Henry Hopper, his Ray Bans perched over delicate cheekbones, says he resisted acting for years and when he finally took a role, it helped him understand the death of his father, Dennis.
Hopper first film role is in “Restless,” playing a sensitive young man named Enoch who falls in love with a girl dying of cancer (Mia Wasikowska).
He shot the film in late 2009. Dennis Hopper, Henry’s dad, died of cancer about six months later, in May 2010.
“It was incredible to me the parallels there,” said Hopper, now 20, who looks strikingly like his father. “Restless” screened in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, where TheWrap interviewed him.
“I think of ‘Restless’ as a very special film, it’s a tool for what I was going through,” he went on. “It was an incredible tool at that time of my life when I was asking myself those questions -- some spiritual things,which ended up really being in connection with the earth, and nature. There were interesting parallels. I feel passionately about the film, it does justice to that experience (of death).
He added: “I experienced the film before I experienced the reality.”
Hopper is one of the discoveries of the festival, where his portrayal of Enoch Brae, a vulnerable and somewhat quirky character, has won the film comparisons with the iconic “Harold and Maude.” (Also because he and Annabel, Wasikowska’s characters, attend funerals as a hobby.)
But Hopper said he “resisted” acting for a long time.
Indeed, “I don’t think he really wanted to do it,” said Gus Van Sant, referring to Henry Hopper’s audition. Van Sant, who is legendary for working with young actors, heard of Hopper through his casting director.
At the time that, then-18-year-old Henry was living in an artist’s collective in Berlin, painting.
“I don’t think he had a cellphone,” said Bryce Dallas Howard in an interview with TheWrap, who produced the film along with her father, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.
Eventually Hopper was convinced to come to Los Angeles for the audition and met Van Sant, who has depicted youthful angst and energy on screen, from “Good Will Hunting” to “Drugstore Cowboy” to “Elephant.”
The two connected, and Hopper took the part.
Hopper said he took acting lessons at 14 and 15 at the Strasberg Institute because he was getting into trouble. “I had to do something,” he said. “I had to keep myself busy somehow.” But that was it. Then he turned to painting.
“He defines the phrase ‘old soul,’” said Howard. “He’s an incredibly poetic individual. He has a timeless quality. He is beautifully complex.”
Dennis Hopper was, of course, one of the most iconic actors of the 1960s and 70s, creating indelible roles from “Easy Riders” to “Apocalypse Now” and living a bohemian life in the drugged-out decades that was every bit as interesting as his on-screen characters.
Hopper continued to create memorable roles throughout his career, including in films like “Blue Velvet.” But he was also a gifted photographer, a painter.
Hopper said he did not ask acting advice from his father. “It was more like recognizing each other as individuals, and respecting that,” he said.
As a free, artistic spirit, Henry Hopper resembles his father more than just physically.
Asked what he wants to do with his career he said, “I want to be creative. I don’t want to be labelled. I couldn’t bear to live with the preconception of who I’m supposed to be, or what I’m supposed to do. It’s a moment to moment situation.”
The film opens in August.