US Entertainment Weekly, January 2009 – Public Enemies

US Entertainment Weekly, January 2009 – Public Enemies

Title: Public Enemies

Author: Chris Nashawaty

Publication: US – Entertainment Weekly

Issue: January 2009

 

YOU COULD SAY being an outlaw runs in Johnny Depp’s blood. After all, his grandfather ran moonshine on the back roads of Kentucky during Prohibition. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the actor jumped at the chance to play John Dillinger in Public Enemies. “Dillinger was one of those guys, like Charlie Chaplin and Evel Knievel, that I was fascinated with at a young age,” says Depp. ‘And because of my grandfather, the character was pretty easy for me to connect to. In a way this movie was a salute to him.”

Based on a book by Bryan Burrough, Enemies is a cat-and-mouse thriller about the early days of the FBI, and one agent’s pursuit of the Depression-era bank robber whose dizzy reign of stickups and near escapes ended in a hail of bullets outside of Chicago’s Biograph Theater in 1934. Dillinger lived fast, died young, and left not only a handsome corpse but a legacy as one of the most notorious criminals of the 20th century.

Directed by Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider), and costarring Christian Bale as the dashing federal agent Melvin Purvis, Public Enemies might sound like a blood-soaked chapter of ancient history. But the film’s themes couldn’t be more timely: Dillinger was sticking up banks at a time when people weren’t exactly rooting for them. As a result, he became something larger than life—a rock star with a tommy gun. “Some people might disagree, but I think he was a real-life Robin Hood,” says Depp, who just finished playing the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, due in 2010. “I mean, the guy wasn‘t completely altruistic, but he went out of his way not to kill anybody. He definitely gave a lot of that money away I love the guy”

Still hip—deep in the editing stage of the film, which he’s readying for its July 2009 release, Mann remains in awe of his two leading men. “Johnny has courage and immense power: its all about the spontaneity of the moment for him. Christian works in a totally different way. He becomes the character so totally that he’s that person 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The accent, everything.”

Mann shot on the actual locations where Dillinger and Purvis made headlines, because, he says, “when your hand touches the same doorknob Dillinger’s did, it starts to talk to you.” The director even managed to get his hands on a still preserved suitcase left behind by Dillinger after one of his narrow getaways. “All of the dress shirts were still folded perfectly,” says Depp. “It was a real insight into the guy. Because everything was ready to go at a moment’s notice. It was just economical and beautiful.”

Depp even got to wear the pair of pants that Dillinger had on when he was finally caught and riddled with bullets. “It was amazing,” he says. “And -get this – we’re the same size!” Like we said, the man was born to play the part.

 

Questions for Johnny

EW: How did this movie come about?

JD: It came at the time of the writers’ strike. A wave of fear gripped the industry. And out of nowhere this script arrived with a note: “Michael Mann would like to talk to you about playing Dillinger”

EW: What was your reaction to hearing that?

JD: Well, certainly intrigued. Intrigued by both Dillinger and Michael Mann. It’s always interesting to get in the ring with a director and explore their process and see what does it for him.

EW: And what does it for him?

JD: The details of the details of the details. [Laughs] They should invent a word to describe it, because it’s not just details, it teeters on microscopic obsession with every molecule of the moment. Which is admirable, you know? You got to salute that.

EW: So what details of this character did you try to latch onto?

JD: The interesting thing is, John Dillinger really became a criminal almost by accident The two main ingredients for his initial incarceration were ignorance and youth. There are moments in life when those two walk hand in hand in a very tight grip. When he went inside, the world was one thing, and when he came out, it was Technicolor. Women dressed differently. It was a different planet. Prison at that time was college for criminals. He went in and basically learned how to rob banks. By all accounts, he wasn’t the best student initially but he got the hang of it.

EW: What was your favorite scene to shoot?

JD: Well, Let’s just say, how often do you get to stand on the running board of an old 1932 Buick blasting a 50·round clip from a Thompson submachine gun? When do you get to do that without getting into trouble for it? And with Michael, you get to do it again and again and again.

Alex Gibney interview from the edge

He was a tortured soul with an energy that was phenomenal. Hunter Thompson, formed and shaped by the most controversial generation that the United States ever had, was the man that helped to change writing and journalism as it is known today. He was known for his flamboyant writing style, Gonzo Journalism, which blurred the distinction between writer and subject. He was a visionary and an ?in your face? opinionated force to be dealt with. His imagery was too much for many who could not comprehend his perception on politics and life in general.

Alex Gibney interview

The independent film, ?Gonzo,? concentrates on Thompson as the unique individual he was. Oscar nominated and Academy Award winner, director Alex Gibney brings about a raw perspective on the inner thoughts of Hunter as only Gibney can. The project was brought to Alex nearly three years ago and the director expresses, ?I had no idea what I was in for. Hunter was somebody who didn?t play by the rules-he used biting humor to show people how politicians lie to us. So I thought it would be a good idea to go back and look at him as a writer.? When asked what he took away from the film he states, ?The most satisfying part of the journey was through the words of the man himself.? Alex is known for his brutal honesty in the films he directs. The movie ?Gonzo? is no exception, as the viewer is able to see the true Hunter in his life?s work and goals.

Johnny Depp whose melodic voice reading Hunter?s writing, opens the film, had a connection to the writer that expands the understanding. Yet, their relationship was one of mutual admiration. When inquired about Johnny?s participation in the film Alex shares; ?It wasn?t until Johnny saw a rough cut of the film, that he realized he wanted to be a part of it. When Hunter was alive he actually went and lived with Hunter in Hunter?s Owl Farm house. He shadowed Hunter and he became Hunter for a period of time, and he even put up 2 million bucks for that spectacular funeral.? Johnny and Hunter shared a kindred spirit and any film would not have been complete without input from Depp. Gibney shared, ?We pursued Johnny over four continents.? Many have been astounded at Depp?s accurate portrayal of the writer, stating that Johnny snatched Thompson?s very soul during his role in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Alex Gibney interview

Thompson was called psychotic and accused of having no grip on reality and yet, he was constantly surrounded by the minions. Attracting all those that came in contact with him, either fueled by hate or obsession. Hunter thought and lived on a plain that none could share. A true gypsy and pirate if there ever was one, Mr. Thompson?s day to day existence continued to push the limit of consciousness and mentality. He was quoted as saying, ?The only difference between the sane and the insane, is the IN and yet within this world, the sane have the power to have the insane locked up.?

When asked to what extent Hunter became a prisoner of his own celebrity, Gibney replies; ?He created a character for himself that was impossible to live up to and that was debilitating. Also when you?ve had a great success as a writer, you always start to wonder whether or not you?re a shadow of what you once were.? It has been said that with Hunter you could never be prepared for what you were going to get. Those that knew him often saw two very different sides of the man, the loving, sweet, quiet and thoughtful Hunter who would reach out to save a cause and defend the weak. Then, there was a heartless, short tempered, foul mouthed, bastard who would cut into anyone he saw fit and not let go until that subject spirit lie dead on the floor like a lifeless rabbit brought in by the hounds. These individual personalities are shown in this film and will draw you in within the first few seconds as you try to unravel the mystery of the true Hunter Thompson. His influence on today?s writers is unmistakable. Alex agrees, ?He became such a unique figure that you imitate him at your peril. You can find bits and pieces of him all over the place, some to great benefit, some not. At the same time he was writing with such deliberation that he was writing for both the moment and for history and you don?t find that much these days.?

Alex Gibney interview

Inside himself, Hunter was an agonized human being. A true tortured soul who sought peace and happiness in the realms beyond reality. He strived for a perfect country in which he could just be himself and yet, if he had found this place, it could be said that Gonzo would have never emerged as the true inspiration in which he became. Thompson delved into thousands of lives in one way or another. His death in 2005 was felt among all of journalism, writing, acting, politics, and beyond; a wound cut deep now scarred over. The scar that remains to remind the world of his eccentric presence. His famous quote, read by Johnny Depp in the film, ?The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.? now Hunter himself, dwells over the edge.

All of the writings, movie overviews and articles on the site (written by Lizzy Garcia) are date copywrited under her full legal name and protected in this sense. Any use or posting of the articles or claims are in violation of this copywrite. This is a personal copywrite as well as the copywrite that the site holds on these pieces. If you have a request for the use of any of these pieces it must be sent to her personally.

Interview with the ultimate outlaw Jonathan Shaw

Interview with the ultimate outlaw Jonathan Shaw

When the names Tim Burton, Hunter Thompson, Marlon Brando, Keith Richards and Jonathan Shaw are spoken, Johnny Depp fans or “admirers” think of two things. Sure they all are unique individuals who live life by their own rules, much like Johnny, but they also hold something else. An eccentric benevolence that identifies them as the great innovators of this generation. As we learn more about them we not only see friends and confidants to Mr. Depp, but we learn life lessons and a deep meditation that can mold the way we view life and those we meet during our time here on this earth.

Jonathan Shaw. There are many words different people may use to describe him. What some may see as only a shallow, brash and impetuous incendiary; actually is a true philosophical, transcendent soul. With layers of insight waiting to be peeled away.

 

When I decided to approach Mr. Shaw for an interview, I was filled with apprehension. Once he agreed to the initial questions, I then developed a great anxiety over what to ask him just imagining the responses I would receive. Stepping out in faith, I sent him a basic group of inquiries with instructions to answer all, or only the ones that moved him to respond. What I expected to learn about this man from his answers was not at all what I brought away from the information before my eyes. I can truly say what had begun as intimidation, turned to pure wonder and enlightment with this man who calls Johnny his soul brother.

Setting The stage?

So it began, sitting at the Fontenoy, an old building in Hollywood where both Jonathan and Johnny were residing at the time, built in the glory days when all was supposed to be glitter and gold. By then the structure was in decay and a low life, level standing. Shaw muses, “It was basically a fancy crack house by the time me and Johnny were hanging out there. Johnny was in a band at the time with our mutual friends and that apartment was like the hangout for us all and pretty much like a shooting gallery for all sorts of beautiful losers and Hollywood dope fiends and so on.” Not yet infamous in any way, Jonathan still remembers Johnny’s presence in the weird surroundings,

“He seemed a bit odd since he was the only one there who wasn’t shooting dope, just hanging out. He wasn’t an actor or anything yet, just another guy hanging out, just another guitar player in another little band in Hollywood. But I remember he was just so NICE. It was impossible not to like him immediately…And I’ll always remember, he seemed really fascinated by Vera (Jonathan’s wife at the time) and me. We were like this weird couple of exotic alien looking gypsies fresh off the banana boat who only sat in a corner and spoke Portuguese with each other and shot dope. Johnny just seemed so interested in us, where we came from, what we were doing there, whatever. I don’t think WE even knew what the f**k we were doing there! But I remember he was just really cool and friendly. “What a nice f***ing guy”, I thought.”

This meeting would flourish into the deep meaningful bond that these two men seem to share with few others. A connection that may not be defined, even in Jonathan’s mind. When asked what he believes binds them together as ‘soul brothers’ he explains,

“You know that indefinable thing that just draws certain people to each other. Who knows? It’s like we just spoke the same language or something, right from the start. And then over the years as we’ve gotten to know each other better, we found out we had all this common background in some parallel universe of art and expression, literature, I dunno, some sort of ironic kinship, a sick sense of humor and vision and common cynical worldview that just makes it comfortable to hang out. Friends, ya know? And of course there was always stuff like music and tattoos and art. We just always liked all the same kinda stuff.”

Can this be just pure coincidence that a soul such as Jonathan’s attracts Johnny Depp? The answer may be an astounding no as you look into the heart of this artist in his own right. Shaw possesses a great knowledge of history in the tattoo realm and also of mankind’s view on what can be seen as the most personal expression. When queried about his first attraction to tattoos he is thoughtful, “I think it was on an almost subliminal, paranormal level. Like it was some strange other-worldly voice calling me, just a sort of primal attraction for this thing, something I really had no idea of the meaning or significance of at the time…It just made me FEEL a certain way.”

Many people talk about the “addiction” of the tattoo world, and it seems to carry on even here as Jonathan muses, “..I got sucked deeper and deeper into the whole vortex of its depth and mystery and power, not to mention the whole historical aspect, the anthropology and magic, the art itself and all the technique and craft involved..”

I asked him if he felt that the true meaning of the tattoo, as he has studied it in many different cultures, has been lost today in a cultural fad. I was slightly surprised, but also amused at his humility, when he responds,
“It is what it is? I don’t think it possibly CAN lose its ‘true significance’. At least not to those people who attach any ‘true significance’ to it as an ancient practice of human expression, ritual, magic…It’s not like I own any claim on any particular aspect of magic. So why would my opinion really matter in the great scheme of things anyway? Different strokes..”

More On Johnny?

One thing, Jonathan shared with me is the fact that when he did tattoo art, he was heavily influenced by the interaction he would share with the subject. So how many of Johnny’s tattoos has Jonathan done and were Johnny’s tattoos a collaboration of their great genius together? He shared with me that he has done most of Johnny’s work and that they were always Johnny’s idea.

“I just did ’em the way he wanted ’em done. Johnny’s an artist too, and a real good one at that, so I never questioned his taste or judgment about it the way I used to do with most people I tattooed those days. With most people, it was always “my way or the highway” like that. I really didn’t like being art-directed, but once in awhile you get somebody who knows exactly what they want and has the artistic vision and good taste to not need my two cents. Johnny was always like that. It was always alota a lotta fun tattooing JD.”

So, I asked the next logical question in my mind in reference to Johnny’s ink: what does the question mark that they both share mean? His answer; “That’s a good QUESTION!”

 

When you mention the name Johnny Depp, there is a strange awe or magnetism that follows it. Something that cannot be defined or explained, like the hush that you feel deep within your being as you step into a cathedral. But to Jonathan, who fondly just calls him JD, Johnny is a brother, a confidant and a connected soul. His life stories are full of Johnny and the adventures that they have shared on more than one continent. From Hunter and Johnny leaving him in the lobby for more than an hour and receiving the gift from him of a cut-off petrified finger, to hanging with Roman Polanski in France, enough threads to weave an afghan of memories.

This Is Me?

Most writers and artists admire and take an interest in other writers? or artists? works. So, who does Jonathan enjoy reading?

“I’d start with all the people Johnny Depp compared my work with in his epic blurb for my new book, “Narcisa.” After that, I’d have to say Henry Miller, Garcia Marquez, Jorge Amado, Paulo Lins, Bukowski, Hunter Thompson, all the classics, the beats, the usual suspects… also a lotta current people like Lydia Lunch, Jerry Stahl, Harry Crews…
There are so many amazing, brilliant and talented new writers popping up every day it’s too hard to even name all the names… Wouldn’t even know where to start. David Icke for sure!”

One frustration he expresses is that because of all his writing, he does not have time to ‘scratch the surface of all the great things out there to read.?
Since creativity is ignited by different things for different people, I asked him what ignites his creativity. His answer was simple: ?In a word, Life…?Day to day life, with all its confusion, suffering, passion, anger, obsession, lust, beauty, ugliness, truth, poetry, hypocrisy, pathos, rhythm, smells, sounds, tragedy and humor. What a great f**king pallet for any painter, no??

Viewing Jonathan’s life as a whole you see that he has inhabited some of the darkest and most hidden societies in culture today and in the past. Hang-outs where shady figures have colonized and loom in corners of unconventional America. Connected to this world are the demons of addiction and dysfunctional relationships. How did Jonathan pull himself up out of these depths? This inquiry I approached with uncertainty. The knowledge he had lived in that world since he was twelve, a fact that I held in the corners of my mind, made me realize how difficult it would have been for him to accomplish that first step on the road to recovery, since it was all he had ever known. Never the timid one, he paints a picture of survival and self preservation.

“I think the first step for me to want to recover from all my addictions was the terrible admission that I was dying. That and the Desire to live and maybe find my way out of all that confusion and chaos and to find a WAY to live without liquor and drugs. That’s really a most terrifying proposition for any real hope-to-die dope fiend or alkie like me..I was up against a wall… And not really having any of the basic values or life skills to live in this world without liquor and drugs, that was the real BIG challenge for me getting sober after all those years.(I went on) a crazy workaholic dry bender for almost ten years.. I really got a lot of work done during those years of abstinence, built the whole Fun City empire, founded and managed the first quality mainstream tattoo magazine, traveled the world and leapt tall buildings in a single bound…but I was a madman, even worse than when I was on drugs. Crazy, violent, stressed, insane. Then I relapsed and went on another long trip to hell. Finally I crashed and burned and nearly kicked the bucket about eight years ago. Then I sobered up again. But this time I finally came to the conclusion I’d better take this whole recovery business serious, might not get another chance? Johnny Depp actually took me to my first meeting that last time- not that he’s a recovering anything, just a real friend and I needed a kick in the ass to start me on my merry way again?
It’s all been relatively smooth sailing for me since then. Not always easy, but smooth. I know what I gotta do to keep it this time and I’m willing to go to any lengths to do that. That’s one of the reasons I finally quit tattooing and became a writer. They say “to thine own self be true,” and that’s an important concept to me today. Writing has been the most important tool in my recovery too, so I don’t take that s**t lightly. Hopefully some of the stuff I’ve been putting down may actually help somebody figure their own s**t out and wake up.
Cuz at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

 

The New Beginning: Writing?

Watching Jonathan tattoo, you notice his hands move with the fluency of a painter as he applies his brushstrokes to the canvas. Reading his newer art form writing, the same feeling of an artist’s soul glimpsing out from beyond the shroud can be seen. I asked him if he felt this in one form more than another.

“Tattooing was just… easier. Less demanding on my soul and, being a natural artist, I just went with that, almost by default cuz it fit in nicely with my lifestyle, traveling around the world and all that. So it was very convenient to me as a career, a trade… and I did pretty good at it, even though somewhere deep inside I think I always knew I was just treading water till I could grow the balls to really dedicate myself to writing full time…That’s how important it is to me now.”

What was it that instigated this change in profession in the timeline of his life? He describes it as more necessity than anything else.
“The fact is I’ve been retired from tattooing for nearly a decade now. There’s a reason for that. Basically, I got sick of it. Sick of doing it every day. Tattooing isn’t a part of my life at all today and I can’t say I miss it. It’s just something I did for twenty some odd years and It took me wherever it took me and I’m grateful for it all with no regrets.”

It does seem Jonathan may look at life from an outside point of view now, removing himself mentally to see the total screen. His wisdom which may have come with age, or just experience shows as he states:

“I almost feel as if I just got sidetracked for twenty years by something else, and now I’ve finally just gotten back on track, back to doing what I’m really supposed to do. For me writing was always my first love, even during all the years I spent as a full time tattooer. I guess I just wasn’t ready to fully commit to it yet or something, like there was a certain maturity of vision and experience and, I dunno, honesty still lacking in my consciousness that kept me from just going for it for such a long time”

Morphing himself from one entity into another is one more item that Jonathan can check off on his list of accomplishments. His gift of self-expression has carried over into his new endeavor of writing. Not lost on mundane fiction, the blunt honesty that is a part of his personality is portrayed in his fluent storytelling. He shows his passion:

“For me writing a book is like having a kid or something. You love it and nurture it and obsess over it and raise it the best you can. Then one day it just goes out into the world and does its own thing. Could turn out to be a Nobel Prize winner or a serial killer. Or any f**king thing in between…Whatever. It’s really none of a writer’s business where it all goes once it’s out there in the universe. This is just what I really love to do, express myself with language, paint pictures with words. Storytelling.
Poetry…And I guess I always did love it.”

His new book, “Narcisa” is out now in the states and is selling more rapidly than they can print it. Jonathan is in Rio working a rewrite for a major publishing house. How much better could it get? At the point where Johnny himself ?actually broke into a cold sweat when I read him some of the first chapter. He had to take his coat and hat off! It was pretty funny, watching him get that strong a reaction to it.? There are many who are already pointing towards a screen version. How does Jonathan react to this? Certainly in his honest to himself behavior….

 

“Maybe they’ll wanna make it into a movie someday… Folks have been telling me they could easily see that. Like people In the film business, people in the know. That would be really cool! So I guess we’ll see where it all goes. That would be some big fun I think, but I don’t really care much. I just wanna hang out and keep writing my crazy little stories. Where it all goes from there, who the f**k knows.”
As with most genius minds, Jonathan views life on the edge of his own eccentric perception, an understanding that only other minds like his own can truly comprehend.
“It’s no wonder so many writers end up blowing their f**king brains out. All writers are insane. You gotta be. And if you’re not, you will be by the time you’ve written a book or two, believe me….Words are very powerful. And if one isn’t careful with them, they can easily pave the road to Hell.. Or Heaven. Or some terrible limbo somewhere on the outskirts of Purgatory. Whatever..”
After a generation of surprises and accomplishments, Jonathan Shaw is not yet finished. The sun is rising over the mountains of his career and life. It seems he is gazing towards the horizon ready to face the dawning of a new day. The new world is open to him and the possibilities are infinite.

~Lizzy Cline

Related Links:
Jonathan Shaw’s blog
Jonathon Shaw’s Official My Space
Narcisa: Our Lady of Ashes My Space Page

All of the writings, movie overviews and articles on the site (written by Lizzy Cline) are date copywrited under her full legal name and protected in this sense. Any use or posting of the articles or claims are in violation of this copywrite. This is a personal copywrite as well as the copywrite that the site holds on these pieces. If you have a request for the use of any of these pieces it must be sent to her personally.

Rolling Stone, January 24, 2008 – Johnny Sings

Rolling Stone, January 24, 2008 – Johnny Sings

Title: Johnny Sings

Author: Gavin Edwards

Publication: Rolling Stone

Issue: January 24, 2008

Attend the tale of Johnny Depp: still Hollywood’s most perverse superstar, he has followed up the family-friendly Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy with Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a buckets-of-blood saga of cannibalism that is also -gulp!- a musical. That’s right, Depp sings for the first time ever onscreen, and critics are warbling his praises for tackling the notoriously difficult score from theater legend Stephen Sondheim. This gripping adaptation of the 1979 Broadway hit is the sixth movie Depp has done with director Tim Burton, for whom he’s played misfits from Edward Scissorhands to Ed Wood. But a full-out musi­cal is a first for both of them. And the pain-wracked intensity Depp brings to this London barber obsessed with revenge is sparking Oscar talk.

Today Depp meets me in a suite at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. His jeans are ripped, and his black shirt is open at the neck to reveal a gonzo necklace, a tribute to his late friend, Hunter S. Thompson. Depp looks around the tastefully appointed room. “They’ve really done this place up,” he says. “I lived in the Cha­teau for a while, years ago, and it was dingy but great. It was like they bought the couches from the Ramada Inn that was closed down by the Health Department in 1970.” Depp has come a long way from his childhood in Kentucky, the youngest of four children. His parents — a waitress and a city engineer – moved more than twenty times while he was young, settling in Mira-mar, Florida, when he was seven, and divorcing when he was fifteen. These days, Depp, 44, and his family (French singer-actress Vanessa Paradis and their two children, Lily-Rose 8 and Jack, 5) split their time be­tween Los Angeles and the South of France.

Conversation with the quick-witted Depp can ca­reen from whether new popes get their genitals cupped to ensure the leader of the Catholic Church is suffi­ciently male (“I think an elderly man waddles up to you and reaches under your dress”) to his out-of-control life before he met Paradis (“I’m a dumb-ass, and I poisoned myself for years. Now I understand things better”).

It’s been seventeen years since Depp starred in Cry-Baby, the Fifties musical pastiche from John Waters, where his singing voice was dubbed. Since Depp per­forms his own songs in Sweeney Todd, it seemed like the right time to revisit his musical career and how it improbably led him to become one of the most compel­ling actors of his generation.

Was your family musical at all?

My mom and my dad weren’t particularly musi­cal, no. But I did have an uncle who was a preacher, and he played hillbilly bluegrass guitar. So Sunday church services, it was like, “Hallelujah, brothers and sisters,” and then he would start picking “Stepping on the clouds.” That was where I got the bug: watching my uncle play the guitar with his little gospel group, right in front of me.

What was the first record you bought?

I don’t know if I bought it, but the first record I re­member listening to nonstop, oddly, was Dean Martin, Everybody Loves Somebody. And then Boots Randolph. And then the record album of Blackbeards Ghost, with Peter Ustinov. I’d never seen the film – I didn’t see it until I was in my late thirties. But I knew it verbatim. Slightly ironic. And then I turned that corner into preteen and I remember listening to Frampton Comes Alive! too much. My brother’s ten years older than me. He grabbed the needle off the album and there was this horrific noise – wrrrraarrrar. He said, “Listen, man, you’re killing me. Try this.” And he put on Van Mor­rison’s Astral Weeks. And it stirred me. I’d never heard anything like it. I said, “OK, maybe Frampton Comes Alive! is a little tired.” Then my brother, very pleased with himself, started turning me on to other things, like the soundtrack to Last Tango in Paris.

Did you wonder why they didn’t show the [X-rated] “Tango” on TV?

I was a little kid and it sounded good enough to me. I remember liking the image on the record album, of Brando and Maria Schneider, although I didn’t quite understand it. It’s a good bit to chew on when you’re a kid. Now, thirty-some years later, it’s still a pretty good bit to chew on. It’s good stuff.

How did listening to music become making music?

When I was twelve, I talked my mom into picking up a Decca electric guitar for me for twenty-five dollars. It had a little blue plush amp. And then, this is horrible, the first thing I did was steal a Mel Bay chord book. I went to this store, stuffed it down my pants and walked out. It had pictures – that’s why I needed it so badly, because it was immediate gratification. If I could match those photographs, then I was golden. I conquered it in days. I locked the bedroom door, didn’t leave, and taught myself how to play chords. I started learning songs by ear.

What if as the first song you could play through?

Every kid with a guitar at that time, the first things that came up were almost always “Smoke on the Water,” obviously, and “25 or 6 to 4,” by Chicago. But the first song I played all the way through must have been “Stairway to Heaven.” I remember getting through the fingerpicking and just cursing Jimmy Page.

What was your first band?

When I was about thirteen, I got together with some other kids in the neighborhood. This one guy had a bass, we knew a guy who had a PA system, we made our own lights. It was really ramshackle and great. We’d play at people’s backyard parties. Everything from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin to Cheap Trick to Devo — and “Johnny B. Goode” was the closer.

You’ve got that wistful look in your eyes.

You’re thirteen years old and you’re playing rock & roll. Loud. Poorly. But somebody’s letting you do it in their back yard. And it was absolute perfection. It was freedom. Right off the bat, there was no question: I had found my future.

What was the name of that group?

You start out with super innocent names like Flame, and by the time you’re fifteen, you’re the guitar­ist in a band called Bitch.

Did you ever want to be the singer?

No. I was always pretty shy. I didn’t want to be the guy that everybody looked at.

Ironic.

Yeah, I know. I didn’t want to be that guy at all. Plus, singers had to do stuff that I found mortifying, like jump around. Horror show. I just liked playing very loud and keeping my head down, staying in the dark.

How old were you when you quit school?

About sixteen. I was playing clubs, but suddenly I had made the choice to become an adult. My parents said, “OK, kid, you’ve taken yourself out of school, so you fend for yourself.” So there weren’t many options. I was very close to joining the Marine Corps. I was teetering. But then I had a realization: I’ve only been out of school two weeks. I can go back. So I sat down with the dean and said, “Listen, I made a mistake and I’d like to try again.” And bless him, he said, “Johnny, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. You love your mu­sic, that’s the only thing you’ve ever applied yourself to. Go out there and play.” He wasn’t nasty about it -he was giving me good advice. Then I was in a band called – very original – Bad Boys. And when I was sev­enteen, this band called the Kids needed a guitar player, and I joined them.

In retrospect, were the Kids any good?

Yeah, it was a very solid band. And the opportunities we had were incredible. We played huge shows, open­ing for the Ramones, the Pretenders, Iggy Pop, Stray Cats. Our main influences were Elvis Costello, the Clash and early Motown stuff, especially the Jackson 5. And U2. They were just coming up when we played “I Will Follow” – people used to think it was our song.

Why did you leave Florida?

We needed a challenge, and the best challenge in the world was “Let’s go to L.A. and see if we can get signed.” In ’83, we packed up these U-Haul trailers and set out for L.A. But suddenly we’re not big fish in a little pond, we were guppies and we’re nearly destitute. We have to eat, so we end up getting jobs.

How did you pay the rent?

Phone sales. Me and a couple of the other guys in the band sold ink pens over the telephone. You’d guarantee them a grandfather clock or a trip to Greece. Oddly, that’s kind of my first experience with acting. You’re reading a whole spiel. There was a character on the soap opera General Hospital – the name stuck in my head – so I would call people up and say, “How do you do, this is Edward Quartermame.” The couple or times that I actually got people to buy the pens, they only agreed because they wanted the grandfather clock. And when the supervisor wandered off, I would say. “Listen, don’t buy these pens. The clock is made of corkboard. I’m a thief; we’re ripping you off.” So I wasn’t good at it.

The Kids were struggling. Everybody started getting nervous and weird. I was filling out job applications for video stores on Melrose. Nicolas Cage was with me, and we got along pretty well. And Nic said. “Why don’t you try acting? I think you could probably do it.” I remem­ber saying, “I’ll try anything, man.” I gotta live without calling home and begging for money. So I met his agent, and she sent me to read for a movie (Nightmare on Elm Street], and they hired me. It was scale, $1,200 a week for eight weeks, which was absolutely ludicrous. That’s mad money! So I said to the band. “I’m gonna do this thing, it’s eight weeks, and then I’ll come back.” But it didn’t work that way. Everybody “went in their own di­rection. I never wanted to be an actor. It just seemed like a good way to make easy money. I didn’t care what the movies were. If you’re going to pay me, fine. That was my philosophy.

Looking back now, do you wish you had ended up a guitarist instead of an actor?

Not really. Music will always be my first love. But if I continued to do it for a living, I don’t know that I would feel the same way about it. I’m glad that it worked out this way, because it’s still as fresh as it was back then and I’m not pressured to write hit songs. I pick up the guitar and space out and drool.

Now and then, you knock out a guitar solo for friends like Shane MacGowan or Oasis.

Playing on Shane’s record was … there are snippets of memory.

So it was more that you could hold your guitar and not fall over?

[Laughs] The song seemed like it was fine, it didn’t need anything else. And Shane was just like. “Arrrar­rah . . . play some more.” So I thought. “Well, if I just start making some random noises. . . .”And then you get a note that sustains and you can feel that it’s gonna hang in there, so like any guitar player, you’ll deal with it for fifteen minutes if somebody will let you. You get this feedback, you’ll bend it and stretch it. So I got these weird, tonal, harmonic kind of spacey things. I think the credit Shane gave me on the record was “weird guitar noises by Johnny Depp. “The Oasis stuff was fun. I liked playing with those guys, and I enjoyed playing slide on-what was it called? – “Fade In-Out.” I was playing a gui­tar that had some strange tuning, and I didn’t know the chords to the song. So looking back, it was sort of miraculous that I was able to stay on key.

How about P [the Nineties band that included Depp and Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers]?

P was a group of friends who were given the opportunity to make a bunch of noise together and document it. For some reason, Capitol Records wanted to do it, and that was the most surreal part. We said, “There will be no photographs, there will be no tour, there will be no videos, there will be no bios, there will be nothing.” And they agreed to it! We didn’t let them in the studio when we were recording the record. There’s a lot of really funny shit on it. Gibby was on fire. He’s a genius. And so after Capitol listened to the record, they just went, “What is this?” and buried it. Which was not even the slightest disappointment.

Had you paid attention to Stephen Sondheim before Tim Burton talked to you about “Sweeney Todd”?

I was certainly familiar with Sondheim’s work. Jesus, he wrote “Send in the Clowns.” Even Tom Robbins has regard for “Send in the Clowns.” Did you ever read Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates? You’d love it. The main character is constantly referring to “Send in the Clowns.” So I knew of Sondheim’s work, cer­tainly, like West Side Story, but I wasn’t familiar with Sweeney Todd until Tim gave me the CD. I listened to it and thought, “OK, yeah, that’s interesting. But weird, because it’s this big operatic sort of thing.” And then I didn’t think anything else of it. But Tim didn’t address it again with me until five or six years later.

So it had been percolating all that time?

Not in me. I guess he’d been attached to it and then unattached and back and forth. And then suddenly he called. The beauty with Tim is, you’re charged up when he calls you because you know something is going to be fun. So we get together and he says. “Do you remember Sweeney Todd? Do you think you could do it?” I initially said. “I don’t know. I mean, I’d like to do it, but I don’t know if I can.” I started listening to it and familiarizing myself with the notes. And then slowly but surely, I started to sing along with it. I knew that I was musical and could understand the structure and the chords. I knew I could hit certain notes, but I didn’t know if I could hold them. I called Tim and I said, “I think I can do it, but I’m going to go into the studio with a buddy [Bruce Witkin of the Kids] and I’m going to try it out. And I’ll send you a tape and then you tell me.”

Did doing the music first change your approach to the character?

Absolutely. It was a very different process. Because I had no idea who Sweeney was. I mean, I knew the story and I knew what other guys had done with Sweeney. But I didn’t know what my Sweeney was going to look like or sound like. So it was different. I heard him sing before I heard him talk.

Was one song particularly hard to crack?

All of them. The one that I was least looking forward to singing was “Epiphany.” because it’s just all over the joint. Right off the bat it jumps an octave. [Sings] “I had him!” But actually I burned through it pretty quick and had a number of options on that one.

The one that was probably the most challenging was “Johanna.” It’s such an emotional song. And as far as I was concerned, when Stephen Sondheim writes the note and it has to be held for this many beats, you do it, I don’t care if you’re from Miramar or Kentucky or you’re an ass and you don’t sing. It doesn’t matter. Don’t be a pussy, you fuckm’ hold that note. You can’t cheat. You can’t whisper. You can’t do the William Shatner thing. You just gotta belt it out. So I really beat myself up, making sure I could hold those notes. In “Johanna,” some are, like, twelve beats. That was a bugger. At one point, I was very close to passing out – I got dizzy and saw black. But that’s what Sondheim wrote, so that’s what you do.

Did you have a formal meeting with Sondheim?

I did. I flew in to New York to see the Michael Cerveris-Patti LuPone production of Sweeney, which was great. That was the only time I saw the show onstage. The next day I was meeting with Stephen at his house, just to sit down and say hi. He was very gracious. But the weird thing was he didn’t know if I could sing. Nobody knew if I could sing!

So why did he give you his blessing?

I have no idea. I was half-expecting – and this scared the shit out of me – for Stephen to say “Come over here, kid, let’s go by the piano.” I had this image of him asking me to sing scales or arpeggios. And then you’re faced with the idea of, like, refusing: “No, I won’t be doing that, Mr. Sondheim.” But he was great. He said it was more important to hit the emotional notes than to hit the musical notes. Sondheim has incredibly beautiful melodies, and what goes along with those melodies are some-times dissonant, supercomplex chord arrangements that actually shouldn’t make sense. They shouldn’t go together, but they do somehow, because he’s a genius. Doing that music, it becomes emotional organically. You’re not even searching for anything, and it’s already become emotional. It’s built into Sondheim’s stuff.

My favorite Sondheim story is that his neighbor Katharine Hepburn complained about his noise.

He’s composing some fucking masterpiece and Hepburn’s screaming at Sondheim, going, “You bastard!” I love that.

Has music colored other performances of yours?

Oh, every film. I use music constantly. Music is instant emotion. I can hear a song from the late Sixties, when I was a little kid, and all of  a sudden you smell the room, you sense the weather outside, you hear the sound of the car tires on the gravel. Music is the fastest way to your creative source. On Fear and Loathing, when I was doing scenes where I had to be tripping, I used sound effects to spin me out – because there was no way to do the film actually being loaded.

In “Sweeney” your face is a rictus of pain. It’s almost like you’re performing from behind a mask.

Yeah, it’s horrible. [Grins] I can’t watch it. Tim and I talked about the torment that this guy would’ve felt, to have his family ripped away from him. The only thing that kept his heart beating was that he could have his revenge. But on the set, we laughed tike absolute fools. Tim and I, and Helena [Bonham Carter] and Sacha [Baron Cohen], It was a ball.

You’re the godfather of Tim and Helena’s son, Billy, but this is the first time you and Helena have acted together.

Our paths crossed a couple of times in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and then Corpse Bride, but we never did our stuff together. It certainly didn’t hurt that we’re pals – she and Tim bring Billy down to the South of France and we’ll hang out with all the kids. Also, she’s super talented. Her level of commitment is really impressive. She could get very scientific about it, and then make fun of herself and laugh about it. It was easier for me. I could wing it a bit more.

Is Tim scientific too?

No, Tim is not scientific. With him, it’s a process of discovery, although he has very solid ideas before he goes in there. As much as Tim was watching me or Helena, I was watching Tim with Dariusz [Wolski], the DP, finding the poetry of the shot. It was very exciting to witness. And I didn’t get fired!

Did you think you were at risk?

No, no. There have been a couple where I thought I was going to get fired. This one I felt like we were OK, because fifty percent of the job was done before we even stepped in front of the camera.

And then you just had to lip-sync?

I had expected that as well, but you can’t lip-sync. You’ve gotta belt it out, which is extra-mortifying. There’s a tiny little speaker over there playing the music and the boom guy has the microphone just inches above your eyebrows and the focus puller and the camera operator are right there. You have to commit yourself to the moment, because of the veins in your neck and your head-lip-syncing would be a lie, and people would spot the fakiness fifty yards away.

Did the awful scare you had during the “Sweeney Todd” shoot, with your daughter going to the hospital, end up affecting how you play the character?

You can’t broom out your head. You certainly can’t broom out your heart. And there’s a hot wire between them, and everything shows in the eyes. So whatever you’re feeling in your life, trying to avoid it is some kind of weird obstacle course that there’s no way to win. So when it’s there, it’s there. But in any film, nobody else really knows what I was thinking at the time, or what I was going through. One of the bits I like best about acting are the layers underneath. You could be applying anything to a scene, and it could be as random or absurd as a dog turd. To raise a smile, as opposed to a fake smile, something organic needs to happen. It could be the moment you had with your son or your daughter.

So you’re going to take the role of gangster John Dillinger in Michael Mann’s movie “Public Enemies.” Have you been stuffing your pants for practice? I heard the rumor that his penis is in the Smithsonian.

I’m going to have to check that out. See if I’m up to the task. There’s some very famous photographs of Dillinger on the morgue slab, and there’s one particular angle, with the sheet over him, and it’s, like [gestures expansively around crotch], twenty-five inches, man. So the speculation was that he was in the wrong racket. But you read further, and it was a crank on the other side that the sheet had been draped over, making it look like he was packing, you know, Mr. Ed’s shotgun.

What drew you to “Public Enemies”?

It was a weird series of events. We were nearly set to go on this film, Shantaram, with Mira Nair directing, and then, bang, the writers’ strike. So we said, “Let’s hit pause until we can get in there and finish it properly”. The same thing basically happened with The Rum Diary. Bruce Robinson wrote the screenplay, based on Hunter’s book, and was going to direct it. The Dillinger thing came up after all that. First of all, Michael Mann has done some really cool, interesting films. And just the fact that John Dillinger was a real rock star.

What does the possibility of winning an Oscar for “Sweeney” mean to you?

I think it would be unhealthy to have that as your goal. They nominated me for those things a couple of times, you know, the Oscar thing and the Golden Globes. They even gave me a SAG Award.

And they haven’t taken it back?

Yeah. It’s certainly flattering. It makes you feel good that somebody responded to your work. I went and experienced it. I’m not very good in big crowds of people and the whole “look at me, look at me, look at me” situation, I just can’t stand that.

Can you look at yourself in your own movies?

Usually I like to walk away with the experience. If I don’t see it as a product, then it doesn’t exist as a product. I know that’s an ignorant way of looking at it, but it’s helpful. I just did a job, and then I hung out with my family, and then I go and do another job and I’m fine.

Esquire, January 2008 – Depp and Burton

Esquire, January 2008 – Depp and Burton

Title: Depp and Burton

Author: Cal Fussman

Publication: Esquire

Issue: January 2008

Tim Burton: There are partnerships where one person is good at one thing and the other is good at another. That’s true in our case! But we’re very connected in terms of taste.

Johnny Depp: Even when we first met, we connected on all these superabsurd levels.

TB: A fascination for weird seventies objets d’art.

JD I remember, growing up, we had this concrete cobra spray-painted gold.

TB: We’re from different parts of the country. But there is a kind of suburban white-trashy connective strand there. Isn’t there?

JD: Yep.

TB: The stories that scared us as children.

JD: Mr. Green Jeans.

TB: Seeing Humphrey Bogart playing a monster. He only did one horror movie and—

JD: We both knew it.

TB: The Return of Dr. X. When something like that comes up, you realize, Yeah, perfect. Things that don’t normally come up in most people’s conversations are things that come up a lot in ours.

JD: We speak in a sort of shorthand.

TB: It’s not literal. We’ll cross-reference things that wouldn’t really make sense to the normal person.

JD: One time, Tim and I were talking before we were getting ready to shoot. Afterward, one of the grips comes over to me with this really perplexed look on his face. He says, “I was just watching you and Tim talk about the scene for the last fifteen minutes.” ‘Yeah And he says, “I didn’t understand a fucking word either one of you said.”

TB: That about sums it up.

JD: I don’t think we’ve ever had an argument.

TB: I don’t think so. There have been differences of opinion and a different take on certain things.

JD: But even in that kind of situation, Tim just says, “Okay, do it like you want and then do it the other way.”

TB: Usually, we agree. Early on Sweeney Todd, Johnny said, “There is one thing I cannot do. I can’t take Anthony to the hotel.”

JD I had written a big question mark on that page of the script

TB: When I opened my script to the same page, I saw that I’d already crossed it out.

JD: Tim’s had to fight to get me in his movies so many times.

TB: We always have to fight. We have to fight to get them done, we have to fight—weirdly, Sweeney Todd wasn’t so hard, which it should’ve been. They should have run screaming for the hills with this one. An R-rated bloody musical starring someone they don’t even know if he can sing. I mean, Jesus. There’s a certain amount of trust that goes into backing that. It’s exciting when people do that, you know? Just trusting you with something. I find that to be quite energizing and confidence building. Makes you feel good.

JD: Makes you want to do a good job for them, too.

TB: Absolutely. I’ve always used a sporting analogy to describe the flip side of that. You’re a runner and you’re just about to run the big race. and they come in and beat the fucking shit out of you and then say, “Okay, go win the race.” You get the shit beat out of you right before you’re supposed to go perform your best. And it happens most of the time. We have our bets on you, never mind we just broke your fucking legs. But it wouldn’t be making a movie if it were easy. It should be a struggle. Otherwise, you’re coasting.

JD There’s always that moment on every movie where you just go, “Okay, this is that moment. I’m about to potentially fall flat on my face, and I might as well just dive in and see what happens.” That’s how it was when I started singing the songs for the first time. I just felt like an idiot. It was one of the most exposing, bizarre things I’ve ever done. I mean, at forty-three years old, it’s the first time I’d sung a song all the way through.

TB: I did some auditioning with other people, and afterward I was completely devastated and exhausted. I felt like I was casting a porno movie. I mean, having people come in to audition and sing was like having them come in and take their clothes off. It felt that exposing. It shocked me.

JD: It’s true. I’ve married Tim’s woman twice now. In Corpse Bride, Helena was the corpse. And then in Sweeney Todd.

TB: What are you, some kind of, what do they call it? Do you live in Utah? Are you one of those guys?

JD My real last name is Osmond.

Esquire, January 2008 – The Continuing Adventures of Tim & Johnny

Esquire, January 2008 – The Continuing Adventures of Tim & Johnny

Title: The Continuing Adventures of Tim & Johnny

Author: Cal Fussman

Publication: Esquire

Issue: January 2008

One time a guy told me that he brought his wife to see Pirates of the Caribbean. She had lost her motor skills. I forget what you call it. It’s not autism. Jesus, they made a movie about it. You know, where you recede and your functions start to go. Anyway, they’re watching the film, and when Captain Jack Sparrow came on the screen, she started to laugh. This guy said he hadn’t heard that laugh in years. And so he took her back to see the film repeatedly. For some reason, Captain Jack made her laugh every time. That’s right up there.

My mother taught me a lot of things. The first thing that comes to mind is: Don’t take any shit off anyone, ever. When I was a little kid, we moved constantly. Bully picks on you in the new place? Don’t ever take any shit off anyone, ever. Eloquent and right.

My life is my life because of Tim. Definitely.

This is Tim Burton in a nutshell: We were doing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I was on the set. We were shooting, work­ing, working, working. All great. Everything’s cool. One of my pals comes up and says, “Helena [Bonham Carter, Burton’s partner] just called. When you get a moment, she’d like you to give her a call back.” “Okay,” I say. “As soon as I’m done on set, I’ll go back to my trailer and give her a call.” So I go back to the trailer, call Helena, and say, “Hey, what’s going on?” I thought maybe Helena had a question about little boys because Billy was a little baby then and I’ve got two kids. So I say, “Is everything all right?” And she says, “Billy’s fine. Everything’s fine. But, well, you know how Tim is. He wants to know if you’d be… he’d like for you to be Billy’s godfa­ther.” I say, “But I was just with Tim. I was with him three minutes ago. I had to leave him to walk back to the trailer to call you.” So she called me to ask because Tim just couldn’t. That was his way of asking. I went back to the set and said thank you, told him that I was honored. It doesn’t get heavier than saying I’d like you to be the godfather of my son. But he’s not ever going to put himself into a corny kind of situation with a pal. He’s like, “Good, yeah, yeah.” Boom. “Let’s get back into the work.”

Look, see this little carrot near the dip? Watch. I’ll put it in my mouth as if it were a cigarette holder. Now I’m Raoul Duke. I spent so much time with Hunter Thompson, it just became second nature. As soon as I put anything resembling a cigarette holder in my mouth, he starts to come out. It’s so natural and its so strange. It sounds land of ridiculous to even say it.

The characters are always there and, depending on the situation, not far from the surface. So they show up every now and again. It can’t be good for you. It just can’t. Then again, who knows?

I don’t think anybody’s necessarily ready for death. You can only hope that when it approaches, you feel like you’ve said what you wanted to say. Nobody wants to go out in mid-sentence.

I am in a very privileged position-And I’m certainly not going to bite the hand that feeds me. I like doing the work. But I’m not a great fan of all the stuff that goes along with it. I don’t want to be a product. Of course you want the movies to do well. But I don’t want to have to think about that stuff. I don’t want to know who’s hot now and who’s not and who’s making this much dough and who’s boffing this woman or that one. I want to remain ignorant of all this. I want to be totally outside and far away from all of it.

I remember one time I had done some television interview, and they asked about my family life and kids. I talked about how I’m a proud father and how much I love my kids and how they’re fun and what we do and how it’s great. I was thinking that if in twenty-five, thirty years my kids watch old footage, I’d be proud for them to see their dad saying how much he loves them. Well, the show aired, and I get a phone call. “What the fuck are you doing?” I said, “Marlon, what are you talking about?” He said, “That’s none of their business!” I tried to say, “Marlon, listen, man, I only wanted my kids to…” And it was like he gave me this sort of once-over. ‘You don’t do it, man. That’s your world and it’s nobody else’s business. It’s not anybody’s entertainment.” And he was right.

People are super nice in the street If they want me to sign something, that’s great, I don’t mind that at all.

There’s no limit to the possibilities of what I could do to the paparazzi if I catch them photographing my children.

You don’t go through the front door of hotels anymore, you go through the garage. Or you go through the kitchen of a restaurant. Some people want to think that’s cool, that’s exciting. But it’ll definitely make you a little weird if you’re constantly being stared at. Part of the process that I’ve always enjoyed is being the observer. You know, just watching people and learning. At a certain point, the reversal took place. I was no longer the observer— I was being observed. That’s obviously very dangerous because part of an actor’s job is to observe.

My definition of freedom is simplicity, really. Anonymity. I’m sure it will be a possibility someday again. Maybe when I get old. They get tired of you.

“Didn’t you use to be Johnny Depp?” That will be the clincher.

Movies Online – 2006

Q. Why is this the character you can revisit over and over?

Depp: I just feel like I’m not done. I just feel like there are more things you could do. Because, I suppose, with a character like this, the parameters are a little broader, so there are more possibilities I think. And he’s a fun character to play. I was really not looking forward to saying goodbye to him.

Q. Any pirate adventures you still want to do, not touched on in Pirates 3 yet?

Depp: Time travel, why not? No, I don’t know. Ted (Elliott) and Terry (Rossio), the writers, and Gore (Verbinski), what they were able to do on the first one and then taking that to what they’ve done now with the second one and then going into the third, it’s pretty amazing. We’re getting close to just even stretching the boundaries a bit more.

Q. How much freedom do you have to improvise?

Depp: I think with everything you do, it’s always? You have the basic structure, you have your basic bones and a solid foundation. But with every one, you do your best to kind of explore it as much as possible while you’re shooting. It could be something that comes to you, like sometimes it just comes to me when I’m reading a script. A line will just come to me, and I’ll incorporate it into the thing and obviously run it by Ted and Terry and Gore and the other actors certainly. So it can happen that way or it can just happen in the spur of the moment which is more fun in a way, when something just happens because if you feel it and you do it in a big, wide master shot, it alters the rhythm for a second and it kind of throws the thing, takes the bottom out from under you for a second which is quite fun because you sort of see honest reactions all around. People panic for a second, and that kind of panic is fun and I think important, good for you.

Q. The executives panicked the first time. Did the audience prove you right?

Depp: The executives did panic. I mean, bless ’em, they did panic on the first one. And probably to some degree for good reason. But also, I think it’s prerequisite to become an executive, you have to have that capability to panic instantly and do your best to resolve it as quickly as possible. So breaking the thing yourself and then fixing it so you look good, it was a case on the first one where I was totally supported by a few in the sort of close knit group. Like Gore was a great support during that time, but really it was a case where the audience, the viewers, actually came in and they were the ones that saved me.

Q. Were you surprised it became so popular, that you’re a crowd pleaser now?

Depp: I was definitely never a crowd pleaser. May not be after this one, you never know. I was very surprised, incredibly surprised?still am that “Pirates” did as well as it did and that the character made some friends out there. I am still surprised and touched.

Q. Why do you think it struck a chord?

Depp: I’ve said for a long time, I for the most part had in terms of commercial success or box office bonanzas, I had about 20 years of sort of studio defined failures. To me they were all great successes because we got them done. In terms of what struck a chord with “Pirates,” I said for a long time and I really believe that studios were underestimating the intelligence of the audience or their needs. You go to the movies to be stimulated certainly, but you don’t go to the movies to know what the end is going to be. You want to be stimulated so I think that it was such a kind of different angle, that film, that people were ready for that kind of thing. That hyper kind of realism, the action sequences were insane. It wasn’t something they’ve seen all that much I think. I believe that’s what it was.

Q. Is it true you might be working with Tim Burton on an Edgar Allen Poe movie?

Depp: No, not that I’ve heard of. But boy, that’s an exciting possibility. We’ve been talking about doing “Sweeney Todd” together which is very exciting.

Q. How close is that?

Depp: Don’t know. Tim and I talked about it a long time ago actually, or the possibility a long time ago. So now the people who panic are panicking.

Q. The musical version?

Depp: I’m assuming.

Q. Do you sing?

Depp: Not yet.

Q. What was it like to stay in character when you went home to your family?

Depp: See, I’m never aware of it, that I’m in character. It never feels like I’m in character. It always feels like you have those moments just before the take and it kind of winds down after the scene is done.

Q. Did you wear the dreadlocks to bed?

Depp: No, I did not, no. There’s still time. We’ve still got to finish 3.

Q. You laugh about the apprehension towards you now?

Depp: I laughed way before that.

Q. Are you at peace with the frustrations of the industry? Were you always?

Depp: I?ll tell you what made it a lot easier to roll with the punches for me was having kids, or at least even before really. Knowing that I was going to be having a kid. That put a lot of things in perspective to me, like instant perspective. I think for a number of years I was frustrated by the whole thing. I didn?t understand any of it. But in terms of success or career or all that stuff, it never made any great deal of sense to me. So I guess, yeah, when I found out Vanessa and I were going to have a baby, you find out what?s important like (snaps fingers) real quick.

Q. Was that a maturity for you, or a camaraderie?

Depp: It was more like just finally understanding what it was all about for me, really. Because for years, there were the two things. There was the sort of business of Hollywood and the business and the business of that career and people saying, ?Well, you have to do this kind of movie because you?ve got to make money because you?ve got to do this and that.? And I always felt like, you know, ?Money is all it?s about. Well, hopefully, it?ll come at some point. But if it doesn?t, that?s alright. I know that I?ve done the things that I felt were right in terms of movies and stuff.? So it was that sort of business thing. And then there was work which I?ve always just done what felt right to me, so I don?t know. I never really had any problem. The only problem I ever had in terms of frustration with the industry and Hollywood and stuff was basically I didn?t think they understood the movies that I did and I think they didn?t know how to sell them properly because they didn?t know how to label them. And if you can?t label the product, it?s sort of this vague thing. If you don?t understand the product, you can?t sell it and they couldn?t sell it.

Q. You’ve done a lot of really inventive characters?

Depp: You’re saying I’m a weirdo?

Q. Have you ever thought of playing a straight romantic character? Or am I missing something?

Depp: It’s probably me missing something. I’m probably missing a lot. For example, “Donnie Brasco” was one that I felt was a straight-ish.

Q. He was pretending to be someone else?

Depp: Yeah, but I guess in terms of playing like a straight leading man type thing, I feel like all these guys are kind of not necessarily leading men but straight kind of characters. Even though they may seem bizarre or strange, I feel like I think everybody’s nuts. I mean, I really do. And the weirdest thing in the world is to see some guy who is just super earnest. He’s probably crazier than any of the guys I’ve played. And as far as really doing that, it would have to make sense to me somehow. It’d have to be something underneath for me to make that work. Otherwise, there are a bunch of guys out there, actors, actor types who do that kind of thing very well. I don’t think I could for myself. There’s got to be a bunch of different things going on, layers to stuff.

Q. What was the most fun scene?

Depp: Which scene was the most fun in Pirates 2? Boy, oh boy. Well.

Q. Getting slimed?

Depp: God, that was horrible. That was just horrible. But the good news is I was expecting the worst and it was horrible, but it wasn’t as bad as I suppose it could have been. I didn’t inhale any of the slime which is good. I guess the most fun was just one scene that comes to mind when Jack realizes that there’s a moment when Elizabeth is talking about how she wants to get married, and he has that sort of moment of weakness of ‘Ah well?’ That was a lot of fun to play. That was a lot of fun to shoot.

Q. Now that it’s almost over, are you getting sad again?

Depp: No, I figure because we’ve got a few more months to go. It’s the home stretch, so I think probably the last month I’ll start going into that deep, dark depression.

Q. Do you have the rights to the Nick Hornby book?

Depp: Oh, “A Long Way Down.” I don’t know that I’ll be acting in it, but just kind of hoping to get it made I suppose.

Q. They?re doing a “21 Jump Street” movie.

Depp: I think it’s a great idea.

Q. Are you far enough past it that you’d do a cameo?

Depp: Wow, I certainly? Why don’t I just go back and play? It’d be good at 42. That would be interesting. To go back and play the same character I played 20 years ago with no one saying anything. A bunch of people going, they don’t’ say anything to him but they talk behind his back, ‘Is he out of his mind? He’s really old now, but he thinks he’s still young.’ That, I would love to play.

Q. What’s it like being in the Disney ride?

Depp: Boy, that’s so exciting. They showed me the drawings and the plans for what it might be.

Q. Thanks so much for your time this afternoon.

 

IF Magazine – 7/10/2006

iF MAGAZINE: You make your comic pratfalls look easy and effortless but this isn’t easy and effortless. How do you get the timing so right and how hard do you have to work in making these falls look accidental and comic?

JOHNNY DEPP: Oh boy. That’s the key. How do you keep it fresh’ How do you keep it working’ For me, there’s a real fine art to the timing that I’m still working on because you go back and watch guys like Chaplin and Keaton or even in the dramatic roles, Lon Chaney. The timing, especially in those silent films is just astonishing. But also in today’s cinema, timing can be helped or hindered by editing. So I don’t know. I just sort of do my best.

iF: Speaking of timing, what did you think when you heard about Keith Richards falling out of the palm tree, and were you concerned that he might not be able to star in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END?

DEPP: I thought that was bad timing. But it solidified my belief that he would be the perfect father for Captain Jack. Initially we were all super-worried ‘ ‘My God, what has he done” But being in touch with his people, his camp, I know that he’s doing fine and it was a momentary lapse and he’s back on the road soon and totally cool.

iF: You were at the launch of the new revamped Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. How weird was it for your kids seeing a robotic impersonating their dad as Jack Sparrow’ How much did your kids contribute to your decision to do PIRATES?

DEPP: My kids were as excited as I was to see the animatronics figures at Disneyland. Yeah, they were pretty freaked out by that, as was I. Again, talking about timing being everything, right around the time I was offered PIRATES, there was no script, no story at all, no characters, no nothing. At the time my daughter was two-and-a-half, three years old, so I’d spent those three years watching nothing but those Disney animated features from way back or old Tex Avery cartoons and tons and tons of animated stuff. Which was unbelievably helpful for me because through that time [watching the cartoons] I became obsessed with the notion that these cartoon characters, these animated characters didn’t have to play by the same rules as we did in live action cinema. The boundaries were quite wide and the parameters were really stretched out so they could fly around a lot more, and also the notion that a three-year-old could sit there and watch these characters with a 40-year-old and a 75-year-old and all walk away with the same experience, that universal thing, so you become a child again. I would say more than anything that was the main ingredient in Captain Jack for me.

iF: Is there any truth to the rumor that you’re going to play INXS singer Michael Hutchence in a film?

DEPP: It actually isn’t, it’s not true. But the funny thing is someone sent that to me and I read it and thought, ‘Wow, that’s kind of interesting because no one ever approached me about it.’ I don’t think I’d be the guy to play Michael. I knew him pretty well and I think you’d need someone a little more, well, he was pretty broad Michael. He was a kind of a glam guy, like a god, like a shaman. I don’t think I’d be the guy.

iF: What about playing a young Keith Richards?

DEPP: Now that would be fun.

iF: We’ve heard you stay in character when you shoot the film. Does that make your interaction different with your kids when they’re with you on set?

DEPP: Well put it this way, it’s not that you stay in character, but because you’ve spent the majority of your day as that character, there is some let’s say residue by the time you get home. I’d get home and say [in Jack Sparrow voice], ‘Alright kids, everything alright” And they’d say, ‘Dad, come on, I’m watching SPIDER-MAN.’ To say they were used to it is a very kind way of putting it.

iF: So Tobey Maguire is a hero in your house?

DEPP: Oh man, SPIDER-MAN, JUSTICE LEAGUE. My boy has now gone into that full-on superhero phase. But I refuse to wear the tights.

iF: If you had Jack’s compass, which direction would it be pointing?

DEPP: It would be pointing wherever my family is.

iF: What was your initial reaction when Disney executives panicked on first seeing dailies of your Jack Sparrow during the first movie, asking ‘Is he drunk, is he gay’?

DEPP: This is totally irresponsible of me, but I thought it was hilarious. I really got a kick out of it because they were so worried, they were so freaked out, and it was so serious. And there were moments when you were in a very quiet sort of story situation, and you just go [trying to hold in laughter] “I lost myself, I went crazy.’ It got close you know. They were definitely considering giving me the boot and I was okay with that really. But I really felt like I had a handle on the character and I knew what I was doing and that they had to trust me or fire me. And they didn’t fire me.

iF: And how was it kissing Keira Knightley?

DEPP: Oh the smooch. Well those things are always so awkward especially because Keira and I have never been in that kind of situation together. She’s three and I’m a thousand. I’m Methuselah and she’s a toddler. There was that, but more than anything, we’ve known each other for a couple of years and suddenly it was, ‘Are you ready for this” And you just kind of do it. It becomes more like a stunt in a way. ‘Where’s my double” She was a great sport about it. She was really sweet.

iF: You might be a thousand, but you have this childlike quality about you. Where does that come from?

DEPP: It’s probably ignorance. I might just be really dumb, I don’t know. What keeps you a child more than anything is your kids, hanging around your kids, watching them experience things for the first time, seeing new things, watching them develop smarts about various things and seeing their imaginations bloom and flower. That’s the key to all of it for me. Just the miracle of saving a drawing they made when they were three years old and looking at one they made when they were four, there’s a vast difference in that. And then up to six and seven and it’s like, ‘I’m raising Picasso.’

iF: Can you talk about why you’re so comfortable living in France?

DEPP: Well it’s a beautiful culture. It’s an absolutely perfect kind of culture, steeped in history, fascinating in that way. I’ve always been a real history fiend and, also on a personal level, I’m not sure that art in cinema is possible any more in Hollywood. But in Europe there’s a real regard for the filmmaker and the writer, the product too sure, the end result. But they respect authors, painters, filmmakers, film, and creativity. They celebrate it. And the wine is pretty good.

iF: Was 21 JUMP STREET the real turning point in your career?

DEPP: That was a very important learning experience for me. That three and a half or four years I spent on JUMP STREET was my college, my schooling. It was great training, being in front of the camera five days a week, seven to nine months out of the year. You learn a lot about the process, cameras, lenses, lights; very good training. But the other thing that was very important for me was a situation that I was very uncomfortable with, the fact that they had turned my image of this character I was playing and sold it to the masses as me. This ball was rolling and it was greasy and I couldn’t get a hold of it, I couldn’t stop it, I couldn’t do anything, say anything. I just had to behave and be that guy for them. So as miserable an experience as that was for me it was actually instrumental in deciding where I would go after that. After I was out of that contract, I swore to myself I would never be that again, I would never let anyone do that to me.

iF: So you went off and made CRY-BABY with John Waters.

DEPP: CRY-BABY was the first sort of catapult out of that. They wanted me to go this way and I decided, ‘No, no, no, get John Waters over here.’

iF: What is it like working with Chow Yun Fat on PIRATES 3?

DEPP: I think once we get into the ring, no matter where you’re from, everyone has their own process, everyone has a different approach to the work. I knew he was a good actor obviously, I’d seen him in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and I knew his work was terrific. More than that, I was really impressed with who he is as a human, as a guy. He’s very down to earth, a lot of fun. Probably the best way to describe the guy is adorable. He’s a super-sweet, very together, very centered man. I was really pleased to get to know him.

iF: How’s your French now’ Might we see you speaking French in a French movie some time soon?

DEPP: It’s all right here and there. I can get through a conversation. I did a film a couple of years ago, right after SECRET WINDOW, IILS SE MARIERENT ET EURENT BEAUCOUP D’ENFANTS with Yvan Attal. I didn’t see the movie to be honest. But he’s a filmmaker I like very much, he’s very talented and there are great possibilities for the future; so if I did a movie in French I would definitely feel comfortable doing it with Yvan. Patrice Leconte is terrific too, going back to THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND, and I thought his work with Vanessa [Paradis] in THE GIRL ON THE BRIDGE was stellar. He’s another one I’d very much like to work with. Of course the people I’d love to have worked with are people like Jean Gabin, Louis De Funes. I loved De Funes. I think he’s one of the greatest actors of all time.

iF: Are you celebrating France’s magnificent victory today in the World Cup?

DEPP: I just heard about that. The last time I followed the World Cup was in 1998 and it was only because I had a standing bet with Hunter S. Thompson about the outcome. And it was the only time — and I’ll say it as many times as I can because I’m so proud — it was the only time I ever won a bet with Hunter.

iF: We know you based the character in the first film on Keith Richards. What did he have to say about that and what else did you bring to Jack this time?

DEPP: Well I was scared. But his reaction was terrific. He was very supportive and has been ever since. When we were hanging out together before I did PIRATES, it wasn’t like I told him, ‘I’m sponging parts of your soul.’ So he was great about it. And what am I bringing to this version of Captain Jack. Basically he’s the same guy. There’s a purity to the character. We’ve seen him panic, we’ve seen him on the run but this is the first time we’ve really seen him in mortal fear, really afraid for his life. Once Davy Jones says, ‘Time’s up, you’ve got to pay up’, there’s real panic there and he knows the clock is ticking, so that’s what I was trying to do.

AUS –  FilmInk August 2006 – Heartbeat Poet

AUS – FilmInk August 2006 – Heartbeat Poet

Title: Heartbeat Poet

Author: Philip Berk

Publication: AUS –  FilmInk

Issue: August 2006

 

Generally conceded as the best actor of his generation, Johnny Depp is certainly the least predictable.  Having completed two back-to-back Captain Jack Sparrows for Pirates of the Caribbean, he’s free to take a stab at something different. Last January when l interviewed him, Depp was contemplating a number of offbeat movies, including the sprawling adventure Shantaram, Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diaries, and a Hungarian project called Whisky Robber; at that time he was enthusiastic about doing all of them. Six months later (in the interim he’s completed the second Pirates sequel), reports are flittering around that he’s in line to play Michael Hutchence in an INXS biopic. Even more mind boggling are claims that his ex-girlfriend Kate Moss has been signed to play Hutchence’s unhinged girlfriend Paula Yates.

As crazy as this sounds, it’s an interesting reflection on Johnny Depp’s career, Granted, he’s given great performances – as Ed Wood, Captain Jack, Willy Wonka, and some might add Donnie Brasco — but for the rest, it’s been more his unorthodox path to stardom that’s earned him his reputation. That is until The Libertine. The film came and went so fast in the US that you’d have to wonder if Disney had engineered its disappearance. Was the studio worried that Depp’s appearance in this sex-and-profanity-filled art film might adversely affect the Mouse Factory’s billion-dollar Pirates franchise? But truth be told, The Libertine is a Weinstein Company release, and is one of the few properties that Harvey took with him when he exited Miramax and Disney. Harvey happens to love Johnny’s performance in the film, but he admits that the movie is a tough sell. Only those who truly appreciate the art of great acting will be able to sit through it. I am one.

You may hate the movie, but even so, you’ll have to concede that Johnny gives a spectacular performance – staggering in every sense – and had it been judged fairly, he would have run off with all the acting awards last year. So now Australia has a chance to look at the film, and maybe give it its just reward. Ironically, Disney allowed Johnny time off from filming in the Bahamas to promote the movie. And in fact, he did as much press for The Libertine as he’s done for any movie. But alas, to no avail. Audiences beware: this is not a film for the squeamish or faint of heart. As Johnny himself told me, “I’ve told my kids they’re not going to see it until they’re, like, thirty…if then!”

So what exactly makes the film so shocking? Well, for one it’s about a Libertine. Let Johnny explain. In the prologue to the movie, Johnny – as John Wilmot, the debauched, sexually outrageous Earl Of Rochester, who arrested his loins for long enough to pen scandalous poetry before drinking and shagging himself to an early grave — addresses the audience. “You’re not going to like me,” he warns us.

The very first line of the film is a challenge, and it’s something Johnny Depp responded to immediately “I liked him when he delivers that challenge,” the actor says. “There’s something intriguing about being challenged. Once you start examining him, there are various layers you peel away. I saw that he was a drunk. I saw that he was self-destructive. I saw that he was vicious at times. But then you start thinking, ‘What got him there?’ And as I read on, I discovered that he had been in the war and as a very young man his battalion had been decimated. That experience plagued him for the rest of his life. ‘Why them and not me?’ So then I started to think of heroes I’ve had in the past, and artists I’ve had great admiration for. People like Vincent Van Gogh, Jack Kerouac, and Shane McAllen, who I think is one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. You start putting these things together and you realise that the guy wasn’t vicious. He wasn’t cold or closed off, and he wasn’t a hedonist; he was hypersensitive. What he was doing was trying to mask his pain, to numb his pain. He was self medicating, and l could feel nothing but pity for him.”

As an artist, does he share those insecurities? “I don’t necessarily consider myself an artist,” Depp replies, “but there was a period of time when I couldn’t stand being looked at or pointed out in a street or restaurant. It took me a long time to get used to that. Not used to it, but accepting it as being not such a bad thing. I felt as though I’d been turned into a novelty. I could only be myself when I was alone. It made it difficult for me in social situations where I was expected to behave properly. So to compensate, I drunk my guts out. It took me a number of years, maybe too many, to grow up and not take it all so seriously, The thing that gave me real perspective and understanding was getting together with Vanessa [Paradis] and the birth of my first child.”

The Libertine had been in pre-production for a long time, and Depp was involved almost from the get-go. “It was about ten years ago when John Malkovich called me to come and see the play and asked me to play the part in the film,” he explains. “He was playing the role of John Wilmot – we hadn’t met before – and I didn’t know why he’d invited me. I watched the play. I was amazed and devastated and thought it was brilliant. We went to dinner afterwards, and he goes, ‘I’d like you to play the role in the movie’, and my first reaction was, ‘Why don’t you do it because you were brilliant onstage. You’d be amazing in the film” And he said very simply, ‘Well, because I want you to do it.’ And I went, ‘Okay, I’m in.”‘

In the intervening years, he and Malkovich became neighbours, two expatriates living in Paris, France. Is John as languorous socially as he is in interviews, hanging onto every word he utters? ‘John makes me look like a speed talker” Depp jokes. “He’s always like that, except when he’s acting. Then his motor gets revved up. I think he’s a brilliant actor, a great guy, a terrific man, and very funny, but it takes a long time for him to get to the point. You want to go, ‘John, spit it out.”‘

The Libertine is dedicated to Marlon Brando, a dear friend of Depp’s. The pair starred together in Don Juan De Marco and Depp directed the master actor in his sadly little-seen directorial debut The Brave. “When I arrived in London to start The Libertine, I had spoken to Marlon about the play,” Depp explains, “We were always in touch. He wasn’t familiar with John Wilmot, The Earl Of Rochester but it was something I was excited to do because I thought it would be a film he might want to watch. And then when we finished the film, I got the news that Marlon had passed away, and as you can imagine it was like a direct blow to the skull. I decided then to send this one out to Marlon because he never got to see it. And it wasn’t long after within the same year that Hunter S. Thompson made his exit. He was another dear friend and a great hero; so I thought it was right to make that dedication because there was a lot of the artist in Marlon. There was also a lot of the artist in Hunter. There was a lot of the artist in Rochester too, as tormented as he was. I wanted to give that to them. It’s not very much – just a little salute to my friends.”

Not surprisingly, Depp sees parallels between hard living gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (Depp played his alter ego Raoul Duke in Terry GilIiam’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas) and the sexed up, morally audacious John Wilmot. “In the early ‘70s, Hunter was inventing a new style of journalism, a new voice, and that’s what John Wilmot was doing 400 years earlier He’s been written off through the centuries as a pornographer a lunatic, a drunk, and a hedonist, but I can tell you, I went to the British Library, and I was blessed to have his actual letters in front of me, written in his own hand, to his wife, to his mother to his kids. So what I was reading wasn’t pornography. They were beautifully poetic letters from a concerned father from a tortured human being to his wife. He was a great artist- it was a waste what he did to himself – but I believe he made a great contribution.”

Depp, however doesn’t see Wilmot’s booze-and-sex sodden brand of self-destruction as being solely peculiar to artists. “I think it happens to others as well,” he says, “but we just pay more attention to creative people. I believe it happens to everyone, When you’re unstable or sensitive, you’re looking for an outlet for your pain or confusion, I found an outlet for my weirdness when I was twelve-years-old. It was the guitar. That was my whole life until I started acting. I think we’re all looking for some outlet. We’re all weird. That we know,” he jokes.

Depp’s performance in the film is the rich, full-bodied kind that cries out for a proscenium arch. Has he ever thought of doing theatre? “I’ve thought about it, but I’m too scared to attempt it, even though I’m aware fear is a necessary ingredient in everything you do. And as an actor you should be afraid of taking risks and be prepared to fail miserably. The audience deserves that. If you do the same thing over and oven they’ll pick up on it. They‘ll go, ‘Oh well, he’s just phoning it in, He’s not doing the work.’ One of the things that Marlon said to me was, ‘You should play Hamlet.’ and I said ‘Come now! Go from doing no theatre at all straight to Hamlet? and he said, ’Do it now, while you’re still young enough.’ He said, ‘l never gut to do it. I never did,’ so it’s the one thing that’s always spun around in my head, playing Hamlet, If I did, I’d like to do it in a room that seats maybe forty. l wouldn’t want it to be some big sprawling epic. I’d like to do something small. There’s less room to fall,” and then jokingly he adds, “You hurt yourself when you pass out.”

Despite his intense passion for The Libertine, Depp is not quite prepared to recommend it without reservation. “I think it’s a good movie, but it’s not for everybody,” he says. ‘And it would be irresponsible of me to say to the kiddies who watched Pirates and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory to come see it.”

Despite the masses of acclaim that Depp has received (including an Oscar nomination) for his imaginative creation of Captain Jack Sparrow, he found more inherent difficulty in playing the rakish John Wilmot. “With both, you’re doing your best to serve your character to serve the author to deliver the director’s vision, and the writer’s vision. But when John Malkovich talked to me about doing The Libertine, I’d been doing Pirates with its comedic twists and stuff. Suddenly you realise that this is a lot to chew on, You have to take yourself to places that are not really fun; so in that sense it was more difficult. With Pirates or Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, it was all about making Tim Burton laugh or making the crew laugh. With this, it was very intense and emotional and a little ugly; so l guess it was more difficult.”

Six months later, and Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest, the first of two sequels intended to repeat the blockbuster business done by the first, is upon us. The film is big, bloated, and over plotted, but Johnny’s performance is as inventive as ever and I apologise to him for ever having suggested that he might have sold out. Rest assured, he hasn’t! He arrives for his press duties looking surprisingly healthy; you’d think he’d quit smoking but he hasn’t. He’s calm and serene, and hasn’t lost any of his unalloyed charm, His candour – when talking about his lack of facial hair or his tempestuous on·screen kiss (no telling with whom) – takes your breath away. And when he chuckles approvingly about something he’s just said, you have to love him.

My first question to Depp is about The Libertine, and he has no idea that the film is just opening in Australia. Was he disappointed when it came and went unnoticed in the US? “I was”, he replies, “The horrible thing is that I’d been attached to that project for ten years. The process was gruelling and exhausting, as it is for everyone when they do a labour of love. It’s a film I’m proud of because everyone’s work in it is very good. And then, as you say, it came and went so quickly. I think it was simply a case of mismanagement. It wasn’t a good product for them to sell, and that’s a drag because everyone worked very hard. But even though it was critically and financially a flop, to me it’s a great success because we got it done. We were able to do what we wanted to do, and I feel good about it. Obviously I was disappointed that it got mismanaged, but l think it will have a long life. People will have a chance to see it on DVD and make their own choices.”

The same fate is not likely for the Pirates sequel. The film already is being touted as the summer’s top money-maker, But for Depp, it represents something else: a chance to investigate the fascinating character of Captain Jack even further. “I didn’t want to say goodbye to him,” Depp says. “I wanted to spend time with him again, and as far as going back and watching the first Pirates to get the essence or the feeling of Captain Jack, the truth is that I avoided it. I didn’t watch it. It was very simply just strapping back into the costume and going through that process again, stepping on set and seeing all the familiar faces, the same crew members. It felt like we’d taken a week’s break.”

This sequel assumes that bigger is better. Was he involved in that decision? “The most important decision in making a sequel is to not rely on whatever formula made the first successful,” Depp replies. “We wanted the second and third to stand on their own as self contained films, yet at the same time we wanted them to make sense in terms of a trilogy. And that was no small feat. But I think the director and the writers achieved it. I don’t think anyone went in saying, ‘We need to top the first one ‘.  The real task was trying to exceed everyone’s expectations and yet leave room for the magic of the first one.” Even the idea of a fourth film is met with a smile. “If the scripts were good enough and they had something to offer, I’d keep going. I think there’s still more to explore. For me, he’s endlessly entertaining to play. He’s really fun to be.”

And this time, there was no interference from the powers-that-be regarding his unapologetic “gay”interpretation of the character: “That was the one advantage I had on this one,” Depp laughs. “We weren’t getting the panicked phone calls, and the threats we had on the first film like, ‘You’re ruining the movie!’ which gave me the added confidence to play it as I did.”

As with the first film, there were manifold physical challenges. “Being strapped into this massive wheel and rolling upside down days on end was the worst,” Depp laughs. “I really didn’t mind that, but at some point they struck my foot, and I lost feeling in the upper hall of my left foot. For four months you could put a pin in it and I couldn’t feel it. It was scary,”

How about the kiss? Apparently when asked who the better kisser was, he or Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley named him. Without missing a beat, Depp responds, “That’s funny…I thought Orlando was a great kisser.” After the laughter subsides, he gets serious. “It’s always awkward, kissing someone that you’re not romantically involved with. But then it’s acting, it’s fake. And the fact that Keira is twenty some years younger than me made it infinitely more awkward. But she was a good sport about it. We just sort of did what we had to do, and then it was over and we moved onto the next thing ”

Looking back over the three years he’s devoted to Captain Jack, does he have any regrets? “The thing I‘ve always wanted regardless of success or failure is to look back on my work and feel I did all right. I’m proud of that. I didn’t sell out. I didn’t make a bad choice for the wrong reason. So really, that’s all I care about. I’m looking forward to the time when my kids will be able to say, ‘You did well, pop. You did well.’ I know it’s crazy, but even the ones that could be the worst of the worst, an absolute dog, it happened for a reason, and there was something to be gained, maybe a learning experience. I don’t regret any of it now.”

In Dead Mans Chest, British actor Bill Nighy is hidden behind a phantasmagoria of CGI as the film’s chief villain, Davey Jones. Depp shakes his head in bemusement. “Bill Nighy is the most patient man alive,” he says. “He had his little grey outfit on with the black stripes and the ping pong balls [whereby the computer animators took their cues] and his cap. One of the most disconcerting moments I’ve ever had was knowing that he’s going to have those tentacles hanging from his face and being told, ‘Watch out when you step round him. Make sure you don’t step on the tentacles’}.  And yet it’s Bill standing there in that weird outfit”

The pirates – particularly in Dead Mans Chest – look like they could use a bath. Knowing how hot and steamy it is in the Bahamas, did that ever pose a problem on the set? Taken aback by the question, Depp gathers his thoughts. “I’ve never been asked that question before,” he laughs, “but l’m determined to answer it. Let’s see. Personal hygiene. I can only speak for myself. Once you get off work, and you had all sorts of makeup, you have to be scoured. You have to take a hot fire hose to yourself. From what I could tell, the majority of the cast and crew were of a similar feeling. You do, however hit the odd foul smell, but it’s occasional and you can either get past it or know that the wind will change any second. Everybody looks like they stink real bad, but in fact they don’t. It’s the magic of the movies.”

For the past two years – even when promoting Finding Neverland and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory – he’s always sporting a Captain Jack beard. How come? “Oh, that’s a good question,” he laughs. “It’s very simple and a little embarrassing because if I shave, it would take me months and months and months, like a half year to grow it back. What I have is like a full beard for me. [Pointing] Seven hairs here, three over here, all this kind of patchy stuff, and that’s it. That’s all I get. So if I shaved, they’d have to glue something on, and that wouldn’t work. So that’s the answer.”

The one thing he doesn’t talk about is the island he owns in the Bahamas. But while doing press for Charlie And The Chocolate Factory in the Bahamas, he acknowledged ownership, “I still have trouble,” he apologised, “I refer to it as ’the’ island. I have difficulty saying ‘my’ before that word. We get there as much as possible. It’s a very special part of the balance. The idea of going to a place where there are no telephones, no cars, no streetlights or noises or anything. There’s just nature and the sea and the wind and the sun. It brings things down to its absolute base level. And for the kids it’s a great education.”

Despite Depp’s celebrity, he insists that his children – daughter Lily Rose and son Jack – have a relatively normal life. “They do their schooling, and they play with their friends. Okay, they get to go to Disneyland maybe a little more often than other kids, but that’s part of the gig. I haven’t really noticed any difference.”

As for the future, Depp is tight lipped despite the variety of rumours flying around linking him to all manner of projects. “I report back to the Bahamas in August to complete the third Prates film and after that nothing is in place,” he says. In the meantime, Shantaram has been delayed (director Peter Weir has walked off the project under mysterious circumstances) and because Tim Burton’s Ripleys Believe It Or Not project with Jim Carrey has been delayed a year Paramount is scrambling to find a replacement. Believe it or not. they’ve put Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd – about the l9th century murderous barber who sold his kills to the local butcher for use in his famous meat pies – on the fast track. “Tim and I have had discussions about it,” Depp says. “Everything’s looking very good. It’s a great opportunity to be working with Tim again. This would be our sixth film together and our first musical. I love the score, not that I’m a singer. I would never claim to be one, but I am willing to give it a shot. I think it might be all right. I’ve always felt it important to try different stuff. And growing up, I was a guitar player. I was a musician for most of my life. I am musically inclined. I am not tone deaf….at least not yet,” he jokes. “I would definitely work with a vocal coach … at least until they fire me!”

Is he still enjoying being a daddy? “Oh yeah,” he replies enthusiastically. “The kids – especially at this age of seven and four years old – are a high energy, high stakes experience. It’s never boring. and it’s always fun. It’s interesting the way they grow and how quickly they grow up. My daughter is exiting that Barbie period and moving into fashion accessories, real teenage stuff, which is unbelievable to witness. It’s amazing because it‘s no longer about princesses and fairies and all that. Now she wants to watch big girl television. It’s frightening. And Jack, my boy Jack, is still a blessing. He’s discovered superheroes, which is really fun. Now he’s going into the area of comic books, an area I happen to be pretty good in. Vanessa and I have been lucky enough to spend much of our time with the kids, but we also take time for ourselves. You’ve got to remain not only lovers but friends as well.”

Do their careers ever collide? “The good thing about Vanessa is that she can pack a bag and split. She can still do her work when I’m filming. In terms of her music, she can play, she can write, she can do her demos. She’ll fly to France for a couple of weeks and then come back. She’s working on an album right now that’s really promising. The only tough time I can remember was a couple of years ago when my daughter wasn’t yet two. Vanessa had a concert tour to do, and she had to go on the road. We didn’t have a nanny; so I was the tour daddy. We travelled by bus and watched The Wizard Of Oz 7000 times. I was just being poppa, and I had the distinct impression that my daughter wanted to spend more time with her mother. Understandably that was a great challenge entertaining a two-year-old. That was tough!”

Pirate Director tired but happy

www.stuff.co.nz recently interviewed the director, Gore Verbinski, of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest Fame, about the second instalment of his pirates adventure trilogy. Here’s a short excerpt…

Does Johnny Depp stay in character on set?

GORE: He turns Captain Jack on and off like a switch. Johnny’s so close to that character that there’s more Johnny Depp in Captain Jack than in any other character he’s played. I think if you’d seen him doing Ed Wood for example, you’d have seen him stay in character a lot more on set, trying to find the character and keep it and distill it. But Captain Jack is really close to Johnny. I think his other performances he’s been running away from an archetype, from being a leading man, the sort of guy who gets the girl and there’s usually a shyness and an introverted quality to those performances. But Jack is a braggart, a liar, a thief and a conman and at ease with it to. So I think there have been these floodgates with Johnny holding all this stuff back for years and suddenly with Captain Jack, Whoosh! The line I always keyed into in thinking how to direct Jack was one from the first movie: ‘You’re the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of’ – ‘Yes, but at least you’ve heard of me’.

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