Henry Hopper, son of Dennis Hopper, stars in Gus Van Sant's latest movie, "Restless." This is his first film, though you wouldn't know it based on his performance. He has the intensity, wildness, and vulnerably that is reminiscent of, well, a pre-"Easy Rider" Dennis Hopper. He has that rare ability to connect with the camera.
Yet, despite his talent, pedigree (his mother is actress Katherine LaNasa), and movie-star good looks, the 21-year-old was initially reluctant to enter the family business.
"I resisted being an actor for some time," Henry Hopper told a news conference at the Cannes Film Festival.
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Instead, he went to CalArts to study painting before dropping out to join an artist commune in Berlin. Yet the acting bug proved to be hard to resist: he started performing in the odd play stateside. Soon, he started getting offers for movie roles, but was unimpressed for the most part.
"The parts were sort of middle-of-the-road, ambiguous, teenage roles," Hopper told "Details" magazine. "I'm more into the avant-garde, more into the strange. But as a young actor, they take you while you're stupid and mold you into whatever shape they think is appropriate."
"Restless" casting director Francine Maisler knew he would be great for the movie's lead. The problem was trying to find him. He was the last person cast in the movie because he was incommunicado in Europe. For a budding movie star, Hopper can be notoriously difficult to find.
In "Restless," Hopper plays Enoch, a troubled youth who has a penchant for dressing like a member of the Addams family and who after the sudden, tragic death of his parents feels compelled to crash other people's funerals. He meets Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), a vivacious, Darwin-obsessed lass who, as it happens, is dying of cancer. While hanging out at the morgue and drawing chalk lines around each other, they fall in love with the bittersweet knowledge that their romance will be short. It's the sort of movie that could have devolved into something unbearably precious and twee, but strong performances by Hopper and Wasikowska, along with Van Sant's practiced hand at the rudder, made the movie more success than it really has any right to be.
For Hopper, life started echoing the wintry tone of the movie. Early in the shoot one of his friends unexpectedly died, and then his father's health started to decline after a long battle with prostate cancer. "This film has been therapeutic for me," Hopper said at the Cannes press conference.
Hopper, along with Van Sant, managed to show his father a rough cut of the movie just before his death. The ailing screen legend was reportedly impressed with his son's performance. Van Sant dedicated the movie to Dennis Hopper.
"I've learned almost everything I know about acting from my dad," Henry Hopper told "Interview Magazine."
Whether Hopper continues to act is an open question. He has reportedly returned to Europe to continue with his art. Unlike most fledgling actors, he views movies as a means of self-expression rather than fame and being available for casting directors clearly isn't a priority.
"I don't want to be in a movie with 20 minutes of dialogue and then stand around while the robots start explosions," he said in that "Details" interview, summing up his philosophy while sounding remarkably like his dad. "I met this man in Berlin--I was standing on a dock and saw him on his boat, holding a saxophone and a plate with a half-eaten piece of sausage. He comes up to my friend and starts speaking in German. What he basically says is, 'Always make the choice that is the most beautiful.' Because life is [expletive] short! People say, 'When you're young, just make a lot of money, and then you'll be able to do whatever you want.' That's not honest. That's not real."
See the trailer from 'Restless':