Virginia Madsen on Dennis Hopper in ‘Elegy’

Actors champion fellow colleagues in 2008 performances

When you Google “Dennis Hopper,” you will find words like “unconventional,” “revered” and “remarkable.” He will be defined as an “enfant terrible” and “legendary” in the same sentence. He is actor-director. He is painter and poet. I knew him as my boss. In his latest film, “Elegy,” he shows us what some have called his lighter side. He plays a sweet and somewhat honest man who tries to counsel his inconsolable friend played by Sir Ben Kingsley. (Not easy to imagine if you’ve had nightmares of him in “Blue Velvet.”) Especially riveting in this film is a scene where he is on a stage, waiting to make a speech. Watch his eyes, not just his trembling hand. Watch and wonder what he must be thinking. That is when an actor becomes real to us, the audience.

Much will be said of his final scene in the film, but to investigate who Hopper is as an actor, one must look to his moments in between. Actors get easy praise for the big dramatic outburst. We can get applause on a set for crying on cue. I do that one really well! Anyone can be loud and get attention, but to be quiet and subtle … that’s the hard part. I don’t do that one very well at all! Dennis does. And I’ll bet he doesn’t need the applause on the set, which I’m sure he receives on a regular basis.

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