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7 June 2003   Articles No Comments

We trekked to France tracking down the always offbeat Johnny Depp to see if family life has settled him down — or if he’s still living on the edge – By Gregory Katz.

“I didn’t have a life before. Until I had kids … I just didn’t get it.”

Imagine a doting dad playing Barbies on the floor with his 4-year-old daughter while he gives his baby boy a bottle early on a Sunday morning. Now move the scene to a farmhouse in the south of France, picture the father as a somewhat disheveled but darkly handsome long-haired man with mysterious gold caps on his teeth, and you have a glimpse into the life of daddy Johnny Depp.

But the former teen heartthrob — remember “21 Jump Street”? — isn’t quite your average father. At 40, Depp loves to play loud electric guitar, wears clothes that could use a cleaning, occasionally orders $18,000 bottles of wine in restaurants, and pals around with Rolling Stones bad boys Keith Richards and Ron Wood.

Copyright 2005 USA WEEKEND. All rights reserved.

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19 April 2001   Articles No Comments

Johnny Depp was supposed to be another TV idol. But the beautifully underplayed roles — like the voracious dealer in “Blow” — are adding up to a career – By Stephanie Zacharek.

April 19, 2001 | Johnny Depp, so often described as androgynously beautiful, is really more like a male cat, a creature so sure of himself that his more masculine traits aren’t the first things you notice about him. You can see it in the way he underplays every role. Sometimes you look at him and you think he’s not doing much at all; then you realize that what he’s doing is so economical and so understated that you can’t afford to take your eyes off him for an instant. He wastes no line, expression or arc of movement. Like those ancient inky creatures painted on Japanese scrolls with just two or three strokes, he’s both the suggestion and the essence of feline masculinity, all implied muscle and Zen intelligence.

It takes that kind of muted confidence to forge a career the way Depp has. In the late ’80s, after a few tiny film roles, he emerged seemingly out of nowhere to become a teenage heartthrob on the TV series “21 Jump Street,” the kind of taint that some actors, no matter how talented they are, never recover from. Forget the fact that TV actors are so often viewed (wrongly) as movie actors’ less significant second-cousins; when you’re as good-looking as Depp, it’s a given that you’re going to be written off as nothing more than a pretty face. It’s the most unoriginal charge that critics and audiences can level at an actor, and yet particularly in Depp’s case, it was intoned in the press as if it were an unassailable fact determined by a team of brilliant research scientists. No one had much faith that Depp could develop into anything special. While the press busied itself with preconceived notions of the type of actor Depp was and always would be, no one saw that he was ready to pounce.

Copyright 2005 Salon.com

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1 June 1999   Articles No Comments

 JOHNNY DEPP DISCUSSES HIS LIFE AND WORK, AND HIS NEW MOVIE, SLEEPY HOLLOW  

JOHNNY DEPP has always chosen roles that are different, and his newest film Sleepy Hollow he displays his talent for humour and drama in a film reminiscent of the Horror films of the ’50s and ’60s. Depp has the starring role in this new version of Washington Irving’s fable Tile Legend of Sleepy Hollow but the success of the film comes from the multi-faceted character of Ichabod Crane. 

American-born Depp now lives with his wife Vanessa and their young daughter in France, but he had to adopt an English accent for the role of Crane. It is something he worked hard to develop. 

INSPIRATION 

“You know what I did?” he responds to our inquiry. “I watched a lot of old Horror films. People like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.” The inspiration for the character, he says, was in fact three people. “Number one was Basil Rathbone from the old Sherlock Holmes movies. Number two was a very great friend of mine that recently passed away, Roddy McDowell. He was a great man, a great actor and he was a very important model for the character. In a way this was my opportunity to tip my hat to him, to thank him, to salute him. The third was a terrific actress, Angela Lansbury, 

she was a great model for the character. I just tried to hold on to those three people and out of that came the accent.” 

Depp is too modest to admit that the success of the character may have had something to do with his own talent as an actor, but whatever talent he has, he says, it is something he’s nurtured through constant education. 

“l’vc been blessed to know certain people who have been great teachers to me,” he says. “I think that every film you do is a kind of continuation of your education. You meet great teachers along the way. Marlon Brando was one, and he became a great friend. Al Pacino was another, Martin Landau, the list goes on. You learn from everybody.” 

He pauses momentarily, before continuing. “Acting is a strange job, What’s at the heart of it for me is my fascination with human behaviour. I think the main thing for any actor when he’s starting out, before you go to class, before you read a book, is just to watch. Just observe people. And if you can take that on board, if you can learn from that and put it in a drawer somewhere, you can use it later to playa character. You’ll show how people do behave, and try to do it as honestly as possible.” 

“We present a certain image of ourselves to the public, or to other people in life but in fact there is usually something going on underneath. There’s the subtext underneath. That’s what fascinates me about acting, and that’s why I love it.” 

 

ONLY HIMSELF 

 

Depp has acquired a reputation for taking on roles that other actors might turn down, but he has also turned down roles that have made others superstars the so-called ‘blockbuster’ films. Still, when asked, he insists that what he projects is only himself, not something he’s modeled on anyone else. 

“I’m not sure I can say I’ve modeled myself on anyone else, no. But there were people influencing me even before I was an actor. One was Buster Keaton, another was Charlie Chaplin, another was Lon Chaney. Chaney influenced acting before Marlon did. Lon Chaney was one of the greatest character actors ever to stand in front of the camera. Unbelievable performances. Unbelievable transformations.” 

Chaney, of course, played some of the greatest Horror roles during his Hollywood career, popularising the Horror movie long before Karloff or Lugosi.

 

INSPIRING 

 

“I find all of those early stars very inspiring. but Chaney in particular. If I can be anything I would like to think that I can at least make an attempt at being a character actor. I think that is more important than just being a leading man. I think the term is pretty limiting. I’d like to consider myself, some day, a character actor.” 

Clearly his role as Ichabod Crane shows a progression towards that goal, although by his own admission, Depp had his uneasy moments during the film. “I could keep my distance from the atmosphere of the film, the Horror clement,” he says. “But you do get kind of wound up in these things. There were some scenes with the horseman that were pretty spooky. I got really scared.” 

 

CREATING SLEEPY HOLLOW COSTUME DESIGNER COLLEEN ATTWOOD 

 

SLEEPY HOLLOW marks Colleen Atwood’s fourth collaboration with Tim Burton She earned an Oscar nomination tor little Women and a second nominanon for Jonathan Demma’s Beloved She previously worked with Burton on Mars Attacks. Edward Sclssorhands and Ed Wood 

For Sleepy Hollow, Atwood’s research focused on period paintings and Visual descriptions of costumes from books, “There were no existing photographs,” comments Atwood. “but since this film IS not a history lesson the work becomes impressionistic .. 

In the film’s opening scene, Depp wears a constable’s uniform which Alwood describes as ‘incredibly chic” Once lchabod travels to Sleepy Hollow. he wears one costume in varying stages – a long waistcoat with gold trimming and a hand-printed silk lining that kicks back light when he moves, “People didn’t have a lot of clothing unless they were wealthy.’ Atwood explains “The Idea with lchabod’s costume was to make It very minimal and sleek 

The more elaborate costumes were worn by the Villagers of Sleepy Hollow – each one crafted by Atwood and her team from specially chosen fabrics. “They’re country folk that are 5 or 6 years behind the minute. says the designer, “but With the maximum amount of trim and gear to show their money on the outside.” The most extravagant dresses belonged to Lady Van Tassel (Miranda Richardson) “She’s definitely ruling the roost. When a character aspires to something greater. they take it to a different level.

One of Atwood’s favorite costumes IS a black and white dress worn by Lady Van Tassel. “It was such a challenge to create. and the way Miranda Richardson wore the costume was fantastic. The original Inspiration was bark in the forest. I wanted the dress to lit In the woods. but still be very grand. Miranda understood the architecture of the dress. that It went from light to dark, When she walked in it she walked straight forward and then turned to the Side, so you got the play of light on the costume .. 

 

 

CREATING SLEEPY HOLLOW 

STUNT CO-ORDINATION 

AND SCENIC DESIGN 

AMONG Sleepy Hollow’s action set-pieces. including stunts. pyrotechnics and special effects is a choreographed fight between Ichabod (Johnny Depp). Brom (Casper Van Dien] and the Headless Horseman (Ray Park) in the creepy entrance bridge to the village, The lengthy coach chase through the Western Woods. recalling several Hammer scenes. was filmed inside Leavesden’s ‘flight shed’ where designers built a 400·1001· long forest. 

Stunt co-ordinator Nick Gillard. whose recent film credits include Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. brought Originality to the action sequences, In addition to choreographing the fight scenes, Gillard, along with horse master Steve Dent. also gave riding instruction to the entire cast. Depp’s horse. Gunpowder, is a Belgium carriage horse. The Headless Horseman’s horse. Daredevil. was brought over from Seville and trained from scratch, “Spanish horses have the best nature.” says Dent. “You Just have to work with them for ten minutes and they’re rewed up like a Ferrari” 

Leavesden’s largest sound stage (,A’) underwent almost weekly transformations, changing from a forest to a barren field with haystacks, to a freezing snow-covered battlefield. Even a family of birds nesting in the ceiling grids were fooled by the changing seasons, When stage ‘A’ was revamped into a battlefield, the birds flew next door to stage ‘B’ where designers had created a cherry orchard for the spring dream sequences 

Filming ‘exteriors’ inside a sound stage required ingenuity and constant collaboration from director of photography Lubezki. production designer Heinrichs and the special effects department. “The biggest challenge.” according to Lubezki ‘was creating a false sense of sky” Lubezki pre-rigged the stages With hundreds of space lights (strung from the ceiling) that could be controlled from a dimmer board. 

CREATING SLEEPY HOLLOW 

CREATURE EFFECTS ARTIST KEVIN YAGHER 

CREATURE EFFECTS artist Kevin Yagher admits his greatest challenge was finding unusual ways for people to die. “Tim wanted very stylized decapitations, nothing that we’ve seen before.” explains Yaqher. In one instance. it meant a head spinning on its axis three or four times after being lopped off, Cast members had ‘life casts’ taken of their heads and bodies, a process some described as incredibly claustrophobic, The heads were then plastered and painted with silicone. then sculpted and textured by artists, Hairs were individually punched in. eyeballs inserted, and acrylic teeth are filled into the gums 

On average. a head tooks five weeks to complete and the results were often staggering for the actors. “I was silting in the make-up truck gossiping over a cup of coffee: recalled actor Richard Griffiths. “when one of the effects guys asked ‘have you seen your head yet?’ I said thank you. no, So he pulled it out of a box, Well the jolt. the thump, somewhere underneath your fourth rib that you get when you see it. Talk about intimations of mortality, I’ve seen my head In somebody else’s hands!” 

In addition to creating more than a dozen realistic looking heads. the creatures department had an even ‘bigger’ project on their plate – the building of a life-sized (and life-like] mechanical horse to double as Daredevil. the Headless Horseman’s horse.

1 June 1998   Articles No Comments

What Makes Johnny Famous?
Icon, June 1998
by Dana Shapiro

Despite relentless attempts to abandon the image that launched his career, Johnny Depp can’t seem to escape his own face.
Once told a front desk clerk that his name was Mr. Donkey Penis…used to hang off the ledge of a parking structure with Nicolas Cage… was spotted in a gay bar with John Waters…had his “Winona Forever” tattoo surgically altered to read “Wino Forever”…got a speeding ticket…broke some furniture…slept in the bed where Oscar Wilde died…got in an argument with a photographer named Jonathan Walpole in a London pub; “He pulled both my ears,” Walpole said. “Very hard.” “I’ve just handed Johnny Depp a thick stack of press clippings downloaded from the data retrieval service, Lexis-Nexis. “You just type in ‘Johnny Depp’ with a headline restriction, and this is the type of stuff that comes out,” I explain.
He flips through the pages with a mix of intrigue, amusement, and disgust, reading the occasional quote that catches his attention. “Jesus,” he says, “this is bizarre.” Depp charged with assaulting a security guard in Vancouver in 1989, described Canadians as ‘Moosehead-drinking hockey players,'” he laughs. “Good lord,” he says. “Wow, this is weird: ‘Emir Kusturica] and Johnny carried around
Dostoevsky books and Kerouac books and they wore black. They had never worn black in their lives. They kept everybody in the cast and crew awake all night because they were blasting music and getting drunk.’ I think Vincent Gallo said that.” He continues flipping. This is amazing,” he says. “What’s it called–Lexis-Nexis?”
It’s two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon and Depp is eating chicken chow mein at the Formosa Cafe, the star-clogged Hollywood restaurant that open in 1946 across the street from the Goldwyn Studios (now the Warner Hollywood Studios). Outside in the parking lot are mock reserved spots for Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Lee Marvin, Grace Kelly, Larry, Moe, Curly, and Elvis–“Nothing But a Hound Dog” on the sound system.
I bet she used to be a real dish,” Depp says quietly of the waitress, a skinny, motherly woman with extra makeup and a wink for the movie star. She doesn’t say anything fan-like, but it’s clear she knows who Depp is–after the meal, he’s allowed to smoke in the nonsmoking section. “You wouldn’t happen to have a toothpick, would you?” Depp asks her.
On the walls above the table, and all over the restaurant, hang the autographed faces of everyone from Tony Curtis to Michael Douglas to Liza Minelli to John Ritter. “Meet me at the Formosa” reads the sign above the bar. “Where the stars dine.”
Whether or not you consider Johnny Depp a “star” depends on whether you chalk the concept of fame up to public recognition, acclaim, hatred, or talent. JonBenet Ramsey is famous for dying. Dennis Rodman is famous for making himself famous. Thomas Pynchon is famous for not being famous. And then there are those who become famous by dating famous people–Gwyneth Paltrow, Rande Gerber, Donovan Leitch, Nicole Kidman–an unfortunate factor that has kept Depp’s name in print and made his personal life more marketable than his films.
“There’s an episode, a little moment on Beavis and Butt-head that I really like,” says filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, Depp’s good friend who directed him in the 1996 film Dead Man. “They’re watching a Tom Petty video and Beavis is saying, ‘Why is this guy so famous?’ And Butt-head says, ‘Because he’s always on TV.’ Beavis says, ‘Yeah, but why is he always on TV?’ Butt-head says, ‘Because he’s famous.’ And Beavis is getting really upset, y’know, because he can’t follow that concept–why are people famous?”
Four years ago, Tim Burton called Depp and said, “What are you doing?” and Depp said, “Hanging out,” and Burton said, “Can you meet me at the Formosa Cafe in about 20 minutes?” Depp said, “Yeah, yeah I’ll be there.” When he arrived, Burton was sitting at the far end of the bar, having a beer. “So I sat down, we had a beer, and he says, ‘I got this story,'” Depp recalls. “And he started talking about the film, and within five minutes I was like, “Okay, let’s do it, I’m there. Just say when.'” Burton had the idea of making a black and white biopic of the transvestite filmmaker Ed Wood and wanted Depp to play the lead. (It was Burton who, four years earlier, legitimized Depp’s acting career when he chose him–over Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, and Michael Jackson, among many others–to play the role of an innocent experiment whose scissorhands keep him in fear of cutting what he truly loves.)
While Edward Scissorhands certainly called attention to Depp’s potential, it was his role as Ed Wood that solidified his status as an actor, proving he had a range beyond the passive handsomeness of his previous roles in Arizona Dream, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, and Benny and Joon. Unlike, say, Tom Cruise, whose looks are obscured by a gung-ho enthusiasm that makes even his dramatic roles seem like action-adventure, Depp’s brooding face and mannered coolness can be distracting. The most obvious exceptions are Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood, because in the former Depp’s face is disguised with makeup and scars, and in the latter he turns the passivity into a put-on–Ed Wood is more of a caricature than a character, and for that reason, Depp is all the more effective.
When Depp was shooting Ed Wood, Jarmusch was staying at his house in L.A. and recalls how the role of the grinning, panty-wearing “worst director of all time” was making his friend a little weird. “At the end of the day, I’d hang out with him or whatever and he was Ed Wood for at least three or four hours after he’d leave the set,” recalls Jarmusch. “He had this stupid smile on his face, and I’d ask him, ‘Johnny, what do you want to eat–Thai, Chinese, Italian?’ And he’d say, ‘They all sound great! Everything’s terrific! What would you like? And it was so not Johnny. I just wanted to slap him–come one, cut it out, you’re scaring me. But he couldn’t. I really gave me the creeps.”
Though Depp says his role as the withdrawn, unfinished monster in Edward Scissorhands is closest to his own personality, his role as William Blake in Jarmusch’s Dead Man may be a closer parallel to the boy from Kentucky who moved to L.A. to get a record deal but wound up with his face spread across the covers of every teen magazine in America, unintentionally becoming known as a heartthrob. In the film, Depp plays a soft-spoken accountant from Cleveland who goes west to the industrialized town of Machine with a letter promising him a job, but when he gets there, nobody seems to know who he is. He goes to the local bar, where an act of chivalry leads to a self-defense murder, and his face winds up spread across the covers of Wanted posters, unintentionally becoming known as a killer. The rest of the film is spent running away from, and ultimately confronting, the image on the poster.
“Johnny’s character is sort of like a blank slate, and everyone projects an identity onto him that he doesn’t even understand necessarily,” Jarmusch explains. “He’s not an outlaw, violent-type guy, but he gets made into a wanted, hunted criminal. And Johnny has that too, in that he has the ability to let others project things onto him. And it happens to him in his real life as well–movie star, bad boy–whatever they project onto Johnny seems, to me, so far off from who he really is.”
“When I first met him I thought he was just that dork from 21 Jump Street,” says Vincent Gallo, who stars with Depp in Arizona Dream. “What’s interesting about Johnny is that he’s been able to permeate the mainstream without pandering to it.” Juliette Lewis, who played Depp’s love interest in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, says, “We were linked together in the first three weeks of filming, but we never even talked to each other really. I worked with him, but I don’t have a clue who he is as a person. I mean, that’s something to say.” “If you don’t mention how shy he is, you’ll be missing the boat on a lot of stuff,” says Peter DeLuise, who played big Doug next to Depp’s small Tom on 21 Jump Street. “The reality is that he’s a tiny, little, sensitive guy, and more times than not, he’s overwhelmed with people coming up to him.”
How do you like your potatoes?
“My favorite way to eat anything is fried,” Depp says. “Gotta be fried.”
Chicken fried steak?
“Oh, f**k. Live for it. Love it.
So you like McDonald’s better than Burger King.
“I love ’em both. But I think I love Burger King maybe a little better. I know it’s char-broiled, I knot, but…I’m a big advocate of fast food. I’m from the South. I’m complete and total and utter white trash, and that’s okay, y’know. I love pork, I live for pork. I just think pork is the best thing in the world.”
Did Winona Ryder eat pork?
“Yeah, Winona ate pork.”
How about Kate Moss?
“Kate eats pork, hell yeah. She’s English.”
But you’re single now, right?
“I’m single now, yeah.”
Is it strange looking up at a billboard and seeing your ex-girlfriend?
“No, it’s nice, you know? It’s nice to be able to sort of drive by and wave, say hi. It’s sweet. I like seeing her face.”
Do you date vegetarians?
I”I did date a vegetarian actually. And she’d sit there and watch me feast on some pig snout, hog snout. Yeah, I’ve dated a couple vegetarians.”
Do you trust vegetarians?
“I don’t really trust anybody who doesn’t eat pork. I mean, it’s fine if you’re a vegetarian, but fuckin’ A, man, how can you not eat pork?”
What’s interesting about Depp is not that his parents got divorced, not that he dates mostly white women, not that he pulled some guy’s ears for repeatedly asking Kate Moss’s friend for a cigarette and then taking a sip of her drink (actually, that is kind of interesting), not that he smoked some pot or swallowed some acid. What’s most interesting about Depp is his career. Not because it was launched by playing an androgynous sex symbol on the Fox Network’s first hit show, 21 Jump Street, not because he showed his ass in the embarrassing Private Resort, but because the films that he’s chosen to be in, and the fact that he’s chosen to be in them, is, for lack of a better word, interesting.
“I think Hollywood would have preferred to have made him into a different kind of product,” Jarmusch says. “Johnny’s not your typical player–you can see by the choices he makes. He hasn’t done the Nick Cage-type of moves, to be in big action movies.”
It’s an observation worth exploring because Depp’s films are atypical (past costars include Joe Dallesandro, Patty Hearst, Traci Lords, Vincent Price, George “The Animal” Steele, Jerry Lewis, and Robert Mitchum), and Nicholas Cage (besides introducing Depp to acting) is a relevant person to bring up, if only for the sake of contrast. Cage launched a career with the same type of “oddball” roles that Depp has become know for taking–Valley Girl, Birdy, Vampire’s Kiss, Wild at Heart–but now he’s making summer blockbusters. Conversely, Depp began his film career by playing preppy roles in mall-targeted films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Private Resort, and went on to make films like Arizona Dream, Ed Wood, and Dead Man–good work that few people saw.
What’s also interesting is how this self-proclaimed white trash, high school drop-out wound up living in Bela Lugosi’s old mansion in the Hollywood Hills and getting A-list acting offers when not one of his 14 starring roles has ever been nominated for an Oscar, and the highest grossing movie that he ever starred in (Edward Scissorhands: $56 million) came out eight years ago.
Of Depp’s last three major releases since Ed Wood–all more “typical” than his usual work–Nick of Time seemed to be the most conspicuous peek over the “mainstream” fence, but Christopher Walken, John Badham (the director of Saturday Night Fever), and the film’s Hitchcockian roots made a good defense for Depp’s bad decision. Before that, Don Juan DeMarco was almost legitimized by Marlon Brando’s surprising participating and Depp’s authentic accent, and Donnie Brasco had ex-Godfather Al Pacino and an identity-questioning script to separate it from a genre that should have ended with Goodfellas in 1991. Still, none of these films approached the original craftiness of Ed Wood.
Of Nick of Time–released three years before this month’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Depp as Hunter S. Thompson’s alter-ego, Raoul Duke)–Waters says: “Of all Johnny’s movies, I wouldn’t pick it as my favorite.” Jarmusch: “Nick of Time wasn’t a movie that interested me very much, nor did the character that he played.” DeLuise: “I thought Nick of Time was a valiant attempt, although I don’t think it really worked as they thought it might.” While it seems unanimous that Nick of Time was the low point, Depp’s recent decisions–to star in Roman Polanski’s next project, The Ninth Gate, and as the lead in the Hughes Brothers’ biopic of, curiously, Howard Hughes–once again show he is more attracted to working with certain actors and directors than increasing his visibility at the multiplex. “His motivations are based on what makes his life interesting,” Jarmusch says, “rather than what skyrockets his quote for a film or whatever.”
What certainly hasn’t skyrocketed Depp’s quote–and perhaps his riskiest career move yet–was his directorial debut, The Brave (based on the book by Gregory McDonald and co written with his brother Dan), a film about a Cherokee Indian who agrees to be in a snuff film to earn money for his family. It stars Depp, Brando, and Max Perlich, and features a score by Iggy Pop. The poster for The Brave (which Depp has hanging in his house) features an image of a painted creature that looks like a Basquiat scrawl–Depp saw it on a wall, and has no idea who did it. But perhaps the most striking aspect of the promotional image is that Depp neglected to put his own face on it. (For now, anyway.)
As a first-time director, Depp says he was “scared shitless” for the film’s premiere last year at the 50th Cannes Film Festival. “You walk up the red carpet, you know, the whole thing: go up there, wave, go in and sit down and watch the film with 2,500 people. Film goes through. No coughs, no moving shoes. You’re charged, you’re out of your mind, you’re everything. You’re dying, you’re ready to vomit, you’re shaking, you want nothing but to get horribly drunk. And at the same time you’re really proud, and you’re embarrassed, because you feel exposed, you know? You just feel like you’ve ripped your chest cavity open and just begged someone to s**t in it.”
Which is not far from what some critics did, and with a vengeful sort of glee. By most accounts, The Brave was booed at the 8:30 AM press screening, but found a much warmer reception later that evening at the official premiere. Lisa Schwarzbaum, a critic from Entertainment Weekly who was at the press screening, recalls, “It had a nice look to it, it was beautifully lit, had a very moody feeling to it, but was sort of astonishingly not ready to be seen. It was actually kind of embarrassing. He really needed somebody older who wouldn’t be afraid to say, ‘You know, Johnny, nice idea, but let’s sit on this for a while. Let’s get a little life behind you before you take on something like this.’ With any luck, it will never be released and nobody will ever have to see it, and I mean that for him as well as the audience.”
Says Waters, who was with Depp later that night for the premiere: “Well, it’s very serious, but it’s certainly arty. He didn’t make a commercial kind of movie, which I think is good. People loved it.”
But the film has yet to be picked up, and Depp seems frustrated by the negative press. “Hollywood Reporter, Variety, all these f**king things, they come out and they say, ‘The Brave was booed last night’. Well, they lied. And distributors were scared shitless. It was a film that was over two hours long, it got booed, you know–they thought it got booed–but it’s like, the people in this town play Follow-the-Leader, man. If Joe down the street has a really nice pair of sneakers but, you know, Bob doesn’t know if he likes them or not until he sees Sue’s boyfriend Lance wearing them. Then if two people like ’em, I’m there, y’know? That kind of mentality is like a fuckin’ disease.”
In 1986, Depp spent 10 weeks in the jungles of the Philippines filming Platoon, only to come home and find his part as Lerner the translator had been almost completely chopped out of the finished film, partly because Oliver Stone thought the Lerner character was diluting the good-guy power of Charlie Sheen, and partly, Depp says, for his changing some lines (something he says he does often). Around this time, he began dating Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks, Just One of the Guys), one of four girls he’s been engaged to in his life. (“Haven’t you seen the bumper sticker in L.A.?” asks Jennifer Grey, who was engaged to Depp for eight months in 1989: “Honk if you’ve been engaged to Johnny Depp.”)
Depp’s first fiancee, Lori Ann Allison (a makeup artist five years his senior), became his wife for two years in 1983. “I was engaged to Sherilyn, um. I was engaged to Winona. I was engaged to Jennifer Grey,” Depp says. “Out of respect to the girls I was with, I’ll just answer that I was engaged to those people. But a lot was written about that s**t, and it was taken to another level and it was turned into some kind of horrible joke, you know. I like the idea of marriage. I don’t know if I believe in it, but I like the idea, the concept. I don’t know if one person can be with one person until they die. I don’t know if that’s humanly possible.”

What Makes Johnny Famous – part 2

Disappointed with the outcome of his part in Platoon, Depp accepted the job to play an undercover high school cop named Tom Hanson on 21 Jump Street, a decision he says was almost entirely wrong. He never wanted to be a TV actor, but the prospect of a steady paycheck and his hunch that the show wouldn’t last more than a season outweighed his artistic ambitions. “Actually, there were good people involved, and in terms of the camera, the lighting, marks, television is a great education” Depp says. “So that was like college for me. So that was like college for me. But I just didn’t want to be involved in that kind of assembly-line s**t, you know? I didn’t want to be a product. I didn’t want to be a product. I didn’t want to be that thing, that hunk s**t or whatever. It wasn’t me.
21 Jump Street became the flagship show for Fox, and consequently Depp became the poster child for the up-and-coming network, his face on every ad they took out. “He was the star,” says DeLuise. “There was no doubt in anybody’s mind, and I think he really resented that. On the show they would always randomly cut back to his face while he was listening to other people talk–he was forced to react and make faces, and that made him mad. So Jim [Whitmore, the director] came up with this great idea: he said “I’ll tell you what, you don’t have to make faces, I will give you the subtext of the scene. There is poop somewhere nearby, and at the beginning of the scene you sense there is poop, and then you actually smell the poop, and then you can’t seem to get away from the poop, and then you need to know where the poop is. Now just work on that.” And if you look at the expression on Johnny’s face, he is trying to find the poop.”
“I was bored to tears and I was dying,” Depp says of his days on the show. “I was chewing my own leg. Whitmore would do things like that to keep the scene interesting for me. If you had the subtext that somewhere in this room was s**t, it made a lot more go on during the scene.”
Around this time in Baltimore, John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble) was looking through teen galleries/magazines for a boy to play the role of Cry Baby Walker, a leather clad “drape” with a tattoo of an electric chair on his chest. “With Cry Baby, I was trying to make a job, a satire of an Elvis movie,” Waters explains, “and to me, Johnny certainly looked right. He looked like the perfect juvenile delinquent. Then I watched 21 Jump Street and I met him and I knew he had a sense of humor–that was the main thing. And he told me he hated being a teen idol. I said, ‘Stick with us, we’ll kill that. Don’t worry.'”
“John saved me, he really did,” Depp says. “Because I was desperate to get out of that mold, y’know, and desperate to not be a product anymore. And by doing Cry Baby, and John giving me that gig, it was a major turning point. I always like to say that John Waters made me a millionaire. I used to always say that to him: “‘Do you realize you made me a millionaire?'”
But it was a symbiotic relationship. Without Depp, Waters wouldn’t have been able to get the money to make the type of campy musical he wanted to make, and without Waters, Depp wouldn’t have gotten the chance to spit at his own face. And it worked. “Cry Baby still plays constantly on cable and all over Europe, and that’s thanks to Johnny. Because even if it was not successful in some countries, it can play now because it’s a Johnny Depp movie, not a John Waters movie. And I think Johnny can thank me for ending him being a teen idol.”
Though barely any of Depp’s teen magazine-reading fans ever saw the movie, the right people obviously got the joke because that same year (1990) Depp was cast in the highly sought-after role of Edward Scissorhands. “I didn’t even want to meet Tim Burton [who was just coming off Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice],” Depp recalls. “I wanted to but I thought it was pointless. Tracy [Jacobs, Depp’s agent] forced me to. I just said, ‘No way, it’s embarrassing.’ You know, something you want so badly and he’s never gonna see me as that, never. He’s gonna think, ‘Aaw, fuckin’ TV actor s**t.’ Everybody wanted that fuckin’ role, so I just thought, ‘Hell, why would he give it to me?'”
Burton did give it to him, and subsequently added to the image-smearing process that Waters had started. After Depp had gone overboard proving what he wasn’t in Cry Baby, he found in Edward a character that he truly identified with. “I just knew the guy, I knew the character. I knew everything,” he says. “I remember it was the 89th day–right before I did my last shot on the movie which was doing the ice sculpture with Kim, Winona’s character. And I remember getting the makeup on, and everything, and looking in the mirror before I went to set, and I’m thinking, ‘f**k, this is the last time I’m gonna see this guy,’ you know, this is it, this is the last time. It was like saying goodbye. It fuckin’ made me cry, it was weird, it was bizarre. I really, really, really miss him.”
Did you know there’s a porno called Edward Penishands?
“Yeah, I’ve seen it,” Depp says. “It’s great, it’s really funny. It’s the same deal, y’know, Edward, the fuckin’ hair and everything, and the suit, the black thing, but instead of scissors for hands, he’s got these massive fuckin’ penises, just huge dicks on each hand–huge, though. He’s real timid and all that stuff, and girls come to him and really like him a lot, and, y’know, he can f**k three women–he’s got one here, one here, and then he’s got his own.”
What feature do you look for in a woman?
“Everything.”
How do you feel about feet?
“Feet are very important. Feet are very, very important.”
Are they pretty high up on the priority list?
“Way up, yeah, about top two.”
What would be an example of bad feet?
“Bad feet, let’s see. Long toenails. Horrible, can’t even think about it. Long toenails is a bad move. It’s just an awful image, y’know.”
What if the second toe is longer than the first toe?
“That’s okay. It depends, y’know, the aesthetic of the…there should be a certain symmetry to feet. And I’m not a big symmetry fan. I like things a bit asymmetrical–in fact I need that–but feet, there’s gotta be a certain symmetry to the feet. Feet say a lot. If a girl doesn’t take care of her feet, there may be problems elsewhere.”
Do you think it’s important to be able to fart in front of each other in a relationship?
“I’m not so sure.”
No?
“Hmm…”
She shouldn’t
“I’m not sure she should.”
Should you?
“I’m not sure it’s the kind of thing that boys and girls should be doing together. Some things should be private, you know?”
“Johnny has a Porsche, right, and he had to pick Marlon Brando up from his house–they were going somewhere–and Brando was like, ‘John, I’m so disappointed, I can’t believe you have a Porsche, I don’t want to be seen with you in this car, how can you possibly…'” recalls Jarmusch. “This whole thing with Brando–‘I’m not riding in a Porsche with John’–he was really putting it down, it was really funny.”
Depp’s black Porsche Carrera 4 is parked near a sealed green gate in the Hollywood Hills. There is a security key pad next to the gate and a camera to see who’s pressing the buttons. The doors open, and I look around what was once Bela Lugosi’s backyard (Depp bought the house in 1995 for $2.3 million). It looks gothic and intricate, like a dirty Hollywood castle that was scrubbed clean. A big metal, yellow gorilla stands near the edge of the property with a large, semi-erect penis spewing forth a stream of water that, I’m told, is sometimes cranked up and pointed into the neighbor’s yard. The words “You Can Run But You Can’t Hide” are spray painted in black letters across his chest. “Something they did annoyed him so he rigged it up so it would piss on them,” Jarmusch says, “which is very Johnny. He has this adolescent kind of humor, and that prankster-style revenge.”
The security camera is connected to a four-part black-and-white monitor that sits in what could otherwise be a kitchen in a Better Homes and Gardens spread (aside from the few cans of Drum tobacco on the kitchen table. There is a basket of fruit, boxes of cereal, stacks of books, pots, pans, and candles. There is a bottle of Cuervo 1800 on the window sill, a black-and-white pit-bull mix names Moo (a gift from Moss, who Depp met in February 1994 and dated until recently), Palmolive by the sink and a man, Mr. Pink (who lives in the guest house), making a salad that Johnny apparently adores. This is the brightest room in the house.
The bar is off the kitchen. There are beers on draft, a stocked wall of booze, a sound system, and low-dipping leather chairs placed around an old table. In the corner are the steel painted scissorhands displayed in a glass case, as well as a prototype for an Edward Scissorhands doll that never got made, and the wispy wig for his part in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. On the walls hang paintings, the Wanted poster from Dead Man, a personalized record plaque from Oasis, pictures of Kerouac, Burroughs, Cocteau.
Sitting deep in a chair, Depp is rolling and smoking Drum after Drum and telling me how people have called him Johnny his whole like. “My grandfather would call me Big John, but my mom and dad and sisters and brother, they always called me Johnny. People always say it sounds fake–Johnny Depp. I remember when I was with my first agent and she said, ‘Um, what do you want your name to be?’ It was such an odd question, I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And she said, ‘You know, in the credits and stuff.’ And I said, “Johnny, I guess. Johnny Depp. Why?’ ‘Are you sure you don’t want to be John Depp or John Christopher Depp or John Depp II or John Christopher Depp II?'”
The youngest of four children (two sisters, one brother), Depp grew up in the working-class suburb of Owensboro, Kentucky. Their house and neighborhood, Depp says, were similar to the 1950s pastel land of Edward Scissorhands: tract housing, neat lawns, quiet streets. John Depp Sr. was a public servant working as a civil engineer, and his wife, Betty Sue (whose name Johnny had tattooed on his left bicep), was a waitress at a local restaurant–she gave birth to her most famous child on June 9, 1963. “My mom is one of my best friends in the world,” Depp says. “It’s interesting, my dad’s a big guy, a really fuckin’ tough-looking guy, but the advice [on how to fight] came from my mom. I’ll never forget it; she told me when I was little: ‘Lookit, you get in a fight with somebody, and they’re bigger than you, you pick up the biggest fuckin’ brick you can find and you lay ’em out, you just fuckin’ knock ’em out.'”
When Depp was seven, the family moved to Miramar, Florida, a small town near Miami. They lived in a motel for a year before his father found work as a public works official. It was in Miramar that Depp would meet Sal Jenco, his best friend since then who now runs Depp’s Hollywood club, the Viper Room (opened in August 1993)–and the inspiration for the name of Iggy Pop’s cross-dressing character in Dead Man.
Depp was always more interested in rock ‘n’ roll types than sports figures, but says that when he was a kid, he could tell you every player on the Miami Dolphins. “I can remember being a little kid in Florida and loving Jim Kick,” he says. “It was Kick and Csonka, they were the running backs. And I loved Jim Kick. Not because he was a brilliant player–he was a good back, he was solid–but I loved him because he was the first guy in the NFL to have long hair and a Fu Manchu, you know? I liked him because he was an outsider.”
Despite a face that one might assume would automatically put Depp in the popular clique of his high school, he maintains that, like Kick, he was an outsider. “High school can be fun I guess, hang out with girls, make friends and all that s**t, but that just wasn’t for me,” he says. “There were sort of different classes of people–I guess it still exists. There are the jocks, and the smart kids with good grades and stuff, and there was like rednecks or something, and then there are the burnouts. I was considered a burnout. I was just, you know, kid of a weed-head.”
He avoids specifics, but says that he went through a difficult period when he was 15 years old and his parents got divorced. “I had issues, major problems with that, how [my father] left and what-not. So we had a little bit of a rough spot, but we cleared it up and we’re good now, now we get along real well. Yeah, I love my pop. And I love–you know, I worship my mom.”
Though as a kid he liked to flip through the channels looking for old black-and white movies, especially Dracula and Frankenstein, Depp says he never even considered a career in film. He remembers his older brother Dan introducing him to A Clockwork Orange and Last Tango in Paris (his first glimpse at Brando) when he was 13, but it was the guitar his mother bought him that same year that would have the greatest impact on the youngest Depp. He learned to play sitting in his room, and when he was 17, he joined a local band called The Kids. They became well known in the South Florida punk rock scene–opening for Iggy Pop, Talking Heads, the Pretenders, The Ramones–and Depp truly thought that they were going to make it. He says the music was “kind of loud, aggressive power pop–at the time I would’ve compared it to early U2.”
When he was 20, Depp moved to L.A. with the band (renamed Six Gun Method because they weren’t kids anymore) in search of “the almighty record deal.” They did okay, but their presence was nothing compared to what it was in Florida. “It was real difficult out in L.A.–we’d play at these little clubs,” he says. “We were trying to build a following and stuff, but you make no money. You’d make literally, like, 25 bucks.” To supplement his income, Depp took to selling pens over the phone, “My first experience with acting,” he says.
Before long, “the band sort of stopped. We were all homesick and the majority of them split. I was sort of left hanging with no band,” Depp says, “and I was just going to make the movie.”
The movie was Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. Depp’s ex-wife Lori had introduced him to Nicolas Cage, who convinced him to go on his first casting call in front of the director, whose young daughter happened to be there watching and seems to have been instrumental in getting Depp the job. He earned $1,200 a week–“shocking money,” he says–and made his screen debut as Glen Lantz, the main character’s preppy boyfriend who falls asleep and gets swallowed by a bed and then spit up with a stream of blood. The aspiring rock ‘n’ roller was now an actor.
“To me he’s more a rock ‘n’ roll-type guy than a Hollywood guy,” Jarmusch says, a perception that is only strengthened by Depp’s high-profile girlfriends, his association with bands like Oasis, the Butthole Surfers, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the fact that he got caught tossing things around a hotel room. In September 1994, Depp made all the papers when he was arrested at New York’s Mark Hotel and charged with two counts of criminal mischief after allegedly trashing the hotel room where he was staying with Moss. It was perhaps his biggest–and most ironic–media moment: The boy who became a household face playing a copy on TV, then satirized the copy by getting arrested in Cry Baby, was now in the pages of People wearing a ski hat and sunglasses, being escorted to the 19th Precinct in handcuffs.
“People did a piece on me like I was some kind of hellion on the road to ruin,” Depp says. “And they went out and found the picture that made me look the most unhealthy and debauched and put it on the cover. Such disgusting pigs.”
Have you ever spent a fair amount of time with a writer, trusted them, and then they twisted the story around and wrote some slasher piece about you?
“Absolutely,” Depp says.
Want to yell at anyone?
“There was this cretin at Esquire magazine–and they were cunts, man–it was after the Mark incident, and this guy had a hard-on for me in the worst way, it was so apparent, he wore it all over his face and his clothing–it was all over him. And when I showed up for the photo shoot, they had built an entire hotel suite on stage. And this fuckin’ weak pathetic photographer–this glorified paparazzi–was going along with this idea. And I said, ‘What’s this for?’ and he said, ‘Well, we thought, or the magazine thought, you might enjoy taking the piss out of the incident and just beating the s**t out of this hotel room and just f**king destroying it.’ I said. ‘Wow, this must have cost you a lot of money, building this.’ ‘Yeah, it really did,’ he said. And I said, ‘I’m not f**king touching it.'”
Back at the table in the bar of Depp’s house, I pull out a copy of a cheezy unauthorized biography called Johnny Depp: A Modern Rebel. There is a picture of him as Cry Baby on the cover–leather jacket, Elvis hair, a tattooed tear dripping from his left eye–but the irony of Waters’ creation is completely lost in this context. It looks earnest.
Getting arrested in front of a camera may have been the most effective scene in Depp’s image-killing campaign, but the incident launched a whole new set of labels. “A modern rebel,” Depp says, laughing, holding the book. “Someone showed this to me, and at first I was like, ‘Oh f**k.’ But then–check this out…” He turns to the introduction and points to the first photo in the book. It’s a full-page shot: gelled hair, face half-buried in the crook of his arm, one eye peeking out at the reader. It isn’t him. Depp laughs and says the guy in the photo looks like he’s from New Jersey or something, that he has never tight-rolled his jeans like that, and most importantly, the guy in the picture can grow a beard–Depp can’t. He hands the book back to me with a smile that seems almost proud. “That’s what makes this book f**king genius.”

1 June 1995   Articles No Comments

Look back in Angora

PICTURE THE SCENE, if you will. In one of the scummiest parts of West Los Angeles, Johnny Depp is being put through his acting paces by director Tim Burton. The air is as thick and grimy as an unserviced U-bend. The ambience as comforting as a shower of warm sweat. As the cameras grind slowly into motion, Depp steps out into the light… wearing high heels, black nylons, a blue dress, a beige corset, a pink blouse and red lipstick. 

“It’s strange, but it really doesn’t feel so bad,” Depp says about his stint in the frillies. Will his reputation ever be fully restored in the town of Tinsel? 

The actor is playing Edward D Wood, arguably the worst director in the history of Hollywood, who lived and worked during the ’40s and ’50s. Wood directed Z-grade features such as Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bride of the Monster and Glen or Glenda, a movie which became a bizarre plea for understanding of his own penchant for cross-dressing. 

The role is a bold move for the former teen idol who kicked started his career in the TV series 21 Jump Street, moved on to the silver screen with the original Nightmare on Elm Street movie, and gained celebrity status as the lead in John Waters’s outrageous spoof Cry Baby. However, a shrewd Depp nevertheless expanded artistically in a number of wayward character roles in offbeat movies; the fairy tale fantasy Edward Scissorhands, the romantic drama Benny and [oon, and the rural rites-of-passage piece What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. 

Each role has revealed much more of a depth in Depp than you would have expected from an actor of his calibre. He has been attached to a number of worthy future projects including a powerful drama called It Only Rains At Night and an untitled new movie from Jim Jaramush. 

So what was the attraction – if that is the right word – of playing Edward D Wood? 

“Essentially, you really can’t refuse anything that Tim [Burton] asks you to do,” Depp explains. “You know he has a solid belief in you, and even if you do have any reservations about the part, he will talk you through them. Sure, it’s a kinda weird role for me, but would you expect anything else from Tim? 

“There was such a great ensemble of people working on the movie, too. I’ve turned parts down and regretted them in the future, and I think I would have been sick as a dog if I’d walked away from this one, I don’t think I’ve worked on anything where everyone was so close-knit.” 

The twisted family of performers who bring Ed Wood to life are as outrageous as the story itself. Martin Landau plays Bela Lugosi, the morphine-addicted Horror star regarded by most as being well past his sellby date. Bill Murray is outrageous supporting actor John ‘Bunny’ Breckinridge, who was a reputed transsexual wannabe. Model Lisa Marie is Vampira, the late night Horror show hostess who had a seventeen-inch waist, 50s-style ‘headline’, and skin that can be described as dead. Sarah Jessica Parker is Wood’s girlfriend Dolores Fuller, and Patricia Arquette is his wife Kathy. 

“It was a very vibrant shoot,” Depp recalls. “I mean, it was really tough. We were filming in some of the most claustrophobic, badly ventilated, most uncomfortable locations in Hollywood. My adrenalin was pumping all the way, but everyone from the ground up was giving the movie 200 per cent. I think it has to be most ensemble picture I’ve made.” 

Then, of course, there was the matter of the frilly underwear. Weird, huh? 

“Actually, it didn’t feel weird at all,” the actor admits. “In fact, it’s spookily comfortable. The only time it felt weird was when I had to do a striptease. But I didn’t have any fear about what the audience would think. I know they’ll have a good time with the stacle was one he had created himself. Burton wanted to shoot the movie in black and white, and original backers Columbia didn’t see eye to eye on the matter. 

“I think it was apt thai we shoot the movie in black and white,” Burton maintains. “I resisted the idea at first, but the more I thought about it, I knew that the characters wouldn’t work in colour. It is a period film. I think that pari of the Fifties’ should be remembered in black and white. 

“I didn’t really want to compromise with the movie. I believed that if I compromised in any way, then we would dilute the original idea, and I didn’t want to do that, lowed that to everyone involved, and to the original spirit of Ed Wood.” 

The project was eventually snapped up by Disney, who allowed Burton to have a free rein. 

A noted perfectionist who never appears to be fully satisfied with his finished work, Burton admits the movie is one of his most accomplished projects. 

“You shouldn’t gel too dose to films, especially after they are in the can. But I guess that Ed Wood is the closest thing I’ve made, which has a connection between my childhood and my morematureartisticside. For me, that is a huge accomplishment and one I’d be happy to rest on.” 

 Patricia Arquette is most certainly  at odds with many of the characters she has played on film: notably as the provocative, day-glo-outfitted Alabama in the Tarantino-scripted True Romance and as the heavy-drinking wife of a Hollywood transsexual in Tim Burian’s latest film, Ed Wood. This slightly outrageous style of screen personality is pretty much at variance with the true nature of the twenty-six-yearold actress – and that is very, very shy. 

“How I got into acting I’ll never know,” admits Patricia. “I was always so reserved. I wasn’t an exhibitionist of any sort and friends from my childhood really can’t believe I played some of these roles.” 

Her father is an actor, and so.of course, is her big sister (Rosanna) and lillie brother (Alexis). All have a reputation in the business for being a little … well, quirky. 

Patricia admits she could be the black sheep, but something in the Arquette gene pool may be responsible for attracting the middle sibling to some of Hollywood’s more bizarre projects lately. 

“I do have a strange sense of humour. I think I share that with my family,” says the actress. “Before I started True Romance, a journalist read me the namesof my co-stars: 

Christian Slater, Brad Pitt, Cary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken .. 

“He said it was a cross-section of Hollywood’s brilliant crazies, and asked where I fitted in. I just laughed. Maybe they need someone a little more composed to balance out the picture. 1 don’t know. I still find it is funny that journalists think I’m really a little loopy.” 

Like her Ed Wood co-star, Johnny Depp, Patricia made her Hollywood splash in a Freddy Kreuger slice ‘n’ dicer. Depp in the originalNightmare on Elm Street; Arquette as the resourceful heroine who dispatched the dream bogeyman in Part III. 

She played a couple of wayward roles in Sam Shepherd’s Far North and Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner, before bouncing to the attention ofTim Burton for his bioplc of the bizarre cross-dressing director. 

“l’m always surprised where I go after each movie,” says Patricia. “I’m not confident or organized enough to map out any career yet. Things just come and I make a choice then. But I don’t think to myself: ‘Oh, this is weird. I’ll give this a shot’. 

“But I have such a strange sense of humour that I am usually drawn to stories which are more unconventional than other. With Ed Wood it was simply too good an opportunity to miss. Tim is a great director and I was anxious to do something with him.” 

Patricia plays Wood’s second wife, Kathy O’Hara, who nurtured the frustrated filmmaker through the worst part of his strained career. The challenge facing the young actress was to convey a sense of normality in what was a bizarre real-life relationship. Patricia didn’t do much research into the life of Kathy O’Hara. 

“Apparently she was a heavy drinker and very judgmental about his past relationships,” she explains. “She’d set out matching night-gowns for them every night. 

“Tim didn’t want to trivialize this fact. He also wanted to do it straight, which I can understand and admire. I was encouraged to read up on the life of Edward 0 Wood, but during filming I really st~ck to the script and my own interpretatrbn.” 

Like most of the cast and crew Patricia was overwhelmed by the confidence and performance of Depp in the role. 

“He was amazing,” she exclaims. “Absolutely amazing. The stuff where he had to wear the woman’s clothing was inspired. He was a natural. I would give him tips on undressing, particularly with the bra strap.

He was very strict who he undressed in front of. “I think he energized everyone on the set. He was as much a guiding force on the movie as Tim [Burton]. We had these very intimate scenes together, and he would get right into the part and stay there for hours. 

 I’m not that disciplined. I still have fits of laughter during a scene. But Johnny could do it straight.” 

If anything, Patricia has learned that she may have been more at home in an Edward D Wood movie than she would have expected. “I’m told that Wood liked to nurture women, specially those who didn’t have as much confidence. He adored actresses. Ithink headored bad actresses more. But he thrived on anyone who had determination and wanted 10 fulfil a dream. They reckon he wasn’t talented, but I think he was an individual who was determined to fulfil his own dream.” 

The same notion could also ring true for Patricia, who, in some respects, may now be outshining her more famous sister. 

As a young mother (her baby, Enzo, is almost three years old), “struggling to learn her craft and make a living in Hollywood”, as she describes it, Patricia might still have front of. “It’s strange,” she sighs, returning to the original question about her being misunderstood in public profile. “Most people pitch me somewhere between my big sister and Alabama. I’m certainly the most intraverted of my entire family, and still have to pinch myself to make sure that I’m not dreaming. But what I haven’t got used to yet is that look of surprise in everyone’s eye, after they have been talking to me for more than five minutes, and the phrase: ‘Gosh … you are quite normal, aren’t you?” 

Will the Real Dolores Stand Up? 

DOLORES FULLER met Ed Wood at a casting call. An actress with big dreams, she fell for the man who vowed to make her a star. 

“He was the most unusual producer I had ever met,” she tells Flint Revie’w. “They were usually very old and smoked cigars all the time, but here was a young, creative, handsome man with an effervescent personality. Eddie believed in what he was doing, and he made everyone else believe it 100.” 

Soul mates from the start, Ed and Dolores shacked up together. She was his leading lady. He was her director. She cleaned up his act. He cleaned up her wardrobe. 

“He tried to hide his cross-dressing from me for about a year or so,” remembers Dolores. “I’d been a health nut all my life, I cooked him meals every night and tried to keep him from drinking, and I guess it wasn’t easy for him to admit something so unusual to me.” 

But admit it he did, and life went 0n .. 

“He only wore my angora sweater while he was working late at night. It was cool and he wanted to feel cosy – he said it turned him on and helped him to write. I didn’t mind it though, I felt he only wanted to do it in the privacy of our own home, and that nobody would ever know about it,” the irony stops Fuller dead in her tracks, “And then that picture came out … ” 

That picture.written and directed in about a week and a half, turned out to be Glen or Glenda, Ed Wood’s semi-autobiographical tale of love and transvestitism, co-starring the writer/director as Glen (and Glenda)and the writer/director’s girlfriend as his fiancee. 

“I didn’t want him to use our life and put it in front of the camera,” explains Dolores. “I was very, very uncomfortable about that and I begged him not to use me, but he said that nobody would ever see it, that it would only play in way out markets, and then he said, ‘Please do this for me, because then I will get a writer/director credit, and we can go on to better things, and make much better movies.” 

The gift of hindsight informs us that Ed Wood never did cross paths with those better things, but what did Dolores know? She stuck by her man, and that was that. 

“But I still didn’t like doing it, and he didn’t let me on the set when he was doing the cross-dressing. In fact, I didn’t really know about all thai until I saw the picture. I had never seen him in a wig or dress before, only the angora sweater.” 

The revelatory first screening of Glen or Glenda (available on video from May 15 as part of the Ed Wood collection from Pickwick Video) surprised just about everyone, but even though Dolores admits that at the time she felt like “crawling under the seat”, she stayed with Wood long enough to make the likes of Jail Bail before finally running away to New York to study acting and write songs for Elvis (remember Rock-a-Hula Bnby and Do the Clam?) 

Yet she never forgot Ed (she just never spoke to him again). 

“His dreams were my dreams, but they weren’t high enough quality to suit me .. at least he had ideas in his pictures.” 

Marshall Julius 


 

ED WOOD 

**** 

Stars: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray Director: Tim Burton 

Certificate: 15 

Running Time: 2 hrs l mins Opening Date: May 26 

The story of the worst film-maker in Hollywood history. 

It is something of an irony that generations of cinema-goers will henceforth associate the works of Edward D Wood Jnr – the man responsible for the cross-dressing ‘classic’ Glen or Glenda, and the execrable Plan 9 From Outer Space – with this very enjoyable movie. And Tim Burton’s affectionate bio-pic is certainly that, not only for the technical proficiency that contrasts with Wood’s own amateurism, but for the superb casting and wonderful ensemble playing. 

In reality Wood (wonderfully played by Johnny Depp) was a decorated war hero, who landed on the Pacific beaches in 1941 as America fought Japan in the East, and unbeknownst to his comrades wore a frilly bra and panties under his uniform – a fetish that was to inform his artistic vision in the years to come. 

Driven by a reckless optimism and a belief that a good movie was anyone that got made, Ed surrounded himself with a stalwart repertory company of similar Tinseltown misfits – Bela Lugosi among them – and raised his finance privately. With disastrously memorable results. 

If audiences come to this film knowing little or nothing about Ed Wood to begin with they may balk at the awfulness of his work and the extreme oddness of his friends and co-stars. Yet Tim Button has done the writerdirector proud by making this most eccentric of men both likeable and believable 

Choosing to shoot the film in black and white and recreating the kind of cheesey score that Ed would probably have liked to use himself, Burton introduces us to the array of wel1- played oddball characters. Bu t Depp’ s wonderfully upbeat performance holds the movie together. The casting of Ed Wood was obviously crucial but it is hard to imagine any other actor of Depp’s generation being able to wear an Angora sweater with such authority. He manages to be comic without being outwardly funny, and is immensely charming in the role. 

Martin Landau – a deserving winner of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Bela Lugosi – is also quite wonderful. He becomes the ageing Hungarian actor before our very eyes, and soon forms a tight bond with his adoring director. And all the while a voice in your head reminds you that however outlandish the screen antics might seem, the reality was far more odd, far more unbelievable and probably far less entertaining. 

Without seeming to have taken too many liberties with the facts Burton and his screenwriters, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who might now be forgiven for the Problem Child movies, have woven a charming tale around the strangest of Hollywood characters. Which is rather like describing Wood as the tallest player on a basketball team. 

Amusing, sometimes poignant and always totally absorbing.Ed Wood may show that Ed himself was no great shakes as a movie-maker but it proves once and for all the consummate talent that Tim Burton has become. 

Anwar Brett 

 


1 February 1995   Articles No Comments

Now you see Johnny Depp, now you don’t

 

Johnny Depp believes in ghosts. He has come to this haunted place looking for one in particular, a little girl wearing a silk party dress with a powder blue sash. She is often heard playing in the room across the hall from where Depp is sleeping in the Mackay Mansion, a three-story Victorian built high in the mountains of Nevada.

The small spirit likes the room. A cranberry glass chandelier casts spirals of ruby light upon shelf after shelf, each filled with antique French and German porcelain dolls. Side by side they sit, forty pairs of eyes staring toward the door, waiting for her.

Depp waits as well. “I want to run into some spirits here!” he says eagerly. When he isn’t gazing across the hall, he’s shooting Jim Jarmusch’s film Dead Man, a western set in the late 1800s, in which he finds his mug on a wanted poster. “When I was a kid I used to have these dreams,” says Depp. “But they weren’t dreams. I was awake, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. And a face would come to me. Someone told me it was the spirit of someone who died that was very close and never got to say something that they wanted to say. And I believe it.”

DEPP’S FACE POSSESSES a beauty usually reserved for apostles and saints and silent-movie stars. Draped over perfect bone structure, his impossibly pale skin is without a line or a crease-this despite 31 years, too many cigarettes, other interesting substances, and frequent extreme acts of human expression. It is a countenance one would not hide, but in his latest film, Don Juan DeMarco, Depp is a masked man.

“It chose me, it came to me,” he says, speaking not of a ghost but of the script by writer and first-time director Jeremy Leven. Depp in turn chose Marlon Brando to play the psychiatrist who tries to convince a Don Juan wannabe that he’s not the world’s greatest lover, just a guy having delusions of greatest lover grandeur.

His first meeting with the mythic Marlon took place at Brando’s house, over Chinese takeout. “He’s maybe the greatest actor of the last two centuries,” says Depp. “But his mind is much more important than the acting thing. The way that he looks at things, doesn’t judge things, the way that he accesses things. He’s as important as, uh, who’s important today? Jesus, not many people … Stephen Hawking!”

The admiration is mutual. Faye Dunaway, who played Depp’s lover in Arizona Dream (which was never released in the United States) and plays Brando’s wife in Don Juan, says. “Brando adores him. He loves Johnny’s genuineness and modesty and that he is who he is. You’re not a great actor like Brando for nothing, you know. He knows how to recognize a sham in any shape.”

Dunaway says that the two became so close. in fact, that when Depp went through “this recent fracas in New York at the Mark, Brando called the police station, he called the hotel-he called everybody!-to do what he could do to be of help.”

In the Mark hotel incident, Depp deconstructed the furniture in his room at a cost of more than $9,000 and several hours in jail. “I thought it was funny-l had to go to jail for assaulting a picture frame or a lamp! The rags said, ‘Well, he was drunk and he was having a huge fight with his girlfriend.’ Complete bullshit! But, you know, let’s say the guy over here in the bar, he’s having a hard day. man, and

eventually-one more stubbing of the toe-the guy’s gotta hit something. So you punch a wall or do this and that. Fuck it, I’m normal and I want to be normal. But somehow I’m just not allowed to be. Why can’t I be human? I have a lot of love inside me and a lot of anger inside as well. If I love somebody, then I’m gonna love ’em. If I’m angry and I’ve got to lash out or hit somebody, I’m going to do it and I don’t care what the repercussions are. Anger doesn’t pay rent, it’s gotta go. It’s gotta be evicted.”

“Sometimes you feel like you’ve just got to kick over the traces,” explains Dunaway. “And the Mark took advantage of it. A publicity trip; it’s outrageous. I would have probably smashed up the lobby after that. I think they should count themselves lucky that he didn’t.”

After taking just so much of being “scrutinized, judged, even stalked at times,” Depp escapes to Europe. where he moves undetected.

“It’s a different thing in Paris. It’s more about the work than about anything that’s called celebrity. It’s not as sensationalized.” Another bonus: interesting spirits. ‘I’ve stayed at this little hotel in Paris. in the room where Oscar Wilde died,” says Depp. In homage to the wit, the furniture is kept in the style that it was at the moment of his passing. “I slept in the room that Oscar Wilde died in, and I thought that quire possibly, if I fell asleep too deeply, somewhere about 4 A.M. I might be abused in some obtuse way. Get taken advantage of. At least he had a good sense of humor.”

HE CONCEALS HIMSELF behind a veil of Marlboro smoke and verbal mirrors. With the skill of a magician, Depp pulls odd but entertaining answers from the air, all the while willing to let you check up his sleeves. “If someone were to harm my family or a friend or someone I love-I would eat them,” he says quite seriously. “I might end up in jail for 500 years-but I would eat them.” Of his latest tattoo. three small black boxes staining his ring finger. Depp explains, “I always used to just draw these. Somehow they mean something for me, a personal significance. I don’t understand it totally yet. I think I will someday.” Ask what could possibly frighten a believer in ghosts: “I’m especially scared of boogers. Snot freaks me out. If someone ever showed me a booger I’d smash their face.” Oh, grow up. “I would! There’d be lawsuits everywhere.”

Only later do you realize that what he has really done is perform a disappearing act. Depp’s utter openness is the sleight of hand that keeps him from being seen. ,

Here’s a trick: finding a revelation about someone who has already had all the significant and insignificant details of his life scratched out on a whole forest of paper.

“He was born in Kentucky,” Depp drones, his head lolling to one side. “He’s the youngest of four children. He moved to Miramar, Florida. His parents were divorced. He dropped out of school. He played in a band. He has tattoos …. ” And he was engaged to so-and-so and, of course, to you-know-who of that tattoo.

Even the subject is bored with the subject matter.

Just about the only unknown is the extent of his dental work. It’s a glib observation, but no sooner is it made than Depp unhinges his jaw, opens wide, and happily gives an intimate tour of his choppers. “I’ve got loads of cavities. I had a root canal done eight years

 

ago that’s unfinished. It’s like a rotten little stub.” He pulls back the curtain of flesh covering his upper-right molars, revealing the oddity. “But I like it. It’s like when the Indians would make something beaded, they would always put imperfections on it.” Running a finger along his zigzagging bottom front row, he says, “I’m proud of these. When I see people

with perfect teeth, it drives me up the wall. I’d rather swallow a tick than have that!”

While bumping your nose up against his uvula, you notice the most fascinating facet of this oral inspection. Despite a chain of cigarettes and several glasses of merlot, Depp’s breath has no odor.

SIFTING THROUGH the voluminous chronicles of his existence, you can forgive Depp the fact that he has on more than one occasion recycled “sucked into a bed” to describe his role in A Nightmare on Elm Street. After that painful initiation, Depp costarred with Rob Morrow in the ‘J-and-A’ spectacle Private Resort, and played a soldier in Platoon. Then came Fox’TV fame as undercover cop Tom Hanson in 21 Jump Street. “Oh God, was that my name?” he says. “For the last two years of the show I didn’t know what my name was.”

“He made a choice when he came out of the television series to take a left turn as opposed to a right,” says his ICM agent, Tracey Jacobs. Hence Edward Scissorhands, Benny & Joon, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Arizona Dream, Ed Wood, and Don Juan DeMarco. There’s not a Dracula, Speed, or Interview With the Vampire type of film in the bunch, yet according to a source in a position to know, he has been offered all of those and many more.

Depp is a gambler. He committed to four of his past six projects before financing was secured. When Ed Wood was put in turnaround by Columbia, he stayed with the movie even though he was offered seven other films during that period. Says Jacobs, “He had an allegiance to Tim [Burton] and stuck with that process for almost six months. He did the exact same thing for Dead Man.” 

If you were earning 10 percent of Depp’s winnings, you might want him to play for bigger stakes. ”Am I disappointed that he turned those projects down? No!” blasts Jacobs. «Do I want him to be in a movie that does $400 million? Of course! I’m not stupid! Let me make this really clear to you-he wants to be in a commercial movie. It just has to be the right timing and the right one, that’s all. Hope-

fully he’ll be available when those come along again.” His Ed Wood costar Sarah Jessica Parker observes, however, that “things aren’t arbitrary in his life at all. There is nothing random in anything that he does.” Who wants to see Johnny Depp riding a bus through a movie, anyway? What a miserable fate that would be for a guy who just wants to turn left.

Remark that Depp’s offscreen life seems full of left leanings, and Jacobs suggests, ” ‘I have taken the road less traveled and that has made all the difference’? That would be the quote I would use to describe him in general.”

‘HE’S A DOLL. He’s a dreamboat. He’s a delinquent.”

That’s the tag line on the poster for CryBaby, Depp’s first film after he was sprung from television. In one cool move, with one very cool director, Depp totaled his teen-idol image. John Waters’s Cry-Baby was such a riotous send-up of a rebel loverboy that there was no way in hell Depp could ever be credibly cast in such a role again. Whether conscious or unconscious, it was an ingenious career move- Depp was now free to play the beautiful losers everyone longed to save.

“He has almost a burning desire to make ugly choices,” says Peter Hedges, who wrote Gilbert Grape. “He comes with a physical beauty that’s just astonishing, and at the same time he has no interest in being that.” Depp committed to do the film, about a young man drowning in a dysfunctional family, before there was even a screenplay. “When I met him he had this really long hair,” recalls Hedges. “He showed up at the meeting, very quiet, really shy, and was teaching us magic tricks. I thought, I suppose he could be Gilbert …. ”

Costar Leonardo DiCaprio saw the parallels pronto. “He was extremely like Gilbert,” says DiCaprio, who played his retarded younger brother. “But it wasn’t something Johnny was trying to do. It naturally came out of him. I never quite understood what he was going through, because it wasn’t some big emotional drama that was happening every day on the set-but subtle things I’d see in him would make me question what was going on. There’s an element of johnny that’s extremely nice and extremely cool, but at the same time, he’s hard to figure out. But that’s what makes him interesting.”

“His childhood informs who he is, but his choice of roles is where he wants to live as an artist,” says Dunaway. “Whatever has happened to Johnny Depp, this is what he in his own uniqueness made of it.”

IT’S WHEN YOU’RE NOT looking that he appears. Relaxing between questions, Depp lets his psyche wander into the room.

” … Like a person who makes a fatal mistake with drugs for instance,” he’s saying one night at Adele’s, a restaurant just down the highway from the Dead Man shoot in Virginia City. “You can say, ‘Okay, the guy was having a good time but he made a big mistake and now he’s not there. He doesn’t breathe anymore and his mom doesn’t get to see him anymore.’ ” Are we talking about River Phoenix, who died of an overdose outside Depp’s dub, the Viper Room, mote than a year ago?

“Yeah, oh yeah,” he says quietly. “He made a mistake, you know? And if he hadn’t done this particular thing that night, it wouldn’t have been … but he was … it happened. It scares the shit out of me because I see my nieces and nephews growing up and it’s fucking hard. It was hard for me to grow up and it’s even harder now with an the scary. spooky shit that’s out there and … ”

He breaks off, looks up. River Phoenix should see Depp’s eyes now. “The thing is, he came with his guitar to the club. You could cut me open and vomit in my chest because that kid … what a beautiful thing that he shows up with his girl on one arm and his guitar on the other. He came to play and he didn’t think he was going to die-nobody thinks they’re gonna die. He wanted to have a good time. It’s dangerous. But that’s the thing that breaks my heart, first that he died, but also that he showed up with his guitar, you know? That’s not an unhappy kid.”

What’s his take on the afterlife? “Oh boy, I don’t know.” Depp sighs heavily. “I would hope to think that this is maybe hell. Maybe this is hell because then we could go on to something else. Because this ain’t so bad.”

He bites into a steamed clam; his face grows genuinely pained. “It’s chewy,” he says, chewing aerobically. “These are big clams. Are you sure about these clams?” He swallows hard. Using his fork, Depp pokes about the bowl. “These are brown. I don’t think I can go there.” Prodding a green spot on a particularly large specimen, he makes the diagnosis. “That’s his doo-doo.” Depp retreats. “‘I tried. I did one.”

An older, elegant woman with a silver bun crowning her head glides toward the table. “I came in when I heard you would be here,” she says, extending a soft, well-manicured hand. “I’m Adele. I’m quite a fan of yours.”

“Well, thank you,” replies Depp graciously. “I’m quite a Ian of yours.”

“I can’t believe how you look like yourself!”

“Do I?” Depp asks, smiling.

“Yes, you do. It’s great!”

“Well, that’s good.” He laughs. “I guess.”

“Will you come and meet my son Charlie?

He’s cooking your dinner tonight.”

 

“Sure. Can I bring my cigarette?”

Back in the kitchen, Charlie chats with Depp: “You couldn’t have picked a worse day to shoot in Virginia City.”

”Ah, visibility was about like this,” says Depp, holding a hand to his face. “You couldn’t see the camera, couldn’t see anybody. It was kind of nice, actually. I was standing in a fog somewhere.”

“It’s a real early winter,” Adele says, on the way back to the table. “Well, I’m upstairs sitting next to the white-haired man.”

“Buck? He’s a crazy man!” says Depp.

Buck isn’t a stranger to film sets: He mentions that he had small parts in MASH and The Wild Bunch. These days, Buck is in the actor’s

employ; Depp calls him his partner.

“Do you want me to tell him to join you?” Adele asks.

“No, he’s okay. He’s fine.”

“He’s having soda with lime,” she reports.

“Obviously, he doesn’t drink, which is nice.”

She walks away and Depp shakes his head in appreciation. “Oh, what a doll she is. She’s beautiful! Married 44 years-that’s happiness. See what that does for you?” Perhaps Depp should try it soon himself. “I’m happy, I’m happy,” he stutters. “I’m happy right where I am. Sliding along. I’m in good shape.

“You know,” he continues, lighting another cigarette, “I was married when I was twenty. It was a strong bond with someone but I can’t necessarily say I was in love. That’s something that comes around once, man, maybe twice if you’re lucky. And 1 don’t know that I experienced that, let’s say, before I turned 30.

“I remember being in seventh grade and I was one of the kids that was considered a burnout. I had the most intense crush on this very popular girl. I pined for this girl, like beyond Romeo and Juliet. Shocking. I just chewed my tongue up for her. Eighth grade comes along, we hang out a little at those parties where you end up making out. So we did that and I just couldn’t have been happier. Then she goes for the football guy, and leaves me just dangling in the breeze.

“Years later, after I dropped out of high school, I’m playing a club. I’m onstage and I look out and I’m like, ‘Fuck, it’s her!’ So I finish the set and I go directly to the bar where she’s sitting and I walk up to her and it’s that face, man-incredible. And I went, ‘It’s so nice to see you!’ And I look at her and she’s 250 pounds! She is mammoth! She’s as wide as this table, but her face is still the same. And

I went, ‘Oh my, nice to see you-how many kids do you have?’ And she had four kids, and I thought, What fitting payback for fucking breaking my heart when I was a little kid.”

If he really hasn’t been in love before 30, that would make model Kate Moss the only woman eligible for in love status. The two met a year ago in a restaurant, introduced by a mutual friend. “And we’ve been together ever since,” says Depp, eager to fade from the topic. “We’re just having fun. A lot of fun.”

“She must be great,” opines Sarah Jessica Parker. “I’m going to just assume that and endow her with good qualities because I can’t imagine him spending time with anyone who wasn’t his equal.” Dunaway sees Depp as “uncorruptible-he always believes in this pure way about love, ya know? He’s got those kinds of values and it’s all instinctive with him. This isn’t something he’s worked out in his head. I love that he believes in love.”

It isn’t by accident that he’s playing Don Juan.

“Oh yeah!” Dunaway growls. “He’s a greeaat kisser!”

BUCK HAS SURRENDERED to the strong stuff. It is three hours later and upstairs at the bar he is glowing. A rail, fit, handsome devil with clear blue eyes and a white shock of hair, he has been listening to ghost stories and enjoying himself, having been told that PREMIERE would be happy to pick up his dinner. So Buck has pickled half the patrons, unaware that Depp paid the bill without looking at it,

“Darling,” he says, smiling broadly, “your magazine bought four rounds for everyone at this bar!” Depp’s eyes pop. “Bu-bu-bu-buch, what have you been doing?” The peanut gallery roars, and Depp recovers when the bartender delivers a round on the house.

“The whole town is haunted,” a local named Tiro has been telling the assembled.

Sipping his merlot, Depp is anticipating. “I hope I don’t get a wink of sleep tonight!”

“We’re going up into the attic with a flashlight!” says Buck, rubbing his hands together. “Come on out, you bastards!”

The Mackay Mansion was built in 1860 and its first resident was William Randolph Hearst’s father, George. The attic was once the servants’ quarters, and their horsehair mattresses still rest against the walls, blanketed with layers of dust and cobwebs. “You have to crawl up a ladder to get there,” explains Buck. “The sign on the door says DON’T ENTER.”

“That’s probably where she lives!” says Tiro, talking about the little girl ghost.

“Have you been in the room where she plays?” inquires Depp. The doll room. “The one that’s really scary is a slave doll from the Civil War. A black rag doll with red thread stitched eyes.”

The bar sits entranced. Depp smiles, throws back his drink, and sets his glass down. “I just want to go back to the house, roll up a big fatty, and wait for the little girl to sit on my lap!”

VIRGINIA CITY HAS SEEN its share of death. Signs posted along the highway into town urge travelers to Stop at the Bucket of Blood saloon and an attraction called the Suicide Table, where more than one gambler, after losing his life’s savings, ate a bullet.

The Dead Man crew members could themselves use a shot of something as they ready a location on the side of a snowy hill above town. They work quickly in an effort to beat the fading light and falling mercury, which, measured by the frozen carton of milk on the craft-service table, is below 32 degrees. In this scene, Depp leaves the fictitious Dickinson Metalworks (actually an old mill near the Comstock Lode), having been turned away after seeking much needed employment.

“He really is one of the most precise and focused people I’ve ever worked with,” says Jarmusch. who’s also a friend. ‘The whole crew is’ kind of amazed by that.” He chuckles warm puffs of breath. “That’s a side of him that I’m not really familiar with, you know? I’m more familiar with seeing him fall asleep on the couch with the TV on all night. But it somehow fits; he’s full of paradoxes.”

In Depp’s ratty little trailer, which Buck has plastered with a chaotic constellation of glow-in-the-dark stars, the Mackay Mansion ghostbusters are reporting back their findings, or lack thereof. “We were in the attic with the bats, and in the basement with the rats,” says a disappointed Buck. “I think we scared off the ghosts, though.”

“They’re not used to people looking for them,” says Depp consolingly.

Buck nods in agreement. “1 checked with the owner today and he said, ‘Yes, if you get aggressive with them, they’ll back off:”

“We were caning, ‘Come on out, you bastards!’ ” adds Depp, cleaning his fingernails with the point of a Beavis and Bun-head pin.

“Of course,” Buck says, facing facts, “they knew we were hopelessly insane.” He turns to leave. Depp calls fondly after him, “Be careful out there, Becky, it’s a cruel world.”

After shutting out the cold, Depp settles down to demonstrate a video game called Road Rash. “Watch this,” he says, revving a biker’s engine.

 

 

“He can jump the curb and punch pedestrians.” Gee, he really can. With each innocent bystander sent flying, Depp lets out a hearty howl. His delight in such harmless delinquent behavior is contagious.

“I bought these for my little Kate,” he says, pointing to a skeleton accessorized with long strands of copper, silver, and gold beads. The necklaces are heavy, cold, yet sensuous to the touch. Around Moss’s neck, they’ll warm to body temperature. Back when Dead Man was shooting in Sedona, Arizona, Depp bought Buck a present too: a suede billfold embossed with a cowboy on his bronco and the words LITTLE BUCKEROO. If one were shopping for Depp, what would be the killer purchase? “A Jean-Michel Basquiat, I guess. There’s one of his paintings called Riding With Death. That’s my favorite.”

Moss’s picture is taped to the dressing table mirror. It shows her with a bride-of Frankenstein hairdo, modeling a purple, sequined one-piece pantsuit. FROM YOUR DISCO QUEEN . . . HA, HA, HA, HA. LOVE ALWAYS, KATE. Also on the mirror is a single coarse, gray hair with a note: HAIR OF JARMUSCH. These seem like distractions. Warning: Objects in the mirror may appear closer than they really are. Depp’s real reflection, also stuck on the mirror, is in a typed quote from the playwright and novelist William Saroyan: “In the time of your life, live, so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”

Depp dies at the end of Dead Man. Hardly a giveaway, given the title. “I hope that this is the last of these innocents I play,” he says. “It’s a character that is, again, like a naive young guy who’s trying to get his life together. He’s trying really hard to make his life work and he ends up slowly dying. And he knows he’s dying.” A half smile. “It’s a beautiful story, though.”

“There is something haunting about him,” says Parker. “But it’s not like Johnny is this troubled young actor and he’s poetic and brooding. It’s just that he’s real and complicated. He’s not like a showman. He doesn’t belong in show business. He belongs somewhere better.”

A month of shooting left, and he’ll be a free man in Paris unfettered and very much alive. But at this moment, the actor is being filmed slowly walking away from the mill through the fog. You can see nothing, save his sorrowful eyes. Emerging from the mist, a face takes shape, the only thing distinguishing it from the grayish whiteness being a black frame of hair. He continues past the camera, staring intently at something in the distance. Following his gaze … there appears to be nothing there.

Holly Millea is a senior editor of PREMIERE.


1 January 1995   Articles No Comments

Let me be your fantasy

With roles as the world’s best lover and 

world’s worst film-maker, Johnny Depp has finally allowed his acting to take flight. He’s also secured his reputation as Hollywood’s sexiest man 

 

Ina few hours Johnny Depp will squirm beneath a vaulted ceiling in the guise of legendary makeout artist Don Juan surrounded by fountains, silken shrouds and a harem of 250 women. Two hundred and fifty naked women. He will want desperately to take each one aside and ask, “Are you OK with this? Are you comfortable shedding your clothes?”

So for right now, seated in a vinyl booth at the West Hollywood grunge cafe/billiard parlour Barney’s Beanery, he’ll do his darnedest to make life a little easier for a harried, apologetic waitress named Kelly. Kelly with obvious discomfort has just informed the bleary-eyed movie star the only coffee she can offer him is chocolate mint. “Sounds like a girl scout cookie,” he says. “Wild.” Kelly, shifting from foot to foot, has a look on her face that says, “You know Johnny, if it were up to me, I’d run out to the supermarket myself … ” Depp fixes his soulful doe eyes on hers and in his best nicotine voice soothes, “You know what, I’ll have Coca-Cola instead. Jumbo.” Kelly begins breathing again.

After she takes the rest of his order – scrambled eggs, sliced tomatoes, bacon and rye toast, which will remain untouched for the next two hours gathering a fine coating of pool chalk and cigarette ash – he says, “I have large respect for waitresses. My mom was a waitress when I was growing up. Years and years I watched her wait tables. I’d count her change at the end of the night. I used to skip school. She’d feed me, me and my pal…” His voice trails off. Moments like this, he says, bring out the part of him that is still the “17-year-old gas station geek” in Miramar, Florida, who dropped out of high school to pursue dreams of rock’n’roll stardom.

Today he is the epitome of bad boy chic in paint-spattered black T-shirt, black jeans, scruffy industrial boots and tattered Fifties jacket, a trio of heavy silver chains dangling beneath his fragile features. It’s hard to imagine Depp ever envying the ease with which the captain of the football team chatted up the cheerleaders. “I was not the most popular kid in school,” he assures us. “I always felt like an absolute and total freak. That feeling of

wanting to be accepted. But not knowing how to be accepted as you are, honestly. Wanting to hold a girl but thinking I’ll fuck it up.”

What better revenge than getting paid a seven-figure salary to live out the ultimate male adolescent fantasy? His own harem. But instead of revelling in the exposed flesh, the star of Don Juan DeMarco will only feel discomfort and disorientation. “It’s really strange,” he will say afterwards. “The first thing I felt was uncomfortable. When you walk into a room of 250 naked women it’s very strange. It’s impossible to focus on it. It almost doesn’t register in a way. It’s almost in a way wallpaper. Like a painting. Wallpaper is the white trash in me slipping out. The painting is much more, yeah, that describes it better. There’s so many girls and they’re so nude, it’s not … It almost would have been more intense if there were three nude. It would have been more like, uh, shocking. ‘Cause you’re just not able to register the fact that … ”

Depp inhales deeply on a cigarette, and tries again with a quote from his Don Juan co-star Marlon Brando. “Brande once said, ‘Acting is a strange job for a grown man.’ Nobody’s expressed it better.”

And growing up is a helluva act for a strange boy. With his two current movies, Ed Wood and Don Juan, Depp, now 31, tentatively wades into adult waters. Although his own speech remains in suspended adolescence – a staccato of stutters and uncompleted sentences – he’s “done” with the preverbal oddball roles which lofted him from teen idol to respected actor (one of these, the Emir Kustarica-directed Arizona Dream, finally opens in the UK this month four years after filming began). Gone also are the bravura tales of juvenile delinquency. These days getting neo-adult Depp to talk about his nights in jail, his chemical abuse, his tattoos, his scars, paying people to smell rancid sausages, is like squeezing tears from a rock. Depp reinvented himself once before, shrewdly spoofing his image in John Waters’ Cry Baby to escape the bubblegurn straitjacket of 21 Jump Street. Now he’s determined to graduate from boy-man to, well, man-boy at least.

For Ed Wood, this meant throwing himself into the role of the exuberant cross-dressing director of Fifties C-movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen Or Glenda, concocting a “weird soup” whose ingredients include bits of the Tin Man, Ronald Reagan, radio personality Casey “Top 40 Countdown” Kasem and swashbuckler Errol Flynn. Flynn was also an inspiration for Don Juan, along with a pinch of Hispanic actors Ricardo Montalban and Fernando Lamas.

Both characters appealed to Depp’s innate, and slightly anachronistic, sense of chivalry and identification with the underdog. Wood fancied himself the next Orson Welles, but his low-budget films, starring a motley assortment of hasbeens and wannabes, wallow at the bottom of critics’ “worst ten” lists. Whenever reality impinged, Wood retreated to the comfort of angora sweaters and high-heeled pumps. Depp, reteaming with director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands), scraped off the tarnish to find

a misunderstood knight in shining armour. “He’s one of those guys from the Forties who were real gentlemen, very charming, loyal to his people. Don Juan was also very chivalrous. Those guys don’t exist any more. Everybody is trying too hard to be hip or be accepted.”

A call comes in on the mobile. It’s Jeremy Leven, the writer-director of Don Juan, in which Depp plays a psychiatric patient whose therapist must determine if he is insane merely because he thinks he’s a fifteenthcentury seducer and walks around in suede pants and knee-high boots. (At Depp’s suggestion, Brando was hauled out of semi-retirement to play the therapist, his first proper role since 1990’s The Freshman.) Johnny has arranged for some buddies to see dailies and Leven wants to know if Depp is planning to attend. “No, uh, it’s just for my friends,” he says.

The one and only time Depp braved dailies, on his first movie, A Nightmare On Elm Street, he nearly puked, and has refused to watch them since. “I’m better off not even seeing the [finished) movie,” he explains. In fact, the one and only professional accomplishment Depp can watch without gagging is a ten-minute short film he directed called Stuff, a dog’s-eye journey through an old addict’s beer bottle and pizzabox encrusted life. “We just examine this guy’s house with a Steadicam,” he says. “It’s completely honest.”

As a kid Depp loved to dig tunnels in a vacant lot near his home, getting off on the fear of a cave-in. A few years back, he swung eight storeys above the ground from the edge of the Beverly Center shopping mall. Now, he looks for that pure adrenaline rush in his roles; the possibility that he might mess up keeps it exciting. To make taking the plunge easier, Depp has surrounded himself with “a little built-in family” who trail him from set to set. They include make-up and wardrobe people as well as elder sister Christy Dembrowski, 33, who he has hired as his personal assistant.

An informal poll of the Don Juan make-up trailer comes close to qualifying Depp for sainthood: sweet, kind and, above all, generous. “He’ll give you the shirt off his back,” says Patty York, Depp’s make-up artist on four of his last five films. Literally. The other day she said she liked the shirt he had on. He took it off and gave it to her. He also regularly treats the crew to champagne at the end of the day.

They return the favours. Depp’s wardrobe guy Ken Smiley has helped him transform his trailer from beige Americana to Oriental opium den, draping walls, ceiling and furniture with gold-embossed Indian fabrics. One end of the living area has been converted into a shrine: a copy of William Saroyan’s The Trouble With Tigers, a purple lava lamp and a pewter heartframed portrait of Depp and girlfriend Kate Moss flicker in the light of a dozen votive candles. Burning incense and Ravi Shankar sitar music complete the effect. “Johnny is so totally different from most actors,” says Smiley. “He really likes who he is and he’s really secure in that. He treats other people the way he wants to be treated. That’s why we stay with him.”

St Johnny is not without his demons: insomnia, a fear of crowds, chain smoking, a natural antagonism toward authority figures that has landed him in jail on at least three occasions (jaywalking in Los Angeles, assaulting a hotel security guard in Vancouver and speeding in Arizona) and an “erratic” personality that makes him a little tough to live with. “I’m 30 different people sometimes,” he says. “One day you wake up and you’re somebody else, nowhere near who you were when you went to sleep.”

one of those wears a dress, he insists, though as a teenager he used to borrow frilled blouses and striped flares from his mother’s wardrobe to augment his rock’n’roll wardrobe. Dressing in drag for Ed Wood, says Depp, “tripled” his respect for the ordeal “women go through when they get ZsaZsaed”. “I was the ugliest woman ever,” he adds. (Co-star Patricia Arquette, who plays his wife, Cathy Wood, disagrees. “He looked great in a dress,” she says. “But we both hated wearing those period stockings; they don’t hold up. I think by the end the angora was getting on his nerves. “)

“Let me show you something,” says Depp, disappearing into the back of his trailer. He returns carrying a box of Ed Wood momentos: a pair of cross-strapped pumps; a two-piece gold and black tasselled brocade number used in a striptease sequence; and, carefully wrapped in tissue, long-sleeved angora gloves specially designed to hide his tattoos. “I keep stuff from movies so I can give it to my grandchildren someday … if I have them.”

There was a time not too long ago when Depp would readily volunteer to interviewers that his only real goal in life was to “get married and have kids”. These days the actor is more circumspect. “I believe in loyalty and commitment, but the idea of marriage is not the end all. I don’t think that’s the ultimate answer to true love, if there is such a thing as true love.” He was married once at 20, but divorced two years later. Depp legend has him popping the question again to Sherilyn Fenn, Jennifer Grey and Winona Ryder. He insists the reports of his engagements are a “complete fabrication”, but refuses to elaborate “because I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings”. He’s also vague on what exactly happened to the famous “Winona Forever” tattoo inked on his right shoulder. “It transformed itself,” he says.

Cultivating an aura of mystery has always been a major component of Depp style. And now, more than ever, he seems compelled to keep secrets. “There’s a huge part of him that’s not within your reach,” says Mary Steenbergen, who played his lover in 1994’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and is now a close friend. “He doesn’t casually let himself over to people and let you know who he is. If you’re his oldest friend or his lover, perhaps that’s not true, but for most people I think he’s both accessible and inaccessible.”

Still jet-lagged and shell-shocked from the paparazzi assault during an extended weekend in Rome with Kate Moss, he is in no mood to discuss his affair with her. If she voiced any objections to his numerous love scenes in Don Juan, he’s not telling. “I’ve got a job. She’s got a job. It’s a job. And movies are make believe.” What does he think of the modelling profession? “It’s an oddball gig,” he shrugs uncomfortably. “I’m nobody to pass judgement. I can only have my opinion. It’s real fucking weird. My

relationship with my girl isn’t something I’m going to discuss with anybody, especially a guy with a tape recorder.” If there was one thing he learned from parading his four-year on-again, off-again relationship with Winona, it’s that no matter how many details you feed the media, or as b likes to call it “the sick pig machine”, it is never satisfied.

Johnny Depp as self-proclaimed God’s gift to women in Don Juan De Marco (left and bottom); romantic misfit in Arilona Dream (below right)

“Initially, I tried to be open,” he says of his Hollywood Camelot day “[I thought] I’ll just say what I’m feeling right now, let them swallow that and then they’ll leave me alone. [But] that creates even more of a monster. You’re walking around, you eat a piece of pizza, go visit the Colosseum. next thing you know there’s a guy with a lens about as long as your leg taking pictures. Whether Kate and I are together or not is not going to save anybody’s life. It’s nobody’s fucking business but mine or hers. I’d rather come out in the press and say I’m fucking dogs or goats or rats than attempt to [rely on them to] write anything real about my relationship.”

There is venom in his choice of words, but they are spoken matter-offactly, with an almost eerie absence of malice in the tone. Depp is uncomfortable in the role of the angry man, he’d much rather play the clown. He has an appreciation for the more absurd characters and circumstances of life. He derives fiendish pleasure, for example, from checking into hotels under naughty pseudonyms, forcing friend and stranger alike to participate in the joke. “It’s funny to get a wake-up call at some ludicrous hour, like 5.30am, and the guy has to say, ‘Good morning Mr Donkey Penis. Good morning Mr Drip Noodle, you have to get up now. ‘”

Despite the media frenzy that descended looking for a scapegoat following River Phoenix’s overdose in October 1993, Depp’s Sunset

Boulevard club the Viper Room remains one of the few safe havens he can retreat to. “It’s terrible when anybody dies, especially when somebody’s made a fatal mistake,” he says. “But the tabloid press grabbed ahold of that thing and made a circus out of it. Drugs are the number-one business in this country and they have to come down on one club on the Sunset Strip. River was trying to escape something. He could have been at a supermarket, in a hotel room, driving in a car. Either way, it’s really sad.”

Recently, Depp has begun plotting his own Brande-style escape from Los Angeles, possibly to Paris or the serenity of a twelfth-century monastery in the south of France. “There’s a part of me that would like to have a place with endless land around me,” he says, “a haven in the country, somewhere you could ride a horse, or ride your bike and wouldn’t have to worry about 800 greedy people trying to get somewhere half a second in front of everyone else. ”

For the time being he’ll have to be satisfied with the safe, protected world of the movie set. “Unfortunately, I feel more comfortable in front of the camera now than I do in life,” he admits. “On the set, you feel close to the people; you’re working together. When you’re in a restaurant in real life, you’re having dinner with the girl, drinking wine, you’re looking around and there are all these people looking at you. It’s a little weird.”

Depp pops out of his seat and announces “I have to get the shit taken off my face”, meaning his false goatee and dark foundation make-up. On his way out he tosses a book into my lap. It’s a biography of Joseph Pujol, Le Petomane, a fin de siecle Moulin Rouge curiosity who could fart “Claire de Lune” among other tunes. “That’s courage,” he says. “A guy who says, ‘Here’s my talent. Take it or leave it.’ Blows opera out his ass. That guy was a true artist. I mean that”

Don Juan De Marco is currently shounng in the UK; Ed Wood opens on May 26; the much-delayed Arizona Dream opens on June 30 


1 February 1994   Articles Interviews No Comments

JOHNNY DEPP APPEARS TO BE IN A TRANCE. HIS EYES ARE GLAZED, registering something halfway between panic and pure bliss; his arms twitch in a kind of slow morion; his famously bowed lips are frozen in a secretive semi-smile. 

This is how Depp behaves when he’s really huppy. He is standing in his favorite store, the Heritage Book Shop, on Melrose Avenue, in Hollywood, sraring at a stack of letters – unpublished correspondence between two well-known writers (whose names Depp has requested be kept off the record in case he buys them) – on a desk. Moments before, Depp’s arrival caused a cheery flutter of greetings from the sraff, all of whom the actor knows byname. “This is where he gets into trouble,” says owner Lou Weinstein with a wink, 

The 30-year-old actor has been coming here since he arrived in LA. from Miramar, Fla.,some 10 years ago as a high school dropout who thought playing guitar in a rock & roll band was his destiny. “I didn’t have any money, but they were always nice to me,” he says. Though Depp prohably looks the same as he did back then -today he’s wearing chinos and a black jacket so frayed it gives new meaning to the word threads -now he can afford the pricey first editions and rare manuscripts that put him over the moon: He’s a movie star. 

In the hierarchy of young Hollywood, Depp stands alone. While other actors in his age group compete for the privilege of toting tOm’ my guns, swashbllckling on horseback and diving from planes, he has managed to find roles in movies remarkably free of such cliches. Instead, Depp’s body of work consists of playing innocents

who wander quirkier roads: He was the ultimate juvenile delinquent in John Waters’ sublime teen sendup, Cry-Baby ( 1990), an exploited orphan in Tim Burton’s suburban fairy tale, Edward Scissorhands (1990), and a love-struck dyslexic with Buster Keaton tendencies in last year’s Benny &Joon. Currently he’s onscreen as a grocery delivery boy who has to care for his retarded younger brother and 500-pound mother in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. And mere days ago, he wrapped Ed Wood, his second collaboration with Tim Burton, in which Depp stars in the title role as the legendary bad-movie director with a penchant for wearing women’s clothes. 

Depp’s been turning down high-profile, big-studio pictures for some time now. For example, a few years back when he was TV’s actor du jour via 21 jump Street and Dawn Steel was running Columbia Pictures, she tried convincing him to take a leading role in Point Break. It should have been his big break, but he passed, and it went to Patrick Swayze. “And I’ve just offered him another movie and an enormous amount of money,” confesses Steel, who now heads her own production company at Disney. “And I know he will make the decision not based on anything other than whether or not he likes the part. Rising to the top of thc heap is irrelevant to him.” 

His friend Faye Dunaway doesn’t buy it. ~You may not see him saying, ‘God, I want to make it big in Hollywood,’ but he has – in his soul and in his belly – the fire for good work,” says Dunaway, who co-starred with Depp in Arizona Dream, the 1992 Emir Kusturica movie that has yet to be released stateside, “It would be too easy for him to go for the next Musketeers movie, you know? That’s not what he wants.” 

Says Gilbert Grape co-star Juliette Lewis; “A lot of actors and actresses just want to be safe and look really pretty and cool in front of the camera. Johnny’s not like that. He’s in it for the work and for creating.” 

As successful as he’s been at constructing a unique American art house career, Depp has been unable to control certain aspects of his fame. Although he claims not to understand why anyone cares about his love life, his romantic entanglements make for interesting gossip-column fodder. Married and divorced by the age of 22, he has subsequently been engaged to actresses Sherilyn Fenn, Jennifer Grey and Winona Ryder. His profile rose again when he opened the Viper Room, the Sunset Strip nightspot where rock stars have been known to play impromptu sets. And when River Phoenix collapsed and died outside the club last October, Dcpp again found himself in the news, held personally responsible for any and all of young Hollywood’s mistakes. 

Disarmingly friendly (he’ll say hello to passers-by who’ve recognized him) and unfailingly polite, Depp appears serious, responsible and in control of his life. Over endless cups of coffee and legions of cigarettes – his two vices – he responds to questions, his low voice stopping and starring to clarify a point. Darkly handsome to begin with (“I told him! was leaving my husband for him!” jokes Dawn Steel), he becomes more attractive, but for a different reason: He seems like a man who knows who he is. 

Are you ever gonna quit smokIng?

I’m no quitter. 

Never tried? 

I quit once for two weeks, and I was really, really miserable. And I had boundless energy, and I was having huge conversations with people I couldn’t stand, and at that point I just thought, What are you doing?! I’m really shocked at this whole nonsmoking thing. I mean, let’s just really go the distance: Let’s make it absolutely against the law to eat betwecn the hours of 9 p.m. and 4 a.m., and let’s make people walk backward, you know? [Mocking) I’m angry abour it.

So let’s talk about somethIng more pleasant’ ‘Gilbert Grape’ 

I haven’t Seen it yet. 

Why not? 

I’m waiting until the last possihle second. I think I should see it with a paying audience. I have no way of being objective -I get crazy and make people sick when I watch that stuff. So to see the real reaction would be grounding in a way – not to have those courtesy laughs and applause that happen in screenings. 

I confess I went to a screening – a friend and I – and we cried.

Yeah? Good. It’s nice to be affected by something. 

Your teeth are kind of gross in the movIe -I’m relieved that in person you have lovely teeth. 

[laughs] Yeah, they’re fine. I went to the dentist and had him do some bonding and some chipping for the movie. 

And YOU have lovely red hair in the movie. 

[smiles]  Miss Clairol. l don’t remember the number, just that it was redder than red. It had to do with this guy I grew up with…a friend named Bones, who saved my life once. I was doing a really ridiculous thing-I was blowing fire with gasoline in my mouth [shakes his head], and I lit my face on fire. I couldn’t get it out, and Bones put it out. Bones kind of reminded me of Gilbert. 

In the movie, your mother IS a wreck afler her husband leaves, and her children have to take care of things –  Did that parallel what happened when your parents split? 

I wouldn’t say it’s an exact parallel, but, you know, there are elements of being that age and going through that which parallel what Gilbert’s experiences might have been. It’s traumatic for everybody, and especially for a wife. My mom wasn’t well. So we all pulled together and did the best we could. And everything worked Out fine. Everybody is happy as … a big ball of snot. 

What a nice way of putting it. So, hmm, you’re 30. So …  

Yeah (nods], I’m 30. I’m approaching that area where I find myself thinking about all kinds of things I never thought of before. Like … silverware

Silverware? 

Yeah – silverware, plams, furniture and making an effort to be more organized than I’ve ever been. Whereas for 30 years, I had no control over that – I would just throw things, and it was like a filing system …. Bur now I’m trying to find a place for everything. It’s interesting. I think it’s just growing up. 

I was in this Antique store recently, and I saw this set of silverware – it was from the early ’30s, and it had Bakelite handles and I thought, Wow, this is really beautiful. So I decided to buy it. As I was leaving the store, I thought, Christ,  just bought silverware! This is insane. 

Now you have to get a set of dishes … 

I know. (Whispers] But I’m a little frightened, a little scared to buy plates …. I don’t know if I can do it. 

So you’re starting to think about all that grown-up stuff. 

Part of me does want to be grounded in that way and have a foundation and be amongst my stuff and live quietly, domestically. But the other part of me wants to, you know, rub mud all Over my face and climb trees …. It’s interesring because here I am at 30, and I find the two merging, and it’s easier – it’s not so much oil and vinegar anymore. And the good thing abut being a collector of stuff or having that place you’re afraid you’ll be stuck in because all your stuff is there, is that you can always pile it up and light it On fire.

So when do you think You’ll be ready to have children? 

I don’t know. I Just know that I’ve always loved kids, bur I’m also frightened of them. little tiny babies with their little rolling heads (wide-eyed, as if holding a baby], no neck muscles formed yet. They frighten me, you know? But I have a lot of friends who have kids, and it’s great for them, so…

Is marriage your ideal? 

 Yeah, that is certainly the ideal situation. I wouldn’t do it in this town, though. Ideally I’d have a big chunk of land somewhere, not necessarily in this country, maybe in France or something. A wife, kids, a dog, some chickens, a pig, a mule … But there is still this part of me that can’t sit around in one spot. 

 But an actor doesn’t sit around in one spot. Every moyie is another location. 

 Yeah, but one thing about being on a film  that’s always uncomfortable for me is that I have to be on the set for a certain time, and I have to be there every day. So for three, four months, I have to be somewhere, and there’s a very strong part of me that doesn’t want to have to be anywhere. 

 Are you saying you’re getting out of the business someday? 

 Maybe, I’m not sure. I mean, it could all go away in 20 minutes. Anything’s possible. I like the business – more than I ever did, at this point – and 1 feel myself becoming more adult about the business. But there are other things I want to do. [Pause] I like the process of creating, whether it’s writing – and this is not necessarily for the public, it’s just for me – writing, making little films, drawing, making music for friends, not for any kind of record deal. In the same way, I like acting – I like the collaboration between a filmmaker and an actor, an actor and the Camera crew, an actor and the grips, because to me all those people are working together and conspiring for me. 

 What Is it about seeing yourself onscreen that makes you queasy? 

I don’t know. [Squirming] Everything – it’s Just so uncomfortable. I guess, On a real simple level, as an actor, you see things you could have done. (A bird lands at bis feet and stares at him as if for food. Sorry, I don’t have a any food. I’ll give him Some sugar. [he opens a packet and pours it on the groud.] Bill also, I’m comfortable with the fact that 1 may never be satisfied with my work and I like that-l don’t want to be too satisfied.[The bird moves to a tree above his head.] He’s sharpening his beak …. I think he’s gonna shoot himself into the back of my head, burrow into my skull. 

That would be really great for this story. You’ve gone far in your 10 years as an actor. 

 Yeah, I’ve been very, very lucky. 

But is it luck, or did you want it that way? 

 Well, it is the way I wanted it, but people don’t always get what they want. I’ve been lucky that people like John Waters and Tim Burton were willing to take a chance with me. 

How did you get Tim to see you? 

I resigned myself that he’d never see me in the role (of Edward Scissorhands]. I was sent the script by my agent, read it, thought it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever read, and my agent said I’d meet with Tim Burton. And I said, “Forget it, won’t happen. It’ll just be embarrassing.” I canceled the meeting, but my agent pushed me, and I had the meeting, and it went really well. He liked me, I liked him, but still I thought it would never happen. Then I got the call saying I got It and ... [sbakes head) I was ecstatic. 


And now you’ve iust done ‘Ed Wood’ with him. 

Ed Wood was a perfect experience. I know that sounds like I’m bulls—ting because everybody says that after a film, but it was, really, and a perfect escape from playing a serious role in a kind of sad movie like Gilbert Grape. 

Ed Wood liked to wearwomen’s clothes. Did that require lots of research? 

 No, not really. I just thought I’d get comfortable with the feeling of being in women’s … articles. I’d go out with a tight bra on under my shirt and jacket. Around the house I wore slips and pumps and then tested the waters with garter belts and stockings, I got braver every day. 

 So what surprised you about the experience? 

The shocking thing was how much goes into the process – the stockings, the garters, then doing those things up and then girdles, brassieres, straps! … It made me have more respect for you guys – for women – when you get dolled up. And I have a profound respect for transvestites, who get all dolled up and then have things to hide. It’s painful …. 

 Perhaps you kept an angora sweater from the film? 

I kept an angora Sweater and my pumps. 

Oh, really? 

I like to keep articles of clothing from films I do. I started on Platoon -I kept part of my uniform, the boots, I Stole the helmet. From CryBaby I have my leather jacket and boots and jeans, from Scissorands I have the costume and the hands, from Benny & Joon the cane, the hats and a jacket or two, from Gilbert Grape I think I just took some clothing. 

 Are you aware that people say, “He does all those weird movies”? 

Yeah, [laughs] I just don’t see the point in redoing things that have been done 10,000 times and done better by someone else. 

But do you consciously not do big mainstream movies that make, like, $100 million? 

I’d love to be in a film that makes $300 million -it’d be great. But I’m not gonna do something just to gain more commercial success. 

You wouldn’t shy away from Car chases and guns? 

No. I just don’t feel that it’s right to do something …. I don’t feel like I have to make $15 million or that the picture has to make $300 million. My job is just to try to play a character and take that character from point A to point B to wherever. 

In person, you don’t seem hungry or ambitious at all, yet objectively, considering who you’ve worked with, you seem very ambitious. 

There are things I’d like to achieve in my life …. I do ultimately Want to have enough money so that when I do have kids, they don’t have to worry …. I suppose the only ambition I have is to be able to do the right thing and not have to compromise. 

Do you want to create art? 

I want to create … things. And if it’s art, then that’s good. If it’s not, then I don’t know what I want to call it. I want to create things and to be involved in creating things. I don’t know if movie making is art, either. I really don’t. When you look at something like Beauty and the Beast by Cocteau, there are things in that film that were so beautiful, so surreal, so great, that you think of it as art. But, I don’t know, is it really? I mean, look, it’s too easy to make something today that people consider art. I don’t think that pouring ketchup on your hand and chopping it off is art. 

It just occurs to me that you’re a high scbool dropout. But you’re well read, you know a lot about art and history. Do you think In any way that you’re compensating for your lack of formal education? 

Definitely. But immediately, you know-as soon as I dropped out. When I was in school, I didn’t feel inspired to learn. And when I got out, you know, I wanted to know what my big brother knew. My big brother was a guy who read everything and knew great books and knew great art and knew great music, and I admired that. I don’t think I read a thing in high school. 

So you’re making up for lost time? 

Sure. You Can learn a lot from books. I got obsessed with certain periods in history and the lives of writers and painters, and I want to know about them. And then when I learn about them, I want to know why they did certain things -the process is endless. 

Yeah. So let’s just get something over with. Let’s talk about the Viper Room. You were there the night River Phoenix died? 

[Nods] 

When did you find out that he had died? 

[Clears his throat] Well, before we go into this, which we can, there are two different subjects. One of the subjects is, you know, the unfortunate, very sad death of River. Then there’s me being attacked by tabloids and stuff about the club. So, one, your question: I found out that it was River at about three or four in the morning. I was calling to find out how the young man was who had been taken away in an ambulance. 

I had literally walked off the stage – me and a group of guys were playing – and one of the bouncers said, “One of Flea’s friends is having some kind of seizure,” or something like that. I walked out the door, and the paramedics were there with this young man, and there was a bunch of people around. And I stood there, and I was hoping that, you know, everything would be OK. And I let the person -who 

I later found out was Samantha Mathis – I said to her, “If there’s anything we can do, if yon need a ride to the hospital, whatever,” and she said: “No, I have a way to the hospital. I’m fine.” And they took him away,and Flea went in the ambulance with him. That was probably one in the morning, and then, later that night, after calling the hospital and calling the club back and calling everybody, I found out that it was … that the kid had passed away, and that it was River. 

Did you know him? 

We had met. We weren’t dose friends … and on a professional level, I respected him as an actor. I mean, there was a specific road he was on that I respected as an actor [struggling], and it’s realIy unfortunate and a waste, I think. I feel terrible for his family. And I felt angry at the way that the media handled it. And that’s the tabloid press and the legitimate press. A lot of the legitimate press, I thought, really merged with the tabloids on this thing and exploited the situation, and I Thought it was really disrespectful and unfortunate that his family and friends had to experience that 911 call, you know? And I don’t know his family, but I understand they’re a very close, strong family …. I just … I’m sympathetic. 

You closed the pub for a week? 

About a week and a half, I think. 

Had you considered closing It permanently? 

I considered closing it permanently. I.. [uneasily] I considered it before that night. Our initial feeling on the club is we- 

Who’s ”we”? 

The other two owners, Sal Jenco and Chuck E. Weiss. We can take this little space on Sunset Boulevard, we Can make it nice inside and create a place where people can go and hear Billie Holiday over the sound system, and Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway, and John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra or Chet Baker. … And it took on a life of its own. We had lines outside of the place! And I thought, My God, this is not what I wanted at all. So, yeah, I’ve thought of that all along, since day one. 

One story that was printed said that the night the Viper Room reopened, a well-known drug dealer was standing by the front door. 

[Disbelief] Who’s to say? Does a drug dealer wear a sign or a jacket that says, “I’m a drug dealer”? I mean, who knows who’s what? You cannot – in a nightclub in any city that I know of -go and strip·search people. [Strongly] And I do wonder if these people think that I’m ignorant or insane- that I’m going to allow people to do drugs in a place that I am a part owner of. I would never allow that to happen …. look, jf anything positive is to be gained, it’s this: 

A normal young man with a good head on his shoulders and a promising future, a guy who was a good human being, made a mistake. And it’s a mistake that anyone of us could make. And kids should know that, and adults should know that. People should know that …. you don’t tarnish the memory of this person because he made a mistake. We’ve all done things we shouldn’t have done. Everybody. No one is exempt. 

One more thing, and we’ll change the subject. You’ve answered this before, but once more; Are your drug days far in the past? 

[Nods] Yeah, it’s in the past. Definitely. 

OK. There’s another subject you don’t want to talk about: your personal life. 

[Stiffly] yeah …. 

You were married and divorced by the age of 22? 

[Warily1 Uh-huh. 

Are you still friends with your ex-wife? Yeah. 

Since then, you’ve had a succession of serious relationships, three broken engagements. 

Uh-huh. 

What I’m getting at is, didn’t your divorce scare you from trying marriage again? 

[Long pause] I think what it all boils down to is, I was having a real good time. [Pause] I mean, I can’t say that I regret anything I’ve done, as far as girlfriends or being engaged goes. I had a good time. 

But you didn’t marry any of them …. 

I am very … I’m uncomfortable planning something in the future. I’m uncomfortable saying, “This is going to be happening when I’m 32,” you know what I mean? So I rely very much on what’s happening at the particular moment, and I like living like that. So if I’ve gotten engaged or if I got married and divorced and this and that, vou know, it’s really – in my opinion-unimportant to anybody else’s lives. It is not going to affect their lives one 

way or the other, so why are they so curious about it? 

They’re curious because these women are famous- 

No, when Sherdyn Fenn and I were together, no one had really heard of me. And that was before she had sort of broken out into the public eye. 

So what happened? 

I mean, I couldn’t give specific reasons for anything that l’ve done, you know, and a team of shrinks couldn’t, either, probably. You know? [Dry laught] Am I trying to repair my mother and father breaking up? I don’t know. I don’t know what any of it is. And I really, to be honest, don’t care, because I don’t regret any of it. I had a really good time. 

OK. Let’s lighten up and talk about your movies and the people you’ve worked with. We’ll leave out’A Nightmare on Elm Street.’ 

That was a fun experience. Not many people can say they were Slicked through a bed [laughs1. 

‘Platoon’: What do you remember about Oliver Stone? 

Um, Oliver is a really great director. He’s got his methods that, you know, that work. He wanted to keep us angry and kind of hungry and confused, and he did certain things that kept us that way. He would try to piss us off. I have a lot of respect for Oliver. 

I think you’re being diplomatic. 

[laughts] He’s an interesting guy. 

Cry·Baby·, Where to begin? A cast of millions …. 

A great experience. 

Obviously you bonded big-time with John Waters. 

Yeah, I consider John one of my best friends. But also, not a lot of people can say that they have been able to sit down at a table with Iggy Pop and Patricia Hearst and Polly Bergen and John Waters all at the same time. 

What did you think of Patricia Hearst? 

I love her. I think she’s great. She’s really a good, good, good person. [Pause1 I Sort of had a crush on her. 

‘Edward 5cissorhands .. : 

[Smiles] Edward … 

… and Tim Burton … 

Tim. I love Tim. Tim’s brain is incredible. He was one of the few people I think I could call a genius. Believe me, I’m careful with that word. But Tim is. 

Winona Ryder. 

Um … nice girl. 

C’mon. As an actress. 

A very good actress. A really good actress. 

Aidan Quinn in ‘Benny&Joon.’ 

He is just really a great acror. And my idea of what a real man is, He’s a great husband. He’s a great father. … IGrins] I’m trying to think if there is anyone I Call trash … 

Please do! 

I know. I just can’t think of anyone …. 

What’s Juliette Lewis like? 

Cool. Really calm. Nice, sweet. [Laughs] She’s very funny, you know, l love the way she’s just, like, seen everything. It’s just like [imitating her distinctive voice], ‘Yeah, whatever.’ 

It’s been written that you two have been dating. 

Oh yeah, I know. No, it’s not true. And it was written that we were, you know, shtupping while we were doing the movie. 

Shtupping. 

Shtupping. No. She’s a friend of mine. We made a film together. 

I heard. you loved working wIth Martin Landau in ‘Ed Wood.’ 

I admire Martin. He’s rejuvenated my respect for acting and my respect for it as an interesting and fun creative process. He made me feel like you can do this and have a great time. I don’t go for the whole troubled-actor thing – the pained, tortured actor. I just feel fortunate and lucky. 

So you’ve made a couple of great movies and worked with a lot of interesting people. Does it feel like 10 years since you started? 

No, no …. [Grins] Uh-uh. It feels like 30 years and 2 years at the Same time. 

Can you picture yourself in 10 years? 

Only, You know, very loosely do I think about things like that. It just doesn’t do any good. I just hope, you know what I mean? I hope everything is OK. I hope my family’s OK. And I hope that I’m able to do the things I want to do, whether it’s acting or whatever …. 

There you go again, hinting that you’re leaving the business. 

[Teasing] Yeah, you never know …. 

Just promise that you won’t quit the business by the time this story comes out, OK? 

I [Laughs] No, no, no. I won’t quit. 

1 September 1991   Articles No Comments

Johnny Deeper

Michael Jackson was interested in the part. So was Tom Cruise. But the title role in Edward Scissorhands went to former teen-idol Johnny Depp. Described by one movie director as  “he best looking gas-station attendant who ever lived”, Depp looks set to finally shed his pretty boy image an emerge as a serious actor. Bill Zehme met him in LA….

Johnny Depp is his real name. As a boy he was ridiculed for it. In the schoolyard he was called Dipp. Or Deppity Dawg. Later he was called Johnny Deeper, this being based upon a popular adolescent joke he barely remembers:

“Something about some guy having sex with some girl who kept saying, ‘Johnny, deeper!'”

The day we meet he extends his hand to shake mine, except that his hand is more like a piece of weaponry. In place of fingers there are blades. We are on a Twentieth Century Fox sound stage where he is making Edward Scissorhands, his second major film, in which he portrays the man-made boy with scissors for fingers. He laughs quietly at his own comic gesture.

Later we meet one morning in a coffee shop, where Winona Ryder, his movie-star fiancee, has left him before driving off to do some errands. He is smoking too much and drinking too much coffee. He says he is enslaved by caffeine and nicotine and doesn’t sound proud of it. “I like to be pumped up and hacking phlegm at the same time,” he says wryly.

“Coupla tequila worms flying out here and there;’ Depp says, but he is joking about that. He hasn’t touched the hard stuff for a solid month, maybe longer. Depp is as dryas he’s ever been in all of his 27 years.

Nobody recognises Depp in public places, not while I am with him. He doesn’t stand out much. Yes, he continues to be a teen idol and a heart-throb (“a throbbing thing;’ he calls himself), but frankly he looks like someone else. Director John Waters, who cast Depp as a delinquent grease ball in the film Cry Baby, used to imagine him as “the best looking gas-station attendant who ever lived”. Or, as Waters later told me appreciatively “Johnny could play a wonderfully sexy mass murderer. I mean, it is a part made for him.” Which is to say, there is shadiness to Depp. He looks attractively unwashed. (“Nobody looks better in rags;’ said Waters of the basic Depp sartorial statement.)

If Depp is anything, he is interesting. He takes the big risks. Though Michael Jackson expressed an early interest, Tom Cruise, the rumour goes, wanted to play the role of tragic, disfigured Edward Scissorhands – but only if his face was cosmetically restored by the end of the film. Not Depp. He wore Edward’s scars like medals. And he wore the unwieldy, imposing hand shears with brio, recognising the lyric poetry in Edward’s fateful curse. (Edward, who cannot touch anything without slashing it, is a metaphor for the outsider in all of us, including Depp, who knows what it’s like to be mocked for being a little different. He is, after all, a teen idol.) “He certainly was closest to the image of the character;’ says Tim Burton, who directed Depp in Edward, Jack Nicholson in Batman, Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice and Pee-Wee Herman in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure: “Like Edward, Johnny really is perceived as something he is not. Before we met, I’d certainly read about him as the Difficult Heart-throb. But you look at him and you get a feeling. There is a lot of pain and humour. and darkness and light. I think for him therote is probably very personal. It’s just a very strong internal feeling of loneliness. It’s not something he talks about or even can talk about, because it’s sad, ya know. What are ya gonna do?”

“If there’s any movie in the history of the entireworld,and even inthe history of any literature, Edward Scissorhands was the movie I would want to do. And I fuckin’ did it. When I first saw it, I was scared, because I kept thinking, ‘God, I just can’t believe I did this fuckin’ movie;” says Depp.

But then Depp is an impassloneo, if unlikely, aesthete. He is a high-school dropout with a lust for first editions. Once I saw him pay $75 for a rare Hemingway as if it were a pack of Marlboros, and I noticed the swagger in his stride when he carried the book off. He cites Jack Kerouac and JD Salinger, two idols, with staggering frequency. His most prized possession – and one that cost him a good portion of his burgeoning fortune – is a book on black culture in whose margins Kerouac has scribbled and doodled. “It’s a piece of history;’ he tells me reverently. “I look at it every day:’ .

And then there is fine art: “Gacy!” Depp says excitedly, in reference to imprisoned mass murderer John Wayne Gacy who used to dress in a clown costume and bury his victims under his house. In the coffee shop I hand him an order form listing Gacy’s latest oil paintings, knowing that Depp is the owner of a Gacy clown portrait. (Depp, incidentally, lives in mortal fear of clowns.) “The Hi Ho Series!”; he exclaims, impressed. “Shit!” He peruses the form, shudders, then tells me that he’s got rid of his Gacy canvas. “When I got it, I heard the money was going to the victims’ families;’ he says, but later he suspects otherwise. “The paintings are really scary and weird and great, but I don’t want to contribute to something as evi I as that:’

Depp likes to walk. “It’s good butt exercise;’ he tells me as we walk along Los Angeles’ Beverly Boulevard. “It’s good for the rump:’ Depp, it turns out, has no car. He does have a broken truck. For a long time he had no home. He and Winona moved from hotel to hotel before they recently got a place in Beverly:Hilis. They did share a loft in New York for.a brief time, but they tired of the East Coast. So they came west where no one walks except Depp. But even on foot, Depp is like a dedicated motorist, ever vigilant of traffic minutiae. “Your seat belt! Your seat belt!” he shouts into the snarl of the traffic. Depp has spotted a man driving with his seat belt dragging out on the pavement and can’t bear to think of the consequences. He also spots a woman driving with her door ajar. “Your door!” he yells. “Your door is operrt”

By now Depp’s origins are familiar to most functioning Americans – although he is still relatively unknown here, in the States he is a massive star.

Born in Owensboro, Kentucky, the self-styled barbecue capital of the world, Depp was the fourth child of John Depp, a city engineer, and his wife, Betty Sue, a waitress. (Her famous son would later have her name tattooed above his left bicep, so asto balance the Indian chieftattooed on his right one, a talisman of his partial Cherokee bloodline.) Depp was a small boy, so early on he learned to rely on his fists. Eventually his family settled in Miramar, Florida, when Depp was seven.

Rebellious in school, he was once suspended for mooning at a gym teacher. He learned to smoke by age 12 and then drink and finally take drugs. By 14, however, he is said to have sworn off drugs forever. Two years later his parents divorced,and, soon after, Depp quit high school to join a rock band called The Kids, who became a local sensation and opening act for the likes of Talking Heads, the B-52’s and Iggy Pop. (He remembers that his first words to Iggy Pop, one of his heroes and later a friend, were, inexplicably, “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you:’ In response, a perplexed Pop called him a “little turd”.)

At 20 he married Lori Anne Allison, a 25- year-old musician and relative of a band mate, and together (band included) they left Florida for Hollywood, where The Kids broke up and so did Depp and Lori. Alone and starving, Depp turned to acting and made his screen debut in the original Nightmare On Elm Street as a guy swallowed by a bed. (Grateful to this day for that break, Depp will appear in the next Elm Street sequel as a cameo murder victim.) Then came Platoon, in which Depp played an interpreter who dies off-camera. But his movie career would have to wait: Depp became, for four years, America’s favourite boy detective.

He ‘was undercover high-school cop Tom Hanson in Fox’s 21 Jump Street, a television series Depp hated and never saw more than six episodes of. Still, it transformed him into the major show-business figure he is today, and, better still, girls loved him. Beautiful actresses flocked to his side. Before it was over there were two failed engagements: to Sherilyn Fenn (‘(win Peaks) and to Jennifer Grey (Dirty Dancing). Then the TV show was cancelled. But by now John Waters had hired him to star as the misunderstood hood Cry Baby Walker -his first big-screen lead role- in the troubled-teen musical Cry Baby And it was at that time he met Winona Ryder.

The following day Winona Ryder arrives with Depp. She is smoking his Cigarettes, and she is not a smoker.

Hands locked, they descend upon Barney’s Beanery, a frequent haunt, for caffeine, which they now take in desperate helpings. She wears a Tom Waits T-shirt and Depp’s engagement ring. She is saying, “I’d never seen anyone get a tattoo before, so I was pretty squeamish, I guess.” Depp chuckles and says, “She kept taking the bandage off and staring at it afterwards.” They are talking about WINONA FOREVER, the third and final (for now) Depp tattoo, eternally etched onto his right shoulder. (Depp tells me he plans to have his tattoos – pickled after his death as keepsakes for his children. should there be any.) This one was carved on at a nearby tattoo parlour as Winona watched with awe. “I sort of was in shock;’ she says. “I kept thinking it was going to wash off or something. I couldn’t believe it was real:’ Her eyes widen. “I mean. it’s a big thing. because it’s so permanent!” 

“It ain’t goin’ nowhere;’ Depp says. Over hash and eggs. they then trace the history of their romance for me: He knew her work (Beetlejuice. Heathers). and she knew his. but they did not know each other. At the premiere of Great Balls Of Fire. a film in which she played Jerry Lee Lewis’s child bride. they spotted each other from across the room. “I was getting a Coke;’ Ryder says. “It was a classic glance;’ he says. “like the zoom lenses in West Side Story. and everything else gets foggy’ She says. “It wasn’t a long moment. but it was suspended.” He says. “I knew then:’ They did not meet that night though.

Months later. a mutual friend dragged her to Depp’s hotel room at the Chateau Marmont. where John Belushi last drew breath. and this is where they began. “I thought maybe he would be ajerk,” she says. “I didn’t know. But he was really. really shy:’ They knew it was love when they both professed deep feelings for Salinger and the soundtrack of the film The Mission. Theirfirst date. a few weeks later. was a party atthe Hollywood Hills home of counterculture guru Dr Timothy Leary. who is Ryder’s godfather. “We were kinda blessed;’ says Depp, a Beat disciple. As it happens Winona’s father is an esteemed Beat bookseller in Petaluma. California. where she and Depp spend their weekends. “My parents really love him a lot;’ she tells me. Depp says: “It could have been easy not to like me. Other people might have just seen tattoos:’

Tim Burton calls the couple a “kind of an evil version of Tracy and Hepburn.” Which is to say. as celebrity couples go. these two are dark. spunky. glamorous and resilient. all requisite traits in this cynical age. And they need them. Tabloid photographers terrorise them at airports. and tabloid reporters regu larly report imaginary squalls and breakups. So he gets angry. and she gets incredulous. Winona: “They try to trip me up at airports!” Depp: “What’s shittyabout it is they feel like you owe them! That you should stop dead in your tracks and let them piss on you!” Winona: “I will say that there are some really nice ones:’ Depp: “A couple of them are real nice.” Winona: “But aren’t we allowed to be in a bad mood sometimes? Everybody else is:’

We meet Jesus after lunch. Winona leaves (taking the car again). and Depp and I step out into daylight and see a miracle. There. on Santa Monica Boulevard. in front of the Beanery. stands a man who looks very much like the Son of God – in pictures. at least. He is swaddled in robes. his face is serene. his eyes benevolent. his hair long. his beard crisp. and he wears Reeboks.

Depp compliments him on his clothing.

“I have always dressed like this;’ says the man in a soft. commanding voice. What. Depp asks. is his name? “Jesus;’ the man says. although he uses the Hispanic pronunciation (Hay-zoos). Where has he come from? “Oh, I don’t know.” he says. “Heaven:’ His age? “Over forty.” Why is he in Los Angeles? “I’m here for a special occasion:’ What is the occasion? “I like it here:’ Where does he like it best? “Beverly Hills.” At which point Depp whispers to me. “Apocalypse. Second Coming. Armageddon:’

“You want a cigarette for the road?” Depp asks him. Jesus assented. and together the robed one and the young actor smoked for a while. “Take the pack;’ Depp tells him. “I can buy some more:’ Afterwards. Depp seems thrilled. “I smoked with Christ!” he exclaims.

“I wish I could grow more facial hair;’ he says that evening. bemoaning the wispiness of his whiskers. “I can only get an Oriental sort of beard:’ Spooning up corn chowder in a tiny restaurant. he is openly penitent about his “younger. hellion. hitting-the-sauce kind of days:’ He owns up to his short fuse: “I’ve got a bit of a temper:’ He speaks of a tussle or two and of the circumstances surrounding his arrest in Vancouver during his 21 Jump Street tenure. Apparently. he tried to visit some friends late one night in their hotel. where Depp himself had once lived. and a security guard got in his way. “The guy had a boner for me;’ Depp says. “He had a wild hair up his ass. and he got real mouthy with me. saying;’! know who you are. but you can’t come up unless you’re a guest here: The mistake he eventually made was to put his hands on me. I pushed him back. and then we sort of wrestled around a bit, and I ended up spittin’ in his face:’

The police didn’t want to hear Depp’s story.

He was jailed for a night. fingerprinted. posed for mug shots (“I wish I could have them”). and in the morning he walked.

But most of the stories about Depp are not about violence – they are about women. He has been engaged to four women – including the one he married. Even now there are constant rumours that he and Winona are splitting up.

“I knew this was gonna come up;’ he says. looking stricken. But Depp is nothing if not courageous. “I’ve never been one of those guys who goes out and screws everything that’s in front of him …. When you’re growing up, you go through a series of miSjudgments. Not bad choices. but wrong choices …. You know. people make mistakes. We all fuck up …. I was really young for the longest time. We were young. My relationships weren’t as heavy as people think they were. I don’t know what it is. possibly I was trying to rectify my family’s situation or I was just madly in love …. You’re the first Person that I’ve talked to about this kind of stuff. And I’m being really honest with you when I say that there’s been nothing ever throughout my twenty-seven years that’s comparable to the feeling I have with Winona …. lts like this weird. bounding atom or something. You can think something is the real thing. but it’s different when you feel it. The truth is very powerful. Now I know. Believe me. this WINONA FOREVER tattoo is not something I took lightly …. Her eyes kill me:’

He then says this about his engagement to Winona: “People don’t realise this. but we’ve been together almost a year and a half. Out of any. whatever thing I’ve been through before. it hasn’t been this long. It wasn’t like ‘Hi, nice to meet you. here’s a ring: It was about five months [before we got engaged]. They thought we ran away to Las Vegas and got married:’ When would their nuptials actually transpire? “The wedding thing?” he says. “We’re just gonna do it when we both have time. because we both know we’re gonna end up working in the next couple of months. And we want to be able to do it when we can get hitched and then go away for a few months. Leave the country. just go wandering around. and be on a beach somewhere with tropical drinks.”

On my last day with Depp I pick him up at home. which isn’t really home but a small bungalow he and Winona are briefly renting. (Their new house is not yet habitable.) Depp is on the kitchen phone. pacing furiously. Heaps of laundry and luggage and books clutter the livingroom floor. A stray cat is wandering round the house. Winona is out. Mail is strewn about. Depp tells me about his fan mail. unique in its female pubic-hair content – “I’ve gotten some weird pubes” is how he puts it. We get into my car and drive.

We pass a coffee shop adorned with a giant rooster. “I have one of those;’ he says. meaning the rooster. “I have a nine-foot rooster.1 have the biggest cock in Los Angeles:’

This is the old Depp, spry and antic as ever.

He sees a dog and says. COincidentally. that he bases his Edward Scissorhands performance on a dog.

“He had this unconditional love;’ says Depp, who probably cherishes that role above any other in the Depp repertoire. “He was this totally pure. completely open character. the sweetest thing in the world. whose appearance is incredibly dangerous – until you get a look at his eyes. I missed Edward when I was done. I really missed him:’

We drive to the escape artist Harry Houdini’s house. which isn’t really a house but a scattering of ruins perched above Laurel Canyon. Houdini’s ruins. they say. are haunted. Depp reads from a guide book: “Nearby Canyon residents tell of strange happenings on the hilltop site.” Depp, incidentally. believes that he was once Houdini. So we drop over to see if anything looks familiar to him. We scale a steep hill and find a crumbling staircase and little else. “There’s no house.” says Depp, disappointed. “I bet this was a really romantic place at night;’ he adds dreamily.

The myths of the Hollywood Hills enchant Depp endlessly. “I would love to buy Bela t.ugosi’s old house.” he says. “Or Errol Flynrrs. Or Charlie Chaplins. I want some old. depressing history to call my own. Plus. I love the idea of a view.” He sits in silent reverie. but within moments is overtaken with purpose. “I think I just have to make a lot of cash.the says calmly. “I also think I want to be a sheik. I want to be the sheik of Hollywood. What do you have to do to become a sheik. anyway? I wonder if it just takes cash .. ” 

1 July 1991   Articles No Comments

The other half of Hollywood’s hippest couple, Johnny Depp is better known here as Winona Ryder’s boyfriend. Now with Edward Scissorhands, their first film together, he also shows he can act: but its not a pretty sight…

“My lips are so fucked.” Johnny Depp groans and reaches for some vitamin E cream. He’s right. His pretty-boy pout is in trouble. Dry and cracked, burnt red raw in places. The result of another day’s work in the boiling hot 100-degree entre of nowheresville, Arizona. Depp’s here to shoot The Arrowtooth Waltz, a magically off-beat coming-of-age comedy which also stars Jerry Lewis and Faye Dunaway, and the first American film by Yugoslav director Emir Kusturica of Time Of The Gypsies fame. The last outpost of civilsation – a one-laundromat, two-street town called Patagonia – is an hour’s drive away. Along with his blasted lips, it’s another indication of just how far Johnny Depp will got leave behind the heart-throb image given to him by the US TV cop show 21 Jump Street.

In last year’s Cry Baby, he let John Waters have his wicked way with him. In Tim Burton’s upcomingEdward Scissorhands, he wears a Robert Smith wig and hides his face behind white paint and scars. Yesterday, he was stuck in the hottest spot in a very hot place, on top of a ranchhouse in the middle of a sun-smoked stretch of prairie, doing reaction shots as a microlight biplane looped and swerved a few feet over his head. Today, he’s been repeatedly pushed at a barn door while perched on top of a bicycle with wings. There are several more weeks of surreal routines and slow dehydration to come. “Since I’ve been to Arizona, I’ve had dry lips, dry hands. Everything’s so dry. The cowboys must have been masses of flaking, chafing skin.”

It’s probably worth the pain – the film, in which Depp plays an innocent on the run from the “real world” of his uncle’s Cadillac dealership – sounds great. Anyway, he wears his battle scars pertty well. Pre-pubescent fans might disagree, but he looks even better dried up. And though the sun may have cracked his lips, it’s thankfully left his mind, or rather his temper, alone.

There have been reports that Depp has been “difficult” in the past, but there’s no sign of that today. Cooling off in his trailer, crunching a rock-hard Snickers bar straight from the freezer in between frequent cigarettes, he’s charm itself, apologising for delays and introducing me first to his pet pig, then to Faye Dunaway. (The pig ignored me; Faye Dunaway shook my hand, offered me a sweet she’d just made, and asked me earnestly what was happening in London.)

Relaxed and thoughtful, down to earth, and possessed of a sense of humour that, like everything else, is dry, he chats affably about favorite books (the Beats, Salinger, Hunter S. Thompson, John Fante’s appropriately-named Ask The Dust), his favorite actors (Richard E Grant – rates highly), even his one go in a flotation tank (“I fell asleep, then I woke up, couldn’t find the door and panicked”). But the main topic of conversation is Edward Scissorhands, out here at the end of the month. In his second starring role, Depp plays the eponymous Edward, a leather-clad boy robot whose inventor/father (Vincent Price) dies before finishing him off, leaving him with bristling sets of scissors where his hands should be.

Rescued from his gothic castle home by Avon Lady Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest), Edward is transported to an abnormally normal archetypal TV suburbia of pastel-tinted exteriors and trimmed lawns, trash interiors and polyester daywear. There he cuts something of a figure, first as a hedge trimmer with big ideas, then as a high rise hairdresser. Treated as an exotic real-life toy boy, passed around like a new consumer fad, patronised with feel-good banality (“Son, you’re not handicapped – you’re gifted”), Edward is desperate to fit in and win the heart of blonde cheerleader Kim Boggs (Winona Ryder in a very unconvincing blnde wig). But in true, doomy fairy-tale style, the course of true love never runs smoothly.

GIVEN THAT IT’S made by Tim Burton of Batman fame, Edward‘s cartoon visual excess, trashy surreal surfaces and balance of naive charm with dark intelligence should all come as no surprise. What does is how good Depp is. The talent for physical comedy that emerged in cry Baby’s campy routines is brought out in some well-judged slapstick, and is balanced by a calculated restraint and an affecting simplicity. Depp says that as soon as he read the script, he had to play the part. “I connected with it really well. I sort of already knew the character and what he represented. Edward seemed more a feeling than a person. The metaphor of the scissors is about wanting to touch, but if you touch, you destroy. Nothing you do seems right. It’s the feeling you get when you’re growing up, very adolescent. I felt that way. I think everyone did.”

Did he really base his portrayal of Edward on a dog? “Kind of. It’s like, if a dog is trying to please the master. It breaks something, you scold it, and it goes to the corner. But as soon as you call it, it comes right back. It forgets everything. There’s this unconditional love. I thought Edward would be like that.”

So did he go method and hang around kennels? “No, but I did look at babies, to get the way Edward gazes at things.” He also watched old Chaplin films to get Edward’s “handicapped” clockwork waddle, something accentuated by the restrictive leather body-suit he wore.

Pre-shoot practice with the scissors – which were actually plastic – helped him turn them into expressive instruments and avoid too many on-set accidents, although Anthony Michael Hall (the bad-guy jock and Edward’s competitor for Kim’s affections) did get spiked twice. Depp apparently became adept enough with the clippers to hold his gags between takes. As to what else he managed to drip without a slip … is he getting tired of all the cracks about how Edward goes to the bathroom? He grins. “That was the first thing I asked. No one could say. I decided he would sweat it out.” Not having that particular option, despite a shoot in Florida that was almost as hot as Arizona, Depp decided to cut down on his water consumption during filming.

He wasn’t the studio’s first choice for Edward. Tom Cruise was interested, but pulled out, allegedly worried by the character’s lack of masculinity. “I heard that,” Depp smiles and shakes his head. “What’s Edward going to do – pull out an Uzi? I doubt Tom Cruise really thought that.” Certainly, it wouldn’t fit with the filming which, as in most of Tim Burton’s movies, “real men” are grotesque, destructive or plain useless, like Bill Boggs, the suburban dad as human black hole, superbly played in the film by Alan Arkin. There were also suggestions that Cruise wanted Edward to be transformed at the end into a handsome young blade. “That would have been a different movie. Let’s just say I’m real glad they didn’t pick Tom Cruise.”

One person who’d agree is Depp’s fiancee Winona Ryder who became available to shoot Edward after falling ill on the set of Godfather III. It is the first film they’ve starred in together. What was it like playing opposite his wife-to-be? “I was nervous. It’s like another level of exposing yourself to someone. You know you can be together, but then to act together, be different people, especially someone like Edward … it was scary at first. She was nervous too. But it was great. Besides the fact that I love her and everything, she’s a great actress, very giving and considerate. It was really easy working with her, because stuff automatically happens. You don’t have to try. Stuff comes out.”

It goes without saying that Depp is a man in love. Visibly. His romance with Winona has been consummated and consumed in public. The details are well known. Their eyes met at the premiere of Great Balls of Fire, but they didn’t. A few months later, they were introduced by a mutual friend. Going on for two years later, they’re engaged and Depp has “Winona Forever” tattooed on his arm.

THE HOLLYWOOD publicity machine has always thrived on star romance, but it seems that in the post-Aids age, with Warren Beatty-style bedhopping publicly frowned on, big-name couples are a real item. Yet amid all the usual sleaze about Bruce and Demi and Julia and Kiefer, the youthful Depp and Ryder have been treated with kids gloves so far, cast as hip, romantic innocents. A recent fashion shoot in Vogue, which showed the couple embracing, packed them as a “fairytale couple” – a symbol of “Hollywood Romance” – along with Pretty Woman and Green Card.

Not surprisingly, it irritates Depp to see his love-life diagnosed like a cultural symptom. Still, isn’t he scared once their press honeymoon is over, the scandal rags will go all out to break them up? “We’ve already had rumours we’re splitting up. Such bullshit. Things like People magazine don’t really bother me – it’s like the flies buzzing around this trailer. I can deal with their presence if I have to, but I’d much rather squash them like a pea.” Another problem they face are all the dodgy team-up scripts they get sent. “They’re so obvious. Like, they offered us a gangster movie together. I’m a mobster and Winona’s my moll.”

DEPP AND RYDER seem so well-suited that you forget that she’s 20 and he’s nearly 28. Depp seems younger, in looks and attitude. In fact, he’s difficult to place in time. Tim Burton says that Depp reminds him of the classic movie stars of the Thirties and Forties (in fact, he’s called Johnny and Winona a dark Tracy and Hepburn), yet with his Anglophile dress sense and tastes in music, he comes on like a post-punk hipster. Then, with his easy-going drawl and thoughtful cool, you start to think of him alongside the better actors on the fringes of the aging Brat Pack. But he missed all that. Whereas Matt Dillon has nearly 20 films to his name, Depp has five or so.

The reason is that he was never a Hollywood teen. Growing up in Kentucky, then Florida, he never wanted to be an actor: “I just wanted to play guitar.” He played in a local band, supporting acts like Iggy Pop, Talking Heads and The Ramones when they came to town. The band went to LA, but nothing came of it. So Depp tried his hand at acting in Nightmare on Elm Street, in which he suffered an iconic teenage death, eaten alive by his bed while listening to the stereo and watching TV at the same time. He followed it up in 1986 with a sint as a grunt in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam odyssey, Platoon. Then came 21 Jump Street, which took four years out of his life.

A hysterical piece of Eighties trash, the show cast Depp as a baby-faced cop whose youthful looks allow him to work undercover in that den of iniquity, the high school, and dealt in stereotypical moral panics (school bully crack dealers). From a distance, it looks quite camp. It didn’t at the time. Depp was so embarrassed by the show, he couldn’t watch it. What irked most was being a teen heart-throb.

“I got angry because it wasn’t me and I couldn’t control it, all these publicity fuckers from Fox TV trying to market me like I was a box of cereal. In that position, it’s up to you. You go with it, make more money than you could ever want, are really famous for two years. Or you fight it. I was lucky in that at least I had half a brain cell, so I fought it.”

Hence his reputation for being “difficult”. “For myself, I felt it was kind of a fascist thing to have undercover cops busting kids for half an ounce of weed. Like, he’s a real bad kid, he needs a lot of therapy and time in jail to straighten out.” Depp has even used a cameo role in Elm Street 6 to work off his anti-Jump Street feelings. “I’m a public service announcer on TV. I hold up this egg and say, ‘Now this is your brain.’ Then I crack it into a frying pan, it starts to sizzle and I say, ‘This is your brain on drugs.’ Then Freddie smashes me in the face with the pan. It says everything I wanted to say.

So he won’t be doing any more TV? “I’d rather dig a hole through the center of the earth with my tongue.”

DEPP’S FIRST POST-TV break came with John Waer’s Cry Baby. “The daughter of his best friend suggested me. He asked what I looked like, she told him to buy any teen magazine. So he did. Then he wrote the script.” Aside from the pastiche of teen pics, Wasters slyly reworks Depp’s heart-throb image, presenting his baby-faced tough guy moves as an object of gay as well as straight desire. It seems pretty clear that Waters fancies the pants off Depp – he even got him down to his Y-fronts at one point. Depp assures me they’re just good friends. Still, Waters has said that he was born to play a sexy mass-murderer. “John said that? Wow! If he writes it, I’ll do it. We share a fascination with mass-murders. It’s the sickness of it. You can’t believe people have done these things. We’re all ambulance chasers.”

But not everyone owns paintings by serial killers. Like Waters, Depp bought a clown painting by convicted murderer John Wayne Gacy. He has since sold it, but the memory still troubles him. “Before he was caught, Gacy used to go around dressed as Pogo the Clown. Now on death row, he paints clowns. And if you send him a photo, he’ll paint you. Really sick.” So you haven’t been tempted? “No way! The clown painting was enough. Just looking at a clown fucks me up bad, but to know who painted it, what was behind the mask, sent me into shock.”

On the subject of clowns, thanks to Depp, he Pope of Trash is now Reverend John Waters. Depp got him ordained in the Universal Life Church and wants him to do the honours at the marriage. The big day will have to wait, though. After Depp finishes here, Ryder is due to start doing Draculawith Francis Coppola. “We’ll do it when we have a chunk of time and we can do it quietly with a three-month honeymoon. I’ve heard about places in Australia, islands where you can be dropped off and there’s nothing there at all. I geuess you just run around eating coconuts and foliage and bugs.”

NOW THAT THE SUBJECT has come up again, it’s perhaps time to broach the touchy matter of proposing. There have been suggestions that the holes in Depp’s jeans could ahve come from the number of times he’s been down on his knees to the various women in his life. Apart from Winona and his first wife (he’s now divorced), he’s been engaged to Dirty Dancing‘s Jennifer Grey and Twin Peaks‘ Sherilyn Fenn.

“That’s not true, quite. I was sort of engaged. But if you haven’t made some mistakes by 28, it’s abnormal. People do whatever they do for whatever reasons, and it’s not for anyone else to understand. And basically, it’s none of their business. If some guy came up to me on the street and said, ‘I understand this and this about you,’ I would fucking club him – in a second. But because people know you and you have a past, the attitude is, ‘Let’s dissect the fucker.’” As in all the pseudy-psychological suggestions that Depp is trying to make up for his parents (divorced when he was 16).

So does he believe in marriage as an institution? “I believe in marriage if that’s what feels right. If you feel something, do it. Why regret later? But it’s true you really never know until you hit that one. Believe me, when I met Winona and we fell in love, it was absolutely like nothing ever before, ever.”

Interview over, Depp offers me a ride back to his motel with the assistant director, KC. As we gun through the prairie twilight in a big white Cadillac, occasionally slowing so as not to scare the cows, he chats about his taste in music – The Clash, Pistols, Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, The Replacements, Alex Chilton, old blues, some newer independent rock, especially The La’s, but not much post-Stone Roses indie dance. “But I’d like to go to a rave. They sound interesting. They tried to do them in LA, but someone told me they weren’t the same.” Despite his past, he has no plans to form a band and release a record, and grimaces when I mention would-be rock stars such as River Phoenix. “It’s just kind of uncool. If you’re doing one thing, you should do that. I’m acting now.”

Back at the motel in Patagonia, I’m out of questions, but Depp is keen to carry on. “Ask anything,” he says. “The dumber the better.”

OK. Would he do a nude scene? “I don’t think so … there isn’t enough money.”

Did his tattoos hurt? “Yeah, but I liked the pain. It was electric, kind of nice.”

Who does the dishes, you or Winona? “We live in hotels, so it’s not our responsibility. But I’ve done some dishes. We’ve actually done dishes together. I washed, she dried.”

Who were you in your past lives? “I think I was an animal, a ferret maybe, or an insect.”

Does fame turn people int oassholes? “I think it reveals what people are rather than changes them. I’m pretty sure I’m not an asshole, although I could be wrong. But fame does fuck with you. I’ve become more paranoid.”

What did you do with the pubic hair that one fan sent you? “I threw it away. I didn’t touch it. I thought about burning it, but I didn’t want to inhale the air. You never know, it may have been poisoned, cyanide pubic hair.”

He pauses. “Hey, I’ve got one! Someone once asked me which three things I would take on a desert island. What I said was cigarettes, matches and an ashtray.”

He’s joking, but if the immensely likable Johnny Depp does have a problem (which is arguable), it’s that he’s a little too coll for his own good. He’d love to be in a Jim Jarmusch film, and he’s probably much better suited to it than he realises. Blame 21 Jump street. It’s stills shaping his career. After suffering what he sees as a four-year embarrassment, he’s determined only to do things he likes. And, he admits, he’s picky, and not too keen to co-operate with the business. After Jump Street, Fox was so interested in keeping him interested, it gave him a production deal, but Depp didn’t really approach it like one of the new breed of actor operators. “I was doing it with my brother. We took them ideas for films, but they didn’t bite. I guess I took them stuff I knew they wouldn’t do. But I did get a year’s supply of free phone calls and an office. It was quite funny.”

In fact, since Jump Street, Depp has gone from being a teen idol to cultivating a poised idleness and a rigorous quality control. After Arrowtooth Waltz he doesn’t have anything solid lined up, although there are vague plans for a f ilm of Ask The Dust, which may involve Winona Ryder.

Obviously, it’s admirable that he doesn’t want to bash things out for money. It’s great that there’s a young American actor who doesn’t seem Tom Cruise as a role model, who would rather make hip, eccentric choices than smart choices, would rather do off-the-wall arty comedies than blockbuster team-ups. But it would also be nice to see him work more. The thing is, he really can act.

But, then again, acting isn’t the only thing on his mind. At heart, he’s a regular homeboy. “I’d love to have kids. I’m rapidly approaching 30. I want to put down roots, have kids, dogs, pigs. When I’m 50 or 60, I want to have all gold teeth, a big fat belly, a big thick beard. I’m working on my belly.” He rolls up his shirt to reveal not even the beginnings of a gut. “Maybe I should drink a few beers or something. Once I get to a certain age, I want to be this big, fat, ugly American.” Despite the cracked lips, he has some way to go.