Like everyone else, I first met Dennis Hopper through his work. He was one of the world's all-time cool guys, and I think by the time he starred in those groundbreaking films of the '60s, like Easy Rider, the revolution was already old news for those in his crowd.
The first time I ever spoke with him was on the phone. I was casting Blue Velvet, and he called up and said, "I've got to play Frank--I am Frank!" While his name had come up early on, the casting people told me, "You can't work with Dennis. It'll be a disaster." But nobody knew then that he had gone sober, and after I spoke to his agent, he called me personally. We first met face to face on the set of Dorothy Vallens' apartment. A day later, we were filming.
Dennis, who died May 29 at age 74, was the strongest rebel we had, and I think his drug use and rebelliousness played a big part in his onscreen charisma. I don't think actors have to die to do a death scene, but in Blue Velvet Dennis touched something personal with Frank Booth's dark side. No one could have topped his Frank Booth. After seeing Dennis walk that dark edge, I don't think anyone could have even come close.
That connection electrified his performance, and through the years he mastered that macho-guy attitude while always projecting a softer feminine side. He was the complicated villain who was also vulnerable. I think it drew on his flatland roots.
I've always felt lucky that I got to know him as an artist first, discovering later that behind his talent was a deep passion for art. He was a painter, photographer, filmmaker and art collector. He knew absolutely every artist around. He swam with the hippest and celebrated them all in such an honest way.
Lynch received an Oscar nomination for directing Blue Velvet