The "crazed ref" character Dennis Hopper plays in Nike commercials might be incoherent, but the actor has no trouble making his own thoughts perfectly clear.
"I find this really absurd. It's silly and stupid," Mr. Hopper said of the controversy surrounding the grungy, psychotic National Football League follower he plays in five spots for Nike's $110 Air Veer football shoes.
"It's obviously a comedy," he said of the commercials. The fifth and final spot of the campaign, featuring Mr. Hopper and players from teams competing in the NFL playoffs, broke Jan. 8.
In his first-ever turn as TV ad spokesman (he appeared in a Jim Beam whiskey print ad soon after directing the 1969 cult classic "Easy Rider"), Mr. Hopper plays a schizo fan so enamored of the game that, in one spot, he sneaks into the Buffalo Bills locker room to sniff Bruce Smith's Nike shoe.
Still, Mr. Hopper insisted, "nobody's making fun of crazy people. That's like saying Jerry Lewis [who during a long film career has often played naive, eccentric characters] makes fun of crazy people."
The ads from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., came under fire last month. Advertising coverage Dec. 6 included a review by Bob Garfield, who wrote that "thousands of people will be deeply offended." (See The National Stigma Association, an advocacy group for the mentally ill, received wide publicity when it voiced displeasure about the spots.
In his holiday travels, Mr. Hopper said, he was approached by many fans of the spots but nary a detractor.
"It seems a lot of people have liked the commercials," he said. "They're all like, `Hey man, got your Nikes on?'|" he said.
That's helping him keep his sense of humor.
"It's like, at this point in my career, I'm finally cornering the market on crazy people?" he asked rhetorically.
It was qualities the Nike character shares with one of his most well-known film roles that ini- tially interested Mr. Hopper.
"I thought he was very similar to the `Apoca lypse Now' char acter, a burned- out photojour nalist," Mr. Hop per said.
That, plus the fact that film maker Spike Lee-someone Mr. Hopper re spects-directs and appears in Nike's commer cials and Mr. Hopper's own love of sports, clinched his first major ad deal.
"I had never done a commercial before, and I thought if I was going to do one, I might as well do this," said the actor/director, who also was swayed by the idea that he was the first choice of Wieden copywriter Stacy Wall and art director John Boiler for the character.
Mr. Hopper in 1991 signed as a director with a commercial production company but has yet to land a behind-the-camera ad job. He passed on directing the Nike ads because of prior commitments.
Will he be appearing in any other advertising?
"I doubt it very seriously," Mr. Hopper said.
Then he reconsidered. "But I'm always open for basketball."M
Actor Dennis Hopper says of the Nike commercials in which he stars: "It's obviously a comedy."