LOS ANGELES - Dennis Hopper is a Republican.
"People would be surprised to know that," says Hopper, maverick star and director of the '69 hippie-stoners-on-bikes classic, Easy Rider, in a recent interview.
"I've been a Republican since Reagan. I voted for Bush and his father. I don't tell a lot of people, because I live in a city where somebody who voted for Bush is really an outcast."
One of Hollywood's legendary enfants terribles, Hopper, 69, is so straight now it's almost scary.
He's been sober for 22 years. He plays golf. He wears suits and ties. And now he's starring in his first prime-time series - Jerry Bruckheimer's new Pentagon drama, E-Ring. It launches Sept. 21 on NBC.
Hopper plays Army Col. McNulty, a Vietnam vet and real-estate tycoon who's lured out of retirement to return to the Pentagon.
It's no surprise McNulty is a colorful character. "He'll be doing a football pool in one hand and selling a condo in the other, while running a top-secret op at the same time," Hopper says.
When Hopper began his career in '54 at Warner Bros., he fought the studio's efforts to make him a TV star because he was convinced that actors couldn't successfully make the transition from small to large screen.
Clint Eastwood (Rawhide), Steve McQueen (Wanted: Dead or Alive), and James Garner (Maverick), to name a few, proved Hopper wrong.
Fifty-one years and 150 films later, Hopper is back at Warners. "It's strange," he says. "This is not what I expected at all."
When Hopper bumped into Taylor Hackford, director of E-Ring's pilot, at the Oscars in February, Hackford told him he had a part that was perfect for the actor. That was the good news. The bad news: Production was to begin in two days.
After reading the script, Hopper was hopped up.
"I'm a news buff. I watch CNN and Fox News incessantly. I was interested in playing this guy, and seeing where this show goes, and where our country's going."
Hopper digs his E-Ring costar Benjamin Bratt, labeling him "one of the best young actors around. So giving, so positive. He's the real deal."
Bratt, 41, a Law & Order alum who plays an irreverent Army major in the Green Berets, says his image of the Blue Velvet and Speed weirdo was quite different from the reality.
"I made the fatal mistake of assuming he was going to be the guy from all of his films, which is ridiculous because I'm an actor and it happens to me all the time. I couldn't help myself."
Instead, "the person I met was quite a bit more debonair and sophisticated. He's not an open book... . One thing that's clear is that he's a true artist, actor, filmmaker, accomplished photographer and collector."
Hopper estimates he's losing $1.5 million a year in movie money by doing E-Ring. He says he does about five films annually, at $500,000 per, and he's getting "a little less than $1 million" for E-Ring.
No big deal. "I'm not a big spender. I'm OK with that."
Hopper's mellow with just about everything these days. His new gig keeps him close to his home in Venice, Calif., where he lives with his fifth wife, actress Victoria Duffy, 37, and their 21/2-year-old daughter, Galen.
"I don't have a lot not to be mellow about right now."
Hopper doesn't remember the last TV show he watched all the way through. (He "catches glimpses" of ABC's Desperate Housewives when his wife has it on.) He gorges on cable news "because the reality of things going on around me is more interesting than the fantasies of the world I work in."
Perhaps the most startling reality is that Hopper is still breathing.
After decades of booze and drugs, "I should have been dead 10 times over. I've thought about that a lot. I believe in miracles. It's an absolute miracle that I'm still around."