“An incredible assortment of freaks”: The making of Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie

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With the film finally greenlit, Hopper travelled to Peru in late ’69 to start pre-production. While in Lima, he was interviewed by a reporter from La Prensa, who asked him about marijuana and homosexuality. “Taking a long reflective pull on an odd-looking cigarette,” wrote Brad Darrach in an on-set report for Life magazine, “Dennis said he thought everybody should ‘do his thing’ and then allowed that he himself had lived with a lesbian and found it ‘groovy’…Within 24 hours the government denounced the article and issued a decree repealing freedom of the press.”

The rest of the cast and crew reached town in January, and took over the Hotel Cusco; “an extremely elegant Victorian age hotel,” remembers Henry Jaglom. Coke was so plentiful in the region that, according to Toni Basil, who played Rose in The Last Movie’s film-within-a-film, they served “coca tea in the hotel. Just like little teabags full of coca tea that you order in the restaurant.”

Darrach claimed that within hours of the cast arriving in Cusco, “a number of actors laid in a large supply [of cocaine] at bargain prices – $7 for a packet that costs $70 in the States. By 10pm almost 30 members of the company were sniffing coke or had turned on with grass, acid or speed.”

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“Of course there was plenty of good cocaine,” says Dean Stockwell today, who played Billy the Kid. “The natives there would happily give you leaves to chew on, and there was this little type of rock that’s got certain minerals in it, that precipitates the effect out of the leaves, and they all chew it. There was what you’d call processed coke as well. Was I aware of the amount of drugs being consumed out there? Yeah, oh yeah. But we kept it to ourselves, apart from the leaves, which everyone was doing. We weren’t stupid, we were just stoned.”

The scenes became wild; Darrach reported on “whipping parties… an actor chained a girl to a porch post and, inspired by the notion that she looked like Joan of Arc, lit a crackling fire at her feet. Another actor swallowed five peyote buds in too rapid succession and almost died.”

“Suddenly, you’re 33, in Peru, with a gang of guys who are living up to their reputations,” Kris Kristofferson (who also provided the film’s opening song, “Me And Bobby McGee”) told Uncut in June 2002. “In fact, what he [Hopper] did was what he was filming. He was filming the corruption of a little town by the movie people, and I mean they ruined the town. I think he got a priest defrocked…”

Looking back on the shoot in Uncut in February 2005, Hopper admitted: “It was one long sex and drugs orgy. Wherever you looked there were naked people out of their fucking minds. But I wouldn’t say it got in the way. It helped us get the movie done. We might have been drug addicts but we were drug addicts with a work ethic… The drugs, the drink, the insane sex, they all fuelled our creativity.”

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