Watch a nice little Interview of Johnny in Year 1988
Watch a nice little Interview of Johnny in Year 1988
Title: The Crowed Mind of Johnny Depp
Publication: Vanity Fair
Issue: January 2011
Johnny Depp is on set at Pinewood Studios, outside London, for the last days of shooting the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie—On Stranger Tides. We sit on the floor of his trailer, a brocaded lair worthy of Captain Jack Sparrow, strewn with the talismans of his real-life counterpart: Johnny’s blue lenses; faded bandannas; beat-up boots; Viper Room cap; silver skull rings in a bowl; a copy of Keith Richards’s Life atop a script for Dark Shadows and folded notes from his 8-yeanold son, Jack, and his 11-year-old daughter, Lily Rose. There is an old Stella acoustic guitar that he cannot resist picking up and strumming quietly. Johnny is working l2-hour shifts. The day begins in the makeup trailer, long before morning rush hour. Downtime is divided between press calls, stacks of pictures to sign, scripts to read, and family responsibilities; ever present and ever embraced. There is also the occasional hour of stolen sleep, often with his guitar resting on his chest.
I first met Johnny a few years ago, backstage at the Orpheum Theater, in Los Angeles, where I was performing with my band. When he laughed, l noticed his gapped teeth, a detail borrowed from the engaging smile of his companion, Vanessa Paradis, in preparation for his role as the frenetically pure Mad Hatter, in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. l had just seen The Libertine for the third time, in which Johnny hauntingly channels John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, who in 1675 wrote the infamous “Satyr Against Mankind? As the movie begins, Wilmot says to the viewer, “You will not like me.” But Johnny himself is in fact very likable, his magnetic energy infused with a certain shyness. In conversation, Johnny and I, both bookworms, moved easily from Wilmot to Baudelaire to Hunter S. Thompson. We were dressed alike—holey dungarees, battered leather jacket, time-worn flannel shirt. My son, Jackson, a guitarist, who was with me, noted that Johnny seemed more like a musician than an actor.
Later, visiting Johnny`s Los Angeles home. I became acquainted with his rare books and other precious objects. He never says he owns any of these things, preferring to call himself their guardian. He is the guardian of John Dillinger’s derringer, a manuscript in the hand of Arthur Rimbaud, and Jack Kerouac’s last typewriter.
Johnny is down to earth, yet also seems to operate in another universe. Time is precious—but also worthless. He has a bit of the Godfather in him—and also a bit of the bum. He is as rebellious as Rochester, as loving as the Hatter, and as ill-behaved as Jack Sparrow. He is also intensely loyal.
In Puerto Rico, as he was filming the late Hunter S. Thompson’s novel The Rum Diary, the spirit of Hunter, whom Johnny loved, permeated the atmosphere. A director’s chair was emblazoned with Hunter’s name and small rituals were carried out in his honor. The hours were long, and the jungle was moonlit and mosquito-infested. Johnny’s character dark shades, hair slicked back—was a rum-soaked journalist named Paul Kemp.
At the London premiere of Alice in Wonderland, I had my first glimpse of the character who would supersede Paul Kemp Frank Tupelo, the bemused math teacher in Johnny’s new movie The Tourist. Johnny does not watch his own movies, so that night he broke ranks to say hello to fans gathered outside in the rain, later joining the celebration hosted by the whimsical genius Tim Burton. After hours, I found Johnny sitting alone in a small alcove with a glass of wine before him. He was in a tuxedo. He had grown a beard, and his dark hair was longer than usual. His pale skin was illuminated by a single light, and he had thrown back his head and closed his eyes. He had left the Hatter and Kemp behind and was already slipping into the interior world of Frank Tupelo. In that moment I noticed for the first time how handsome he is.
Within days of the Alice premiere he was unpacking in Venice, ensconced in a private section of a hotel tucked away at the end of a canal, steps from the Palazzo Fortuny. The mystical light of Venice and the misadventures of Johnny and his Tourist co-star, Angelina Jolie, were about to be captured for the screen. The movie is stylish, a thrilling caper in the manner of North ly Northwest. The schedule was punishing and the weather a challenge—hot by day but very chilly for night shoots. During a midnight break we ate pizza with our coats on, then Johnny was whisked away for a long shot down a fog-shrouded canal, chained inside a water taxi. Angelina awaited her cue, a hooded parka concealing the glamour that would soon emerge. Brad Pitt was minding the children, but her mother radar was always on. Paparazzi were kept at bay, but hovered relentlessly.
Now, in London, as winter sets in. Johnny is again consumed by Captain Jack; He will meet his match in yet another dark beauty, Penelope Cruz more than ready to spar with the Sparrow. At Pinewood, heavy mists descend upon the bogs, pools, and vines that create the physical atmosphere surrounding the much-sought-after Fountain of Youth, Johnny’s boy, Jack, who has the gaze of his mother and the stance of his father, accompanies the Captain on set, but not until jacket, cap, and scarf are located. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was shot here at Pinewood, but the river of chocolate is now gone. In its place there are strange waters teeming with mysterious organisms. It is damp and chilly, and the scene I witness is a mix of sword-play and slapstick. Afterward, the dresser takes away the Captains locks a heavy tangle of dreads and bones. Johnny’s dark silky hair is held flat in tight braids. There is a set change and a lull, so we sit on the floor of the trailer, a rare moment of peace, with his boy safe at hand. Johnny presses RECORD on the little tape machine. He smiles a smile that is his own. He is just Johnny, and, in truth. Johnny is character enough.
SMLTH: Anytime I’ve seen you in a trailer; at your home, in a hotel room, you always have at least one guitar with you. You sometimes talk while strumming a guitar How connected are you with music?
DEPP: It’s still my first love as much as it ever was, since I was a little kid and first picked up a guitar and tried to figure out how to make the thing go. Going into acting was an odd deviation from a particular road that I was on in my late teens, early 20s, because I had no desire, no interest, really, in it at all. I was a musician and I was a guitarist, and that’s what I wanted to do.
But because of that deviation, and because I don’t do it for a living, maybe I still have been able to maintain that kind of innocent love for it. The weird thing is I think I approach my work the same way I approached guitar playing—looking at a character like a song. If you think of expression musically—it goes from wherever it comes from inside to your fingers, and on to that fretboard, and then on to the amplifier, through whatever. It’s the same kind of thing that’s required here, with acting; What was the author’s intent? What can I add to it that maybe someone else won’t add to it? It’s not necessarily a question of how many notes, but a question of what do the notes express and what docs a slight bend do.
SMITH: I overheard someone in your camp—maybe it was on the set of The Rum Diary, or maybe it was The Tourist—talking about how eager yon were to get back to Captain Jack, and about how much Jack was like you. How do you feel when you enter into the skin of Captain Jack?
DEPP: Free—free to be irreverent. I think it’s like unlocking a part of yourself and freeing this part of yourself to just be—what do they call it?—the id, or whatever, just to be . . . just to he, under whatever circumstances. The closest thing that I can compare it to was having known Hunter Thompson really well—we were very, very close—and witnessing him, because I studied him so deeply and lived with him for a period of time to try to become Raoul Duke, to try to become Hunter. There was a certain freedom that he had, or control, or command of the situation —there was never anything that he couldn’t get through. Verbally he was just so clever and so quick and so free, and he didn’t give a rat’s ass about what the repercussions were.
Smith: He was the revolutionary’s Johnny Carson. I mean, he always had a punch line.
DEPP: Somebody once asked him, “What is the sound of one hand clapping, Hunter?,” and he smacked him. Captain Jack was kind of like that for me, an opening up of this part of yourself that is somewhat you know, there is a little Bugs Bunny in all of us.
SMITH: Young kids love, really love the Captain. And who is more mystical, mischievous and brilliant in his own way; than Bugs Bunny?
Depp: At the time, l had been watching nothing but cartoons with my daughter—with Lily Rose. I hadn’t seen a grown-up film in forever. It was all cartoons, all those great old Warner Bros things. And I thought, Jesus, the parameters here are so much wider and more forgiving in terms of character, These cartoon characters could get away with anything. And I thought, They’re beloved by 3-year-olds and 93—year-olds. How do you do that? How do you get there? That was kind of the start.
SMITH: l also see a little of John Barrymore in Captain Jack. There’s humor and often a feyness. He keeps his intelligence in his own little treasure chest. He doesn’t really want people to comprehend that he knows everything.
DEPP: He has already assessed the situation.
SMITH: What were you reading to inform you about Captain Jack or his lifestyle?
DEPP: I was reading a lot of books about early pirates. There was one book in particular that was really helpful called Under the Black Flag. You realize that those guys were—you either loved it or you were pressganged and you didn’t. One of the things that helped me most with Captain Jack was a book by Bernard Moitessier, and it’s where I found the last line for the First Pirates movie. The writers were stumped, and they’d say, Well, what about this? And nothing seemed to click. I was reading this Moitessier book on sailing the earth, and he had written about how the ultimate for a sailor was the horizon, and to be able to attain that horizon, which you never get to, which is why it keeps pushing you forward. I thought, That’s it! That’s it! So I went to them and said, I`ve got a line for you: “Bring me that horizon.” And they looked at it and went, Nah, that’s not it. But about 45 minutes later they came to me and went, ‘That’s the line’.
SMITH: Because delivered in a certain way. . .
DEPP: Yeah—“Bring me that horizon” That’s what they all want. That’s what all those guys want. Get me that horizon. And you never get there.
SMITH: How did Disney feel about Captain Jack? He does have a wisp of controversy about him.
DFPP: It was a totally different regime over there at the time. They couldn’t stand him. They just couldn’t stand him. I think it was Michael Eisner, the head of Disney at the time, who was quoted as saying, “He’s ruining the movie.” It was that extreme-memos, and paper trails, and madness, and phone calls, and agents, and lawyers, and people screaming, and me getting phone calls direct from, you know, upper-echelon Disney-ites, going, ‘What’s wrong with him? Is he, you know, like some kind of weird simpleton? Is he drunk? By the way, is he gay? Is he this? Is he that?’ And so I actually told this woman who was the Disney-ite that called me about all that stuff and asked me the questions, I said to her, “But didn’t you know that all my characters are gay7” Which really made her nervous.
SMITH: The role of Frank in The Tourist is so different from the Hatter or the Captain—more subtle. Characters like him—who seem to have less that you can grasp—I would think would be harder to do.
Deep: The great challenge of a character like Frank, for me, is that he`s Everyman, you know, Mr. Ordinary not a simpleton, just ordinary. He’s a math teacher. I was always fascinated by people who are considered completely normal, because I find them the weirdest of all.
SMITH: So where did you find Frank?
DEPP: He was sort of a combo platter for me, from certain people I’ve known over the years. l knew an accountant who would travel—he was super-straight, very, very straight guy and he would travel all over the world to photograph places that had street signs or businesses that had the same name as his last name. He’d go to Italy, he’d go to Shanghai, and he’d take photographs. That was his kick.
SMITH: He had an eccentricity that no one sees. Everyone sees the eccentricities of an artist. But eccentricities like Frank’s are so subtle and so particular.
DEPP: It was guys like that that I thought about. Frank, for example, who had quit smoking, could be absolutely fascinated with that electronic cigarette, and the moving parts of it, and being able to really explain it to someone in great detail.
SMITH: Frank has same really nice pajamas. Cotton. Light blue. Do you wear pajamas?
DEPP: Occasionally I do. Occasionally, when it’s cold.
SMITH: Do they have, feet on them?
DEPP: I don’t have the feet. I have not gone for footed pajamas yet. However, I’m not—I wouldn’t, you know, withdraw the idea. One of the finest nights of sleep that I ever had, after a huge workload, was in a pair of pajamas that Julian Schnabel gave me. I hadn’t worn pajamas since I was about three. And I actually slept in them. They were somehow so comforting. His wife made them. That was the moment when l became completely square.
SMIIH: Well I don’t know. I’ve also seen your Miami Dolphins socks—although that might be a secret.
DEPP: You have a pair, too! There are no secrets now. We’re in this together.
SMITH: We have another dirty little secret. A Monkees song.
DEPP: Oh, “Daydream Believer.” It’s a great song. I don’t care what anyone says.
SMITH: ‘Daydream Believer” came on the radio when we were driving to the set. It was a moment of total Happiness. It’s a pure, happy little song. What bad thing can you say about it?
DEPP: I know. I know. It’s OK to like “Daydream Believer.” There’s nothing wrong with a guilty pleasure from time to time. Know what I mean? It’s “Daydream Believer.” I’m justifying my own flag.
SMITH: A Monkee and I have the same birthday . . .
DEPP: Is it Micky Dolenz?
SMITH: No, it’s actually two Monkees. Mike and Duty. I used to be horrified by that fact, but now I don’t care anymore. I have the same birthday as Bo Diddley Rudyard Kipling and Paul Bowles. . . and two Monkees.
DEPP: That’s pretty good. That’s a good balance.
SMITH: Getting buck to The Tourist, from what I saw; on set, the atmosphere seemed fraught with mischief.
DEPP: Angelina; we’d met basically on this film. Meeting her and getting to know her was a real pleasant surprise, and I say that with the best meaning, just in the sense that she’s this quite, you know, famous, and, I mean, poor thing, dogged by paparazzi, her and her husband, Brad, you know, and all their kids, and their wonderful life, but they are plagued by . . . so you don’t know what to expect, really. You don’t know what she might be like—if she has any sense of humor at all. I was so pleased to find that she is incredibly normal, and has a wonderfully kind of dark, perverse sense of humor, And because here we are working together in this situation where you could really; there are times when you see how ridiculous is this life, how ludicrous it is, you know, leaving your house every morning and being followed by paparazzi, or having to hide, sometimes not even being able to talk to each other in public because someone will take a photograph and it will be misconstrued and turned into some other shit.
SMITH: On set, I told her that she looked beautiful and she explained to me about all the different people it takes to make that possible—as she really isn’t. I found Angelina interesting. If you talk about her beauty she scoffs. If you mention a cause, she invites you to take a stand.
DEPP: That’s the thing with Angie. I mean, you look at her and you go, O.K.: “goddess,” “movie icon.” ln 30 years people will still be going, “Oh, my God.” Elizabeth Taylor kind of territory. And she has got that, no question about it. But, like anything, it’s the way she deals with it. She’s so down to earth, and so bright, and so real. I’ve had the honor and the pleasure and gift of having known Elizabeth Taylor for a number of years. Who’s a real broad. You know, you sit down with her, she slings hash, she sits there and cusses like a sailor, and she`s hilarious. Angie’s got the same kind of thing, you know. The same approach.
SMITH: Something I’ve always wondered about these people that you become for us or make flesh in a film. Do they revisit you ever? Are you able to discard them? What happens to them?
DEPP: They’re all still there, which on some level can’t be the healthiest thing in the world. But, no, they’re all still there. I always picture it as this chest of drawers in your body—Ed Wood is in one, the Hatter is in another, Scissorhands is in another. They stick with you. Hunter is certainly in there—you know, Raoul Duke. The weirdest thing is that I can access them. They’re still very close to the surface.
SMITH: It must be difficult when you have multiple personalities in one of them, like the Hatter has. What does he say “it’s crawled in here”?
Depp: “I don’t like it in here. It’s terribly crowded.” But they all, somehow, have their place. They have come to terms with each other. I suppose.
SMITH: When you’re playing someone—when your really deep within a character—have you ever had a dream that you felt was not your dream? Do your character dream within you?
DEPP: I’ve certainly had dreams where I was the character. Sweeney was like that. There were a lot of dark Sweeney dreams. And certainly The Libertine, playing John Wilmot.
SMITH: I would think that Wilmot would be the one who would most desire to rear his head. He was a real human being. It’s one thing to interpret a character in literature or someone in fiction. But to have to channel someone who was a living person. Did you find that process different?
DEEP: It`s definitely different. The first thing is the responsibility. You have a responsibility to that person and the legacy and memory of that person. So especially play someone like John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, because I always felt he was this great, great poet who was never acknowledged as a great poet, but looked upon as a satirist or some silly guy who hung around the court of King Charles II. I never believed he got his due. He was at renegade, a brilliant poet who was incredibly brave.
I felt this very strong responsibility to play him right—so much so that I became obsessed. I read everything. I knew everything about him. I went to the places he’d lived. I went to the place where he died. I perused his actual letters in the British Library and found his words and made notes and used them in the script. Without wanting to sound all kind of New Agey, I do believe that he paid me at least a few visits.
SMITH: When you spouted a few lines of poetry to Samantha Morton, who played Elizabeth Barry in the movie that was my introduction to Wilmot’s work, to his poetry. And I noticed in Alice, when the Hatter recites the “Jabberwocky” that you have a gift for giving us the full measure of a poet’s work. It is really quite difficult. Could you imagine doing a recording of works of poetry?
DEPP: I don’t know. It`s daunting, because you don’t know exactly . . I mean, you can decipher the intent, und you can kind of swim around in the guts of it, but you just don’t know how the poet would have wanted it read.
SMITH: Yes, but that’s no different than Glenn Gould having to anticipate how Bach would want his work played. l thought the Hatter’s reading of” Jabberwocky” was luminous. Yesterday you read me a poem written by the Elephant Man. I didn’t know he wrote poetry. The poem you recited was heartbreaking. How did you come to find it?
DEEP: I made an appointment at the hospital where they had his remains. His skeleton is there, a plaster mask is there, and his hat and veil and all this other stuff is there. And right on the wall next to him is this gorgeous poem that he wrote about himself and about his life: “Dragging this vile body / Round the years / I am not what first appears / A senseless freak / Devoid of hope or tears” This guy was deep, and so, so gifted.
SMITH: I’ve seen The Libertine a number of times. The cinematography, the direction, the script was all so beautiful. The costumes, the casting, the women, they were superb. John Malkovich was a great person for you to work off of. But it seemed buried as a film.
DEPP: It was buried, no question. It was buried horribly. It was a conflict within the ranks.
I wanted to go to the artist Banksy, the English graffiti artist. I was going to make a plea to him. What I wanted was the image, the spray-painted image of John Wilmot’s face to show up here and there, simply with the line from the movie, the phrase “You will not like me.” “You will not like me”—l thought. That’s the way to go with something like this. But the reaction was “Banksy who?”
SMITH: Do you have any actors that you studied from the past, actors from any era, who were helpful either in a specific role or just in general?
DEPP: The guys I always adored were mostly the silent—film actors, Buster Keaton first, Lon Chaney Sr., and Chaplin, of course those three for me. And John Barrymore. The gods: those are the gods. And then you’ve got the people that came out of that, Paul Muni, certainly. . .
But Marlon, it wasn’t until Marlon Brando came along that . . . it was revolutionary, it just changed everything. The work he was doing, Streetcar completely different fucking animal. And everybody changed their approach from that moment on.
SMITH: He was bigger than-I don’t know how to say it—it was almost like the screen could not contain him. Does that make sense?
DEPP: Absolutely. I don’t know what the fuck it is, or was, but, at that time—especially at that time—he had too much. And the shape of his face and his nose and his-and the distance between his forehead and his eyebrows, and whatever was going on for whatever genetic reason, or whatever. He was placed in that spot for that particular thing. And, man, he cranked it. He just absolutely owned it.
SMLTH: Its interesting when one individual whether its Michal Angello, Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Jackson Pollock, they’re so inspiring, and they have; beget almost a whole school but no one can touch them. They have this place of kingship, but also solitude.
DEPP: And Marlon hated it. He hated it, which is probably why he rejected the whole idea of it, you know, and made fun of it. But I know its bullshit. I know he was capable of the work and worked hard when he did the work. I saw him do it, you know. He did care.
SMITH: Earlier, you mentioned those three greats, the silent film greats. You’re a master of language, voice, script, words. And yet you chose three silent-film actors.
DEPP: The amazing thing about those guys is that they didn’t have the luxury of language. So what they were doing, what they were feeling, what they were trying to express, had to come out through being had to be alive, had to be in there behind the eyes. Their body had to express it, their very being had to express it.
SMITH: Throughout your life, you seem to have had beautiful relationships with a succession of mentors; Marlon, Hunter, Allen Ginsberg . You hold these people with you. Is that something that has just come your way? Or is it something that you seek in life?
DEPP: I think it’s probably a combination. It‘s never been a conscious sort of searching, but it did happen with these guys. The combination probably goes back to memories of my grandfather. We were very, very close, and I lost him. I was about nine.
SMITH: Is it your grandfather you have tattooed on your arm?
DEPP: Yeah, Jim. He was a wonderful model. He drove a bus during the day and ran moonshine at night. He was a Robert Mitchum type, a man’s man. He just said things as they were.He’d call a spade a spade and piss on you if you didn’t like it. He was also of a different era—I mean, a radically different era, as were some of the other guys that we’ve talked about, like Marlon and Hunter, and even Keith [Richards] to some degree, and Allen certainly. I really believe it was a better time. I really believe that, at a certain point, if you’re born in ’60-something or whatever, you got ripped off; you know what I mean? I always felt like I was meant to have been born in another era, another time.
SMITH; I was thinking back on Edward Scissorhands—he has this father figure and mentor; Vincent Prices character. You told me a story once about Vincent Price.
DEPP: We were doing Scissorhands and Vincent was playing the inventor –essentially my father in the film. And he was a decent man. He was able to move around. He was cool. He was old.
SMITH: Was that his last film?
DLPP:I think it was, yes. I think it was his last.
SMITH: Such a beautiful film to end with.
DEPP: And the same kind of genre that he dwelled in for a long time. I adored him. As did Tim, a long time before me. So we spent time together, hung out. I was totally enamored. And I had this volume of Edgar Allan Poe, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, that 1 wanted to show him, just show him, you know, because I love the illustrations by Harry Clarke. I brought it to Vincent, and we were sitting in his trailer. He says, Oh, yes, this is wonderful, it’s a wonderful book. He was leafing beautifully through these great heavy pages. And he found “The Tomb of Ligeia” and started to read from it. And he read about half a page aloud, maybe. And then he closed the book and continued. He knew it verbatim.
SMITH: Speaking of books, I was thinking about the letters and manuscripts you have – Dylan Thomas, Kerouac, Rimbaud. Can you remember the first of these that you obtained and how that came about?
DEPP: It was 1991, and I was finishing a film called Arizona Dream in New York. And I wanted to take a trip to Lowell, Massachusetts, to see Kerouac’s town. I’d read everything and been inundated with the Kerouac thing. And so I went there and hooked up with John Sampas, who is Kerouae’s wife’s brother. We talked. He took me around the town. We went to various bars and went to his house, spent a couple of days like that. At the time it was prior to all that stuff being sold off. He gave me access, total access, to Kerouac’s things. He just opened up—bam! I read the Book of Dreams that was under his bed. I read it cover to cover. There it was, like right there in front of me.
SMITH: In his handwriting?
DEPP: Handwriting, watercolors—the Book of Dreams. It was right there, little notepads, tiny little steno notebooks that he carried in his back pocket. I read, cover to cover, as many as I could. And opened up suitcases of his that hadn’t been opened for years, All these amazing things. John Sampas gave me a coat so we could walk to the cemetery to visit Kerouae’s grave. And the coat he put on me was Jack’s. A black raincoat, three-quarter length, slight check in it. I reached into the pockets. In the right-hand pocket there was a tissue, just some old wadded-up tissue. And on the left-hand side there was an old matchbook. And I thought, you know, O.K., I’ve touched these. It’s like the Smithsonian Institution was in my pockets, you know’?
SMITH: You must’ve felt like you fell down your own rabbit hole.
DEPP: I was happy not to leave. I was happy to stay there.
SMITH: Are you reading anything right now? Well you’re always reading, so I should say, what are you reading right now?
DEPP: Between scripts I’m reading The Thin Man, the Dashiell Hammett book, to see what we can mine from it. That’s something that would be Rob Marshall] directing and me playing the Nick part. My hope is that Penelope [Cruz] would play the part of Nora.
SMITH; And what script are you reading?
DEPP: The most recent draft of Dark Shadows. That’s something I Want to do. The script is close now, really close, and, you know, it’s just a question of myself and Tim and the writer, basically the three of us, getting together and signing off on various scenarios. But it’s really gotten good. In the last three weeks, it’s gotten fuckin’ good.
SMITH: Do you ever think of doing plays? I think it would be wonderful see you work live.
DEPP: I do, I do, I do. The bitter pill that I swallowed was with Marlon, who asked how many movies I did a year. And I said, I don’t know; three? He said, You ought to slow down, kid. You’ve got to slow down ’eause we only have so many faces in our pockets.
And then he went on to say, “Why don’t you just take a year and go and study Shakespeare, or go and study Hamlet. Go and work on Hamlet and play that part. Play that part before you‘re too old. I thought, Well, yeah, yeah, I know Hamlet. Great. What a great part, great play, you know, this and that.
And then the killer came. He said, “I never did it. I never got the chance to do it. Why don’t you go and do it?” He was the one that should’ve done it, and he didn’t. He didn’t. So what he was trying to tell me was: play that fucking part, man. Play that part before you’re too long in the tooth. Play it. And I would like to. I’d really, really like to.
Twenty years ago, a frustrated young TV star and a wild-haired filmmaker met at a hotel off the Sunset Strip, drank coffee, and talked. To an outside observer, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton would have seemed an unlikely pair: one, a reluctant teen idol; the other, a shy, rumpled director with a penchant for the macabre. But from that meeting sprang a creative partnership that has produced some of the most memorable oddball characters in recent movie history: An alienated teenage Frankenstein with scissors for hands. A cross-dressing Z-movie director. A demented candy maker. A murderous barber.
On a warm winter afternoon, Depp, 46, and Burton, 51 — the duo behind Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Sweeney Todd, among others — sit on a balcony at another L.A. hotel, just days away from the March 5 opening of their seventh film together: an eye-popping new 3-D Alice in Wonderland. This PG-rated big-screen take on the Lewis Carroll classic stars Depp as the Mad Hatter alongside newcomer Mia Wasikowska as Alice, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen. Between Depp’s whacked-out spin on the Hatter and Burton’s flair for imagery, Alice is poised to capitalize on the growing appetite for 3-D extravaganzas stoked by Avatar, which, perhaps surprisingly, neither of them has seen (”I hear it’s good,” Burton says with a shrug). Then again, the film also faces a looming glut of 3-D movies, plus a threatened boycott of the film by theater chains upset over Disney’s decision to move Alice‘s DVD release up by a month. Today, though, the two old friends — both now fathers of two — sip iced tea and look back on their long, strange trip down Hollywood’s rabbit hole.
EW: Alice in Wonderland has been adapted in one form or another hundreds of times. What inspired you to take a crack at it?
Tim Burton Disney came to me with the idea of doing Alice in Wonderland in 3-D, and that seemed intriguing. I’d never really read the Lewis Carroll books. I knew Alice through music and other illustrators and things. The images were always strong, but the movie versions I’d seen, to me, were always just, like, a little brat wandering around a bunch of weirdos. [Laughs] It was fun to try to make the characters not just weird — I mean they are weird, but we wanted to get deeper into those characters.
EW: Johnny, how did you approach the role of the Mad Hatter?
Johnny Depp Oddly enough, I had reread both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass not long before. I started looking up things on hatters and where that whole term ”mad as a hatter” came from. It was actually due to mercury poisoning, because when they were putting together the hats, they used this really vile substance that — it’s like huffing — it makes you go sideways. So I just started to get these images in my head. That’s where the orange hair came from.
EW: When you did Pirates of the Caribbean, the executives at Disney famously panicked at first over how you were playing Jack Sparrow. Was there any concern this time about portraying the Mad Hatter as a sort of pale-skinned, green-eyed, orange-haired freak?
Depp When we first went in to do the camera tests, I was thinking, ”They’re going to lose their minds.” But Tim fully supported it. It was a couple of solid hours in the makeup chair every day, but it really helped. You start to understand who the guy is through all that weird kind of Carrot Top Kabuki.
Burton From Edward Scissorhands on, Johnny has always wanted to cover himself up and hide. [Laughs] I get it.
Depp I still do. Absolutely.
Burton It’s fascinating to see Johnny work up to a character, though. In the past, we’ve done some studio read-throughs of the script and the executives will come up to me afterward, like, [in a nervous whisper] ”He’s not going to do that in the movie, is he?” I remember on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we did a read-through of the script early on and Johnny was holding a pencil and pretending to smoke it like a pipe. And this studio executive said to me, ”He’s not going to smoke a pipe in the movie, is he?”
Depp The subtext underneath that question is so funny. It’s like [with mock outrage], ”Are you kiddingme? He’s smoking a pipe?!”
Burton ”The character isn’t wearing any socks? He’s got ripped jeans? Oh my God, don’t do anything to embarrass us!” It’s funny, because the thing that worries people most is often the thing that makes it work.
EW: And to prove it, there are now people standing out on Hollywood Boulevard dressed as Jack Sparrow.
Depp I was driving down Hollywood Boulevard one day and stopped at a light, looked to my left, and saw Willy Wonka having a conversation with Jack Sparrow. It was so cool, man. [Laughs]
EW: Johnny, you’ve said you don’t like watching yourself on screen. What is it like to see yourself in 3-D in Alice?
Depp I’m actually unable to see 3-D. I’ve got a weird thing where I don’t see properly out of my left eye, so I truly can’t see 3-D. So I have an excuse [not to watch myself] this time. [Laughs]
EW: It’s been 20 years since you two first met at a hotel to talk about Edward Scissorhands. Tim, what do you remember about that meeting?
Burton All I remember is coffee — a lot of coffee. In fact, I think I’m still coming down the walls from that. I’d never seen [Depp’s cop show] 21 Jump Street, but meeting Johnny, I could sense that this thing was probably not why he got into acting or where he wanted to go. My impression was that he had something inside of him, but because of the show he was on, people thought of him in a certain way that wasn’t accurate. There’s a painful quality when you grow up and you’re not perceived correctly and that’s what the character of Edward Scissorhands was about. It was an instinctual thing, but I could see that Johnny was that character.
EW: Johnny, did you have the feeling you’d won the role in that meeting?
Depp I was convinced there was no way I’d get it. Everyone in this town wanted to play that role — including Michael Jackson. [Laughs] I’d had a great meeting with Tim and left zipping on coffee and chewing on a spoon, but then I didn’t really hear much for a few weeks. When I got the call saying ”You’re Edward Scissorhands,” I was just elated. I knew how important it would be. It was a big risk for Tim to take on some TV actor. With 21 Jump Street, they were trying to make me this thing, this product, and I couldn’t deal with it. When Scissorhands came, I knew even if immediately afterwards I was booted out of Hollywood and was pumping gas or working construction again, at least I was on solid ground. I was exactly where I needed to be. And even if that was all I’d done, I was fine. I knew what road I wanted to go on, but Tim pushed me onto that road.
Burton And within weeks he was vomiting behind a bush in Florida.
Depp [Laughs] I was covered head to toe in leather on that movie, shooting in Tampa or wherever it was, and it wasn’t long before I was in full heatstroke. I remember there was one scene where I’m running from the cops. I’d done it, like, six times already and I was dying. Tim was like, ”How are you doing? You got one more take in you?” I was like, ”Yeah, sure.” I ran down the street, heard ”Cut,” didn’t stop running — and ran on to the side of someone’s house and just hurled into a bush.
Burton By the way, how come they haven’t made a movie out of 21 Jump Street?
Depp They’re going to. I’m hoping they’ll let me do a cameo. Someone will say, ”What ever happened to Tom Hanson?” and they’ll find me somewhere hoarding jars of peanut butter and shaking in my underpants. [Laughs]
EW: Four years later, you guys reunited for Ed Wood. Johnny, what were you feeling about your career at that point?
Depp In terms of Hollywood, people were still wondering, ”Why won’t he carry a gun and f— the girl?” That’s all they wanted me to do: carry a gun and nail some broad, you know. I’m not opposed to that, but I thought there might have been other things to investigate.
Burton You should have just said to them [in a thick, Tony Montana accent], ”I leave the guns and broads at home. I come to work for fantasy.” [Laughs] As an outsider, I always felt like you kept your integrity. If you had done the parts they asked you to do, you would have made a lot more money a lot sooner and all that s—. But you picked things that you wanted to do.
Depp Yeah, luckily. It was more out of ignorance than anything else. I was just like, Well, shouldn’t I just do the things I want to do? Isn’t that right? But apparently Hollywood didn’t work that way. When I didPirates, I felt like I’d infiltrated the enemy camp. I’d never been welcomed in before. Nobody had ever asked me. Not only that — they’d been adamantly against me. Most times, Tim had to fight, fight, fight to get me in these movies.
Burton Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the first time the studio brought Johnny’s name up first.
EW: Johnny, what’s the scariest thing Tim ever asked you to do in a movie?
Depp Singing in Sweeney Todd.
Burton No question about it.
Depp The thing is, I dumbly thought that once I’d gotten through singing the demos and going through the recording process in the studio, I was home free. I thought I’d get on the set and just lip-synch. I didn’t realize that you’ve got to sing it live on the set. Me and Helena [Bonham Carter] were, like, belting it out with the whole crew watching. It was just mortifying.
EW: How would you describe the sensibility you two share?
Depp There’s a similar respect for the absurd and things slightly left of center. I’ve just always understood what Tim’s looking for, and he trusts me to go out there and do the stupid s— I do.
Burton Like dress up as a scary clown. [Laughs] Over the years we’ve learned that we have similar tastes. We both like old horror movies. We talk about TV performers that scared us as children. There’s a lot of common ground.
Depp There are directors I’ve worked with that I’ve had a grand old time with: Terry Gilliam, Gore Verbinski, the Hughes brothers, a number of guys. But the collaborative process of making a film with Tim — that energy is like riding some kind of enormous wave. There’s this connection, this shorthand. It sounds corny, but it’s truly home for me, where you can try absolutely anything and you might be afraid to fall flat on your face but that’s what makes it worth it.
EW: Still, there must be times you disagree, right?
Burton It’s hard for me to even think of something. We always work it out. There’s never been a big issue.
Depp Not even on Sleepy Hollow when Tim strapped me to a strange piece of metal behind two gaseous horses after they’d had some curry and dragged me through the mud. [Laughs]
EW: Your lives have obviously changed a lot over the years you’ve known each other, and now you’re both family men with two kids. Has that changed the kinds of things you talk about together?
Depp Well, we’ve discovered the Wiggles. That’s one thing I can always be proud of: I gave Tim his first set of Wiggles DVDs.
Burton [Groans] You try to maneuver your way through the least offensive children’s programming, but it’s hard. I keep trying to show my son [the psychedelic 1970s kids’ show] H.R. Pufnstuf but he’s not going there. Oh, well.
Depp He will.
EW: There’s been talk of you two adapting the 1960s vampire TV series Dark Shadows. Will that be next?
Burton For now we’re still basking in the glow of Alice. But we’re working on Dark Shadows. When you work with someone like Johnny, it’s always about, Are you excited about this? Do you see something here?
Depp I still just wait for that call from Tim — ”Did he call?” [Laughs] I sit at home and just stare at the f—ing phone.
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.
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.
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.
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.?
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Title: Depp and Burton
Author: Cal Fussman
Issue: January 2008
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?
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.
Title: The Continuing Adventures of Tim & Johnny
Author: Cal Fussman
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.
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.