes, I think it’s really healthy what’s happening right now. I think McCain and Obama are the right guys to be debating over who’ll become our next president. We’ll hear both sides of the argument and it’s a good time to make a choice. There’s a huge resurgence of interest in politics, which is great.

Q: You also have several other films coming out, including “Elegy” with Penelope Cruz, “Hell Ride” which Quentin Tarantino produced, and you’re doing the TV series “Crash.” And you have a film and art show in Paris in October. Are you a workaholic?

A: I guess I am. I’m right in the middle of “Crash” which is based on the Oscar-winning film. It’s an amazing part for me. I play this Phil Spector-type crazy music mogul, playing with guns and knives. It’s for (cable TV network) Starz, so we have no language restrictions or sexual code.

Q: You began your career back when Hollywood was still the physical center of the film and TV world. Is it weird now that even TV series are shot wherever they get the best tax breaks?

A: It’s very strange. They shoot everywhere except Hollywood now, it seems (laughs). I mean, I still live in Venice (California) but I’m hardly ever here. I hardly ever see old pals like Jack (Nicholson).

Q: How do you look back on the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s now, when you made such iconic films as “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Giant” and “Easy Rider?”

A: I don’t that much, although because I’m doing this retrospective in Paris where they’re showing 50 films and half my art collection and half my art, I’ve had to think about it. It was just a very special time when the lunatics really got to take over the asylum for a minute, starting with “Easy Rider.” For a brief moment there, there really seemed to be an independent film movement. Then it was over.

Dennis Hopper poses during the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, January 24, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Philip Barbara

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