Dennis Hopper did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Billy in Easy Rider.
Well although I did not really appreciate Hopper's efforts here as a director or writer how about his performance? Well he plays the simply named Billy the biker buddy of Wyatt (Peter Fonda) who after making a considerable amount of money from a drug deal decides to enjoy their freedom on the open road with their destination being New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The dynamic between the two is simple enough as Wyatt is outgoing and willing to be friendly with those around them Billy is essentially the opposite. Hopper plays the role of Billy as though he has somewhat of a perpetual paranoia in regards to all things. Every outsider from them Hopper effectively shows the nervousness in Billy as the way he seems to constantly be watching them, and becomes particularly intense as well as agitated when they are near their secret stash of money within Wyatt's motorcycle's gas tank. Hopper does a good job of portraying the withdrawn nature of Billy and establishes rather well the way he almost seems to shy away from society.
He is good with Fonda as they do have a certain ease to create the sense of the camaraderie between the two. They handle it in a rather unassuming fashion, but it works rather well. When Jack Nicholson comes in a little later as an alcoholic lawyer he also joins the group rather well. Hopper's interactions with him are well handled as Hopper shows the vulnerability of Billy as he inquires intently why the establishment sort of world sees the like of them as a threat. Of course the film, even in between the long riding scenes, is not exactly the most complex story to begin with, that would be fine if it was consistently compelling but I would argue that it is not. Even the scenes that do settle for dialogue it usually is fairly standard often begin quite to the point. The film never bothers to get into much of anything in relation to the pasts of Billy Wyatt. In addition they only really have one major transition which is after the attack by the locals, and decide to continue in a somewhat questionable way. Even in that way Billy stays fairly consistence staying in his same manner of avoidance, and really Wyatt is the one changed by the event.
To be perfectly honest the part of Billy is pretty paper thin as written as there are no major changes, and what there is from the start is not exactly all that compelling. It is to Hopper's credit that he does manage to do something with the role. He realizes Billy as he is in an effective fashion, and does seem to go further than caricature in his honest reactions as the closed off sort of hippie. The fact that he is able to make Billy come to life at all is a testament to Hopper's talent as he at least makes you feel as though you've gotten to know him and makes him interesting enough thorough the film's story, even if that story is not all that interesting in itself. In terms of problems associated with film I can't say anything against Hopper's work as an actor. He gives a good performance as there is nothing to fault him with what he manages to do with the material he has, and he strikes up some particularly great chemistry with both Fonda and Nicholson. I would not have minded seeing those three as the same characters in frankly a better movie than Easy Rider is.