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Dennis Hopper Through The Eyes Of His 'Right-Hand Man'

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Film icon Dennis Hopper was born in Dodge City, Kansas, and grew up to act in hundreds of movie and television roles, from the mid-1950s until his death in 2010. He also directed a handful of movies, including "Easy Rider," often regarded as the first true independent American film. 

A new documentary called "Along for the Ride" looks at Hopper's career through the eyes of his friend and "right-hand man" for more than four decades, Satya de la Manitou. KMUW's Fletcher Powell spoke with de la Manitou and the documentary's director, Nick Ebeling.

Interview highlights

Fletcher Powell: You said that you were Dennis Hopper's right-hand man for 47 years. I gather that you were both his friend and you worked for him. Was the line between the two pretty hazy or was it pretty clear what you were supposed to do as someone who works for Dennis Hopper versus being his friend?

Satya de la Manitou: I had assigned duties. I was his dialogue coach, but there were many other things that I did. I became a human lightning rod.

How do you mean?

Well, when you're dining with a celebrity and you're having a great meal and a fan comes up to you and interrupts your dinner right in the middle of the crux of your conversation, it can be dissociative. One day, a guy came up to us while we were dining and tapped Dennis on the shoulder, right in the middle of his filet, and said I loved you in "The Loser," and Dennis wasn't in "The Loser," Peter Fonda was in "The Loser." So Dennis said to the guy, "I'm not Dennis Hopper. He's Dennis Hopper," and the guy gave me the program and said, "Would you sign this?" Because that's the kind of thing that I did. I ran shotgun for him and helped defray problems.

Nick [Ebeling], there's a wide world of actors/luminaries, but you chose to make this documentary about Dennis Hopper.

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Credit Jordan Kirtley / KMUW
Nick Ebeling and Satya de la Manitou

Nick Ebeling: In the mid-90s, I went with my parents to a very famous horse racing track one day, and Dennis Hopper was standing in the middle of the room, and I was already a fan. I had seen all his movies I probably shouldn't have – I'd seen "Blue Velvet," which is scary for any 14-year-old to already be a super fan of "Blue Velvet." I mustered up the courage to go over and just say something to one of my heroes, and he just gave me the generic "Hello. Nice to meet you. Oh please, I love your work," you know, like just that thing happened, and I was on my way.

That day I went to this really amazing underground video store where you could see Akira Kurosawa movies, you could see Monte Hellman movies, you could see all kinds of stuff that wasn't available at Blockbuster amazingly curated. It was like an art house video store. I went in and I said, "Do you have any Dennis Hopper performances like 'Blue Velvet' I could check out?" This slacker guy walked me over and started pulling up this stuff and one of the tapes was this film called "The Last Movie," and this is the film that grabbed ahold of me like John Cassavetes gets people or Fellini gets people. "The Last Movie" is the film that got me. That's the movie that made me an artist. That's the movie that got me to realize it was time to pick up a camera, or any kind of medium really, and just start doing my own work and I owe everything to that.

"Along for the Ride" will screen at the Crown Uptown Theatre on Friday evening at 6:30 p.m.

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