VENICE, CA — “Dennis [Hopper] hand-picked all the actors for his movie,” said fellow actor Grand L. Bush, whose memorable role in the 1988 American cult classic, “Colors,” still gets him stopped in the streets by fans in a number of areas around the world, especially in Los Angeles.
“There were many spectacular moments before and during filming of Colors that have stayed with me to this day,” remembers Bush, who first auditioned for Hopper in 1987.
Back then, nearly all of Hollywood jumped at the chance to work with actor/producer/director Hopper, whose wealth of film projects had earned him the status of icon.
Some lost out because Hopper was picky. “Hill Street Blues” regular Trinidad Silva
snagged the role of Leo “Frog” Lopez, the character Andy Garcia wanted and for which he
Bush says after he was hired to play “Larry Sylvester, aka, Looney Toons,” Hopper rented a large space for a total read-through of the script.
This was considered an unusual practice because motion picture actors are hardly ever required to read the whole screenplay as a collective during pre-production.
The space Hopper rented on Market Street in Venice was across from the building where actor Matthew McConaughey’s J.K. Livin Foundation is currently located.
“The entire cast was there,” said Bush. “There were people sitting in chairs, on the floor, even on window sills.” Bush sat at a table with Hopper and others.
“I wore a nice shirt, black jeans and cowboy boots,” he added modestly. By age 32, the sought-after actor with a commanding voice and muscular physique also had more than 40 theatre, television and major motion picture credits under his belt. Moreover, a Canadian Genie Award nomination for “Best Foreign Actor” was tucked in his back pocket.
Bush said even actors who just had a single line of dialogue to deliver were present and alert.
“That’s how professional Dennis was then and has always been,” Bush said. It took the better part of the day for the cast to read the entire script together, he added.
Quite a few unknown actors and dancers played featured extras in Colors, including a then-14-year-old Mario Lopez.
The movie was filmed entirely on location in Los Angeles. Real gang members were hired as guardians and as actors. In no relation to the movie, two gangsters were actually shot during the filming of Colors.
“This was a volatile movie to make because we were working with all types of personalities,” said Bush. “Tempers flared now and then.”
One of those tempers belonged to Sean Penn, who was arrested for punching an extra on the set of the film who was taking photos of Penn without permission. Penn served one month in jail for the assault as production continued.
“One day between scenes, this guy and I were talking about how he should work the next scene,” said Bush. “He wanted to go with naturalism. That’s when I corrected him.
“I told him this movie’s style is that of realism, not naturalism. Big difference. I then looked over my shoulder to find Dennis smiling at me in agreement. I think that was the moment Dennis and I bonded for life.”
To cement this special type of brotherhood, Hopper sketched Bush as he appeared in the movie. “And when I visited him, there it was, hanging on the wall in his private home, my character’s image,” said Bush. “The same way I appeared in his movie.”
Hopper admired the fact that Bush was a trained and dedicated actor who studied constantly and knew his craft to perfection. And Bush said he was honored to work with an extraordinary actor’s director.
From left to right: Matthew Glave, Grand L. Bush and director Dennis Hopper share a light moment in 1993 on the set of Chasers. Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros.
“Dennis was great. We had fun. He gave us freedom to do what we do best,” said Bush. “He trusted us and what we brought to his table.”
Bush later worked with Hopper on two additional movie projects, including “Chasers,” a comedy filmed in Wilmington, NC. “That’s where I introduced my future wife [former TV personality Sharon Crews] to Dennis,” said Bush. “They hit it off really well. Dennis even put her in the movie.”
“When Grand brought me back to LA with him, we ran into Dennis all the time,” said Grand’s wife, now known as Sharon Dahlonega Raiford Bush.” Grand and I would simply be walking down the street in Santa Monica when a shiny, black Mercedes would roll up and honk. The window would roll down and there was Dennis just smiling, waving and flashing those beautiful kind eyes.”
The special relationship between Dennis Hopper and Grand L. Bush has lasted for well over two decades. Hopper even signed a letter of intent to act in one of Bush’s film projects.
“We’ve stayed in contact with Dennis. When my wife and I were in Amsterdam, we visited a museum showing of Dennis’ outstanding art,” said Bush. “It really felt good to see that people the world over truly love this man and the legacy he’s created on and off the silver screen.
“Dennis Hopper is my friend and mentor. He’s one-of-a-kind. He broke the mold.”