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Dennis Hopper Was a "Really Badly Behaved Person" on Set, Co-Star Reveals

Fiona Shaw worked with the actor on the 1993 flop Super Mario Bros.

A new animated Super Mario movie is about to hit theaters, coincidentally, 30 years after the first film based on the video game—in fact, the first film based on any video game—was released. Everyone behind it is no doubt hoping that the Chris Pratt-led The Super Mario Bros. Movie will do much better than 1993's Super Mario Bros., which was a box office flop and a critical failure. Other than the characters having the same names, that live-action adaptation is barely connected to the iconic Nintendo game, and as some of the filmmakers and actors explained in a new oral history of the film for Inverse, the production was a mess.

Amid all the accounts of rewritten scripts and set design setbacks, actor Fiona Shaw opened up to Inverse about working with Dennis Hopper on the movie. And according to her, the Easy Rider star was "really badly behaved" on set. Perhaps this isn't surprising news, considering Hopper's history, but Shaw shared some Super Mario Bros.-specific details about his alleged inappropriate behavior. Read on to find out more.

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Hopper and Shaw played villains.

Fiona Shaw in "Super Mario Bros."
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

In Super Mario Bros., Hopper plays the villain, King Koopa, while Shaw plays Lena, Koopa's girlfriend. Lena was invented for the movie, while Koopa, who exists in the video game as Bowser, became a humanoid descended from dinosaurs. Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo starred as the titular heroic plumbers, Mario and Luigi. The plot of the movie revolves around Mario and Luigi attempting to rescue Princess Daisy (Samantha Mathis) from an alternate dimension inhabited by descendants of the dinosaurs and defeating Koopa, who wants to merge his world with ours and decimate the human population. While the movie later became something of a cult favorite, audiences were initially confused by the fact that it barely resembled the game they loved.

According to an oral history published by Inverse, the actors were just as confused. The concept and the script underwent many changes, even while the movie was being shot, which wasn't a reassuring experience.

"As directors, we had to pretend we loved the new script. Nobody was happy about it. Sometimes, whole sets didn't even make sense," Rocky Morton, who directed the movie with his wife, Annabel Jankel, said. He added, "We lost the actors. They kind of revolted against it."

Shaw said Hopper harassed women on set.

Dennis Hopper in "Super Mario Bros."
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Shaw believes that the movie's co-directors were part of the problem when it came to Hopper's behavior.

"It's not a good idea for a husband and wife team to direct," Shaw said. "It means there's always a contradiction of the direction. Dennis Hopper found that very hard and I think behaved often very impolitely because of it."

She also claimed that she witnessed sexual misconduct on her co-star's part. "I do remember Dennis coming into the makeup trailer every day and looking up everybody's skirts," Shaw said. "He was a really badly behaved person."

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One director accused Hopper of sabotaging them.

Dennis Hopper in "Super Mario Bros."
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Morton told Inverse of Hopper, "He was playing a lot of golf. He really didn't want to show up. He just wanted to come in, do his job, and leave."

The director also said that the actor badmouthed him and his wife in the press, leading to some professional consequences. "He did [an interview for] an article for the LA Times where he just laid into us; unbelievable vitriol against us. The fact that it was all our fault and [he] blamed us for everything," Morton explained. "[Talent agency] CAA dropped us after that article came out. We got fired immediately."

In 1992, the Los Angeles Times indeed published a story about the fraught production and its frustrated actors.

"The directors won't give interviews?" Hopper said at the time. "That's the smartest thing I've heard from them. That's the only intelligent thing I've heard that they've really actually done." He continued, "The script had probably been rewritten five or six times by the time I arrived here. I don't really bother with it anymore. I just go in and do it scene by scene. I figure it's not going to hurt my character."

The story also notes that the cast had nicknames for the directors, including "Hydra," because they were a snake with two heads.

Hopper was reportedly a loose cannon on other movies, too.

Dennis Hopper at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival
Denis Makarenko / Shutterstock

The Super Marios Bros. set was evidently stressful and unpleasant for almost everywhere, but Hopper in particular wasn't exactly known for his professionalism prior to that. Particularly in the 1960s and '70s, the actor drank heavily and used drugs, including psychedelics, even while he was working. He admitted to being found naked in a Mexican jungle when he was supposed to be shooting a movie, and it's been reported that he was paid partially in cocaine for Apocalypse Now, according to Far Out. And these stories are just scratching the surface of his career exploits.

In 2004, Hopper told CBS News that his substance abuse eventually had a majorly negative impact on his acting and directing career. "I couldn't get financing. I couldn't get in an office. I couldn't get in to see anybody," he said. Hopper became sober in the mid-'80s.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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