Hopwood DePree: The comic side of swapping Hollywood for Manchester

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Hopwood DePree thinks it will cost between £5m-£10m to restore Hopwood Hall

“I’m so knackered,” Hopwood DePree says, carefully stepping through the undergrowth surrounding his ancestral home on the outskirts of Manchester.

“Knackered? Is that the right word? I think that’s the first time I’ve used it in a sentence.”

The former Hollywood actor and producer is so knackered because he’s in the middle of a mammoth project to bring Hopwood Hall back to its former glory after decades of neglect.

Since moving from Los Angeles, he’s also been getting to grips with English slang. “And bullocks? Is that another one? Bullocks?”

His forefathers may have lived on the site since the 12th Century, but DePree still has some way to go before he passes as a local.

He also has a long way to go before he achieves his dream of restoring his ancestors’ stately home. It’s a wreck.

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So far, the hall has been secured from vandals and weather before the full work starts

DePree’s plan is to turn it into a retreat for artists from around the world. He also hopes to use it to stage film, music and theatre events.

In his previous life, he was an actor, writer, producer and director who never quite made it big in Hollywood.

His early attempts to do so were depicted in low-budget documentary Rhinoskin: The Making of a Movie Star.

He then wrote, directed and appeared in the well-received independent rom-com The Last Big Attraction, before setting up a film festival and a movie company in his native Michigan and performing stand-up comedy.

He’s now going back to comedy, turning the lighter moments from his move from Hollywood to Middleton – and his attempts to save his ancestors’ crumbling mansion – into a stand-up show.

The 49-year-old will perform in Brighton, Manchester and London before going to the Edinburgh Fringe.

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Getty Images

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Hopwood DePree at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival

“The way people in Hollywood do business versus the way English people do business is totally different, and I’m learning a lot from being here,” he says.

“Hollywood is very temporary. When people talk about an old building, it’s from the 1920s. It’s fun, it’s exciting, but when you come to Middleton, this hall’s been here for 600 years.

“So everything is rooted in a sense of longevity and history and tradition. Life here feels much more grounded and rooted in reality. That’s probably the biggest difference. That and the weather.”

The Hopwood family lived in the hall until the 1920s, after both sons were killed during WW1. Hopwood DePree is related to them through his great-grandmother, and Hopwood was passed down that line of the family as a forename.

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Geoff Wellens

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Phill Longley

The first time the young Hopwood heard about a family pile was when his grandfather would tell him about somewhere called Hopwood Hall.

“But I never thought it existed,” he says. “I thought he was telling fairytales. And I hated the name Hopwood. I was embarrassed for it because I was an easy target. I used to get beat up for it.”

DePree first travelled over from the US to see it in 2014 after hearing about its dilapidated state. He knew he couldn’t leave it to rot, and moved his life over the Pond.

Much of the comedy in his stand-up show stems from the fish-out-of-water story that ensued.

“Coming to a whole new country really was like starting over,” he says. “When you come to a new country, you don’t have credit, you don’t have a car, you don’t have a bank account, health insurance, a doctor, a lawyer.

“I guess there’s a lot of trying to re-learn society. And trying to take up a lot of tea and drive on the wrong side of the road and eat fish and chips all the time. I got laughed out of the local chippy for trying to pay with my American Express card!

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DePree hopes artists will come to stay at the hall from the US and around the world

He’s also been impressed to discover the power of a good brew. “I love how the key to fixing anything going wrong in Britain seems to be tea,” he says.

“I remember one time when Bob the caretaker said to me, ‘The ceiling in the long corridor just collapsed, water is pouring into a leak in the Georgian room and a window in the chapel was just smashed by a rock thrown by a vandal. Can I get you a cup of tea?'”

The comedy will also come, he says, from what is in effect the home renovation from hell, and from stories he’s uncovered from the hall’s history.

“There was a murder here in the 1500s, which is a little bit awkward because the neighbours are still the same. It’s the same family on the same farm.

“What do I do? Do I go over there and bring them a muffin basket? How do I make up for this whole murdering thing?”

As well as doing the stand-up show (titled The Yank Is A Manc!), DePree is pitching a reality TV show – part comedy, part history, part home makeover – to US TV.

Despite his background in Hollywood, one thing he hasn’t done yet is write a screenplay about an LA dude who uproots his entire life to renovate his 600-year-old ancestral home between Manchester and Rochdale.

The blond, big-dreaming American incomer would surely be played by Owen Wilson, who starred in 2006 comedy You, Me and Dupree (although DePree insists any similarities with the name and appearance in that movie are purely coincidental).

“I haven’t written a screenplay but I have been writing a book,” he says. “I guess it could be a screenplay, but I haven’t got that far yet, mainly because I don’t know how it ends.

“We need a happy ending.”

Hopwood DePree’s The Yank Is A Manc runs at the Brighton Fringe from 13-19 May before the Manchester Fringe in July and the Camden Fringe and Edinburgh Fringe in August.

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