Now Crash is Starz' first original drama. It features all new stories with new characters. At the center of this TV ensemble is screen legend Dennis Hopper. In the tradition of other intense characters Hopper has played in movies, he plays an unstable record producer in Crash. "He could go anywhere," said Hopper. "He's an open ended guy. Every week I get my new script, and I'm surprised. He's out there."
The premiere episode of Crash shows Hopper's character speaking to his own penis in the backseat of a limo. His hapless chauffer takes offense to this behavior.
"I'm having a conversation which sounds a little like poetry, a little like Shakespeare, a little like a lot of things, but in fact, I'm talking to my penis about it not functioning anymore. It's a rather private conversation that she thinks is directed to her about the veins standing out, and she's starting to look in the mirror. Then she stops at the stoplight and looks back and sees what I’m doing. She gets alarmed, jumps out of the car and I try to convince her that this was a private conversation, and it really wasn't something that was addressed to her, and that she should probably reconsider and come back and drive for me."
Don't worry, there is no full frontal shot of Hopper's manhood. They could get away with it on cable, but Hopper would not go quite that far. "No, no, no, but you see me jamming it back in."
If that's the introduction of Hopper's character, Ben, imagine what the other 12 episodes of the first season hold. "Oh, there are a lot of [moments]. It's constant. My character is just off the wall. You've got to see it. I can't go into it. He also gives speeches, so I don't put any limits on it at all."
Crash first entered Hopper's life as a popular movie that he viewed. In 2005, he never imagined he would be playing a role in its TV follow-up.
"I just remember I really liked it. I'd known [co-writer] Bobby Moresco for a while. We did a film called 10th and Wolf together that he directed and wrote, so I was really happy for him when he won the Academy Award for writing it. Then that was the end of my thinking about it very honestly, until they offered me this. I had a day and a half to make a decision."
The decision was rushed because Hopper was out of town while the show was casting. "This all happened on a Sunday. I'd just gotten back from the Cannes Film Festival. I got back on Friday, and on Sunday, they hit me with this and said I had to make a decision by Monday because they wanted me to start shooting on Wednesday."
Aware of his screen legacy of crazies from Blue Velvet to Speed and even recently on TV's 24, Hopper wants everyone to know he's really a nice guy. He wouldn't rule out a great job because it's another psycho. "I'm rather a mild-mannered quiet kind of guy, an introvert, so these characters that I play have very little to do with my reality. That's interesting for me, and it's a drag for me also. I love this part. He has a lot of different levels, so it's an interesting go. It's always surprising every time I pick up the script and read it, how my character is out there."
For every outrageous act his character performs, viewers will get to see an alarmingly gentle side as well. "Well, I see all my characters as good guys, but my character has really a duality. He seems to have a tremendous empathy and understanding of things, and at the same time he has no limitations on how he addresses other people or other races or other genders. He's totally a loose cannon. I don't see him as a bad guy or a good guy necessarily, but I think he has more good feelings for people than bad at the moment."
The grind of a TV drama has been more intense than any movie Hopper has ever worked on. But so far, the 17-hour days have not worn on him, even at 72 years old. "This has been an incredible experience for me. This is a wonderful part, and we've been doing long hours, but it doesn't bother me at all because the material is really good. It's really wonderfully written."
It has also relocated Hopper for half of each week. Crash films in Albuquerque, New Mexico while Hopper keeps a home in Los Angeles. "I have to be in Albuquerque three days a week, so that was a big decision too, but we're working through it. I've taken a hotel room. I used to live in Taos, New Mexico, so my brother and my cousins all live up in Taos. So I have a choice of coming back to L.A. where my family is or going up to Taos where my family is. So it's beginning to work out, haven't quite figured it out yet."
A versatile artist, Hopper has also kept up with his other interests. The Cinemathèque Français in Paris will show classic Dennis Hopper movies and exhibit his own photos and artwork from his personal collection. "They've been working on [this show] for five years. They're showing 50 films and they're taking about half of my art collection and half of my work and exhibiting it in Paris in the Frank Gehry building. That opens October 13. Then the series opens October 17, so I'm pretty busy."
Some of Hopper's most prized works are those of Jean Michel Basquiat. Hopper also costarred in the film biography of Basquiat's life. "I bought them when he was still alive. I couldn't afford to buy them now. I have some nice ones."
Perhaps Hopper picked up a few strokes because he paints and exhibits his own work too. Last year saw Hopper traveling to Russia to open his exhibit at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Then he traveled to Moscow for another exhibit. "It was incredible. We took a motorcycle trip from St. Petersburg to Moscow, Jeremy Irons, Laurence Fishburne and myself. It was an incredible thing. It took us five days to get from St. Petersburg to Moscow, but it was wonderful. We opened 300 years of American Art at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and the Guggenheim. So it was cool."
Having directed and starred in Easy Rider, Hopper remains the ultimate Hollywood motorcycle guru. Even Ewan McGregor, who shot a reality show about his motorcycle trip through Africa, consulted the veteran.
"I saw Ewan before they started it. I had no contact with them while they were in Africa. They had a really rough trip. It was really, really a hard ride. They had really a bad time. When they told me they were going to go through Africa all the way down there, I said, 'That sounds really dangerous to me.' And it turned out that it was, but he's an incredible young man. He's amazing."
Viewers can begin the latest journey with Dennis Hopper when Crash premieres Friday, October 17 at 10pm et/pt on Starz.