Tinseltown Talks column: Paul Hogan talks ‘The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee’

Nick Thomas
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"The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee" starring Paul Hogan.

It’s been 35 years since Paul Hogan unleashed the iconic character of rugged reptile wrestling Mick Dundee onto the world in the 1980s hit film “Crocodile Dundee” and two sequels. Hogan returned last December - via digital download in the U.S. - in “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” to be released on Blu-ray/DVD Feb. 16.

The Aussie actor is quick to point out that “Mr. Dundee” is not another Dundee movie, but a self-parody where the quiet-living Hogan (starring as himself) falls afoul of a series of ill-fated self-inflicted blunders that snowball, sullying his good reputation. The film also takes a gentle jab at celebrity culture and social media.

“But it’s not a deep meaningful movie, just a bit of fun,” said Hogan from his Los Angeles home. “While it pokes fun at Hollywood rules and how social media through the modern online community can give you a reputation that you don’t deserve, it’s mostly aimed at me.”

The screenplay, written by longtime collaborator Dean Murphy, is mostly fantasy sprinkled with factual tidbits about the real Hogan (who, for instance, really does enjoy crosswords).

Hogan began his career writing hundreds of comedy sketches for the Australian “Paul Hogan Show” in the 1970s before later penning the Dundee movies and says “it was a nice indulgence to let Murphy do the writing” for the new film.

Last year also saw the publication of Hogan’s autobiography, “The Tap-Dancing Knife Thrower: My Life (without the boring bits).”

“It was Dean again who talked me into doing it, telling me that if I dictated it, he’d write it down, so that appealed to my lazy side,” he said. “But I also heard that others were planning to write books about me and I’d already seen an awful television show that was supposed to tell my true story, so I thought I’d better get the facts out.”

While the book has been highly praised, critics were not so generous when “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee” was first released last year. No surprise that didn’t bother the unflappable Hogan.

“I ignored it, but Dean kept sending me stuff about how people were offended by this, that, and the other,” he recalled. “But there was nothing offensive in the film, so you just take it as it comes.”

Critics were much kinder when “Crocodile Dundee” was released in 1986 to international acclaim. “Its impact was staggering, and it turned out to be the most successful independent movie ever,” said Hogan.

But the overnight success was not without drawbacks.

“With a worldwide blockbuster on my first go, I would have been quite happy to retire because I knew from then on I was doomed to failure,” he explained. “There was a lot of pressure from Paramount to make the second film which also did pretty well. However, it was hailed as a box office failure because it didn’t beat the first one, but that’s the kind of failure filmmakers dream of.”

The original film yielded one scene destined for cinematic comedy history where Hogan defensively brandishes that giant hunting knife on the streets of New York City.

“I’ve still got the original knife, safe in a bank,” said Hogan. “We also had rubber and wooden ones for various scenes, but I co-designed the original. It might be worth a bit of money to a collector now!”

Then there was the heart-stopping scene where Hogan’s love interest, played by Linda Kozlowski, encounters a huge crocodile.

“That was mechanical, but there were real crocs in the water during filming,” he recalled. “We had guys up trees with rifles just in case one came along and ruined everything.”

So did Hogan consider asking Kozlowski, his co-star and former wife, to take a role in the new film?

“No, she’s given up acting,” he said. “I see Linda a lot and we’re still friends. She was living in Morocco for a while but now is back in L.A.”

Despite all the money and fame his Dundee character generated, Hogan has remained grounded, unpretentious and largely distanced from the Hollywood scene.

“I never really fit in,” he admitted. “After the success of Dundee, I received all sorts of script offers, good and bad. But I wasn’t interested in becoming an actor for hire. My joy was seeing something that I wrote come to life on the screen. However, the last couple of movies I’ve done were written by Dean Murphy - I love his dry sense of humor.”

While fans may be disappointed that the new movie only features a luckless Hogan as himself, the spirit of Mick Dundee lingers throughout the film. But, as he approaches 82 this year, Hogan says there’s no plan to resurrect the croc-wrestling Dundee in a new movie. And since he owns the rights to the character, a remake with different actors would need his blessing.

“The original worked fine. I’d like to just leave it alone now.”

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 850 newspapers and magazines. See www.getnickt.org.