Thirty-five years after the U.S. release of Crocodile Dundee — an independently produced Australian comedy that became a worldwide sensation, grossing a whopping $328 million — Paul Hogan is still being called by his famous character’s name when he goes out in public.
“Oh, God yeah,” Hogan told us during a rare, late-2020 interview promoting his recent comedy, The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee, in which he plays a heightened version of himself (Paul Hogan, not Mick "Crocodile" Dundee). “Not as much in America but in different countries that I've been in. It happened in Mexico, it happened in Japan, in Singapore. I’ll walk into a hotel, 'Oh, Mr. Dundee, welcome.' I’ll think, 'Well, I must’ve made a convincing character, 'cause he’s still famous and I’m not.'"
The Sydney-born actor was a popular sketch comedy star in his home country, Australia, when a trip to New York City inspired the premise for Crocodile Dundee, and the film is celebrating its 35th anniversary Sept. 26. He co-wrote the story of a tough-as-leather crocodile hunter lured to Gotham by a journalist (Linda Kozlowski) who profiles him Down Under.
It was a career-defining role for Hogan, now 81, who followed it up with two sequels (1988’s Crocodile Dundee II and 2001’s Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles) but also struggled to be thought of as anyone else.
“That was a fictitious character,” he said when asked about the differences between Dundee and Hogan. “He had my sense of humor and my attitude towards life, but he's not me. But that was it, I became typecast, which didn't bother me in the least because I never thought of myself as a movie actor for hire, anyway. I was a comedy writer who was lucky enough to do my stuff onscreen. And because of the ridiculous success of Dundee, which is still the most successful independent film ever made, it's sort of like, ‘Oh, whatever I do next will be a flop by comparison. So why bother?’”
Crocodile Dundee remains a famous movie with one especially famous quotable.
That comes in a sequence when Dundee and Sue (Kozlowski) are being mugged by a man who pulls a switchblade on them. Dundee, of course, casually unveils a large bowie knife with the epic comeback, “That’s not a knife … THAT’s a knife.”
Says Hogan now: “I wrote it and I thought it was amusing. I didn't know it would go into the language like it did. It’s been quoted at me thousands and thousands of times, by all sorts of people, including our Prince Charles and Clint Eastwood, among many.”
Though Hogan may not have sustained a career as lasting and successful as, say, Eastwood, he has no regrets about the years that followed his 1986 pinnacle.
“No, no, not in the least,” he says. “It was my first go at a movie and there was a first-time director and producer [and me as a] writer and lead. The whole thing was, 'Let’s have a go, we’ll make a little movie, it should work in Australia.' And then to have it be No. 1 in Lithuania and Sweden and Israel and Lebanon, it was over the top. I’ve always said it was like going to the Olympics and rolling up your jeans and saying, 'Can I have a run in the 100?' And then winning the gold medal. It was that unlikely. So mentally I sort of retired after the first one.”