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Inland Empire, January 2012 – Leading Man Johnny Depp

Inland Empire, January 2012 – Leading Man Johnny Depp

Title: Leading Man Johnny Depp

Author: Kris Grant

Publication: Inland Empire

Issue: January 2012

Photo1Don’t bother telling Johnny Depp that he was named the most popular actor of 2011 by the Harris Interactive Poll (beating out Denzel Washington and John Wayne). And its better left unsaid that he was the highest paid actor for 2010 with an income of $75 million, and, publease don’t make Johnny squirm by reminding him that he was twice named the Sexiest Actor Alive (2003 and 2009) by People maga­zine. He’s just not into the accolades; Johnny Depp is more interested in going deep, looking for the next role to play…characters with intensity, idiosyncrasies and often a bit of a dark side. He sheepishly confessed to CNN’s Larry King that before his bil­lion-dollar blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) and its three sequels that he had been known in the confines of Hollywood as “box office poison.” “Yeah, I built a career on 20 years of failures” he proclaimed. That may be overstating things a bit, Johnny. True, Depp has gravitated to roles of off kilter, quirky characters. But while not all his films may have been commercial successes, most were critically acclaimed and firmly established Depp as an artist who cares passionately about his craft, his relationships and his causes.

A high school dropout, Depp came to Los Angeles as a guitarist with a garage band that opened for other bands, for little or no money. “We were all so broke,” he says. He survived by selling ballpoint pens over the phone. “I guess you could say it was my first acting job,” Depp quips. Shortly thereafter, he met actor Nicolas Cage, who paved the way to a part in Nightmare on Elm Street. A minor role in Oliver Stone’s Platoon followed, and then four seasons of the TV crime drama “21 Jump Street” which, for better or worse, established the young actor as a teen idol. “It was so hard because it wasn’t who I was,” says Depp, who eventually broke the shackles of his contract.

The title role in the romantic fantasy Edward Scissorhands (1990), the first of several collaborations with direc­tor Tim Burton and later Burton’s romantic partner, actress Helena Bonham Carter, was Depp’s breakthrough suc­cess. Under Burton’s direction, Depp played the lead in Ed Wood (1994) as the alcoholic cross-dressing, notoriously awful B-movie film director, and in Sleepy Hallow (1995), he portrayed Ichabod Crane, sent to investigate three decapitations by the legendary Headless Horseman.

Other Burton-Depp films have included Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), with Depp playing eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka; Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), which marked his debut as a singer and for which he received a second Oscar Best Actor nomination; and Alice in Wonderland (2010).

“With Tim, its home,” Depp said during an appearance at the Actor’s Studio. “I trust him, and trust is the most important thing there is.”

Burton and Depp had often talked about old horror movies “and to have Johnny play some­thing like a monster is, in a way, fantastic” said Burton of Depp’s role as the demon barber.

While on the Sweeney Todd set, Depp proposed the idea of a vam­pire movie. “It was before the Twilight movies came out and I suggested “Dark Shadows,” a soap opera that aired from 1967 through 1971 in the late afternoon. “I had watched it as a kid reli­giously,” Depp says. “I remembered sprinting home from school. I didn’t want to miss a minute of it.”

As it turned out, Burton also watched the show as a kid growing up In Burbank, and he jumped on the project. Production is now complete, with the film scheduled for release in May. Depp plays Barnabas Collins, an 18th century gentleman who was transformed against his wall into a vampire and buried in a tomb for two centuries. In the year 1972, his tomb is dug up by construction workers and Barnabas begins “life” anew.

In the role of the vampire, Depp sports a pale white complexion, a favored look in many of his roles. But Depp’s range of make-up and costumes defies description as he moves from character to character. For the pirate movies, he had two of his teeth capped in gold. As Sweeney Todd, his long black mane was highlighted with a Cruella de Vil-esque white streak. As  the Mad Hatter, he sported wild orange hair and orange eyebrows and digitally enlarged crystalline green eyes- “In my mind, he [The Hatter] is mad,” says Depp. I’ve read stuff about real hatter’s. When they were making the hats, the glue that they used had very high mer­cury content. It would stain their hands and they would go sideways, they would go goofy from the mer­cury, go nuts. It did happen to people; they went mad as a hatter. The hatter’s entire body was affected by the mercury, so much that his clothes, his skin color, his eyes, everything reflected the emotion.”

Bonham Carter played opposite Depp in Alice in Wonderland as the Red Queen and in Sweeney Todd as Mrs. Lovett, who served up the murderous barber’s victims in her meat pies. She credits Depp with the choices he’s made in his career. “He’s never done anything according to a patent or formula or any eye for creating a career or any reliance on his looks.

“I think in a funny way we’re a bit similar in that we don’t have much respect for what we look like and we both like to camouflage ourselves and getting away from ourselves. I know we are both al­lergic to watching ourselves.”

Along the way there was the op­portunity to work with the greats, including Marlon Brando in Don Juan Demarco, Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco, Vincent Price in Scissorhands, Martin Landau in Ed Wood. Depp regards Brando as the great­est actor of all time. “He revolu­tionized acting. He was the pioneer.”

Of course, the biggest commer­cial successes of Johnny Depp’s ca­reer are his four Pirates of the Caribbean flicks. When the Disney Company tapped Depp to bring Captain Jack Sparrow to life on the big screen, they got more than they bargained for.

Depp later told a bemused David Letterman that nervous studio ex­ecutives just couldn’t understand his portrayal. “It started with fran­tic phone calls,” Depp related. “And basically what it got down to was, ‘What is he doing? We can’t un­derstand a word he is saying. Is he drunk? Are you drunk? Is he gay? And then, of course, are you gay?”

Depp goes deep into researching his roles. An avid history buff, Depp began researching pirates of the 1800s and discovered that they had many attributes similar to today’s rock stars; roguish behav­ior, swagger, and bravado. And so he based Jack Sparrow on rock leg­end Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Flattered, Richards ap­peared as Captain Jack’s father in two sequels. It was the unique qualities that Depp instilled into the character, Letterman pointed out, that made the role fascinating. It also led to his first of three Academy Award nominations for Best Actor; he also picked up Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards as Best Actor for the role.

Disney soon forgave Depp forgave supposedly leading the production I down the plank, especially in light of making more than $1 billion on the first of the Pirate movies; the four films have since brought in more than $3 billion.

Depp and his better half, French actress, singer and model Vanessa Paradis, whom he met on the set of the Roman Polanski film The Ninth Gate, lead a consciously “outside Hollywood5*life. The cou­ple and their children, Lily-Rose, 12, and John Christopher “Jack” Depp III, 10, split their time be­tween homes in Los Angeles and the village of Plan-de-la-Tour, France. There’s also an island in the Ba­hamas that Depp was able to pur­chase with his Pirates’ bounty.

Photo2Depp is happy to have raked in the big bucks with the pirates’ franchise. “It’s for my kids really” he says, adding that he once worked with a guy who told him that money doesn’t change any­body; money reveals them.

“It’s the same with success * says Depp. ”I”ve been revealed; I haven’t changed.”

Currently, Depp is starring in The Rum Diary (2011) a loose interpretation of gonzo-journalist Hunter Thompson’s time working in San Juan, Puerto Rico for an English language newspaper

It was Depp’s second tango with a Thompson book; the first, Fear and Loathing in Lax Vegas- (2008 was based on Thompsons first-person re­portage. The story, which The New York Times heralded as “by far the best book vet written on the decade of dope,” first ran as a two-part series in Rolling Stone maga­zine and Thompson then expanded it into a book, Thomp­son, like many writers, actors and directors with whom Depp works, became a close personal friend. While living with Thompson for a spell, Depp himself found the dusty Rum Diary manuscript while rummaging through old pa­pers in Thompsons basement.

Thompson was excited at the prospects for the manuscript. “‘Colonel,—he always called me Colonel—’we must produce this” Depp says. “So that was the plan.”

Years later, in 2005, Thompson, 67, suffering from painful and chronic medical conditions, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Colorado. Depp fi­nanced his funeral, telling the As­sociated Press, “All I’m doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true. I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out” That send-off included shooting Thompson’s ashes out of a cannon fired from a 153-foot tower of the author’s own design—a double-thumbed fist clutching a peyote button, with fireworks launched along with the ashes.

Depp’s social causes have in­cluded his successful campaign to “West Memphis Three,” three men who were convicted as teenagers in 1994 for the 1993 killing of three eight-year-old Arkansas boys dur­ing a time of national fervor over supposed Satanic cult worship. Depp campaigned for their re­lease, appealing on a CBS “48 Hours Mystery” segment titled “A Cry for Innocence”

“I’m here because I firmly, truly, 1,000 percent believe that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley are totally innocent,” Depp told Erin Moriarty, the shows correspondent. “Every sin­gle piece of evidence points to their innocence, not to their guilt” Depp asserted, explaining that he imme­diately related to Damien Echols, sentenced to death, who as a teenager dressed in “Goth” style.

“He comes from a small town in Arkansas, I come from a relatively small town in Kentucky” Depp said. “I can remember being looked upon as a freak or different because I didn’t dress like everyone else, so I can empathize with being judged for how you look as op­posed to who you are. You want to do all you can, you know, to help light the wrongs, and the clock is ticking,’” he continued. “My biggest fear—it’s almost unutterable—is that justice is not served, not only for the three innocent men in prison, but also for those three lit­tle innocent boys.

“The most courageous action that the state could now take is to admit they made mistakes and then correct these errors.”

“A Cry for Innocence” aired July 24, 2010. After new forensic evi­dence was examined, prosecutors and defense attorneys reached an agreement under a legal maneuver called Alford pleas that allowed them to declare their innocence, while acknowledging the district attorney had enough evidence to prosecute them. The West Mem­phis Three were released from prison in August 2011.

Now Depp, who has some Cherokee blood in his maternal lineage, is in the planning stages of two very different projects. He plans to portray Tonto in a Lone Ranger film, yet to be named. “There is a good, funny script and there’s a boatload of humor,” Depp says, noting that he thought Tonto’s character had been short­changed in the TV series. Deep’s treatment would portray Tonto as crazy-like-a-fox. Filming is set to begin in January.

And then there’s Dr. Seuss—in real life Theodor Geisel, who resided for much of his life on a hilltop estate in La Jolla, Califor­nia. Depp is negotiating with Audrey Geisel on the rights to film her late husband’s story and the characters he brought to life.

And so it goes…a vampire, Tonto and Dr. Seuss are all swirling around in the mind of Johnny Depp, who confesses that he does have a tendency to proba­bly work too much.

“I need to have my brain occu­pied all the time”.

GQ, December 2011 – The Hunter and the Haunted

GQ, December 2011 – The Hunter and the Haunted

Title: The Hunter and the Haunted

Author: Robert Chalmers

Publication: GQ

Issue: December 2011

 

At 48, Johnny Depp shouldn’t make any sense. The punk kid turned blockbuster box-office pirate; the Heartthrob who longed for (and achieved) indie credibility; Hollywood’s most bankable enigma. This month, with the release of Hunter S Thompson’s The Rum Diary, the actor is on a personal crusade to honour the gonzo legend – and all the insanity he stood for. GQ finds a man unchanged by the weight of global fame: Johnny Depp, just as we like him, straight, no chaser. Buy the ticket, take the ride…

Those terrible 40 seconds would have moved even the most sceptical man to prayer, but Johnny Depp, remembering the trauma, responds with a deep, sonorous laugh. I mention how film director Bruce Robinson, who was sitting next to Depp when their private jet lost power to all systems over the Pacific, had told me that the actor reacted with similar amusement at the time, contemplating what might have been The last scene in an extraordinary life.

“There was a moment when I thought “Jesus Christ, we’ve had it,” Depp tells me. “We were on a recce for The Rum Diary in Mexico. And the plane just shuts down. Big time. All the lights go out.” He can’t stop himself from laughing again. “Then we go into a strange, uncontrolled descent. I looked at Bruce and said: ‘Is this it?’ And then we both burst out laughing, as we were plunging to what seemed to be our deaths. It felt so F***ing ludicrous it was hysterical. And so we lost it. Laughing our asses off as the plane was going down.”

‘”And then?”

”Everything kicked back in. We made  it through.”

What would we have lost, if that small jet had gone down in the ocean off San Diego? In Depp, the finest cinema actor of his era – of, some of us would argue, any other. In Bruce Robinson, a screenwriter of breathtaking wit and imagination. Best known for his majestically louche comedy Withnail And I and his script for The Killing Fields, Robinson has escaped wider recognition only through his refusal to yield to the rigid and parochial orthodoxies of Hollywood. How amusing would that have been, once Puerta Vallarta, the two men’s  airport of departure, had achieved the kind of grotesque but indelible fame conferred on Munich and Lockerbie?

Another immediate casualty would have been The Rum Diary, a project the two men had been collaborating on for several years. The film is based on Hunter S Thompson’s novel of the same name, itself inspired by the American writer’s experiences as a young reporter in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The book, though completed in the early Sixties, wasn’t published until 1998. It was Depp himself who found the novel’s original manuscript 15 years ago, staying with Thompson in preparation for his role in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Discarded in an old box, the novel had been buried among the writer’s miscellaneous notes and other unpublished works.

I’d imagined that Depp, having been very close to Thompson, who committed suicide in 2005, might be offended when I argue that the Film of The Rum Diary is a far more accomplished piece of work than Thompson’s book. In the same way I suggest, that Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps eclipsed the John Buchan thriller that inspired it.

“No,” says Depp, who’s unwinding in the living room of a rented house in London’s Mayfair, following a night shoot for his next film, Dark Shadows, directed by Tim Burton. “I understand what you’re saying. I‘ve read The Rum Diary, the book, countless times. Hunter understood its flaws. I remember Bruce calling me one day when he was working on the script. He said, ’I’ve sussed it. Hunter has split himself between two characters” I went “Oh, f*** me, you’re right! That is what he did, and it is, undeniably, a great distraction on the page.”

I imagine it’s just possible that there are some readers unfamiliar with the life and work of Dr Hunter S Thompson. He was – as his soul mate and illustrator; the Wallasey-born artist Ralph Steadrnan used to warn strangers – not a medical practitioner.

Thompson had a lifelong attraction to firearms and tear gas, and a history of igniting marine flares in situations of no obvious nautical emergency: he detonated one in a Manhattan pizzeria while he was having lunch with Tom Wolfe. Once he had established his international reputation, Hunter S Thompson brought the hubris of a delinquent rock guitarist to the sedate world of American letters.

Thompson shot himself in the kitchen at Owl Farm, his small ranch in Woody Creek, near Aspen, Colorado, in February 2005. Depp, with typical generosity, funded a lavish memorial event at Aspen’s Jerome Hotel. Later that same year, he organised the detonation of Thompson’s remains. The writer’s ashes were blown into the night sky, in accordance with his wishes, from a 153—feet high column, to the accompaniment of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”.

Through our mutual friend Steadrnan, I’ve met Depp several times before, at Owl Farm and at the Jerome Hotel in Aspen, though we’ve not previously spoken for publication. I remember one long afternoon, the day after Thompson’s funeral, spent sitting around a table at the Jerome, over bottles of red wine, with Steadman, Depp, Harry Dean Stanton, Bill Murray and the Kentucky—born artist Joe Petro III. I mention those others not simply for the joy of name—dropping, but because my main memory of Depp was of how quietly attentive he was in that company and how unusual in his dedication to observing others.  Surprisingly for a man with seemingly limitless facial dexterity, that “Yes, that’s right, you know who I am” look is one expression that, off·screen at least, is entirely absent from Johnny Depp’s repertoire.

So much so that – this is nothing to be proud of I know – the first time l spoke to Depp, in a hallway at the Jerome, I didn’t immediately recognise him. I do recall that I’d already had time to be impressed by his curiosity and intelligence even before somebody came up and addressed him by name.

“I was extremely surprised when we first met him,” Ralph Steadman says. “Because generally when somebody is that famous, and that beautiful – l actually think he is almost too beautiful to draw —l tend to assume that they are going to be a s***. But Johnny is kind, courteous and very bright; a perfect Southern gentleman.”

In The Rum Diary, Depp, 48, quite effortlessly and with utter conviction, passes for a man of 21. ”It’s all a bit sickening” l told Steadman. ”I know,” the painter replied. ”But there’s no getting away from it.”

Johnny Depp may have one or two assets that most of us don’t: the outstanding talent as a guitarist; the seemingly innate ability to replicate any accent; the 35-acre island in the Bahamas. But you wouldn’t guess it from his manner. Depp has retained certain attributes, that, with the onset of great fame, are usually the first to go: I’m thinking of modesty bordering on diffidence, the ability to listen as well as talk and a lack of vanity. (”I suppose,” as Terry Gilliam put it, “when you’re that good looking, you don’t have to worry about vanity”) The really irritating thing is the way that, where his appearance is concerned, he doesn’t seem to have to make an effort.

“Nobody” in the words of John Waters, who directed him in the 1990 high—school musical parody Cry-Baby, ”looks better in rags.”

That said, Depp inhabits a different world. Sit down for a glass of wine and a plate of tortilla and chips with him in a bar and two men will discreetly rope you off from the main area. I remind him how, late one evening in Aspen, he’d told me he had to leave for LA. “I said: Well, you’d better get a move on – the last flight goes before midnight” And you said…” “It’s my plane,” Depp recalls, with no pride.

And then, according to People magazine, Johnny Depp has been the sexiest man in the world for two out of the past nine years, most recently in 2009. “Me and Steadman didn’t enter that year,” I tell him. “We thought we’d give you a clear run. We just got weary of it.”

Depp laughs at this for slightly longer than I’d consider polite.

“You do have to laugh at some point,” he says. Imagine – someone votes you the sexiest man in the f***ing world? I feel like saying: “What? What does that mean?”‘

Johnny Depp first visited Hunter S Thompson at Woody Creek in late 1995. The writer made his entry brandishing two cattle prods that shot jagged blue lines of electricity into the air and the meeting culminated with Thompson inviting Depp to fire at a propane canister primed with nitroglycerine, in the Field to the rear of Owl Farm, sending a 75-foot ball of Flame into die night sky “He was not,” the actor observed, “a disappointment”.

Depp was with his then girlfriend Kate Moss and her mother who, as he said at the time, “thought Hunter was a madman and horribly dangerous, and that we should escape as soon as possible”.

In The Rum Diary, the actor gives a bravura performance as Paul Kemp, an incarnation of the young Thompson, who, having lied his way into journalism, is both horrified and entranced by the corruption and debauchery of low life in Puerto Rico. The film marks the culmination of the ten-year friendship that developed between the two men.

”There is more of Hunters spirit in The Rum Diary than in any other film I’ve seen,” I tell the actor “Fiction or documentary I found it eerie; a bit like looking into a part of his soul. At the same time he is a reporter at that point. And didn’t you once say ’I don’t really understand reporters. I don’t understand the animal?”’

“But what Hunter did was a different kind of journalism,” says Depp. “Observation was clearly part of it, but really Hunter was beyond observation. He lived it. And I understood – still understand -him very very well. I lived with the f * **er, as you know.”

Some actors, according to Terry Gilliam (who directed Johnny Depp in Fear And Loathing, Lost In La Mancha and The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus) are still fervently bonded to the Lee Strasberg school of Method acting. Depp, as Gilliam perceptively observed, works ”through osmosis”. By way of preparation for his role as Raoul Duke in Fear And Loathing — a character inspired by the more aberrant aspects of Thompson’s own psyche — the actor spent weeks sleeping at Owl Farm. Last time l saw the small room he slept in, only a year or two ago, it was still, as then, occupied mainly by spiders. Depp used to extinguish his cigarettes on the makeshift bedside table, an upended gunpowder keg.

”I’d been there for five days,” he remembers, “smoking in bed, before he told me the keg was still full of explosive.”

The offer of a sleepover at Owl Farm is one that few of us who spent any time with Dr. Thompson would have rushed to accept. While he was there, Depp didn’t so much observe his subject as assimilate his spirit.

”You’ve talked about how, when you play characters from life — John Dillinger (in Public Enemies, 2009) or Lord Rochester (in The Libertine, five years earlier) they can come almost to inhabit you. As I recall, when you were playing Rochester – a tour de force in which Depp is memorably assisted by Johnny Vegas – you said, ‘I believe that Rochester paid me a couple of visits.”‘

“I have felt that very strongly. Especially on that occasion. Rochester was most assuredly…there. That’s the only way I can explain it. That’s what I feel”

Depp’s body famously commemorates certain life experiences; they include one tattoo dedicated to his mother; another of a native American chief, and scars from self-inflicted knife wounds, a legacy of his troubled youth. Sustained proximity to Hunter S Thompson seems to have marked Depp forever to the point when a mother might say; “Be careful, or your face will stick like that .”

Both men were born in Kentucky but the actor’s voice, especially when he talks about Thompson, sometimes sounds as if he’s channelling the writer with the brusque, staccato phrasing and pauses of up to five seconds (a very long time in routine conversation – try it) between thoughts.

”When we were filming The Rum Diary,” Depp says, “Hunter was a presence, you know. We had a chair on the set with his name on it. We had [his trademark accessories] a bottle of Chivas Regal, a highball glass filled with ice, his Dunhills and cigarette holder”.

“The pepper grinder?” l ask, referring to the other ever-present possession, which Thompson used for his own, non-culinary requirements.

“No,” Depp laughs. “l figured Hunter would provide that. Otherwise we had the whole deal. It was all there.”

The Rum Diary is, as you might expect from Bruce Robinson, witty grotesque and eloquently deranged. And, for all that, deeply moving, especially in its final scenes.

“I’m glad you thought that. Because what we see at the end is the young Hunter moving on. He’d discovered all the ingredients that would be a part of his life but were not necessarily in the mix by then. But those were ingredients he retained throughout his life.” Meaning? ”Rage, honesty and a hatred of bulls***.”

You don’t need to sit through many hours of the insipid, formulaic melodramas that dominate the output of the major Hollywood studios to under’ stand something Budd Schulberg, writer of On The Waterfront, said not long before his death in 2009. “These days,” he remarked, “are very like the Thirties. We live in a time where the money doesn’t trust the talent”

And it’s remarkable, in such an age of conformity that one name guaranteed to bring both originality of thought and a mass audience to a production, as much as Hitchcock’s once did, is not a studio boss, a producer, or even (other than occasionally) a director.

Whether he’s playing a homicidal accountant in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man [1995), an opinionated detective, as in Tim Burton’s splendid honor Film Sleepy Hollow [1999], or even battling a mediocre script such as Once Upon A Time In Mexico (2003], Depp’s name on the credits, like Lionel Messi’s on a team sheet, is a solid assurance that you will not be wasting your evening.

Right from the start – once he’d escaped from 21 Jump Street, the Fox TV police series that gave him his first break – Johnny Depp boldly announced that he would never make bad films for money. What major actor hasn’t made that public promise? The difference in Depp’s case is that he’s stuck to it. “Most of the things l want to be involved in” he declared, many years ago, “Aren’t big-budget productions. We’ve all read formula stuff over and over again. I can’t help responding when I read something that really makes me cackle; stays in my memory…  makes me feel.”

“Your instincts regarding which projects to accept or decline have been pretty remarkable,” I say.

”But for years and years, as you well know, I was the guy who was box-office poison”

”When would you say that ended?”

“With Pirates Of The Caribbean, I suppose. But I was fine with that [earlier reputation]. I didn’t mind it at all.”

“Bruce Robinson told me that you approached him for The Rum Diary; he also said that many Americans have trouble understanding Withnail And I, maybe because there’s a peculiarly British aspect to the humour of self-destruction.”

(Withnail, the dark, inspirational comedy forever doomed to be preceded by the adjective “cult”, appeared in 1986. It follows the alcoholic descent of Withnail, played by Richard E Grant, whose character alternates between drink fueled hubris and clinical paranoia; Grant is magnificently supported by his appalled but mesmerised flatmate Paul McGann, who plays a fellow resting actor. Widely cherished in the UK, Withnail And I, with its ironic take on squalor and failure, resonated less powerfully with most North Americans.)

“Oh my God,” Depp says. “Withnail? Oh, my God. For me there are, like, two or three super-top films in my life. One of them is Withnail. Another would be To Have And Have Not”

Bruce Robinson would not, to put it mildly have been top of any Hollywood studio’s list of potential writers for The Rum Diary. After his early success as a screenwriter on The Killing Fields, his disillusion with the industry in LA was completed when he lost artistic control of his 1992 film Jennifer 8, the result of which, as he is the first to admit, was a dog of a film.

“I have written 46 screenplays,” said  Robinson, who talked to me at his home near Hay-on-Wye. “Hardly any of them have been made. Johnny called me up and said, ‘Do you know Hunter S Thompson’s book, The Rum Diary?’ ‘No.’ ’Can I send it to you?’ ’Please do.’ And then, later: ’Do you want to write the script?’ ’Sure.’ ‘Do you want to direct it?’ ’Yes.’ Everything happened like that. I didn’t have any hassle. All because of him. You know that line; what is the definition of a star? Someone who can get a film made. Well, Johnny Depp can.”

Depp’s apprenticeship for stardom I was an improbable one. He spent his early years in Owensboro, Kentucky, a city on the Ohio Riven close to Thompson’s native Louisville. His father John was a civil engineer; his mother, Betty Sue, a waitress. Christi, one of his two older sisters, is his personal manager; Daniel, his elder brother is a novelist and screenwriter. Their parents split up when Johnny was in his teens. “I read that you moved house 30 times as a child; that looks like an exaggeration? “If anything,” says Depp, ”it was an understatement.”

‘”Why so often?”

“My mom. She just wouldn’t be – couldn’t be ·- satisfied in one spot,” he tells me. ”So we’d move to one joint, stay therefor a while, then split to another joint” When he was seven, they relocated to Miramar, Florida. By contrast with the scenic promise in its name, Miramar is a built-up area, half an hour drive inland from the ocean on the north side of Miami, an area that social workers describe as “challenging”.

“Exactly where did you begin your new life in Florida?”

“Living in a filthy motel. I used to have to go out and steal coffee and doughnuts. It was dire.”

“What’s your main recollection of the place, now?”

‘” As a sliver of hell. But as kids, we loved it. Because we didn’t know anything different. And then went on to live in… I don’t know how many houses. We were constantly moving, you know?”

“Like a gipsy existence?”

“That’s what it was, really”

Depp calls himself “kind of a mutt; my great-grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee.” He also has Irish blood. In Miramar today whether listed as a white Caucasian, or Caucasian with Native American blood, Depp would he in an ethnic minority.

“When I was growing up there,” he says, ”the predominant sect were racists. The kids I went to school with were Cuban, black, Asian, or whatever. There was this craziness- race riots every year. And that [racial conflict] never made any f***ing sense to me. I came from Kentucky I had no experience of it. In Miramar, a black kid you were friends with might smack you in the face with a helmet and you’d end up in a fight. And I’d just think, what the f***’s going on?”

”Did that environment help you in your ability with accents?” [No American-born actor ever; has mastered the subtleties of UK English and its regional variations as well as Depp, who – unlike someone like Bette Davis – didn’t have the advantage of coming from New England, where the similarities of pronunciation would give anyone a head start.]

“I was always fascinated by accents as a child. When I was about six or seven, I thought that one day I might become a great impersonator. I became intensely preoccupied with the way people spoke. Also… I do have a musical ear. I taught myself how to play the guitar. I think that was important in terms of learning how to listen.”

He dropped out of school to join a rock band, the Kids. Sufficiently successful to have supported Chuck Berry REM and Iggy Pop, they never secured a record deal. At 20, he married Lori Anne Allison, a make—up artist. Once the band had moved to LA, they changed their name to Six Gun Method, and Depp, after three years of marriage, was single again.

He says his passion for music and books was encouraged and guided by his older brother Daniel, who introduced him to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Jack Kerouac’s On The Rood, Allen Ginsbergs poems and Fear and Loathing In Los Vegas.

One of the unusual things about Johnny Depp -— and there are a few — is the way that, though entirely self—taught, he betrays none of the common symptoms of the autodidact (such as difficulty in evaluating sources of information). It would he no surprise to discover that he had an English degree from Princeton. Depp is that rarest thing: an actor with an acute intellectual sensibility who acts not with his IQ but his instinct.

If there is a secret to the success with which he’s applied his unique talent that may be it. But even the most gifted, in any profession, require a modicum of luck. Depp’s break into films has become the stuff of legend. He bumped into his friend Nicolas Cage on the street and told him he needed a job. Cage sent him to his agent, who presented him to director Wes Craven, who gave him a major role in his 1984 Elm Nightmare On Elm Street.

Depp enrolled with a private drama teacher, and in 1986 appeared as a Vietnamese-speaking recruit in Oliver Slone’s Platoon. Then followed his four lucrative but uneasy years starring in 21 Jump Street. lt was his stunning and improbably poignant performance in Tim Burton’s 1990 classic Edward Scissorhands that established him as a phenomenon.

For a young man of a curious or reckless disposition, whatever his line of work, LA can be a dangerous city. Even before he came to California, Depp had something of a reputation for beating himself up physically.

“When l was a kid,” he told Rolling Stone magazine, “drugs were around. My parents went through a nasty divorce. That was just the direction I went in, for a while. I wouldn’t say it was self-medicating. It never had anything to do with fun for me.”

And as his professional reputation grew in Hollywood, so did his reputation` for gregariousness. John Waters, recalling the making of Cry-Baby, talked about presiding over “the most insane cast. Other than Johnny there was the ex—porn star Traci Lords, Patti Hearst and Iggy Pop. We partied as a pack. People would comeinto restaurants, see us, and run away.”

The former companion of actresses Sherilyn Fenn and Jennifer Grey among others, Depp is reputed to have been drinking heavily when he broke up with Winona Ryder in 1993, around the time he was making Lasse Hallstrom’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grope, in which Depp cares for his troubled younger brother, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

“l don’t trust anyone who hasn’t been self-destructive in some way” Depp told one reporter. “And who hasn’t gone through some sort of bout of self—loathing. You’ve got to bang yourself around a bit to know yourself.”

Even in his darker moments, his sense of irony never deserted him. Following a reported altercation with Kate Moss at the Mark Hotel, New York in 1994, he was billed for almost $10,000 worth of damage to the Presidential Suite. [“I was trying to catch this bug,” Depp explained, “and a couple of articles of furniture happened to get in the way”]

“I’m not going to ask you for an inventory of the pharmaceuticals you took,” I say

“At a certain point in our youth,” Depp replies, “we would put things into our bodies that were unfit to be put into a f***ing automobile. You know what I mean? You wouldn’t put that stuff into a bad car. We treated ourselves like…” The actor pauses. “Anyhow, at a certain point you’ve got to take apart the f***ing motor. Like you open the hood of the car and check over the parts; all the bits and hubs that make it go. Eventually you have to examine yourself in that way.”

He still smokes the occasional hand-rolled cigarette, and drinks red wine, “Because I feel that wine is the elixir of the gods.” He met singer and actress Vanessa Paradis at the Hotel Costes in Paris, in 1998. “I knew at that moment I was done,” Depp laughs. “It was like – OK – it’s over.” [Together since 1999, they have two children, Lily Rose, 12, and Jack, nine.]

He’s still in touch with both his parents. “My dad lives in Florida,” he says. “He’s a pretty tough customer. Betty Sue is living in Kentucky She’s built like a Panzer Division.”

Talking of which, does he have to work hard at looking the way he does?”

“I work out, yes. I train. I run. I do all that s** * that Hunter would be embarrassed by.”

“What made you re-evaluate the way you were living your life? Having children?” A longer pause than usual.

“it was having children that woke me up. To fall in love, to that degree… to fall in lovewith… these little angels. Who didn’t ask to arrive, but who arrived anyway. That was just huge for me. It was like the uplifting of a veil. There was something that it gave me, for the very first time in my life.”

”That thing being?”

“Clarity.”

“I did find a press cutting from the old days where you declare: ’I am not a bar brawler or a booze—guzzling drug fiend” I don’t recall Julie Andrews ever saying anything like that.”

“You are a bar brawler if you have to be, you know. If you are confronted with some… situation.” Another pause. ”Are you sure I said that? I don’t think it sounds like me.”

“Maybe it wasn’t you,” I suggest. ”Maybe it was Julie Andrews. Now I think about it, I have a feeling that Julie might not be a bad person to have at your side in a bar-room fight.”

“You’re right,” says Depp. “And she’s got the umbrella.”

I spoke to the actress Beatrice Dalle recently I tell the actor, and said how I thought that fame had never done anybody much good. And what Dalle said was, ’Uh, but it has, for me. Fame? It’s great! I love it!’ Not your sentiments, I imagine?

“Er… no. In fact I always have a problem even associating the word ’fame’ with my name, you know.” (“Please,” Depp told a group of British photographers, driving them back with a plank as they tried to photograph a pregnant Vanessa Paradis outside a restaurant in 1999, ”tonight I don’t want to he Johnny Depp.”)

“I’ve had that problem for 20 years.”

“Are you saying it’s hard being you?”

“No. it isn’t very hard being me. It‘s very easy. It’s the people around me who have to deal with all that. I mean… don’t misunderstand me. I feel lucky. I feel blessed to have experienced this road. The thing about [this level of fame] is that there is great potential for weirdness if you want it. But l don’t want anything to do with that stuff. I can’t bear it.”

I remind him of those assistants roping off sections of restaurants. “It can’t be much fun,” I suggest, “not to be able to wander around…”

“It‘s the letting go that’s bad,’“ says Depp. ”That decisive moment when you recognise that you are letting go of your anonymity in the knowledge that it has gone forever. It’s a strange feeling. Especially for a guy who pumped gas. You know what I mean? I f* * *ing pumped gas. I worked construction. And letting go of that possibility of just moving around in the world is strange. But I suppose that’s what you’d call the bill, right? Here comes your bill, kid. Pay it.”

“The other day, somebody said to me: if he doesn’t want to be recognised, why does he wear those clothes?” [Depp still dresses less like an actor, more like a rock star]. “I would get recognised anyway anywhere. What’s the alternative? A full—on disguise?”

A fortnight before we meet, Depp drove down to Ralph Steadmans house, an idyllic and secluded property near Maidstone, Kent. The grounds are large; there’s a pool; the house is not overlooked. (Thompson used to refer to it as Steadmarfs ”castle”.]

“Hello, Johnny Depp” shouted Steadman’s grandson Oliver as the actor arrived. (“Only my mother,” Depp told the six-year old, “ever calls me by my full name!’) “Its so wonderful,” he says, “to relax quietly with a family It’s not very often,” he says, softly ”that I get that sort of opportunity. It’s been a while.”

The Rum Diary is highly unusual in that — whereas most Hollywood movies involve the yoking together of disparate super-egos, this film represents a glorious collision between sympathetic, like-minded mavericks, each bringing their own history to the production.

“l feel like this was the right homage to Hunter,” Depp said. “I was just always searching… searching for his voice.”

Director Bruce Robinson met Hunter S Thompson only once, at the Chateau Marmont,

Los Angeles. It did not go well. ”We didn’t exchange a single word with each other in two and a half hours. He sat there with the Dunhills, the bag of grass, the cocaine grinder and the Chivas Regal. He didn’t say a thing. Then he got up and left.”

But Robinson has a bond with the extended Thompson family through his friendship with Ralph Steadman – without whose assistance, the writer concedes, Withnail And I might never  have been made. The writer worried about the prospects for his film, showed up at Steadman’s home, hoping the painter might provide some artwork for the proposed movie. He entered the grounds in a state of some exuberance.

“I was completely p* * *ed,” Robinson recalls.” Ralph said, ’Take a look at my trees, Bruce” And I apparently said, “Everyone trees, Ralph” But he helped to get Withnail And I made, because his phenomenal piece of artwork expressed what those characters were better than anything else could, except possibly the film itself.”

Steadman, says Depp, “is kind of the strange missing link, in The Rum Diary: the connection between Bruce and Hunter. Ralph was shocked when I told him how much Hunter adored him. And he did. He f***ing worshipped Ralph. But of course he wasn’t going to let Ralph know that.”

Depp and Bruce Robinson share an interest in antiquarian books, fine wines and munitions. In a store room below the Englishmans writing room in Herefordshire is a substantial Supply of explosive devices. The two men got on straight away says Robinson, who, it should be emphasised, doesn’t have the slightest hint of “luvvie” about him.

“I’m sure his advisors must have said, ’OK, Johnny — the script’s good. But this guy hasn’t made a him in 17 years. And the last one he made was s** *.’ The worst possible thing that could have happened would have been if we had disliked each other. He’d have been going back to his trailer every night, thinking, ’Why did I choose this c***? I could have had any director in Hollywood.”‘

But, Robinson continues, “’Depp was a joy. He hones in on things with such speed. It was a real pleasure to make that film. The trouble is that it has de—inoculated me against Hollywood. I have a real desire to do it again.”

Marlon Brando, who was actively assisting Johnny Depp with the practicalities involved in purchasing a Bahamian island at the time of his death in 2004, urged the younger actor to review his prolific output: around three Films a year, on average. “Because,” Brando told him, “we only have so many faces in our pockets.”

His warning represented an underestimation of Depp, in terms of his energy; versatility and, above all, his ability to judge a script. (“Johnny has a cast-iron bulls”‘ detector,” says Robinson. ‘And its active”)

Depp often speaks of his career as a journey down a road; almost a pilgrimage. “I have been a construction labourer,” he wrote in the introduction to the 1995 book Burton On Burton, ”a gas-station attendant, a bad mechanic, a screen printer, a musician, a phone salesman and an actor – but there’s never been a second that went by in which I deviated from the road that Jack Kerouac put me on via my brother. It’s been an interesting ride – emotionally and psychologically taxing – but a motherf** *er straight down the pike. And I know that without these great writers’ holy words seared into my brain, I would most likely have ended up chained to a wall in Camarillo State hospital, zapped beyond recognition, or dead by misadventure.”

It can take many decades, with authors, to decide who is going to be remembered forever, as the many tonnes of discarded work by writers such as John Galsworthy could tell you. In the cinema, at the highest level, the identification of genius is comparatively swift and straightforward: especially with an artist like Johnny Depp who, I remark, has somehow managed not to disappear up the rear of his own ego.

“Not yet,” says the actor.

I doubt if there’s anyone who loves everything Depp has done – even himself. 21 Jump Street was a period of transition, rather than a part of his legacy Some purists are enervated his committing his talents to Disney for the Pirates series, and the mainstream nature of those films. I struggle with Sweeney Todd, because l can’t get on with the music of Stephen Sondheim. In the context of his life and work, these are trivial and subjective details.

The great film critic David Thomson once wrote about Depp: “I don’t wish to bring down a curse on him, but he is what Marlon Brando might have remained, but for the rage, the disillusionment, the mad hunt for vengeance and the deadly weight”

My own feeling is that Brando, great artist as he was, is a man whose achievement Johnny Depp has already surpassed. Even now, to find Depp’s equal, you have to go back through the generations: to men like Cary Grant, John Barrymore, Lon Chaney Sr; even his own hero Buster Keaton. The truly remarkable thing about his career is that, given his comparative youth and already prodigious range — what will he be capable of with age? —- It has really only just begun. The most exhilarating thing about Johnny Depp is not the past achievement but the promise — and the thought of all those extraordinary experiences that await him, and us, as he travels further on down that road.

What makes Johnny special? (extended intro text)

Johnny Depp – in my opinion the most beautiful man in the world – always working exactly against this beautiness. The only work he doesn’t succeed in. And even if you don’t think Johnny looks absolutely amazing – you cannot deny that he is the most talented actor of his generation. Nobody can represent that many different characters, nobody is that daring in his choice of movies. I guess there is no role he cannot play. And he is not only a great actor. Do not forget his great work as the writer and director of the movie The Brave. Or his talent as a musician. Playing the guitar or even composing his own character’s score for the soundtrack of the movie Once upon a time in Mexico.

And his most adorable “talent” is his character in real life, his love for his girl Vanessa Paradis, and being a father for his two kids.

But why Johnny Depp?

Johnny Depp gives us fans more back than it is even possible for other actors.

Johnny is one of the most talented and convertible actors ever. He does’t let himself being pegged as something, but attempts completely different roles everytime. And he does not only play the character, he becomes the character, so that nobody else is conceivable for it. Johnny Depp doesn’t shy away from movies for sure a flop nor from roles not even paid for. He is not only a great actor. Let’s not forget his great work as the writer and director of the movie The Brave. Or his talent as a musician. Playing the guitar or even composing his own character’s score for the soundtrack of the movie Once upon a time in Mexico.

Apart from these talents, he is – obviously – an incredibly beautiful looking man, whose outer beauty is reflected inside and out of his eyes many times over.

In interviews he always seems romantically dreamy and thoughtfull, before this seriousness suddenly turns into an incredibly cute, childish and stirring humor.

But Johnny Depp doesn’t care about his stardom and beauty.

He is down to earth and sees himself as an ordinary guy with an extraordinary job. He doesn’t wear designer fashion, but he has his own personal (Quote:) “No-Style-Style”: he wears, what he found.

Instead of meeting with the celebrities of Hollywood, he plays Barbie with his daughter at home. In interviews he talks smiling about his two kids and their mother Vanessa Paradis.

This is what makes him so covetable: he is not the unreachable star but a completely down to earth family father.

And Johnny accepts us fans – or “supporters” how he calls us – from his heart.

He signs autographs till the last fan got one. At public appearances, he lays his hand down to his heart to show us that he wears us there. He tells fans he meets, that he is the one feeling honoured. And in his totally unprepared, from hearth coming, acception speech of the People’s Choice Awards he thanks us with the words “you’re the boss!”.

Johnny Depp is just…more wonderful than the man every woman covertly dreams from.

I want to add a quote…my favourite one made about Johnny Depp…written by Rudolf John in the Austrian Kurier and I hope, I translated this correct: …and there is scarcely any other actors face that meets more the conception of romanticism than his. With the melancholic trait around the mouth, the poetic far sighted view, where nevertheless the rogue is flashing through, and the bantering body language.

— Martina

Short List Magazine Oct. 2011

Short List Magazine Oct. 2011

the following article is Copyright Shortlist.com October 2011

The world’s biggest movie star talks

“I am preparing myself to forgive you,” says Johnny Depp, dramatically. “I think you’ve been punished enough.”

What heinous crime has ShortList committed to warrant such hard-fought absolution from one of the most famous men on the planet? Only to ask him for his favouriteWithnail & I quote, which, as Uncle Monty devotees will already have spotted, he promptly provided, accent and all.

However, we’ve not waited up until the early hours for Depp’s transatlantic call simply to trade lines from cult films. The 48-year-old is phoning ShortList to promote his latest project — a big-screen adaptation of Hunter S Thompson’s debut novel, The Rum Diary.

It’s been 13 years since Depp’s first celluloid flirtation with Thompson’s work, in the shape of the almighty Fear And Loathing In Las VegasThe Rum Diary, written a decade before Fear And Loathing but not published until 1998, finds the actor playing permanently ‘thirsty’ journalist Paul Kemp; another drink-and-drug-pickled, semi-autobiographical Thompson protagonist.

Replacing Terry Gilliam in the director’s chair for this adaptation is Withnail visionary Bruce Robinson (hence the Uncle Monty impression), whom Depp lured out of a 19-year retirement to write the screenplay and direct the film. Which results in our first question…

How did you manage to coax Bruce Robinson back to filmmaking?

I was a real pest [laughs]. I just kept coming at him. I understand someone who makes that decision and says, “I’m done with this cinema game and all those nasty bits that come with it,” but Bruce was my dream for The Rum Diary and he was Hunter’s too. So I had to pursue him until he kicked me in the mid-section [laughs].

Did he ever come close to doing that?

I don’t know [laughs]. He was initially reluctant, but once we’d talked about it a bit and he’d read the book a couple of times, he started to get a flavour for it. I’d always wanted to work with Bruce on something, but The Rum Diary was the ultimate. And then one day he just said, “You know, I think I’ll do it.”

You’re obviously a big Withnail & I fan. Have you got a favourite quote from the film?

Oh my God, there are so many. Well, certainly Uncle Monty. Oh, and then there’s the opening scene [adopts Withnail voice] “I have some extremely distressing news… We just ran out of wine.”

Is there a touch of Withnail about Captain Jack Sparrow?

Oh yeah, definitely. But Withnail, for me, is as great as cinema gets. It has every aspect you want. It’s hysterically funny, immensely quotable and there’s a great gravity to it as well. It’s a very poetic film. For me, it’s in the top three of all time.

What are the other two?

I’d say Time Of The Gypsies by Emir Kusturica and To Have And Have Not [Howard Hawks’ 1944 war romance].

Robinson famously told the teetotal Richard E Grant that he had to get drunk at least once in order to play Withnail. Did he take a similar approach with you on The Rum Diary?

Well, the thing is, both Bruce and I have a tendency with drinking to… Well, we’re both very good at it. He has a pretty hefty capacity and so do I, so we initially made a pact to stay completely sober. For the first couple of months we managed it, until one late night filming in Puerto Rico. It was boiling hot, a million degrees humidity. We were just about to finish for the night and we saw this little store across the street and we knew — we just knew — they had the coldest Coronas in the world in there. So, at that moment, we said, “All right, f*ck it. We’ve got to have a beer.” We downed about three each in a minute [laughs].

Did the boozing continue?

Yeah, but it wasn’t out of hand. We weren’t guzzling booze on set.

Is it true that you and Robinson nearly died while scouting locations?

Yeah. We were flying to Mexico to check out some locations and suddenly, somewhere over San Diego, the plane’s power went. Engine noise, everything — it just went. It was one of those moments where Bruce and I just locked eyes and went, “What the f*ck?” I think I literally said to him, “Wow, is this… it?” And then we both burst into hysterical, uncontrollable belly laughs.

Had you been drinking, by any chance?

We’d had some wine, yeah. And a few Coronas [laughs]. But it wasn’t a hallucinatory situation. It was really real. The power came back on, of course, but it was one of those things that nobody wanted to talk about until we were safely off the plane. But Bruce and I were laughing like infants the entire time.

There are some impressive stunts in the film involving fire-spitting and driving while sitting on another man’s lap. Did you perform those?

Well, I thought I was going to do the fire-spitting, but everyone came over and said, “No, no, that’s not happening. Not tonight, Johnny.” I figured I could have done it. But driving down those steps in the car — that was very real.

Were there any close calls?

Hell yeah! [Laughs] It was ugly. Especially as I was being dry-humped by a grown man while I was trying to steer.

Having worked so closely with Hunter S Thompson on Fear And Loathing, was it odd not having him on set this time round?

It was. But I had this cache of ammunition from my years with Hunter, living in his basement, going on the road with him as his… What did he call me? Oh yeah — “road manager and head of security”. And my name was Ray. People would go, “That’s Johnny Depp,” and Hunter would say, “No. His name is Ray.” [Laughs] So because I knew him so well, he’s easily accessible.

What’s your fondest memory of the time you spent together?

It’s difficult to pick just one, but that time alone with him, just the two of us — besides Deborah, his secretary, who basically kept us alive by feeding us vitamins and water — that was the greatest, because it was Hunter unguarded. So those evenings, sitting around, bullsh*tting about writers such as [F Scott] Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Nathanael West, those were my favourites. But even when I was 2,000 miles away, I’d get the occasional 3am phone call from him, saying things such as, “Colonel!” — he used to call me ‘Colonel Depp’ — “Colonel! Are you familiar with the hairy black tongue disease?” [Laughs] I’d be like, “What?” “Oh yeah, man. It’s a real thing. I’ve got some literature on it that I found at the dentist’s office. You gotta read about this hairy black tongue disease.” And you know, it is a real thing [laughs].

You must have had some wild nights out around the time of making Fear And Loathing…

Yeah, there was a time when Hunter did a gig at The Viper Room [the LA nightclub that Depp used to co-own]. We all met for dinner — me, Hunter and John Cusack came too. Hunter forced me and Cusack to get onstage with him, and he had this idea when we arrived that we should chuck a blow-up doll on the street so we could have the proper sound of screeching tyres outside.

Why did he want that?

He wanted chaos! [Laughs] So, he threw this blow-up naked woman doll into the road and there was this horrible commotion and screaming, tyres, going “Eeeeekkk!” And he just laughed, man. He just laughed.

Was that typical Hunter behaviour?

Oh, very. I remember the first night I met him. It was around Christmas ’94. I was asked to go to the Woody Creek Tavern [in Colorado] and wait for Hunter. So I’m sitting in the back of this joint and suddenly, at about 12.30am, the door bursts open and all I see is sparks [Thompson was carrying a Taser gun in his hand]. Just sparks. Then I see people hurling themselves on the floor, and I spot the safari hat and sunglasses and hear [adopts Hunter voice], “Out of my way, you bastards.” He cleared a path, walked straight up to me and said, “Good evening. My name’s Hunter.” From then on, we were the best of friends [laughs].

Do you find that certain characters, such as Fear And Loathing’s Raoul Duke, have stayed with you?

Yeah, it’s a weird thing. When I played Edward Scissorhands, I found a great safety in being that character, because there was nothing negative or malicious about him. So, I learned to look at everything almost through a puppy’s eyes. And when I was playing Raoul, I found safety in thinking and retaliating like him, through all that time I spent with Hunter. There are still times to this day when Hunter… arrives. Whenever I find myself in some ignorant situation, this kind of irreverence arrives in me that was a huge part of Hunter. He could be so irreverent and at the same time so deadly.

Let’s talk about your other famous characters. Your children must be forever insisting that you do the Jack Sparrow voice for them…

[Laughs] No, Captain Jack doesn’t do it for them any more. They’re so used to him now. I have to make them laugh with new characters.

Like who?

Just anything to make your kiddie laugh, you know? Some of the characters I’ve done in the past were born literally out of playing Barbie with my daughter. And if [a new character] works, I think, “OK, I may put him in a drawer and use him again later.”

You recently worked with Ricky Gervais on Life’s Too Short — was that fun?

Oh my God, it was out of control. Everyone was trying to keep a poker face on the set and it just wasn’t happening. Stephen Merchant came closest, but Ricky and I were howling and so was Warwick [Davis]. We were all crying with laughter.

So there’s no bad blood between you and Gervais after his joke about The Tourist at the Golden Globes earlier this year?

No, no. I actually thought that was the funniest thing he said that night [laughs]. He’s a very talented guy and obviously he’s got his act, his thing. But he’s very clever and super quick.

As one of the world’s coolest men, do you have any guilty pleasures?

I wish I could tell you I watch those horrible reality shows or something, but I just can’t bring myself to. I don’t know… I like watching crime shows on TV.

Like The Wire?

No, like documentary, investigatory shows. Unsolved crimes. I can’t think of any other guilty pleasures, other than I’m a big fan of The Monkees’ song Daydream Believer.

That’s not a guilty pleasure — that’s a good song.

Oh, OK. Good. Thanks.

Do you still play your own music?

I get together and write music with friends occasionally. Music is still my first love, so it’s never anything I’ve abandoned.

You’ve worked with Keith Richards and Noel Gallagher — ever thought of forming a supergroup with them?

No, man, I’m not worthy [laughs]. But if things pop up, I’ll do them. Shane [MacGowan] called and asked if I’d play on something recently. I played on Patti Smith’s record. I love playing any chance I get.

Stephen Graham told us that he tried to make you a Liverpool FC fan on the set of the last Pirates Of The Caribbean film. Did he manage it?

[Laughs] Yeah, he tried, and our Liverpudlian stunt co-ordinator on [Tim Burton’s upcoming gothic drama] Dark Shadows has been trying, too. But I don’t really know enough about the sport — I haven’t seen many games. Although I did go to an England rugby match a while back. That was cool.

You must get spotted at events like that. What kind of things do fans say to you?

Little kids like to hear Captain Jack. But what really freaks them out is when you go from Jack to [adopts Wonka voice] “Willy Wonka” [laughs]. Suddenly, they’re like, “I’m not sure about this guy…”

The Rum Diary is at cinemas nationwide from 11 November

(Image: All Star)

Vanity Fair, November 2011 – The Hunter in Johnny Depp

Vanity Fair, November 2011 – The Hunter in Johnny Depp

Title: The Hunter in Johnny Depp

Author: Nick Tosches

Publication: Vanity Fair

Issue:  November 2011

It is Johnny Depp’s The Rum Diary as much as it is the late Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary. For one thing, The Rum Diary, Hunter’s only published novel, likely never would have seen the light of day if Johnny hadn’t discovered it in the writer’s basement while staying with him 15 years  ago, preparing to make Hunter’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas into a movie with the director Terry Gilliam. Hunter himself had forgotten about The Rum Diary, which he had begun writing in 1959, at the age of 22, and had not been able to get published. Johnny found it when he was rummaging through some old boxes of Hunter’s works and notes.

“These perfect boxes,” Johnny says. “I pulled it out. I was like, ‘What is this?’ Hunter was like, ‘Oh, shit. The Rum Diary. Oh, yeah.’ It was hidden. Hunter didn’t know it was there.” Soon after Johnny found the book, it was finally published, in 1998, the year the movie of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas came out.

Thirteen years later, another adaptation, this one as much Johnny’s vision as Hunter’s. It’s an enhancement and a furthering of the novel, and brings to it the rich maturity that the voice of the young aspiring writer had not yet achieved. It is The Rum Diary seen as Hunter might have written it in his later prime.

I knew that Johnny, who was very close to and fond of Hunter, and very admiring of his work, would have some enlightening things to say about the movie, and I wanted to hear them. I also wanted to spend some time with him, as we hadn’t seen each other in years. As it turned out, this wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Several years ago, when I had arranged a dream date (disguised as an interview) with Charlotte Rampling, for whom I had lusted since seeing The Night Porter but had never even met, it took only a telephone call and a few minutes to set things up. But arranging time for a get-together with Johnny, whom I’ve known for years and whose son, Jack, is my godson, took more than a week of back- and-forth hurdlings.

You see, Johnny works a lot. He keeps to a grueling schedule. (Yes, that’s right: grueling schedule. This is supposed to be journalism, isn’t it? Don’t be surprised if shocking display or phenomenal or even pausing pensively before answering, as if turning a coin in his mind lurks around the corner. But I wouldn’t do that. To you maybe. But not to Revelatin’ John.) I want to ask him about this schedule, as 1 suspect he may have become, to use a bit of New Age psychobabble, a workaholic.

First, however, I want to ask him something I didn’t plan on asking him. We are both in London, where he is shooting yet another movie, Dark Shadows, directed by Tim Burton. Our strategy for the day has been for him to get the photo shoot for this story out of the way by mid-afternoon, then sit down for our interview, so as to leave us free to go drinking and gambling into the night, even though he does have to be on the Dark Shadows set very early the next morning. As it turns out, he has decided against doing the photo shoot, postponing it for another day. But it takes him four hours to resolve the situation. Which has left me in my room, nice as it is, at Brown’s Hotel, hanging around for those four hours waiting for a call, and I am sort of pissed off. But as the car finally passes through the gates to pull up to the imposing red-brick Mayfair manor that Johnny is occupying while working in London, I am no longer at all pissed off. I am merely looking forward to seeing Johnny.

I slouch into a big, deep, comfortable couch in a big, opulent room that is vaguely evocative of a royal Arabian majlis, or luxuriously welcoming lounging room. (The manor was indeed owned by a fabulously wealthy Arabian eminence.) Dominating the room, in an ornate gilt frame on the far wall, directly across from where I sit, is Banksy’s How Do You Like Your Eggs? The painting shows a woman in full black Muslim garb and veil and a cheap sex-novelty kitchen apron, a spatula in one hand, a skillet containing an egg in the other, her eyes narrowly visible, her eyebrows arched slightly, cryptically, defiantly. After negotiations with the artist and his representatives, Johnny acquired the painting in May of this year. It is one of the most bizarrely captivating images I’ve ever seen.

Then in walks Johnny. He sits down beside me with a big grin, lights a smoke, and out comes the Chateau L’Evangile 2002. The same old Johnny. The Johnny Depp who long ago pumped gas at a Shell station in Miramar, Florida, was pulled by the owner from the easier job of working the pump to the harder labor in the garage, and drifted west with members of his band, the Kids. In Los Angeles, he continued to pursue music- which he does to this day, having become a formidable guitarist-but he got along by attending the city’s many Scientology study groups, which paid attendees, even nonbelievers like Johnny, $3 each to sit through them. (“I went to a bunch, man. It was so great, it was so fantastic.”) Turning 20, he ended up in pictures, and today, at 48, he is regarded as the biggest movie star around. And yet he is the same old Johnny, his circumstances changed, but not his nature. I’ve never found it hard to imagine him still pumping gas with a cigarette dangling from his lips. And I’ve never ceased to wonder at the rare range and depth of his reading, intelligence, knowledge, and interests: from Baudelaire to Beckett to Burroughs; from insights into Ch’an Buddhism that pick up where The Transmission of the Lamp leaves off to observations on the nature of things that pick up where Lucretius left off to a connoisseurship of both wine and Mountain Dew-a range and depth even more rare among actors, most of whom lead hollow scripted lives, most of whose humanity is an awkwardly assumed pretense, a role playacted mawkishly;

But the question remains: How can someone who seems to have had hi picture on every magazine cover in the world seven times over so an antagonistic to having his picture taken. It turns out that “antagonistic” is to mild a word.

“Well, you just fell like you’re being raped somehow.” Strong words from an easygoing, down-to-earth man not given to drama in his everyday life. “Raped. The whole thing. It feels like a kind of weird-just weird, man. Weird. Like you meet people and they say, ‘Can I have a picture with you?’ and that’s great. That’s fine. That’s not a problem. But whenever you have a photo shoot or something like that, it’s like-you just feel dumb. It’s just so stupid.”

He says this antipathy is nothing new. He’s always hated to have his picture taken. Even a quarter of a century ago and more, back in the days of A Nightmare on Elm Street, when he needed all the publicity he could get, photo shoots creeped him out.

I move on to the workaholic angle. About five or six years ago, at a restaurant in Paris, La Closerie des Lilas, I asked him why he kept working, why he didn’t just wave it all away and live. He said then that it was because they might not want him in five years.

He was already rich and famous when I had first met him, maybe a dozen years ago. Then one day at a pizza place in London a few years later, in the early spring of 2002, he withdrew a script from his satchel, asked me to open it anywhere, look at it, and tell him what I thought. If you want to do it, I said, do it. It was Pirates of The Caribbean. So by the time I asked him that question at that restaurant in Paris, a few more years after that, he was really, really rich and really really famous. And now those five years after which they might not want him anymore have passed, too, and he is really, really, really rich and really, really, really famous. What is his excuse now for continuing to work so hard?

“Basically, if the re going to pay me the stupid money right now. I’m going to take it. I have to. I mean, it’s not for me. Do you know what I mean? At this point, it’s for my kids. It’s ridiculous, yeah, yeah, but ultimately is it for me? No. No. It’s for the kids.”

Though “workaholism” is an ungainly neologism (and the more sinister Japanese karoshi, meaning death from overwork, an even newer, if less ungainly, one), there is no escaping the impression that Johnny certainly seems to be working too hard. At least to me, who would like nothing more than to live out my days in quiet serenity in a hammock strung between two big old shady trees.

So I persist. I know him to be a traditional family man, in the best, truest sense of that phrase; Vanessa Paradis, his French better half, their two children, Lily-Rose, now 12, and Jack, now 9, are the center of his world.  But-

“And, come on, it’s for you too.”  “Not really, because I keep working-I’m constantly fucking like I’m slamming the fucking=you know, every day is like fucking … ” He takes a breath, takes a drag, takes a sip, and starts again. “There is a part of me that needs to have this kind of stimulation to the brain. I must have fucking stimulation.”

And what about all the Hollywood bullshit that comes with it? Is adulation addictive?

“It is what it is.”

What it all comes down to is irrefutable.

“I’m happy,” he continues. “I’m happy.  It’s fine.”

The wine is going down good.

“Yeah,” Johnny says with a smile, “we have to go gamble.”

“What I wanted to ask you-”

“Oh, my brother, I’m so fucking happy  to see you.”

“What do you get sick of being asked?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“No. Really. No.”

“Is there something you wish somebody would ask you?”

“No.” This brings on a good deal of laughter. “No.”

I want to go gambling, too. I have my  blue Ritz Club membership card in my wallet and fond memories of our last long night there at the blackjack tables and the bar; the night when a gambler of unknown ethnic origin at our table, asked by a cocktail waitress if he should like something to drink, said, “I like bean soup,” and Johnny and I, looking at each other, couldn’t suppress our laughter; the night we won a bundle. But I want to talk about The Rum Diary too.

Those who can recall back a number of column inches ago might remember my saying that The Rum Diary as brought to the screen is as much Johnny’s vision as Hunter’s, and that it is an enhancement and a furthering, rather than a faithful visualization, of the novel. The time and setting have been changed only slightly. The novel opens in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1958; the movie in San Juan, 1960. (The reasons for the change of year were to allow for television images of Richard Nixon as a presidential candidate and for a bit of surfing drum music that hadn’t existed in 1958. It also seems that in 1960 civilians would more easily have been able to obtain military eyedroppers of LSD, as the characters in the film do, than in 1958.)

The film’s three main confederates – Paul Kemp (Johnny), Sala (Michael Rispoli), and Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), all workers at an English-language San Juan rag – are consolidations and mergings of attributes drawn from these and other characters in the novel. Though the essence of the tale remains true to the book-Hunter was at heart a moralist in the tradition of Thomas Paine, and this is at heart a story of down-and-out good against respectable evil, as well as the story of a writer finding both the truth of himself and his own true voice-aspects of the movie’s plot are often more inspired by than based on the novel. Several of the picture’s most impressive and imaginative scenes are not to be found, or even suggested, in the novel, and certain minor elements of the novel take on greater significance in the movie.

Bruce Robinson, the British writer and director of the picture, told me that “there are only three lines of Hunter’s in the entire screenplay.” (“Have some fun with a fucking Luger” is one of them.) But at the same time, he insisted, “I’d say the movie is faithful to him in context of vernacular.”

Johnny has spoken of making this movie for more than a decade, and his desire to do so never wavered.

“It’s been there for so long,” he says. “So, yeah, I made this film before I made it.”

Robinson, best known as the screen-writer of The Killing Fields and the writer-director of Withnail and I, was cooling his heels in 2005, having not made a film since 1999, when Johnny, who long had been very enamored of Withnail and I, sent him a copy of Hunter’s novel and asked if he should like to “kick it into a screenplay.”

Johnny knew that Hunter had also admired Withnail and I So, as Johnny says, “I pulled the fucker out of retirement.”

Speaking from his farmhouse four hours west of London, Robinson tells me he “suffered incredible problems trying to get a grip on” The Rum Diary. He read the book twice, then threw it away. The main problem, as he saw it, was that Hunter had split himself into two characters, Kemp and another named Yeamon, and Hunter’s spirit needed to be embodied in the character of Kemp alone.

Johnny agreed. “Bruce handled it brilliantly, amazingly. You’ve got Kemp and Yeamon, who represent Hunter. With Kemp there’s no way to follow these two characters. So Bruce just went”-Johnny pantomimes tossing aside an imaginary book-“which was actually Hunter’s kind of thinking, you know?”

“I wrote it entirely in isolation,” says Robinson of the script, the final version of which was finished in February 2009. “Fortunately Johnny liked it.”

Robinson was well aware that the character of Kemp as he had written him was a nuanced, complex, and difficult one. Johnny had played Hunter before, for Gilliam. But this was a different Hunter.

“Hey,” Johnny told Robinson as shooting was about to begin, “just trust me.” As for his approach to directing the picture, Robinson was firmly convinced that the strength of the acting and the tale should have dominance over any selfindulgent arty camerawork. It was his preferred way of directing:

“I don’t want the camera to be a participant. I want it to be a privileged observer.”

Johnny says that the most arduous part of making the movie was “just every day sort of policing it, being the police of what Hunter would or would not have wanted, and really kind of going. All right, here’s the scene. That’s great. Here’s a scene, but we have to police this scene.” Some things work in books that just don’t work in movies, Johnny points out. “And Hunter understood that. He understood it. He understood.”

Me, I think Hunter would have gotten a bigger kick out of the movie than he did out of the novel he had stashed and forgotten.

I tell Johnny that, to my eye, the movie is timeless, the way great old-fashioned pictures-and I mean that in the best wayused to be. Most movies these days are short-lived, soon outdated and forgotten, relying on special effects that become quickly superseded, or on numerous cellphone calls from hand held devices that become just as quickly outmoded. But here is a movie that will hold up, that will be as exceptionally fine and enjoyable as it is today for many years to come.

Johnny doesn’t mention it until I say what I do, but he agrees to having similar feelings: “It’s kind of Casablanca in a way, isn’t it?”

Cockfighting figures in Hunter’s book, but it is more central to the plot of the picture. In this day of animal-rights lunatics and political-correction camps, this is wonderfully refreshing and far more daring than the sex-scene one-upmanship of other movies.

The cockfighting scenes were, of course, done in accordance with the American Humane Association rules, but they look real.

“They harnessed the cocks with pieces of invisible monofilament,” Johnny tells me. “Oh, that kept them from going the whole distance and getting at each other for the kill?”

“Yeah, we did hold them back. We did. I think it was stupid.”

(Johnny’s sister Christi, who runs their Infinitum Nihil production company, was of a gentler nature when it came to the cocks, which now live comfortably in her big backyard, outside of LA “All good,” Christi reports.)

Even more difficult to film than the cockfighting scenes was the film’s LSD sequence, which is as unnervingly realistic as the goings-on in the – gamecock pits. Except for a sole hallucination involving a character’s tongue in one of the LSD scenes, there are no other special effects in the movie. Yet, through words and acting alone, this is the best, truest-to-life LSD stuff I’ve ever seenconveyed on film. The sequence also contains what to me is the essential line in the film, the revelation given to Kemp by a lobster in a filthy tank in the dark of night on a filth pier: “Human beings are the only creatures on earth that claim a god and the only living thing that behaves like it hasn’t got one.” –

In the original script, the encounter with the mystical lobster led to lines from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient  Mariner”: The very deep did rot: O Christ! / : That ever this should be! / Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs / Upon the slimy sea.

But from alcohol, as much as things most wretched, come wonders sublime.

Robinson recalls that the words of the lobster’s revelation “occurred to me five years ago and, somewhat oiled, I wrote them in one of Johnny’s notebooks on his plane, not thinking I’d use them in the flick. Then, when I came to write the acid scene, this line seemed appropriate (and true), so I incorporated it and gave it to the lobster. I got the idea of the lippy lobster from an ad I’d seen in some 1940s magazine where such a dime-in-the-slot ‘fishing machine’ was featured. Hence the religious lobster.”

The revelation of the lobster was a great line. What does Johnny do when he comes across a bad line in a script?

“I change it. I just go: ‘You know what? It ain’t right. It’s not right.’ I change it. I do. I re-write.”

Years ago Johnny directed his friend Marlon Brando in a movie called The Brave. He spoke of editing it, of re-editing it, but it never came out in the U.S. I ask him about that one. How does he feel about that picture today?

“I’m proud. You know?”

Now that his production company is becoming a powerful presence in the movie business, will he finally release it?

“No, no, no. The idea of releasing that, like-no, no. I feel like it’s for, like, a few, you know? It’s like the idea of saying, ‘Here’s my middle finger, but in that middle finger, I’m trying to say, you know, I love you.’ It’s very complicated.”

With the Tim Burton movie about to finish shooting, I ask him what’s next.

“The Lone Ranger and Tanto.” In that one, if it gets made=Disney was reportedly balking at its budget in August=Johnny will be playing Tonto. (Arrnie Hammer had been scheduled to play the Ranger.)

Johnny is also thinking of remaking The Thin Man, which he’s wanted to do for quite a while. He would step into William Powell’s shoes as Nick Charles. I ask him, “Do you think you could be William Powell? I mean, that guy was fucking singular. There was only one of him.”

“I could do it. I think.”

“You probably could, because you’ve got that fine line between humor and seriousness.”

“That’s the whole point. What he had, William Powell, was so fucking beautiful.”

Johnny too. As Bruce Robinson later points out, the association of Johnny in the public brainpan with the hugely successful star-driven hits of his recent years has sometimes obscured the true versatility and abilities that are his. It is films such as The Rum Diary that remind us of that versatility and those abilities. But still, William Powell … ?

“He’s a hard guy to beat if you’re going into the ring with him,” I point out.

“That’s the thing,” Johnny says. “You can’t beat him. Just embrace him. Embrace the fucker. Embrace him.”

Talk of William Powell leads to talk of, Keith Richards, who played Johnny’s father in the last two Pirates of the Caribbean pictures. Keith has been a friend of Johnny’s for some years now. I ask Johnny if he found himself emulating Keith’s mannerisms and persona somewhat with the passing of those years.

“I sucked him dry,” he says without hesitation.

When I mention that Keith, who I know and who is certainly not one for musicals, had been full of praise a few years back for Johnny’s singing in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and recommended that I see it, Johnny is visibly pleased.

“Keith always has the most beautiful things to say about you,” I say, “but when . he brought up Sweeney Todd, he was like, ‘Oh, and to hear Johnny sing.”’

“He never told me that,” Johnny says with a smile of deep satisfaction.

It was while making Sweeney Todd with Tim Burton that the movie he’s now finishing with Burton was conceived. “We were on Sweeney Todd, and I said to him, ‘Man, we should do a vampire movie.’  He’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, we should.’  And then I went, ‘Fuck, man, Dark Shadows.’ ‘Yeah, good idea. Good idea.’ And  then, boom.”

“Is there a movie that you always wanted to make but have never been able to?”

“No.”

“Tonto,” I reflect. “Nick Charles,” I reflect.  Then he raises his glass of wine, looks  straight at me, and says, “There’s also In the Hand of Dante.”

As I mentioned, Johnny had been wanting to make The Rum Diary, had been making it in his head for a long, long time. Hunter S. Thompson, to whose memory the film is dedicated, never lived to see it. He blew out his brains, at the age of 67, in 2005, just before the real making of the picture got under way.

I mention to Johnny, as a lighthearted joke but with a hidden degree of truth on my part, that it scared me to see that dedication to Hunter at the close of the movie. He knows immediately what I mean…..

When it was still in typescript pages, Johnny had been the third person, after my agent and publisher, to read my novel in the Hand of Dante. He called me-it was early morning where he was, at his hameau in France; it was late night where I was, in New  York. “I’m reading this,” he said, “and it’s not a book; it’s a living thing.” In Paris, one afternoon almost a year later, when the book was about to be published, we shook hands to seal a deal that my novel would become his movie. A lot of time went by, as handshake deals mean nothing to the lawyers, executives, gonifs, and golems of Hollywood.

Finally-years, years-we had our legal arrangement, settled on a screenwriter, and brought in Johnny’s old pal Julian Schnabel to get things going as a director. That’s why the loving memorial to Hunter at the end of The Rum Diary gave me the willies.

“So,” I say, “the way I see it, In the Hand of Dante will come out two years after I croak. I’ve got it figured out. I’m going to beat Hunter by three years.”

“Cocksucker,’ He laughs. “You prick.”

“No, really.” I laugh. “It falls in line with everything else.”

“Should we plan that now?”

“No. I don’t want to do that, no.”

More wine, more smoke. “No, my brother,” he says, “I’ll tell you now: the film will be made.”

Some of Johnny’s finest work remains far less known than the big pictures that brought him his fame and fortune. Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, of 1995, is one of these. (It was also Robert Mitchum’s last notable

film, Johnny still laughs when he tells of Mitchum’s practice of stashing his marijuana in a Baggie taped to his crotch, on the theory: Who’s gonna go down  my pants? Who’s gonna touch Robert Mitchum’s balls?)

Laurence Dunmore’s The Libertine, of 2004, in which Johnny played the dissolute 17th-century poet John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, is another.

It was perhaps the most strenuous role he has played, and both his performance and the film were magnificent.  Based on the play by Stephen Jeffreys, who also wrote the screenplay, the movie paired Johnny with John Malkovich, who is probably one of the only other actors whose imagination, literacy, and skills are commensurate with Johnny’s, and who had played Johnny’s role on the stage and taken the role of Charles II in the film. I remember being blown away by the Libertine. But it was given only very brief and limited distribution. It came and it went, so quickly withdrawn that by the time I recommended it to people it gone, killed off by the then new Weinstein Company, which produced and distributed the film as its second release,

“Are you still pissed at Harvey Weinstein for that?”

“We’ve come to a sort of agreement.”

“Did he have a reason why that movie was so ill-circulated?”

“Yeah, he basically said he fucked it.”

“Meaning he made a mistake?”

“No. He made a choice. He made a choice to kill it. Which was understandable. I mean understandable if you look at it from his kind of point of view.”

Meaning, I assume, a monetary point of view. “But yeah,” Johnny continues, “Harvey killed a great film.”

The Libertine was brought to mind by The Rum Diary and another superb picture in the age of hundred million-dollar junk movies full of gimmickry and idiotic sound and fury instead of any enduring quality or substance.

The new movie is being handled in the U.S. by FilmDistrict, the producer Graham King’s distribution company. But surely, I suggest, with Johnny’s own production company behind The Rum Diary, it will be far less vulnerable to an unjustified fate.

“Can I do better? Maybe not. I’m not sure.”

“You’re not going to kill off your own movie?”

“I’m not sure. You know what I mean? I worked like a cocksucker on it but-“

Anything can happen.

So we’ll see. Can this Lowlifes of the Caribbean attract, as it so deserves, just some of the attention and gelt that the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean got?

Who knows? Our talk drifts, carried along by the tow of the wine and the night.

When I first met Johnny, I think he believed he was part Cherokee and part Irish. Years later, through genealogical research, French blood entered into the picture. I remember Vanessa Paradis announcing to me “Johnny’s French!” Depp from Dieppe, a Cherokee with French blood. The French blood was supposed to have come through his mother, Betty Sue. It made sense.

“What are you now?” I ask him. He doesn’t answer for a moment. “You’re getting all serious,” I say.

“Doesn’t bother me.”

“Do you ever think of yourself as anything?”

“I mean, it makes more sense, the Dieppe.”

“There were a lot of American Indians that had French names. Is that something you would prefer to be?”

“Indian?” he suggests. Another taste of that good red wine. “If they’ll have me.”

“How do your siblings” – besides Christi, there’s a brother and another sister – “feel about the fact that you never seem to physically age?”

“They seem O.K.”

It’s getting late. Not many hours remain until Johnny has to be back on the set. Even I’m getting slightly drowsy. But the Ritz Club, the blackjack tables, more wine await us. Johnny slowly rises, goes to put some cold water on his face and fetch a necktie. I light a smoke, sit with my wine, and rest my eyes. Eventually it occurs to me that Johnny has been gone for a while. I push myself up off the couch and call his name. No answer. I look around for him.

He is dead-out asleep in the toilet, the perfect picture of the wages of exhaustion. I don’t want to wake him. I just stand for a moment wondering. He has a beautiful chateau and secluded grounds in France. He has an estate in Los Angeles; He has an idyllic island of his own. But does he have a hammock?

PotC4 Intro

Although Pirates of the Caribbean- On Stranger Tides will not premiere in theaters until May 20th , much of the public have been able to view the film already at the many screenings held in major cities. Veering off the path of past POTC films that were held in strict privacy, this film has been shown all over the US during the past month for fans to view for free. Continue reading

Entertainment Weekly, May 13, 2011 – High Seas, High Stakes

Entertainment Weekly, May 13, 2011 – High Seas, High Stakes

Title: High Seas, High Stakes

Author: Anthony Breznican

Publication: Entertainment Weekly

Issue: May 13, 2011

 The worst thing for any pirate is feeling rudderless. The first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies grossed more than $2.6 billion worldwide, not counting additional bounty from video, theme-park rides, and merchandise. But the second and third installments turned off critics and tested devoted audiences’ patience with bloated running times and convoluted subplots. Even Johnny Depp, who has made Capt. Jack Sparrow the most universally beloved invention of his career, admits to being ambivalent about the sequels: “To be perfectly honest, I didn’t see them. I did see the first one. I have not seen the second one or the third one.’  To be fair, he tends not to watch his own movies, but even while making 2006’s Dead Man’s Chest and 2007’s At World’s End, he sensed something was off. “They had to invent a trilogy out of nowhere.’ says Depp, 47.

“It was plot-driven and complicated I remember talking to [Gore Verbinski, director of the first three films] at certain points during production of 2 or 3 and saying, ‘I don’t really know what this means.’ He said, ‘Neither do I, but let’s just shoot it.’ This guy is this guy’s dad, and this guy was in love with this broad. It was like, ‘What?”’

With the fourth installment, On Stranger Tides (rated PG-13 and out May 20), Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer have taken steps to correct the course of the multibillion-dollar franchise. Major recurring characters have been jettisoned and a shorter running time established. (The new film, directed by Rob Marshall after Verbinski chose not to return to the helm, is 30 minutes shorter than At World’s End.) Bruckheimer believes that the last movie had a unique set of problems, which could be prevented this time around. “In the third one, there were a lot of characters, so the film got long,” he says. ”And we felt that in order to tell the story properly, you had to close all those doors that we opened. Now this is a stand-alone movie. So we don’t have to tie up any loose ends.”

Depp, for his part, felt a burden of responsibility to audiences. According to the most conservative estimates, ‘he’s pocketed between $32 million and $35 million to appear in the new film. Asked how much he’s made from the series thus far, he says simply, “I have no idea.” Still, he’s collected enough doubloons to feel guilty when the adventures aren’t entirely seaworthy. With On Stranger Tides, Depp exercised increased authority over the film at the script stage to avoid some of the swollen and muddled story lines that critics felt waterlogged the last two movies. “With this one, in terms of story, my involvement was a little more just because I felt if we were going to do a 4, that more than anything we owed the audience a fresh start, without all the complicated mathematics of 1 colliding with 2 and 2 colliding with 3.” Depp says. “I felt it was very important to eliminate as many complications as possible.” Encouraged by fans who’ve managed to stay loyal, Depp says his mission for the fourth movie was this: “Let’s give them something character-driven. Something fun and irreverent. Hoops of fire and whatnot. New blood, as it were.”

The resulting film focuses squarely on Captain Jack, who’s driven by an emotion we didn’t know he was capable of: regret. Regret over a woman, no less. Penelope Cruz, who shot the movie while pregnant, joins the crew as Angelica, the badass daughter of the merciless pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Long ago, Angelica was living in a Spanish convent when Sparrow seduced her-and then dumped her. Which is pretty low, even for Sparrow. (Think of it as the 1700s equivalent of partying with an A+ college student, then watching her flunk out and fall back into squalor with her violent, scumbag dad.) When Blackbeard shanghais Sparrow and forces him to join a quest for the Fountain of Youth, it’s only Captain Jack’s guilt over Angelica that keeps him from escaping with a quick dive overboard.

Gone are Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner and Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann, whose stories came to a fairly neat conclusion in At World’s End. As for new supporting characters, there’s Philip (British newcomer Sam Clafiin), a young missionary held hostage aboard Blackbeard’s ship. (Clafiin describes his character as the conscience of the story, its Jiminy Cricket) “Unlike Will Turner, Orlando Bloom’s character, who turned pirate and committed crimes, Philip remains goodwilled throughout.”) And there’s Syrena (French actress Astrid Berges-Frisbey), a mermaid who’s somehow essential to unlocking the power of the Fountain of Youth. Syrena’s a frail, helpless figure, captured and tormented by Blackbeard-until she’s in the water, that is, where she transforms into a vicious creature of prey.

Geoffrey Rush returns as Captain Barbossa, who remains Captain Jack’s comic foil and rival. But at this point, the two are more like frenemies. “I believe Barbossa and Jack are the two brightest, the two cleverest pirates in the whole story.” Rush says. “Johnny and I were shooting a scene together, and I said, ‘You know, if these two guys could actually stop arguing, they’d be formidable together.”’ So, as Bruckheimer points out, Blackbeard is Captain Jack’s worthiest opponent, as well as the series’ first truly repellent villain. “Blackbeard is pure evil,” says the producer. How evil? The movie shows him burning a man alive, and he repeatedly threatens to murder his own daughter to make Sparrow fall in line. “That’s the way I like ’em,” laughs McShane. “If you’re going to go big, go big! I think the line in the film was ‘I’m a bad man. I have bad in my blood.’ He’ll do what he has to do to survive, like the [fable of the] scorpion and the frog, even if it’s in his worst interest.”

The new thread holding everything together is director Marshall (Chicago, Nine). “For me, if the movie had continued with the same cast, the same story lines, it would have been very difficult to come into the project,” he says. “But I felt like it’s a new beginning in many ways.” Marshall wanted to push Sparrow beyond being a wisecracking Bugs Bunny type with a sword. The gamble is whether fans even want this freewheeling character to actually care about someone. “What’s nice is you get a sense that Jack has a heart,” says Marshall. “He’s doing something heroic in a way. For him-for a pirate, who only thinks selfishly it’s nice to see that.”

Then there’s the Fountain of Youth, which is as much a metaphor as a plot device. Sparrow is getting older, becoming reflective, and beginning to look back at wreckage from his past and deciding whether to make it right. “He really has a conscience,” says Marshall. “And he’s protective, caring.” Well, to a degree, anyway. “It’ll never be: Jack sits down and gets married and has kids,” Marshall says. Good thing. Audiences love Captain Jack too much to ever watch him suffer.

Entertainment Weekly, September 2011 – Dark Shadows

Entertainment Weekly, September 2011 – Dark Shadows

Title: Dark Shadows

Author: Anthony Breznican

Publication: Entertainment Weekly

Issue: September 2011

 

FOUR DECADES AGO, an odd little boy in Miramar, Fla., and a peculiar little boy in Burbank both hurried home from school to watch the same TV show-a soap opera. It was no typical daytime melodrama that snared the attention of young Johnny Depp and Tim Burton. Dark Shadows, which ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971, was a gothic tale of a vampire named Barnabas Collins and his mortal family, who are bedeviled by witches, ghosts, and, on occasion, time travel. (It was also extremely cheesy, clone on the cheap.)

When assembling his actors for a big screen adaptation, Burton says he employed a simple weirdness test, which he hopes comes across in this group photo. “l asked myself the very abstract question ‘Is this person Dark Shadows? ‘ he says. ‘In each case, the answer was yes.’

Dark Shadows had two aborted TV resurrections, in 1991 and 2004, but for years Depp has been trying to make the series into a feature film, eventually urging Warner Bros. to pick up the rights and helping produce it himself. “There have been other collaborations where Tim has gone after Johnny, but here Johnny went to Tim,’ says producer Richard D. Zanuck, who worked with them both on Alice in Wonderland and Sweeney Todd. ‘They discovered they shared this great love.’

The film is currently shooting in London and is set for release Maw 11. Depp plays Barnabas in a way he says is reminiscent of original star Jonathan Frid’s aged—little-boy portrayal. The characters dated clothing is also homage: Shadows is set in 1972, right after the original series ended. ‘We’ve made Barnabas an anachronism” says screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (author of the book Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter which Burton is producing as a film). ‘He has been trapped for 200 years, and when he emerges, the world Is completely different from the one he left In the 1770s.” This is one vampire who is just as scared of mortals as they are of him—especially their televisions and miniskirts.

US Empire, February 2011 – Paint It Jack

US Empire, February 2011 – Paint It Jack

Title: Paint It Jack

Author: Ian Nathan

Publication: US Empire

Issue:  February 2011

ON A MONITOR IN A PASSAGE  LEADINGTO A SOUND STAGE  IN DEEPEST SHEPPERTON CAN BE SEEN CAPTAIN JACK  SPARROW IN 3D. THE SCENE in question takes place in a palatial chamber-all Thomhill murals and giltwood armchairs – rapidly descending into pandemonium. Various puff pastries, pork pies and sides of mutton are catapulted ceiling-wards from a banquet table, musket-fire clogs the air with sooty smoke, and his royal plumpness King George II (Richard Griffiths) looks on aghast as Jack (Johnny Depp), the inevitable centre of the chaos, dementedly jogs left to right like Buster Keaton on hot coals, evading the grasp of the royal guard by a whisker, before tossing a priceless Rococo throne through an arched window and making his escape. Business as usual in the pleasurably frenetic universe of Pirates of the Caribbean. Only now in multiple dimensions.

It’s a tableau anchored by the figure of Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), atypically attired in naval togs and one large blue sock, whose smudged face powder cannot disguise a weary roll of the eyeballs. The sock? That’s for the FX guys to insert a recently acquired wooden leg. “Whatever else you say about Barbossa,” notes Rush in passing, “he’s a survivor.”

There are two weeks to go on the 106-day shoot for this new stand-alone adventure. A long haul that has taken in Hawaii (for the middle of the film), LA (interiors for Hawaii), Puerto Rico (the end of the film), and finally London (the beginning). And it’s all shot in genuine 3D, hence the intricate cameras with dual lenses and playback monitors with their cache of Ray-Bans.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Wasn’t there the feeling that the previous two sequels, however madcap Mr. Depp and handsome the vistas, were more Matrix-sequel gobbledegook than Indy on the high seas? The thought of a fourth slog felt a bit, well, rum.

“The thing with Pirates 4, I felt like we owed it to people … You know?” Johnny Depp takes a pull on a thin, black cigar while gathering his thoughts; his teeth might be up a golden molar. “Pirates 2 and 3 became quite … sub-plotty. The mathematics of it. All these people went to see them two or three times just to figure out what was happening. This one is a little closer in tone to the first: more character driven … more subject- driven … It has a freshness … Less mathematics.”

 

SO WHERE WERE WE? AFTER THE DIZZYING CONCLUSION OF EPISODES TWO AND THREE, CAPTAIN JACK WAS IN POSSESSION OF A MAP TO THE FOUNTAIN OF youth, but adrift in the drink in barely a dinghy. Then the announcement that there was, yes, to be a fourth in the series of lucrative comic fantasies (2,681,440,232 doubloons and counting). “We were already playing around with another story on three,” smiles Jerry Bruckheimer, “and when Ted and Terry found the book, we were really inspired.” “Ted and Terry” are Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the writing duo who have fathered the calamities of Captain Jack thus far; “the book” is Tim Powers’ 1988 novel On Stranger Tides, a straight pirate adventure that could happily relax into a Captain Jack yam.

“So much of it derives from the novel,” says Rossio: “Blackbeard, Angelica, the fountain of youth. Stylistically, we’ve integrated the book into our universe with Captain Jack and Barbossa.”

But with Gore Verbinski unable to face another voyage, they were down a major guiding light. Bruckheimer diplomatically reports the director was simply busy with other projects (animated Depp-as-gecko flick Rango, and the since-stalled video-game adaptation Bioshock). With Depp still agreeable, Disney was keen to keep the sequel moving, and Chicago director Rob Marshall was hired. A clever move – a master of screen musicals is ideal for a Pirates movie, with its own peculiar dance moves.

“He’s so sensitive to what is going on in the frame,” approves Depp of his new director. “If he senses bullshit, he’ll call a person on it. Politely, of course. He can feel the over-acting.” Even amid the dementia of Pirates, there are subtle cadences, natural rhythms – call it arrggghht. “He’s brought this incredible timing,” continues the star. “Especially because of his background – you can be a millisecond out and he calls you on it.” Today, on set, it’s Marshall’s birthday. In a secret alcove, unavailable to Empire, champagne is served without anyone needing to fall over. Ten minutes later they are back to work.

Even after Marshall’s appointment, trouble loomed when Disney studio chairman Dick Cook stepped down. Given Cook had championed the then high-risk original, Depp was less than impressed. “There’s a fissure, a crack in my enthusiasm at the moment,” he reported on hearing the news. “It was all born in that office.” Pirates 4 looked on the rocks, but after a “wonderful meeting”, Marshall convinced Depp to keep the faith. After all, no Captain Jack, no Pirates: “It would be a pirate movie,” senses Rossio, “but not Pirates Of The Caribbean.”

On set to facilitate improv and on-the-spot alterations, the writer has been impressed with the new director’s fastidiousness. “Rob works as he does in theatre. He spent a lot of time refining the screenplay prior to production. And Johnny has a huge influence on the script: he’s invented characters, invented storylines, jokes … ”

Rossio had always pictured a scene of Jack dancing on deck. “It would be romantic and odd, just the image of Jack Sparrow being seductive. Starlight, all of that.” And a new leading lady, in shapely Penelope Cruz as the shady Angelica, presented a perfect opportunity. “Johnny added this idea to cut in on himself,” laughs the writer. “He’s in the middle of this dance and swings off on a rope then reappears: ‘May I cut in?”

YOU’LL HAVE GATHERED SHIPMATES HAVE BEEN JETTISONED BETWEEN THREE AND FOUR. ORLANDO BLOOM AND KEIRA KNIGHTLEY – Will and Elizabeth – are no longer required, their storylines concluded (pressed on the chance of cameos, Rossio shakes his head). But there is an enticing range of new personnel. In arguably the Will and Elizabeth mould are newcomers Sam Claflin as pacifist missionary Philip, and Spanish- born French model-turned-actress Astrid Berges- Frisbey as mermaid Syrena. (How does she manage both water and land? “Magic!” she exclaims. “CGI!’)

The new villain of the piece is Captain Blackbeard, a liberal take on history’s Edward Teach, scourge of the American colonies. Played by lan McShane dolled up in black leathers and with a beard that could thatch a cottage, he’s a “biker pirate” who takes charge of the Queen Anne’s Revenge (chief motif: skulls). “He’s a force, man,” grooves Depp. “An incredible force.

A legend.” This is most likely a reference to McShane’s AI Swearengen, the Mephistopheles  of Deadwood, rather than antique-market scallywag Lovejoy, but with Depp, who knows?

So: Penelope. On StrangerTides’ Latina Exocet. Again, Marshall, who directed her in Nine, was key to persuading the Spanish actress to join up: “She liked the role, but he was the sealer,” says Bruckheimer. At her mention Depp pulls an impish grin from ear to gold-ringed ear.

“We did a film called Blow together; I have to be careful not say, ‘We did blow together,”’ he smirks, channelling Keef. “She’s a funny girl. A firecracker. She brings a lot to the table.” Angelica and Jack have a past, “a residue”, as Depp puts it. “That sounds bad doesn’t it? There’s a chemistry there. They’re like a divorced couple who hate each other and at the same time love one another. It’s a very strange relationship. A lot of fun … ” He grins, recalling something we have yet to see: “We’ve upped the stakes in terms of absurdity.”

Cruz, she reveals, is Blackbeard’s daughter and not to be trusted. But it’s a pirate movie. No-one is to be trusted. More serious for the production, although wonderful for Cruz, was the news midway through filming that she was pregnant (padre: Javier Bardem). “You won’t be able to tell,” smiles Bruckheimer. “We have a great stunt double. Doesn’t change her abilities, she’s just got bigger… More glow.”

SOMEWHERE IN ON STRANGER TIDES IS A BED WITH A SKELETON TIED TO IT. FOR THE EAGLE-EYED DISNEYLAND PATRON, IT’S A FURTHER REFERENCE TO THAT clunky old ride where this all began. A gesture that events, in four, are bucking current sequels and getting lighter, more fun. As the film begins, Jack, not for the first time, is in custody, hauled before the king of England no less, in old London town (exteriors: Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College), who has  gotten wind he has a map to the fountain of youth.

Cue today’s rollicking escape. Then a chase involving 20 carriages, 50 horses and a coal truck exploding in an exquisite Thames-side street set (Dickens does Tortuga). Angelica will ‘rescue’ the ever-wriggling Jack, they’ll join in a swordfight amid exploding beer barrels in the storeroom of the Captain’s Daughter Tavern (notably bigger than the tavern), and end up in the river (actually a 91F underwater stage at Shepperton).

That, good people, is just the beginning. In essence, the film is a race to the fabled fountain deep in a mysterious jungle. Dirty tricks abound. As do mermaids, zombies, Keith Richards and Kevin McNally’s less-than-reliable first mate, Gibbs. Not to forget Jack’s beloved The Black Pearl. “We get a sliver or two of Jack’s story,” adds Depp. “How he first met Angelica.” But as the actor insists, Jack remains the series’ constant, he’s not going to evolve. “He’s at his max,’ he laughs.

Here is the true secret of Pirates Of The Caribbean: we’re not returning for the new stuff, but the old. Jack must always be Jack. “Jack Sparrow is the counter-punch character,” says Rossio. “In the first three movies Elizabeth Swann is our protagonist; it’s her story, hers and Will Turner’s. Jack is the supporting character in a sense, he influences people around him.” The punchline to their set-up.

You might imagine that infuriates the ever-adventurous Depp, an actor who has always tottered away from the straight-and-narrow. But no: “It is satisfying,” he says of the rock in his professional life. “I’ve known people like Hunter Thompson who was who he was his whole life. He was a genius as well. It’s fun knowing Jack won’t change. Weirdly, there’s safety in that: he has a dumb side, a clever side, a sort of weird … reptile.”

That’s why the door is always open for Captain Jack. Maybe not in knotted trilogies, but certainly stand-alone missions: the unreliable James Bond of the Spanish Main. However gruelling – and all that slapstick takes its toll (“We certainly hammer it”) – Pirate films are a joy to make. “They are the same camera crew, same grip department, a  family. The process feels intimate,” extols Depp.

“Yes, there are large set-pieces, big stunts, but when you are shooting it feels like … home.”

A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma

Text from Red Bulletin January 2011

Johnny Depp is at once one of the world’s most alluring, yet impenetrable Hollywood leads. Rüdiger Sturm explores the character of this quirkiest of actors and reluctant star.

you might expect any number of different reactions to the experience of meeting Johnny Depp: awed respect maybe, nervousness, a frisson of here’s- hollywood-in-the-flesh excitement. But when yours truly is finally sitting directly opposite the 47-year-old mr D at the luxury Le meurice hotel in paris, i’m struck by quite another emotion altogether. this superstar makes you feel all protective. the way he looks at you from behind his blue horn-rimmed glasses makes him seem timid. his voice is muffled. you might even say he’s shy. and there’s something feminine about his 5ft 8in frame. yet at the same time his appearance is immaculately polished. the two-tone scarf he’s wearing perfectly matches his open-sleeved grey shirt and stylishly ripped jeans. his wrists are covered in leather straps and Buddhist prayer bands. his ears and fingers are covered in rings, including one film memento complete with skull and crossbones, a thick platinum and diamond number and a gold signet ring. his fragile, artistic appearance means the mild irritation i’d felt at his being half an hour late swiftly disappeared. especially as he immediately apologises in a rather despondent tone. “i’m afraid this habit of mine is practically automatic. i’m always late.” truth be told, he needn’t really have said another word. Because those first impressions alone answer the question as to why Johnny Depp is perhaps the most successful, and definitely the most exciting, star on the planet right now. they betray both coolness and a sense of style and are the outward signs of an individual who lives in his own world: a creature as exotic as he is sensitive and one clearly ill at ease when he comes into contact with the outside world. From this perspective, these impressions are almost more illuminating than his latest film, a thriller, the tourist – a conventional flick in comparison. Depp stars in this, his latest, as an american maths teacher on a leave-the- heartache-behind trip to Venice, trying to get over a painful break-up. While there, the stunning girlfriend (angelina Jolie) of a fugitive gangster casts her spell over him. But it’s all part of a plot.
as nobody knows what the criminal looks like after plastic surgery, the people pursuing him assume the unsuspecting tourist is their target, which provides for no end of chases and machinations around the grand canal.
Depp understands this is a far cry from the eccentricities of his signature captain Jack sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean – or, even, his sweeney todd. “it was a real challenge to produce a ‘mister normal’ after playing roles like that,” he offers.
except that, as far as he’s concerned, there’s no such thing as banal normality: “the people who society considers average are often the strangest people you can imagine,” he says.
he gives as an example an honest accountant who decided to travel the world looking for and photographing signs with his surname on them. Depp worked out his ‘normal’ ideas within a strictly limited framework. he decided what his character would look like, put on a couple of pounds and adopted a couple of quirks, such as the low-brow american trying to speak to italians in spanish. it was also his idea to flee across Venice’s rooftops in pyjamas in one scene.
even in such staid roles as these, he’s still quite the thrillseeker. he wouldn’t dream of appearing with a perfect blond head of hair and a bronzed six-pack, as Brad pitt might. nor would he want to be heralded as some greying heart-throb, like george clooney. he seeks out his characters from the fringes of society, regardless of their appearance or state of mind, and then interprets them without a hint of vanity, delving deep into his own imagination. “he’s teeming with ideas, almost too many for one person,” his partner Vanessa paradis opines. “i feel trapped if i’m not allowed to improvise,” he explains. and he “just wants to run away” from directors who try to set him strict guidelines on how to play a role. Which is why he h argued with michael mann during the making of the gangster epic Public Enemies. meantime, an adaptation of the bestselling novel Shantaram, has been put on hold because he couldn’t see eye-to-eye with star director peter Weir of Master and Commander.
it’s because Johnny Depp’s imagination is so rich and dazzling that it needs to be protected. it’s possible that The Tourist might not have come about at all if it hadn’t been for producer graham King who’s worked with Depp for years and, as such, enjoys the star’s trust. it’s no coincidence that Depp brings King along for the interview, even if the beefy englishman lets his star do the talking. it took Depp a long time to find this kind of patron. he can still vividly remember being bullied by one female teacher at school. he could never get on with classmates who dreamed of nothing more than winning the Beauty Queen – or King – crown. “i never wanted to be an insider,” he says.
even in hollywood he was ill at ease and this despite his becoming one of the ’80s leading teen idols for his role as a young undercover cop in the tV series 21 Jump Street.
“i was sold like goods. it drove me completely crazy.”
But Depp was never just a pampered genius; he was also a rebel – splendidly mooning the school teacher he hated, for example. During those crisis years in hollywood, he would sometimes smash up the furniture in his hotel room out of sheer frustration. a flirtation with crime was perhaps no surprise. “my grandfather sold moonshine during prohibition in the ’30s – that was a real service to the community. then my stepfather learned about life the hard way for a couple of years in a juvenile penitentiary,” Depp explains with evident pride.
so it was only to be expected that he would break out of any pigeonhole the business wanted to stick him in. a twist of fate introduced him to someone who would help him escape and who remains a loyal supporter.
Director tim Burton cast Depp as the outcast, monstrously made-up eponymous hero of Edward Scissorhands. the eccentric filmmaker has shaped the image of Johnny Depp the actor more than anyone since. in Ed Wood, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland, he has always presented his star as an oddball character verging on the ingenious, who’s as sensitive as he is unique. But even with that support, Johnny Depp might still have got lost down one of the movie industry’s dead-end streets. “all people ever talked about in hollywood was making money. it was so frustrating,” he says.
he’d numb these lows with a mix of drink and drugs. “i was close to completely losing my mind,” Depp admits. What stopped him flipping out altogether, however, was an encounter 12 years ago in the lobby of a paris hotel. “i turned around and i saw this great back.” it belonged to pop singer Vanessa paradis. “i went up to her, she turned around and when i said hello to her, i knew that was it.” and he wasn’t wrong. three months later, the French singer – 26 at the time – was pregnant. the man who used to smash up his hotel rooms found the emotional stability that had been lacking in his life until then. “anything i’d done before was kind of an illusion. my daughter, the birth of my daughter, gave me life.” in 2002, his son, Jack, was born and Depp’s priorities were changed forever. “my greatest hope is that i’ll be fair to the people i love.”
But whoever thought that this bourgeois idyll might have dulled the thrillseeker spirit was wrong. if anything, it marked the start of probably the most satisfying phase of his career, from teen idol to cult actor to superstar. a year after his son was born, came Depp’s first blockbuster, Pirates of the Caribbean, which also brought him his first oscar nomination. But he had to fight to realise his own vision for the character of captain Jack. Depp wanted his pirate captain to have all the eccentricities of someone like Keith richards. and Disney studios weren’t at all impressed by that to start with. “they thought i was crazy.” But the risk paid off. cinema goers were happy not to see yet another identikit hero. the era of the bland sunshine boy was over and a new era of traumatised superheroes, mutants and freaks had taken its place. and Johnny was one of its icons. the Pirates trilogy had made his personal eccentricity completely socially acceptable. the outsider had come in from the cold. his sense of being on the fringes, looking at the action, rather then being central to it, hasn’t disappeared, however. “sometimes i’d love to run away screaming,” he confesses without a hint of irony. What from? “our technology-obsessed world, the invasive media, the madness of reality tV. We’ve lost touch with the simple things in life. We’re losing our individuality.” even if that may sound a little excitable and convoluted, it tells us one thing, namely that Johnny Depp doesn’t feel at home in the modern world. When he’s not getting carried away in a train of thought, his face takes on an astonished expression – a mixture of misgiving and amazement. Like a visitor from another planet who’s not sure whether he’d like to be beamed back up or not.
Luckily, he has the means to organise his own private seclusion zone. one of the family’s homes is in an idyllic village in the south of France, and don’t forget the private island in the Bahamas. “that might sound extravagant to you. But i need somewhere where i can breathe easily or just sit around and chat without someone taking my picture.” it’s as if he’d rather live in the past, maybe in the ’30s, when “…the men were still elegantly dressed, looked like their own men”. his favourite films seem to tie in with the same pattern. “We like watching the old hollywood classics,” Vanessa paradis admits. It Happened One Night, a comedy in which clark gable meets an heiress on the run, is one of the couple’s favourite films. even Depp’s food tips meet the same criteria. For example, he rates the bistro chez L’ami Louis in paris which opened in the ’20s but has long since fallen out of favour with the critics. But that doesn’t bother him. Because, “…you feel like you’re in a time machine”.
and if he goes to a city he doesn’t know, he wanders in the historic footsteps of the great writers. When i ask him what stood out in Venice, where The Tourist was shot, he doesn’t name something standard like st mark’s square or the rialto Bridge, but he does mention with great enthusiasm that he walked past the lodgings of english poet genius Lord Byron.
yet this special take of his never goes to his head. he has neither an egomaniac’s ponderousness nor a winner’s arrogance. it is precisely because he doesn’t take himself too seriously that he is able to embody the most absurd of roles. even during a comparatively streamlined production like The Tourist, he and his co-star angelina Jolie would still see who could raise the biggest laugh. he’s notorious for putting whoopee cushions on his colleagues’ chairs. and he can take a joke too. at press conferences he never evades even the most intimate of questions, be they about his ideal of beauty or the length of his manhood, and he sometimes even makes jokes about his “sex change”.
all of which makes Johnny Depp, with his wonderful eccentricity, meek timidity and rebellious sarcasm, rather unique in the movie industry. he should be placed on the endangered species list forthwith. But the best description of him i’ve ever heard comes straight from the horse’s mouth. he may have been talking about Keith richards at the time, but it could just as well apply to him. “he is profound, funny and absolutely brilliant. he might well have been wallowing in fame from a young age, but he always managed to stay cool and normal. and he treats everyone the same. and to manage that in this industry is an amazing achievement.”

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