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July 1, 1991   Articles No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 1, 1990   Articles No Comments

Johnny Depp – tough guy or cry baby?

baby face

 Johnny Depp is 26 but looks 18. The cop show 21Jump Street has made him America’s most  famous TV teen idol – so famous in fact that cult director John Waters paid him a million dollars for his first starring movie role, in Cry Baby, out this summer. Rock star good looks aside, Depp also boasts an intriguing bad boy past perfect credentials for another ready-made movie hero. Tony Fletcher meets him in Baltimore. 

At the top of Johnny Depp’s lean and muscular right arm, above the fading tattoo of an Indian chief’s headdress, are two words that were etched into the actor’s skin for all eternity only months ago. They read “Winona Forever”, a public and permanent declaration of the 26- year-old’s love for his pregnant fiancee, actress Winona Ryder.

But if Depp hopes that the tattoo will persuade his legion of young female followers to search elsewhere for a hero, he is mistaken. The previous evening, at the premiere in Baltimore of the new John Waters movie Cry Baby, a high-camp musical comedy in which Depp has the title role, the star was mobbed by hordes of screaming girls. Waters’ decision to base all his films in his home city of Baltimore has made him something of a local hero, but on this occasion it was Depp who stole the limelight. Even the sight of Winona Ryder clinging happily to his arm failed to deter the teenyboppers from screaming out their undying love for this high school dropout and failed rock musician.

Depp’s co-stars in Cry Baby, – a send-up of the teen rebel movie genre of the 50s that has Depp as a delinquent “Drape” determined to win the love of a stunning “Square” – are no less subtle in their admiration of his physique. Amy Locane, an innocent 18-yearold from a Catholic girls’ school in suburban New Jersey who plays his leading lady Allison, confesses that she almost fainted when required to do a love scene with Depp during the second day of rehearsals; Kim McGuire, who plays a convincingly ugly Drape called Hatchet Face, makes no secret of her desire to have been in Locane’s place. And Rikki Lakethe amiably hefty actress who found overnight success as Tracey Turnblad in Waters’ previous movie Hairspray – simply describes Depp as, “One of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen”.

“Wow!” laughs Depp when confronted with these compliments. “I guess I must owe them money!” In torn jeans and T-shirt, his dishevelled hair partly hidden by a bandanna, his face unshaven and his lips curled around a cigarette, Depp’s casual appearance only emphasises his desirable street-tough image. He seems out of place in the plush surroundings of Baltimore’s luxury Harbor Court Hotel, where he is undertaking an arduous promotional schedule for Cry Baby, but as he relaxes on a sofa in a private suite he is the perfect gentleman; polite, attentive, modest and forthright.

The TV series 21 Jump Street has now enjoyed four stunningly successful seasons in the States, much of which is attributed to Depp’s role as Officer Tom Hanson, one of a group of young undercover cops assigned to watch over (and frequently infiltrate) high schools, youth clubs and gangs. Playing Hanson, Depp comes across as a younger, scruffier version of Miami Vice star Don Johnson, a good-looking tough guy with his finger on the trigger and one eye on the girls. It is a performance that apparently garners around 10,000 fan letters a week, but one that Depp, frustrated with his pin-up status, was determined not to perpetuate in his first starring role on the big screen.

Yet the majority of scripts he was presented with were designed for Hanson the character rather than Depp the actor. They were, he says, “the same thing that’s been done a hundredand-fifty times over, which is the gun-toting, Lycra-bodysuited, girl-kissing, posing, action, fast cars blowing up, fighting, coiffed hair-type of guy. I just knew I didn’t want to do that:’

As Depp was despairing of being offered a decent role, far away from Los Angeles in the hip east coast community of Baltimore John Waters was searching for his very own James Dean. Waters, whose credits as a writer/ director include such bad taste cult classics as Mondo Trasho and Pink Flamingos (in which the late drag artist Divine achieved infamy by swallowing dog turds on camera), had finally entered the mainstream with the delightful Hairspray in 1988. Now he wanted to step further back in time from that film’s early 60s setting to 1954, when the seeds of rock ‘n’ roll were beingsown by the first juvenile delinquents. For the leading role of Cry Baby, a rockabilly-obsessed, guitar-playing teenager who sheds a tear each day for his father (a crazed bomber sent to the electric chair), Waters wanted a genuine pin-up. While he was searching through the proliferation of American teen mags for inspiration, he was continually confronted by one face: that of Johnny Depp.

“I thought, ‘This guy looks great’;’ recalls Waters, who was even more delighted to see Depp described in the teen press as a “juvenile delinquent”. When the pair met to discuss the part, Depp’s appearance sealed the role without the need for an audition. “He came in dressed completely in rags;’ says Waters, “with Levi’s ripped to his underpants, boxer shorts hanging outthrough the holes, hair completely askew … and he looked really like a movie star.”

An enormous fan of Waters’ happy-go-lucky kitsch films, Depp’s only fear when offered the chance to star in one was that Cry Baby’s character as the local tough guy and sex symbol was uncannily close to the public persona that he was determined to shake off.

“I said, ‘If you want to get rid of it, make fun of it’;’ Waters explains. It was the same advice he had given ex-porn star Traci Lord, who plays a tough, sexy Drape in the movie. (In an inspired bout of casting, Cry Baby also includes former kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst, and punk grandfather Iggy Pop.) “All of them have to make fun of themselves a little bit to be in my movies;’ Waters says.

Depp says he relished the opportunity to send up, “the labels and the image … that manufactured thing”, but admits that much of his younger audience might not appreciate the parody. The advertising campaign in particular seems to polish, rather than demolish, Depp’s image.

“It would seem that way, wouldn’t it;’ the actor acknowledges, studying a promotional poster in which his face, accentuated by sharp cheekbones, embellished with a tear and rounded off by a dripping lock of greased hair, rests on Amy Locane’s reclining chest, her 50s-style torpedo bra jutting towards his chin. “Maybe it’s just the pastels – the pink and the turquoise together;’ he says lightheartedly, whi Ie adm itting that the catchphrase – “He’s a doll, he’s a dreamboat, he’s a delinquent” – also plays up his looks. “Yeah, it would appear that I’m doing ‘teen guy’ stuff;’ he concludes. “But it’s really all a very big joke. And last night, at the premiere, I found out that we achieved what we wanted to achieve, which is that it was a joke, that it was funny. It reeks of John Waters, which is what I wanted. To me, Cry Baby is like Grease on psychedelics:’

TOUGH GUISE: Depp in his new film, Cry Baby

Without knowing it, Depp has been in training for the part of Cry Baby all his life. Born in Kentucky in 1963, his family moved to south Florida when he was eight. Four years later, his mother bought him his first guitar, from which point, “that was my whole life”. After fooling around with local garage bands, Depp and friends formed The Kids, a punk-influenced group who supported such established bands as U2, The Ramones, The B-52s, REM and Depp’s future uncle in Cry Baby,lggy Pop.

His search for rock’n’ roll glory caused himto drop out of high school at the age of 18, but The Kids’ determination proved to be their very downfall. “We got caught up in that ‘big fish in a small pond syndrome’ and decided we weren’t really getting anywhere in Florida,” recalls Depp. So in 1983 they moved to LA. Despite the occasional decent support slot, The Kids, now called Six Gun Method and playing a U2/Big Country hybrid, were suddenly mere minnows in a very large pond, and Depp had to resort to selling ink pens overthe phone to pay his rent. Even his hasty marriage, to a girl called Lori whom he met on his arrival in LA, collapsed within two years.

It was the classic Hollywood fairy tale gone wrong, but Depp had established a clique of friends, and one of them, the actor Nicolas Cage, suggested he meet his agent. She in turn immediately sent Depp out to audition for a low-budget horror movie by Wes Craven and, to his surprise, Depp landed a major part in A Nightmare On Elm Street as Glen, the heroine’s boyfriend who is swallowed tip by his bed and spewed out as “a-hundred-andten gallons of cow blood, red dye and paint”.

The film was a roaring success, but more so for its memorable villain Freddy Krueger than Depp’s performance. A bit part in the awardwinning Platoon followed, but still Depp’s sights remained firmly set on music. Six Gun Method had split up in anger over Depp’s burgeoning acting career, so Depp played in a Stray Cats-style band called Rock City Angels before landing the role of Hanson in the new TV series 21Jump Street. 

At the time of its launch, Jump Street was considered radical, tackling “real” issues such as AIDS and racism and refusing to conform to television’s conventional “happy ending” syndrome. Now, as Depp waits to hear about a fifth series – he is contractually obliged to appear in two more seasons if asked to – he seems determined to bad mouth the show into dropping him.

“It’s been great for me, it’s put me on the map, it’s given me a following of sorts, and I’m happy with that;’ he says as a precursor to his attack on Jump Street. “But in my opinion, I feel that I’ve run the gamut of anything you can possibly do on that show. I don’t think I have anything more to offer on the show. I’ve had six nervous breakdowns – I’ve lost my father on the show, I’ve lost girlfriends whdve been killed on the show, I’ve supposedly murdered a cop and went to prison for it … I don’t know that people wouldn’t have found me out after all that stuff! We’re heading into FelIinLAnd also, I don’t really agree with the idea of cops in high schools. Morally I don’t agree with it. I think it’s slightly unjust, I think it’s borderline fascism:’

Hastening to add that this is “just my opinion”, Depp acknowledges that his stubborn artistic nature – he has refused to appear in episodes that have conflicted with his personal and political beliefs – has not endeared him to the show’s producers.

“The one thing I don’t think they like about me is that I’m honest about it. That type of honesty can make for problems. But I do respect _ them, and I do respect what the show has done. ~ At the same time, if it gets repetitive it could be dangerous. If they’re going to tackle issues like racism they should really do it, instead of beating around the bush:’

Depp evidently also feels bitterness towards the show for creating the teen idol image he is now burdened with. ‘The people who wear the ties and sign the cheques needed to put a label on the product, so they went for the thing that would sell.And basically what they did was they took the personality of the character that I was playing on the TV series, associated it with my name, exploited that, and gave people this sold-and-stuffeddown-the-throats-of-America idea of what they thought I was. And they [Americans] bought it. And it’s not me at all:’ 

If Cry Baby sends up that image without quite destroying it, at least it has demonstrated the lucrative rewards of being such hot property, bringing Depp a million dollars up front for the chance to work with his heroes. “If they want to pay me that, I’ll take it;’ he says with a wry grin. “But I couldn’t have paid for a better vacation:’

“All through the movie, he’d say ‘John Waters made me a millionaire – whoever would have thought it?” recounts Waters himself, who started out shooting black and white movies for under $10,000 on 8mm film. With an $eight million budget, Cry Baby cost more than all his other 10 movies put together, but Waters has no qualms about working with Hollywood companies and million dollar stars. Depp “deserved every penny”, says Waters. “l’rn completely for movie stars. That’s why I started making movies, and that’s why people go to the movies. I like the surrealness and the fakeness of being a movie star. I tell Johnny, ‘Keep working so much and eventually you’ll never be able to go out ofthe house: And that’s the goal:’ .

In Waters’ warped view of celluloid infamy, that might well be the goal, but in Depp’s subdued, reluctant acceptance of fame and fortune, it definitely isn’t. “I don’t think any of us would have gotten into this business if we weren’t in one way or another starved of attention,” he admits. “But it’s an uncomfortable feeling to be on display at all times. I try and keep my head down and not look at it. I figure if you don’t see it, it’s not there:’

Naturally, this approach fails completely.

Depp is mobbed almost everywhere he goes. Rikki Lake says she understands why: “His persona is that of a movie star. He’s got that charisma. It’s plain to see:’ But, perhaps as a result of his struggling rock’n’roll past, his actual personality is far from your typical spoilt movie brat. “He’s very much a man’s man;’ says Traci Lords. “He doesn’t act like a star. He’s not egotistical, he’s not hung up, he’s not an idiot. He’s just very relaxed, very easy to work with, and very much in love right now:’

Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder’s affair is the sort of romance that tabloid newspapers dream of. The pair met on the set of Batman director Tim Burton’s new movie Edward Scissorhands, which Depp describes as, “a classic fable, almost like Beauty And The Beast or Pinocchio, about a guy who has scissors for fingers and his first steps in suburban life:’ Once more Depp plays the title role, and by the time the film is released in the States this Christmas, he will be married to his leading lady and father of her chi Id.

“They’re the perfect couple;’ says Rikki Lake.

“Physically, they look so similar, it’s amazing:’ 21-year-old Lake, who plays Depp’s perpetually pregnant younger sister in Cry Baby, says she feels like his sibling in real life too. A friend of both Depp and Ryder she played a part in hooking the new family up.

“Rikki was definitely a cupid of sorts;’ Depp acknowledges. “When we were doing Cry Baby she told me about Winona, and besides, she had also talked to Winona about me, which was pretty great of her:’

Discussion of Winona, who in the brilliant Heathers also starred in a send-up of the teen movie genre, gets Johnny Depp positively glassy-eyed. “I love her more than anything else in the whole world;’ he says quite unashamedly. Which is just as well; with the new tattoo that he proudly shows off to all who ask, he will be living with Winona forever whether he likes it or not.

copied from

September 6, 1989   Uncategorized No Comments

I had the pleasure to make small talk with Johnny a few years back, while waiting for a beer to arrive from a, lucky for me, “Slow as Moses” bartender. The talk was an amusing attack on the bar’s population all looking exactly the same (fake tits and bleached blonde hair, mixed with the polished GQ Smooth look of fancy hotel toilet bowl)! I guess you had to be there to really savor the statement’s full impact. In any event, he ended up buying my beer and, after my cigarette lighter failed to spark a flame, he lit a match and shared the flame with me.

After sharing his match with me, and going our seperate ways, Johnny and I bumped into each other again that same night as we, and the people we were with, were leaving. He asked if I had a good time, I said I did, then introduced my guests to him, which he shook their hands, then he patted me on the back and handed me his book of matches which are “VIPER ROOM” issue (Black book, with a green pair of dice and a female serpent woman on the cover). Telling me that “it might be a long night, and a night without fire should be a crime.” On the inside of the cover, a hand written message reads “Call Tim, Monday”.

August 6, 1989   Uncategorized No Comments

When my family lived in California, my brother and I both did some acting. I was hopeless and managed only a few small parts in commercials and stuff. My brother was the one with the talent and to this day I think that if we hadn’t move to New Zealand, he would have made it big.

A few days after my seventeenth b-day, we both got a call saying we were to be extras in the movie Cry Baby! At first I was bumbed cause I wanted a big part, but I got over that and was all psyched to be in a big movie! OF course, I didn’t know Johnny Depp was in it until just before filming started.

I was supposed to be a drape, so was my bro, but at the last minute they dropped me saying they had ‘over casted’. My brother got to keep his role, and when he came home and told me who was in the movie I almost died! My bro is in heaps of scenes. The part were Cry Baby sings ‘Tear Drops are Falling’ and he’s in the crowd when he does the cry baby song. In fact he is in a lot more than that, but you don’t see him in the others. He met Johnny heaps of times, and they even had a smoke together while waiting for filming to start one day.

On the last day of filming, I was spilling over with stories about Johnny my bro had told me. Like how when at the end were Alison comes to the jail and they are doing that bit were she’s rubbing up against the glass, Johnny kept on laughing and the chick got really pissed off! I think that’s so cool! And also the rumours about Johnny and the woman playing Alison falling in love was complete bull, because they didn’t really get along at all, in fact, apparently when they were filming, they hardly said a word to each other!

But on the last day of filming, the whole cast, including extras, were invited to a little party to say thanks and goodbye. I was so jealous he got to go socialize with the spunkiest guy ever, until he told me I could go!! Apparently he had told the director, and Johnny about how I had been dropped, and how disappointed I was, so they said I could come and meet every body!!!AHHHH!

Now be honest, wouldn’t you spend half a year trying to make your self look gorg so one look and Johnny would fall madly in love with you? Well I would have liked to, but my darling brother told me about three seconds before he left, so I left the house in a pair of baggy, holey jeans, and a little tank top! I must have looked like crap but I probably would have gone in a pair of PJs to meet Johnny-god-how-could-he-be-that-fine-Depp!

When we got there, it wasn’t like I had thought it would be, all there was was a few tables set out under a tent thing, with heaps of food and drink. I was the only one there who wasn’t dressed to kill, well, out of the girls anyway! They must have had the same thing, or person, on their minds, and were using all their acting ability to try not to act like they were drooling over Johnny who sat quietly in the corner with the director. We stood around a few minutes, then the director said a few words which I didn’t really care about considering I was in the same room with the love of my life!*S*(Hey, I was seventeen!)

Just before we left, everyone went around shaking hands with cast, and producers etc, including me because I guess they just thought I was one of the extras they hadn’t noticed before. We shook hands with the stars, like the woman who played Hatchet Face (who’s not so bad looking in real life by the way) and Alison, who was really nice and said ‘hi how are you’s’ to every one.

When Johnny was like a meter away from me I started panicking, if he shock my hand I would never be able to love another because I would always compare them to Johnny! But nevertheless as he got closer I decided I would have to take that chance!*S* To my surprise, when he got to my brother he proved that he hadn’t been full of it when he said he had talked to him. JOHNNY DEPP SHOCK MY BROTHERS HAND AND GOES: “Hey Jake(My bro), how’s it going man…” My brother didn’t even flinch, just turned to me and goes. “This is my sister…” I could have killed him! I thought he was going to say some thing like “She’s such a loser she made me bring her”. But instead Johnny smiled at me! AHHHH!!! And goes. “Nice to meet you. Your brother told me you got kicked off the extras list…” He held out his hand and I felt about two feet tall. Yah, I thought, this is a good impression. I took his hand and he added; “Don’t worry about it, this business can be shit like that, just keep your foot in the door, and some one will notice you…” Then he said some thing else to my bro that I didn’t hear cause he said it softly and the room was noisy, but my brother recons he goes… “She’s pretty, she’ll go far” But I think he’s full of it. Still, wouldn’t it be cool if it was what he said?

As he was about to walk off he goes “Remember, keep trying okay…?” I nodded, and all I could think of to say was “Yeah, okay, thanks…” He smiled again and was lost in the crowd. Just like that. That was the most romantic experience I thought I could ever have at seventeen, but as I stood there like a moron looking after him, my brother goes “He knows your name, and the director has our number, so maybe he’l call you!” I turned to him and scouled. “Shut up! As if Johnny Depp is going to call me, he doesn’t even know me!’ Then he told me what he had supposedly said and I almost passed out. For like two months after that ever time the phone rang I dived at it, and answered it in my most sophisticated voice. However, he never called, and to this day, when the phone rings I have to be the first to answer it! 🙂



December 1, 1988   Articles No Comments

“I hope this isn’t going to be about that teen-idol bullshit. We’re really sick of that shit.”~ Jeff Ballard, press agent for Johnny Depp

Bobby Sherman. David Cassidy. Davy Jones. Shaun Cassidy. Each name is a step in the funeral march of burned-out television heartthrobs. Johnny Depp, 25, currently holds the pole position in budding fantasies all over North America, thanks to his lead role on the Fox Broadcasting Company’s baby-cop show 21 Jump Street. As Tom Hanson, a cop who goes undercover in high schools to break up drug gangs and pornography rings, Depp is a sexy guidance counselor, the older guy in every neighborhood who takes you around and shows you the ropes but keeps you out of real trouble. And he has everything that makes little girls wriggle: a forest of eyelashes, sensitive eyes, spiked locks stiffened with several hair-care products of the Eighties, dangly earrings.

But Depp doesn’t want to be a teen idol. “I don’t want to make a career of taking my shirt off,” he says. “I’d like to shave off all my hair, even my eyebrows, try it that way. I don’t fault the TV stars who do teen magazines. They took a hold of their situations, took offers that gave them the big money fast, but they were dead in two years. I don’t want that.” The ironic thing is that Depp didn’t have to do TV. Four years ago, with no acting experience or training, two days after his first audition ever, he got a lead role in A Nightmare on Elm Street, followed by a small part in Platoon. So why TV?

“I’ve been asking myself that question for a long time,” Depp says. “To be honest, I took Jump Street because I thought it would only last a year. I liked the pilot, and I wanted to work with Frederic Forrest [who was in the original cast], so I said yes.” Surprise, surprise, the show is a hit, Forest leaves the first season, and Depp is locked into a contract. “I wouldn’t do another TV series,” he says, “but at least this one means something. It’s not another three-kids-sit-in-a-bathroom sitcom. The scripts help people. But the minute they make a Jump Street lunchbox, I’m gone.”

“Historically, when a show becomes really popular, actors turn into giant assholes, but not Johnny,” says Patrick Hasburgh, creator of Jump Street. “He once lit his underwear on fire in the middle of the set, but that was because no one had cleaned up his motor home in a long time. The show’s success may prevent Johnny from taking features offers, but he’s being cool about it, cooler than I’d be in his shoes. And if I were his age and looked like he does, I’d be dead by now. Girls follow him everywhere, screaming.”

Boys buy posters of their idols. Girls put it in writing. “More than Mike Fox, more than Charlie Sheen, more than Rob Lowe, Johnny Depp gets the greatest volume of mail of any of our clients,” says Spanky Taylor of Fan-Handle, a Los Angeles mail service. “I’d say 10,000-plus pieces a month. Of course, TV guys always get more than film guys.”

It’s not all pictures of girls in their underwear (or less), though Depp has gotten a few of those. “I’ve also gotten weird letters, suicide letters, girls threatening to jump if I don’t get in touch with them. So you think, ‘This is bullshit,’ but then you think, ‘What if it’s not? Who wants to take that chance? I write them back, tell them to hang in there’, if things are that bad, they have to get better. But I’m not altogether stable myself, so who am I to give advice?”

“I lost my virginity somewhere around age thirteen. I did every kind of drug there was by fourteen, swiped a few six-packs, broke into a few classrooms, just to see what was on the other side of that locked door. Eventually you see where it’s headed and you get out.”

Born in Kentucky, raised in Florida by an engineer father and a housewife mother (now divorced), Depp bought a guitar at age twelve, joined his first band at thirteen, dropped out of school at sixteen, took his fifteenth band, the Kids, to Los Angeles, survived a failed marriage (“It wasn’t working out, so we took care of it”) and lucked into the movies. Now he hangs out with Nicolas Cage and Charlie Sheen, sleeps late, wears motorcycle jackets and ripped jeans and bangs out “loud, raunchy blues” on his guitar. His answering machine message recently was a hung-over-sounding voice mumbling, “I’m out out out out out out out out.”

But Jeff Ballard is right: ultimately, this teen-idol shit isn’t very interesting. The really big question about Johnny Depp is whether he can ride it out, whether he can be Frank Sinatra instead of Frankie Avalon. “Everybody compares everyone to James Dean these days,” Depp says. “If you’re lucky, they mention Brando or De Niro or Sean Penn. It’s like they have to compare you to somebody. They invite you to put on an instant image.”

For now, Depp seems content to date around, hang out, work on the show and reject bad offers. “It’s easy to make a million bucks in this business doing stuff that would exploit the piss out of you,” he says. “It’s like fast food. Get in frame, get the product out there, and sell it quick.” Instead, he directs public-service announcements (his first ran after an AIDS-related Jump Street), and he is about to make his first film, a fifteen-minute short titled Every Cake, Neil, from a script he co-wrote; it’s about “the things people can do to screw each other up.” He wants to make a movie of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and eventually cut a record. “I could do a Bruce Willis thing and make a record now,” Depp says, “but it would just milk my teen-boy, pop-idol image. I’d rather do nothing than do that.”

Maybe all those dreamy little girls are on to something. Somehow they sense that in an unpretentious, unself-conscious way, Depp doesn’t mind what anybody thinks. He likes himself, something most long-term adolescents never do. “My face,” he says. “I see it in the mirror when I wash it every morning. It’s an okay face.” And it’s not all bad, this teen-idol bullshit. “Budding fantasies, huh?” Depp says slowly, not unhappily. “Yeah, budding fantasies.” If starring in the restless daydreams of a thousand fourteen-year-old girls will get Depp where he’s going, then that’s what he’ll do. It’s all just part of the job.

December 1, 1988   Articles No Comments

Two teenagers are standing in front of the Daley Plaza government building in Chicago, whimpering and waiting. On this murky, muggy Saturday morning, Trish and Rhonda – all of 15 years old – clutch ripped, jagged-edged magazine pages in vice grips. “But do you really think we’ll get close enough to touch him?” Trish whispers, knowing full well that the odds are hovering around slim-to-none. Rhonda is shaking her head in mock angst. “Maybe we’ll get an autograph,” she laments, “but face it. We’ll never get to touch Johnny Depp.”

It’s 10:30 a.m. “Who do you want?” shouts local Fox-TV anchor Robin Brantley to some 7,000 high school and college females who have gathered in an otherwise deserted part of down-town Chicago.

They chant in unison. Welcome to the Windy City’s yearly “Be Good. Go to School. Say No to Drugs!” youth pep festival which today seems like some weird religious event. “Johnny who?” taunts Brantley, buying some time while the cast of Fox’s 21 Jump Street – Depp, Holly Robinson, Dustin Nguyen, Peter DeLuise and Steven Williams – waltz out of the Daley Center high rise and onto a makeshift stage flanked by police and two-ton security guards.

“Hello, I’m Johnny Depp,” he says, approaching the mike to a roar of applause. “My basic message is simple: Protect your mind. Protect your heart. And take care of yourself.” He runs a hand through longish ink-black hair and smiles.

Time out, please. Let the record show that anchor Robin Brantley had a valid question when she asked, “Johnny who?” In a nutshell, Depp is a failed musician who once upon a time sold ballpoint pens over the phone to pay the rent on his meager Los Angles digs. That was only five years ago, and since then he has appeared in one critically acclaimed film, Platoon, and a gaggle of low-budget features, including A Nightmare on Elm Street. But now Depp stars on 21 Jump Street, which is one of the Fox Network’s two hits (Married With Children is the other), but was ranked just 140th on A.C. Nielsen’s list of the 163 highest-rated shows of last season. So, put all the pieces together: No movie career; no hit television show; no singing career. Yet Johnny Depp is a star. His face is plastered on teen magazines from coast to coast. Us magazine voted him one of Hollywood’s hottest bachelors. And more and more Jump Street episodes are featuring heavy doses of Depp and less of the other up-and-comers.

Johnny Depp has arrived. Sort of. If you spend the entire day in Chicago on his tail, it’s easy to conclude that “arriving” – in the most basic sense of the word – is not on his top ten list of accomplishments.

Flashback to sometime in June when the creative minds at the Fox Network decided that hauling the cast members of Jump Street to select cities would be an exciting, hip way to boost ratings. From the start, Robinson, Nguyen, DeLuise and Williams wanted in. Depp wasn’t so sure.

After all, Depp has been pegged as television’s latest rebel, and was taking the role to heart. The rest of the cast arrived in Chicago on a bleak, dismal Wednesday night for advance promo interviews. Depp had made it known earlier in the week that he might not attend this fest. But, then again, he might. Just when Las Vegas wouldn’t touch these odds, he hopped a Red Eye on Friday night, causing several publicists to advance to the intermediate stages of text-book nervous breakdown. “Yeah, Chicago,” Depp said in his best James Dean-esque tone. “I decided it might be fun.” That was night one.

9:30 a.m. Saturday morning. In an un-air-conditioned, stuffy government planning room, flanked by dark wooden paneling and the necessary spread of donuts, cast members are schmoozing with Chicago Mayor Eugene Sawyer and other local luminaries. Everyone is there except Depp.

10:15 a.m. Grumblings are heard over the publicist’s walkie-talkie and members of the Fox Network start slapping each other high-fives. Johnny is finally here. In the flesh. Of course, he manages to vanish into thin air for another nervous five minutes, but all is instantly forgiven when he comes popping through the elevator doors to greet Mayor Sawyer with a surprise: Her name is Jennifer – as in Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Grey. In an army green T-shirt and worn jeans with Depp’s baseball cap in the back pocket, Grey steps out of the elevator half smiling. Depp, in all his virgin-rebel wonder stares at his toes.

“It’s absolutely true,” he says in a throaty voice, about his clothing which is strictly L.A. chic (a white cut-off T-shirt with a strange arrangement of black skulls, a tattered red plaid shirt wrapped around his waist and a handsome black leather jacket). “I always dress like this,” he says proudly. “This is Johnny Depp.” In the flesh.

Why should someone who walks and breathes the mystery-rebel image want to associate himself with an event – heck, forget the event; how about a show – that spreads such grounded sentiments? Don’t drink. Don’t do drugs. Don’t cut class. For God’s sake, practice safe sex.

For those who eat out on Sundays, here’s Jump Street’s story line: A group of young cops infiltrate circles of nasty teenage criminals by posing as students themselves. Depp’s Tom Hanson really feels for these kids on the rocks. His character is fond of such phrases as, “Man, do we really have to bust the kids” “Is busting them necessary?” “I guess it’s really for the best.”

Depp also feels for his audience. “I really do appreciate the audience,” he says with conviction. “Our show deals with important themes like drugs, suicide, life and death. The most important thing is telling the kids to stay away from drugs,” he says. “Drugs are the worst. I just tell people to stay far away from them. I would also like to tell people to stay in school. That’s equally important.”

It might seem strange for Depp to be handing out all this free, solid advice. Some might say that at age 25, he isn’t old enough to know about life. But those critics couldn’t be more wrong. Depp’s childhood wasn’t exactly an episode of Leave It to Beaver. Born in Owensboro, Kentucky, Depp’ s family relocated to Miramar, Florida when he was six. Depp’s own teenage years could be the model for a rip-roaring Jump Street episode, with Depp firmly on the other side of the law.

“I experimented with drugs and I experimented with everything that little boys do,” Depp has told the press. “Vandalism, throwing eggs at cars, breaking and entering schools and destroying a room. But I finally got to a point where I looked around and said, ‘This is not getting me anywhere. I’m stagnating with these guys.’ They were getting drunk and high every weekend. I got out.”

Depp was also once fond of telling the press that he lost his virginity at 13 and dropped out of high school at 16. Today he’s more of the guarded young star. He simply shrugs off the bad times by noting how art does not imitate real life: “I was always getting into mischief as a high schooler, and now I’m on the other side of the fence, enforcing the law.”

High noon. Marshall Field’s department store, located on busy State Street in the heart of downtown. One advantage of shopping at Field’s is a direct connection to the subway system through a lone door that leads into the store’s basement. Steam usually rises from that subway station, but not today, since 5,000 people of all ages are packed into the underground terminal waiting for the 21 Jump Street cast to sign autographs at 2 p.m.

No one expected the turnout. No one expected that every nearby street entrance to the subways would be blocked by Johnny Depp fans. No one expected Chicago’s mass transit system to be crippled by crowds of young women like Debbie and Diana, two suburban high schoolers who gave excuses at their fast food jobs and endured a 50-minute train ride into the city to gaze at Depp. “He’s just worth it,” they gush, adjusting black minis and tank tops. “He’s soooo cool.”

The girls melt into the crowd. Meanwhile Depp is busy lunching with Jennifer Grey in another part of the city. He will miss the first 45 minutes of autographs in Field’s basement. He will ditch a Jump Street lunch with contest winning fans. He will chuck the press conference with both local and national print and television media.

Perhaps the service at lunch was slow. Or perhaps it’s Depp’s rock-star mentality. Guide Depp back to his past, and he will talk with glee about his pre-actor, post-dropout days, which pretty much took the usual path of construction jobs. Like a million other rebel types floating around Southern California, Depp had a plan. A Big Plan.

More than anything, he wanted to be a rock star. At age12, he paid $25 for an electric guitar, holed up in his bedroom and taught himself how to play. A few months later, Depp set out to form one of the 15 rock groups he’s been with over the years. In 1983 he was 19. Depp figured that his band-of-the hour called The Kids could be his ticket. Despite his lead guitar work, the kids behind The Kids found life in the fast lane of Los Angeles very tough.

The Kids weren’t happening. “We didn’t make it, although we loved music. And I still do,” says Depp. “I guess it happens.” Meanwhile, he supported himself by living poor in Hollywood. He got married. He got divorced. Most people would get depressed.

Depp didn’t. Instead, he met fate which went by the name of actor Nicolas Cage, co-star of Moonstruck. “I was broke and Nick asked me if I needed a job. I did and he told me I should try acting. I met with an agent Nick knew and she has this part to cast,” Depp recalls.

The part up for grabs was in one of the most successful films in movie history. “The agent sent me to audition for A Nightmare on Elm Street,” Depp says. “Two days later I had the part of Glenn and my acting career was launched.”

One part in an Elm Street does not a career make, and Depp has seen the acting pits. He had a role in the critical and popular flop Private Resort. His resume also includes a bit in Platoon, a guest starring role in the cable movie Slow Burn and the obligatory episodic work in shows like Hotel. That’s just about when Fox called about Jump Street. At first, he wasn’t interested in TV, and Fox proceeded to cast actor Jeff Yagher (of V), but three weeks into production Yagher was gone, and Depp’s name popped up again. This time, Depp read the script and got the part.

One year down the road and he is hotter than the rest. Some say that his impact on the show goes beyond image. “Johnny had a lot to do with the suicide episode we ran last season,” says Jump Street producer Bill Nuss.

“I just wanted to make it very clear that I’m not out there saving someone’s life just because I’m Johnny Depp,” says Depp. “That’s not how it goes in real life. In real life, I won’t be sitting next to the world solving its problems. People forget that this is a show and I’m just an actor. So instead of me being the cure I wanted to show people how to handle their own problems.”

2 p.m. Marshall Field’s basement area is a mix of crying, laughing, smiling, out-of-their-minds fans who shake Johnny Depp’s hand, often walking right past the other Jump Street cast members.

“You have to understand what it’s like for 10,000 or 25,000 people to yell your name. Think about it for a minute. Then think of what it is like for Johnny Depp,” says Nuss. “I think it scares him sometimes. But I think he senses a responsibility to these people. He doesn’t want to appear irresponsible.”

“It’s hard for Johnny to be cool about all this, but he is one of the coolest people I know,” says co-star Holly Robinson who plays Officer Judy Hoffs. “On the set, he’s a different guy than what you see in public. He plays guitar. He’s the leader of the Jump Street garage band. We have water pistol fights. That’s Johnny Depp.”

“Life is wild,” Depp says. “There are so many people at an event like this one. This is both a good and bad thing. So many people see you and they just go crazy.”

3:30 p.m. The autograph session is winding down and the national anchor of Fox News attempts to corner Depp with a few questions. Since Jump Street is a Fox show, the anchor doesn’t figure a one-minute bit with the star will be a big problem. But, then again, this is Johnny Depp. The mike is shoved in his face: Depp’s punky hairstyle is slicked back once again.

He takes a bite out of the mike. “Is this thing working? Are you sure it’s working?” asks Depp, making a face and grabbing Jennifer Grey’s hand. He’s ready for the big escape. The anchor stands back – alone and baffled. Meanwhile, Depp hangs his sunglasses off one ear. He makes more strange faces. He requests his baseball cap from Grey.

3:45 p.m. Standing in the tunneled garage area waiting for his limo, Depp’s lips are sealed. Someone mentions that he really is far more relaxed at home in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the show is filmed.

A good day in Vancouver, he says, is taking his vintage Harley motorcycle out for a ride. Just imagine: One cool cycle. Two tattooed arms (Depp has his mom’s name, Betty Sue, on his left arm surrounded by a big red heart, and a large Indian chief is sunken in to his right). One leather jacket.

It’s a fitting image for a rebel. It’s a fitting image for a fledgling star who makes young girls whimper and wait.

September 1, 1988   Articles Interviews No Comments

He’s Cool! He’s Cute! He’s Available! The sexy star of 21 Jump Street gets personal in an exclusive SPLICE interview

Ask any member of the cast or crew of 21 Jump Street and they’ll tell you: The only word to describe Johnny Depp is “cool.” It seems, in fact, that he is the coolest creature to hit the small screen since “the Fonz ” strutted his stuff on Happy Days. Johnny Depp is the King of Cool, the valedictorian of the Cool School, and everybody knows it. Everybody, that is, except Johnny Depp.

The handsome 25-year-old actor – who’s blessed with high chiseled cheekbones, courtesy of his Cherokee heritage – is so unimpressed with his own celebrity status that he denies he is the star of 21 Jump Street. He says his character is the “strong center” of the show. On a recent trip to New York City, Johnny was surprised when he was asked to sit backstage in the Green Room to watch a taping of Late Night with David Letterman, because David doesn’t allow celebrities in the TV audience. And what celebrity worth his weight in dark shades would actually convince his mother and stepfather to move to Vancouver, Canada, so they could be closer to him?

Johnny was born in Owensboro, KY on June 9, 1963. The youngest of four children, he and his family moved to Miramar, FL, where Johnny did most of his growing up. After experimenting with drugs and petty crime for a short while, Johnny dropped out of high school at the age of 16 – a move he now admits was not one of his wisest. He’s now openly opposed to all drugs, and tells his fans so in public service announcements.

While still a teenager, Johnny formed a rock and roll band called The Kids, which had a small but loyal following in Florida. They were impressive enough to open in concert for such heavy hitters as the Talking Heads and The Pretenders. Armed with an electric guitar, Johnny and The Kids headed for Los Angeles, seeking fame, fortune, and a recording contract. Unfortunately, the going was a little tough. The Kids were not reaching musical maturity, and Johnny was forced to accept a job selling ball-point pens over the telephone to make enough money to live and play in L.A.

It was during this period that Johnny got married and divorced. Life was looking grim until a friend of Johnny’s (actor Nicolas Cage, of Moonstruck fame) suggested that he try his hand at acting. Johnny met with Nicolas’ agent, who convinced him to audition for A Nightmare on Elm Street. The rest, as they say, is cinematic history. Johnny landed the lead male role, and decided to focus his ambitions on acting for a while.

Johnny’s screen presence caught the attention of Oliver Stone, who cast him in the Oscar-winningPlatoon, as Lerner, the unit’s interpreter. Johnny soon landed parts in Private ResortDummies andSlow Burn (with Eric Roberts and Beverly D’Angelo), and he guest starred on TV’s Hotel and Blue Lady.

21 Jump Street’s baby-faced Officer Tommy Hanson now lives in Vancouver, where he films his hip detective series (he also maintains an apartment in Hollywood). Proud to be involved with such a socially-aware production, Johnny recently spoke to SPLICE about his acting career, his past and present, and his life in the public eye. At the time of this writing, Johnny has no serious love interest in his life… he’s unattached and looking for the right girl.

How did you get started in acting?

It was really a fluke. It was divine intervention. When I moved to L.A., one of my buddies introduced me to Nicolas Cage, and he introduced me to his agent. She sent me to read for Nightmare. It was so strange. I’d never done drama before, not even in high school. All of a sudden, I’m talking to my family on the phone and saying, ‘Hi, how are you? I think I just got a part in a feature film.’

What’s the best of working on 21 Jump Street?

The great thing about doing the show is the responses we get from people from the public service announcements we do. We try to broadcast 1-800 service numbers on specific subjects, but if it’s a light show, there’s no sense in running one. And the response to the public service announcements has been great. For instance, we did a show about a kid who had a problem with drugs. After we ran a drug-abuse hotline number, the number of calls they received shot right up!

How did you land the role of Lerner in Platoon?

I found out about Platoon in January of 1986, when my agent sent me over a script. I read it and I was just blown away! It was so right on the money as far as truth and honesty goes. I met Oliver Stone and he said, “I want you to read this. Go out in the hall and study it.” So I studied it and came back in and read for him. He said, “Okay, let’s call your agent.”

Tell us about the training you went through for Platoon.

We went through two weeks of training in the jungle in the Philippines. I gotta tell you, man, it was highly emotional. You put 30 guys in the jungle and leave them there to stay together for two weeks – just like a real platoon – and you build a real tightness. It’s almost like a family. We became a military unit, a platoon. To this day, whenever I talk to Charlie [Sheen] or any of the other guys, it’s just like the same deal. We still get together all the time and try to hang out as much as possible, and it takes us right back to the platoon.

How do you feel about your “bad boy” image?

That sort of thing’s gotten a little out of hand. I run into people who think I’ve done time [in jail] or something. When I was a kid, I was just like any other boy. Boys are very curious, they like to push the walls, you know? I wasn’t the best kid in the world, but I wasn’t an ax murderer either. As a kid, I experimented with drugs and stuff, but I got out of it by the time I was 14 or 15. I saw that it was getting me nowhere. I saw the kids around me, not doing anything, not wanting to change their lives. I didn’t want to be like that. I wanted to continue with my music, and I knew the drugs were holding me back. I’d seen a lot of ugly things. It’s just not worth it.

What are your plans for the future?

I definitely want to do a feature film as soon as I get done with this season of 21 Jump Street. If I don’t do a film, I want to do a play. But I want to continue working. I want to keep growing and learning as much as possible. I want to fill myself in on all aspects of the industry – acting and directing.

What advice you have for young people today?

My advice would be to stay in school, because I didn’t and it was kind of a mistake. It was a stupid thing to do, dropping out. So my advice would be to learn as much as you can, and when you get out of school, continue to learn as much as you can. Just try and always do the right thing. Follow your instincts. Learn, make mistakes, and learn even more from your mistakes.

Do you still play rock and roll?

I still play, but when I got my first movie, A Nightmare On Elm Street, things just sort of fell apart for the band. We split up, and everybody went their own way. Then I joined a band called the Rock City Angels.

Are you going to do a solo album?

I would love to play. But people know me now as an actor. I’d do anything to be on stage again, but I’ve got to be very careful. I don’t want people to say, “Oh great, another actor is going to do a record.” I’m trying to fight the teen idol image, so if I went and did a record, it would make it that much more difficult.

What kind of music do you listen to?

I listen to a lot of [Bob] Dylan, who I like a lot. I like Bruce Springsteen. I like T. Rex. I like all different kinds of music. One minute I’ll be listening to Benny Goodman and the next I’ll be listening to the Sex Pistols!

Tell us about your family.

My dad works for the city of Hallendale in South Florida. He’s the director of public works and utilities, a city engineer. My mom moved up to Vancouver with her new husband. I have two older sisters, Debbie and Christy. And I have an older brother Danny who lives in Kentucky. We’re all incredibly close.

What are you doing during your break?

Coming off the show and doing features, definitely changes the films I want to do. I’m going to do everything I can – fight tooth and nail – to not be put in some teen-idol category. I don’t want somebody who’s writing out checks to limit me, to put me in a herd of people who can only do one thing. I don’t want to be limited by other people’s opinions. I don’t necessarily want to always play the leading man – I’d like to shave my head and sew my eyeballs shut. It would be terrible to just do teen exploitation films. It just wouldn’t be worth it.

January 23, 1988   Articles No Comments

Once a troublemaker, Johnny Depp of 21 Jump Street is now admired for his cool and his part in a series about teen problems.

On a lonely, rainy, anonymous street, Johnny Depp, running through a scene from Fox’s 21 Jump Street, roars up in his blue Mustang, screeches to a halt, leaps out and starts talking tough. His Jump Street character, Tom Hanson, is a rookie cop who’s gone undercover to infiltrate circles of teen-age criminals, but Depp’s stance as a hoodlum would fool anyone. With his angelic punk face and his hair cascading James Dean-style into his eyes, he looks the perfect teen-age rebel.

It comes from years of real-life experience. Depp, 24, grew up in Miramar, Fla., where he wasn’t exactly on the road to becoming a National Merit scholar. “I hung around with bad crowds,” he admits. “We used to break and enter places. We’d break into the school and destroy a room or something. I used to steal things from stores.” And, like some of the kids Officer Tom Hanson has busted on 21 Jump Street, Depp was into drugs. “Pretty much any drug you can name,” he says, “I’ve done it.” At 13 he lost his virginity, and at 16 he dropped out of high school.

Fast-forward eight years to Vancouver, where Jump Street is shot. Depp has acquired a taste for $80-a-shot cognac and is a fan-magazine star, routinely mobbed by adoring teen-age girls. He is also one of the stranger sights in Vancouver, consistently wearing the same eccentric outfit: tattered blue jeans with a hole in the knee, combat boots, a beat-up leather jacket, a weird white rag (actually a first-aid sling) wrapped around his forehead, and several tarnished earrings. It’s a look he perfected in 1986 in the Philippines while working on the film Platoon, in which he had a part as Lerner, small-town boy who serves as the unit interpreter.

It’s easy at first glance to think that Depp is trying hard to stand out, but the people who know him best insist it’s something altogether different: Johnny Depp is simply the embodiment of the ineffable, universally coveted quality called “cool”.

“The coolest person I know,” says Holly Robinson, who plays Officer Judy Hoffs on Jump Street. “He’s naturally cool. Everybody else tries to be cool, but Johnny just is.”

“If this were the ’50s, he’d move to Paris or hang out with Jack Kerouac,” suggests Patrick Hasburgh, creator and executive producer of Jump Street.

“What struck me about him when he auditioned was that he wasn’t nervous,” says Steve Beers, supervising producer of the show. “He was laid-back. He had this presence. He’s an unusual personality. He’s also one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with.”

How cool is Johnny Depp? He’s so cool that he orders a $75 bottle of wine without blinking as he sits down in his favorite Italian restaurant (weird white rag still around his head) to explain how he got that way. So cool that after a few months in Vancouver, he persuaded his mother and stepfather to move there and live with him. So cool that when he was 16, shortly before he left high school, he moved out of his house to live in a car with his best friend, Sal, because that’s the only place Sal had to live and he didn’t want him to feel abandoned. It was a ’67 Impala that they filled with empty beer cans, while living on submarine sandwiches from a 7-Eleven. A few months ago, Sal went up to Vancouver to visit Depp and impressed the producers with his unusual, to say the least, ability to fill his mouth with air and blow it out like some strange-looking fish. Sal is now the character on Jump Street called “Blowfish”.

Back in blue-collar Miramar, where Depp’s father was director of public works and his mother was a waitress, Johnny and Sal were into drugs, girls, petty crime and, most of all, music. Music was how they kept the faith within their isolated teen-age world of angry parents and threatening teachers. When Depp was a kid, he heard a gospel group and knew right then that he wanted to make music. At 12, he paid $25 for an electric guitar, locked himself in his room and started playing. The next year, he started his own rock band and has since been in 15 different groups, supporting himself since leaving home at 16. The most successful group was called The Kids, and it was while playing lead guitar with that group that he moved to Los Angeles in 1983 to try to make it big.

At the same time, he took a seedy apartment in Hollywood and began peddling ball-point pens over the phone to make enough money to live. He also got married, got divorced and met actor Nicolas Cage, a former boy friend of his wife, who told him he ought to try acting. Cage set him up for a meeting with his agent, who, despite Depp’s utter lack of acting experience, took one look at his face and sent him to an audition for the movie A Nightmare on Elm Street. Depp had an actor friend stay up with him for the next two nights coaching him on the lines, and he got the part.

“He just had a very powerful and yet subtle personality,” says Wes Craven, director of Elm Street. “There was some sort of charisma about him.” Craven also admits, “My teen-age daughter and her friend were there at the reading, and they absolutely flipped out over him. He’s got real sex appeal for women.”

Next came a role in a teen sexploitation film called Private Resort, which Depp would just as soon forget. “It was a stupid movie,” he says. Depp’s lack of experience caught up with him, and he had trouble getting roles for about a year. He became so discouraged he contemplated abandoning acting, until Platoon came along and gave him the creative and professional boost he needed. Then immediately after returning from two and a half months filming in the Philipines, the Jump Street role came up as a possibility. The idea of going from a high-quality film like Platoon to a new, unproven television series was unpalatable to Depp, and he refused even to look at the script. Another actor, Jeff Yagher, was hired for the role, and that was that. But then, three weeks into shooting Jump Street, Yagher was off the show and Depp’s name came up again. This time he read the script, liked it and won the part.

After a few glasses of wine, though, Depp will tell you that when he decided to bend to the demands of television, he never thought the show would be as successful as it is, holding the possibility of a long commitment. “I thought it would go for one season, tops,” he says with a sly smile. In other words, he thought he’d get in and out in a matter of a few months, gaining experience and publicity in the process, and then he’d be on his way. Instead, he’s in the strange position of being trapped in a successful show.

“I’m not trapped,” he insists. “I mean, it’s good. The best thing about the show is that kids learn from it, they’re able to see things that go on in their high school and see them objectively. It teaches kids about drugs and safe sex. The worst thing is that some of the scripts we do are not important, they’re purely for television. But what I thought when I originally started the show was, if I’m going to do a television series, I want to do something that means something. I don’t want to go out and do Dallasor Dynasty. You know what I’m saying?”

Outside a Vancouver high-school gym where Jump Street is shooting, Johnny Depp is trapped in the hallway, mobbed by a group of teen-age girls intent on getting autographs from him. It takes about 30 minutes, but he stays, patiently and politely signing and signing and signing, giving each girl a meaningful look and engaging her in conversation as he hands her a scrap of paper with a sweet little message scrawled on it. First Carol. Then Monica. Then Brandi-with-an-i. The girls are in teen heaven.

“He’s so cute,” sighs one.

“He’s so cool,” coos another.

Yes. We know. Cool.

December 1, 1987   Articles No Comments

Johnny Depp

In 1987, Johnny Depp was already a teen idol through his starring role on the television series 21 Jump Street. He was living in a modest one-bedroom apartment in an art-deco building on Whitley Avenue in Hollywood. I would run into him several times late at night when he’d be hanging out with Nicolas Cage and other friends at Canter’s, a popular after-club eatery.I recently photographed Johnny again. His hair had grown but his angelic face remained much the same. Stardom had not inherently changed him; he was still soft-spoken and sweet. I did notice, though, a newfound inner strength and self-assurance.Johnny wanted to go beyond doing traditional leading-man roles and he has.

I grew up in many different houses. One in Miramar, Florida, sticks out in particular. We lived at 68th Avenue and Court, on the corner of a busy street. The house was a three-bedroom built in the sixties. It constantly smelled of my mom’s cooking: soup, beans and ham. I remember my brother and sister fighting. I had a poodle named Pepi. I shared a bedroom with my brother, who is 10 years older than me. He listened to a lot of Van Morrison and Bob Dylan.

We moved constantly. My mom just liked to move for some reason. By the time I was 15, we had lived in about 20 houses. It was hard. Depending on how far we’d move, you’d have to make new friends. Fortunately, I didn’t have to change schools often. But we never stayed in one neighborhood for long. At the drop of a hat, we’d go.

My mom was a waitress; she’d been a waitress since she was 14. My father was the Director of Public Works in Miramar. They divorced when I was about 16.

To this day, I hate it when I have to move from location to location. I get very angry, as a result of having to move so much as a kid. I live in Hollywood now, but I’m in Vancouver shooting 21 Jump Street about nine months of the year.

I was very mischievous as a boy. I loved tape recording people when they didn’t know. One time a friend and I dug a really deep tunnel in my backyard. We covered it with boards and leaves. I was attempting to dig a tunnel into my room. I liked to push it and see how far I could go. If you knew me during high school, I think you’d describe me as “the kid with long hair who was always playing guitar.” I wasn’t big on participating in school activities. I used to bring my guitar to school and I’d skip most classes to sneak into guitar class.The teacher would give me a practice room to play in. That’s pretty much what I spent my high school years doing.

You know, I never made the decision to become an actor. At least not in the beginning. I got into it off-the-cuff. I moved from Florida to Los Angeles with a band I was playing with called The Kids. A friend of mine introduced me to Nicolas Cage and we started hanging out. Nick thought that I should try acting and see what would happen. At the time, I wasn’t making much money. I played a few clubs with the band here and there, but I still had a lot of time. So, I decided to give it a shot. Nick set up a meeting for me with his agent and she sent me to read for a movie. They gave me a script to study. Two days later, I read for it and they gave me the role. That was Nightmare on Elm Street.

Doing Nightmare on Elm Street was a trial-by-fire sort of thing. I’d never acted before. I’d never done school plays; nothing. The fact that it was totally new to me was a tremendous challenge. I’d never done anything like this, hitting marks and saying lines and thinking about why my character was doing what he was doing. It was totally the opposite of being in a rock ‘n’ roll band. In a band, you are four people, all working together to write great songs or to get a record deal. In acting, I found it was just me. It all depended on me and my own choices. I didn’t have to answer to anyone about what I wanted to do. The band wasn’t doing well, so I turned my energies toward acting.

As you become more well known as an actor, more people get involved in you, directly and indirectly. You’ve got the “Suits” or “Bigwigs,” as I call them, the “yeses” and the “nos.” Sometimes, they want you to do things that maybe you don’t believe in or feel like doing, like promos. I tend to follow my instincts and say, “No, I’m not going to do that.” It causes trouble, here and there. But I think the main thing is to be honest, rely on your instincts and do what you feel is right and not necessarily rely on what other people think.

Television is a little frustrating for me. There’s no time for preparation. In features, you have loads of time to do the work. And the work is the most important thing of all. I think that in the beginning of an acting career, everybody wants to achieve notoriety or stardom. In the beginning, that was very glamorous to me.

You want to be famous because you want to be good at what you do and you want to be recognized for it, right? Now, being famous isn’t as important to me. My goal is to keep learning because I’m nowhere near where I want to be. Like I said about the fame thing: if that becomes the motivation behind everything, even if you achieve it, you’re going to get stuck there and you’re not going to go any further.

I don’t believe in the whole “leading-man thing and that’s all he’s ever going to do.” I mean I’d like to shave my eyebrow or my hair off, or do anything. I want to hopefully, with some of the roles that I do later on, make people see things in a different light, so that they won’t just go with the flow and feel they have to be or act a certain way, just because the President says, “That’s the way it is.” I’d like to do as many different roles as I can.

I try to read as much as I can. On The Road by Jack Kerouac is one of my favorite books. There are a lot of books I’ve read that I’d like to film. I love the concept of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. I’d like to become a giant cockroach. I love Van Gogh. I’ve always been interested in people who had mental torment, weirdos. I think everybody is pretty whacked out in their own way. I deal with my anxiety by smoking a lot of cigarettes and listening to very loud music. I like Bach, the Georgia Satellites, Led Zeppelin and Tom Waits. I like Tom Waits a lot.

When I was a kid, I did drugs when I freaked out. I mean, I was in a rock ‘n’ roll band in Florida, the cocaine capital of the world. Drugs are really prominent in the club scene, especially there. They were hurting me physically and mentally. Drugs were dragging me down. They were killing me. I quit. Now, I just smoke like a fiend.

I would never do a role that glamorized self-abuse or racism. Racism freaks me out. The black and white thing. The term “nigger” is still used constantly. Why is somebody who’s black a “nigger”? It doesn’t register. Living in Florida, there’s tons of rednecks out there. I mean, these guys want to hear “Sweet Home Alabama” 24 hours a day. Racism freaks me out a lot.

The homeless are pretty important to me. There are a lot of people out there who have no food, no home and no money. A lot of them are there by choice but some can’t help it. I wish some of the people with the big bucks, instead of buying a Rolls-Royce or another Mercedes, would give a little scratch to the people who are hurting. I don’t know about sacrifices. I think once you make a choice to be an actor, there’s always a balance between good and bad. You’ve got to go through hell to get to heaven. In every good there is evil; in every evil there is good. Through everything bad that’s happened to me, I’ve learned from it, which is OK.

People usually think that if you’re an actor and you’re 24 and you look a certain way that you’re an asshole. So they treat you like an asshole at first. Then they realize that you’re a human being and a nice guy.

As far as actors go, I like Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson and Walter Matthau. I respect Nick (Cage) a lot. He’s trying to go for something really different and he’s in a great position to do that. He’s very intense and he’s got really innovative ideas. I think he’s going to do a lot.

Why would a director choose me? I can only say that hopefully, there’s something underneath my look or image that maybe hasn’t come out yet, that he thinks he could bring out. I want to try to do things differently. I want to experiment. I want to express different things at some point. It’s just the beginning. I’m not even born yet. I’m still trying. I’m still pushing. I hope I never stop pushing. I don’t ever want to get to a place where I feel satisfied. I think if I do that, it will all be over.