UK, Premiere December 1999

UK, Premiere December 1999

England There is no ground; there is only mudthick, oozing, inches deep, and alive. Put your foot in and pull it out, and you can hear it breathe. Above the dark woods, the sky is a flat piece of black construction paper. Perfectly, uniformly, almost unnaturally black. Somewhere between the mud and the sky isjohnny Depp. ‘l’hat`s about as specific as he likes to get. It`s the middle of the night in the middle of March in the middle of England, which means it`s raining. And cold. Tim Burton, the director of movies in which night is never far away (two of them, Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood, with Depp) is shooting his latest collaboration with the actor: Sleepy Hollow, a creepier, more violent take on Washingtori Irving`s tale ofthe Headless Ilorseman. Burton and his crew have built an entire18th-  century village in an isolated valley about an hour’s drive from London. There are fully constructed houses, shops. an inn, a pub, and a covered bridge with a rooster weather vane. All are beautihilly crumbling outside and mere shells inside, empty but for the fog.

The fog is a character in Sleepy Hollow as are the mud and the rain and the natterjack toads that clack in the dark like monster crickets. lt wraps itself ‘around you, soaks you to the skin. It softens the edges ofeverything: the crewin their fleece jackets; the extras in spattered gowns or tricornered hats; the scaffolds and generators and trucks parked on sheets of metal so that they don’t sinkinto the muck and disappear forever. And the fog does great things, really English things, to the graveyard behind the village, where headstones tilt out of the hillside like teeth in a skull. Everyone is in church. At this point in the story. the Headless Horseman has decapitated half the town and is out gto claim the rest, including Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci), her father (Michael Gambon, of the acclaimed BBC series The Singing Detective), and a passel of elders played—as in all Burton films—by relentlessly talented character actors:Jeffrey Jones (Beetlejuice), Ian McDiarmid (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace), Christopher Lee ‘ (whose Dracula movies of the 50´s and 60´s Depp, 36, grew up watching).

To set the scene, smoke machines churn and a crew member runs around removing the protective Styrofoam cups that cover the spikes on the iron chandeliers, while someone else ignites the candles with a blowtorch. Outside, a three·ton light box the size ofa Manhattan studio is rising into the sky atop a crane. “0h, that rig can hold 225 tons,” one of the safety engineers says. “This is like hoisting a bag of peanuts.” The “first time the light box was raised, people in the surrounding villages phoned the police to report a UFO. At the exact moment when the light box has been swung over the steeple, and the extras have packed their muskets with gunpowder, and the white, wooden church has tilled with choking smoke, its double doors bang open and ]ohnny Depp walks in. At nearly six feet, he is taller than people think, spindly as a tree branch, and possessed of a handsomeness that is almost otherworldly: big, burning eyes; soft, elegantly mussed hair; strong yet delicate hands. The hollows of his cheekbones have hollows. He is wearing a black frock coat and pants tucked into muddy, calf-high boots; he is smoking a thin cigarette (he hand-rolls them in brown, licorice- flavored paper); and he looks spectacular. “W’e really wanted to evoke the spirit of the old Hammer horror films, Vincent Price movies, Roger Corman’s work,” Burton says. “The heroes in those films are always kind of separate, ambiguous, absorbed in their work. They’ re there, but you don’t know much about them. Andjohnny is perfect for that; he radiates like a silent—movie actor. He hardly has to say anything. It’s something you can’t manufacture?
Depp’s Ichabod Crane is not, as in the Irving story, a schoolteacher; instead, he’s a fussy police constable brought up from New York City who insists for too long that the grisly murders in Sleepy Hollow have an earthbound explanation. At first, Depp resisted the idea that Ichabod be a cop —· but it grew on him.

He loved the notion of a detective “who has a facade of bravado, but in fact would be on the verge of tears, like, if an insect
comes near him,” he says later. “You’d feel his butt cheeks clench. I just liked that the hero of the story, whom one would expect to be romantic, I liked the idea that he’s more than half a woman.” For example, Depp knew he’d found Ichabod’s true character the day he shot a scene in which Crane and his 12—year—old assistant, Masbeth (newcomer Marc Pickering), investigate a cave. As Ichabod, Depp slipped an arm around Masbeth, supposedly to protect him, and actually ended up pushing the boy forward as a human shield. “So it’s beyond cowardly,” he says.

No actor has ever fought against playing a conventional romantic lead as fiercely as Depp. He thinks it’s been done enough. “There are plenty of people who do that. And do it well, I guess,” he says. “And do very well by doing it. It’s not that interesting to me. I’m interested in all the things that go on underneath? “Johnny has an outlaw personality. He identifies with the outlaw image in what he reads, the movies he makes. He’s not faking it,” says his friend, the writer Hunter S. Thompson. (Depp played the king of gonzo journal- in Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.) “Johnny’s particular path in life is to constantly nudge people awake,” Gilliam says. “The films he chooses force you to reconsider what you , think ofthe worId.”  In tonight’s scene, Ichabod has abandoned all pretense of bravery and  cowers in church with the rest—”Ichabod Crane, girl detective,” Depp  
zooms im again,  believing that the Horseman, being unholy, cannot enter. In fact, over the next 20 hours, Depp will utter only that line on camera:  “He cannot enter? Everything else, all the darting panic and desperate suppression of it, he does with his eyes. After the townsmen tuck their cell  phones into their breeches and line up at the church windows for a master shot, Depp strides in and implores, “He cannot enter? Then he jumps into  an idling jeep and is whisked half a mile down the road to his cozy trailer, where he practices an acceptance speech, in French, for the lifetime- achievement César (the French Oscar) he will receive that weekend. 

Meanwhile, the extras, many children and old people, trek through the  mud into a tent to huddle around space heaters and Styrofoam cups of tea.  When Gambon, jones, and McDiarmid have finished setting up their two-shots, Depp zooms in again, looks pleadingly at them, says the line- “He cannot enter? —then slips back into the fog. Throughout the long night, while Gambon et al. stand in a loose circle by the altar, adjusting their ascots, trading dirty jokes, and roaring with laughter; while Tim Burton—looking happy and prosperous, in black from head—to-toe (beret, goatee, pea coat, pants) — paces back and forth behind the camera, framing  shots with his hands like a silent-film director; while tough-guy producer Scott Rudin, working three separate cell phones, calls backward across the globe (to Tom Stoppard in London, Mike Nichols in New York, then .
Vince Vaughn, Richard Donner, and Curtis Hanson in Los Angeles); while the stunt Horseman tries to keep his Andalusian stallion—as big, black, and spooky as you imagined when you first heard the story as a kid  from bolting into the graveyard, Depp will yo-yo in and out, saying, “He cannot enter.’” and melting away.   
He does have a long chat with a young female extra named Helena, who, with her brother james and  their mom, is visiting the set courtesy of the Make- A-Wish Foundation, the group that helps seriously ill children realize a dream. Depp has worked with
the foundation for iz years, since his days on the teen cop show 21 Jump Street.  “The most courageous people I’ve ever met have   
been nine years old, I5 years old,” Depp says later. “The strength that they have—that`s some kind of strength. I don`t know it.” On Helena’s last night as  an extra, Depp sticks around until she’s released,  then gently helps her on with her coat.

Occasionally Depp also hangs out with the old pros in the cast, whom he clearly reveres. He slouches beside them on the church pews, legs stuck out and ‘ bent like a spider’s, rolling his cigarettes and smiling sweetly as they talk. And Depp and Burton, who are as easy as brothers, frequently reduce each other to tears of laughter. Currently, they`re mutually obsessed with the late entertainer Georgie jessel; a few takes get off to a slow start because Burton yells “Action.’”’ in Jessel’s trademark chipmunk—with-marbles—in-his- mouth whine, which paralyzes Depp. Depp and Burton have a few off-kilter, Jessel esque qualities of their own. Both feel deeply “that the things that are considered completely normal and are totally accepted by society are, in fact, absurd,” A Depp says. “The characters I’ve played in Tim’s films are all related in the sense that they are”-—he pauses-   “kind ofdeeply damaged.” He laughs. “Which I think of as a good thing. The damaged individual dealing  with the world. That is probably, at its very root, why  Tim does what he does, and why I do what I do.” “Johnny knows as well as anyone could that Be things are not what they seem,” Burton says. “He makes you see the world from a different perspective. And even though this is the third film we’ve done together, we never fall into, ‘Let’s go back  to formula A or B.’ He’ll always explore each thing on its own, and he does  it so well. It`s why you want to be in movies.” Over the next few nights, Depp’s disappearing act continues. For the  few seconds that we`re in the same room, he is cordial and friendly. (I interviewed him eight years ago.) But he’s antsier, crankier than I remember- more fed up. He has an unnerving habit of vaporizing: He stands before you, yet he is elsewhere; you could put your arm right through him. “He can be intensely self-protective,“ Thompson says. “He’s perfected thejohn Wayne stare, where you walk through a room full ofpeople and never look at anybody.” It’s been made clear that Depp is busy, that he wants only two things.  The first is to think about his work, which is undergoing a sea change.

He’s never been a huge draw at the box office. “I’m no treat for marketing departments,” he admits. But in the past few years, Depp has moved away from the roles that gave him a reputation (oversimplified, but it stuck) for playing wide—eyed waifs— in Cry-Baby, Edward Scissorhands, Benny and joon, Whats Eating Gilbert Grape, Don Juan DeMarco, and Dead Man—toward more adult, ambivalent characters. In Donnie Braseo, he is a disillusioned undercover agent opposite Al Pacino`s tragic, aging mobster. In The Astronauts Wife
released in August, he plays a space cowboy possessed by an alien. And in his upcoming The Ninth Gate, he is a corruptible rare-book
dealer hired to find satanic texts; it was directed by Roman Polanski, who also invoked the devil in Rosemary? Baby. –

“You know, it’s weird,” Depp says later. “When I did Donnie Brasco, people within the industry said, ‘He finally played a man.’ And I didn’t particularly get it. It’s like, why was I a man? Because I punched a couple of guys? Because I kissed a girl, had sex? Iguess that’s it. I was sort of fascinated by that.” “I find it surprising that people don’t think of johnny as a leading man. He’s the most gorgeous, talented man in the world,” says Anne Heche, who played Brasco’s wife. “I wouldn’t have trouble buying him as anything. Most actors play different versions of themselves. Not Johnny— you never think he’s going to do whatever his next movie is.” “What amazes me is that the critics are always surprised by Johnny,” Gilliam says. “It’s like they don’t really watch what’s there. They don’t understand how good an actor he is. He doesn’t cheat by giving you all those cheap emotions. He won’t make you comfortable —- for him that would be a foot in the grave.” At first glance, Depp’s recent films seem to be allover the map. But look closer, and they are linked by his urgent desire to subvert otu‘ notion of who the good guys are. In The Astronauts Wife, in particular, Depp takes great delight in gathering up the qualities that are widely considered to be heroic and flipping them the bird. “I liked the idea of playing, on the surface, what looks like a leading—man type: white teeth, sun-kissed hair, healthy Southern boy, sort of all-American,” Depp says. “But the way I looked at it, being taken over by an alien just allowed him to be exactly who he was, in fact: a filthy shithead, just a full-on scumbag.” The second big thing Depp wants right now is simply to be left alone. His recent history has been A tumultuous: The end of his long-term relationship with model Kate Moss overlapped with a move to France and the beginning of his life with French actress—pop singer——superstar Vanessa Paradis, 27, who became pregnant. Last winter, Depp grabbed a piece of wood and attacked a half-dozen paparazzi who were waiting outside a London restaurant to snap a photo of the expectant couple. He was hauled off to jail in handcuffs, where he spent five hours. When Paradis was in labor (Lily-Rose Melody Depp was born on May 27), photographers lined up outside her Paris hospital window. Depp had to skulk behind an umbrella to have a smoke, “so they didn’t get a photograph of johnny Depp waiting for his baby to be born,” he says, sneering as he pronounces _his own name. “Now, that’s no way to live. That’s a sick thing to have mixed in with the most beautiful memories of your life. It’s like a jail.” At this moment, being left alone is the central quest in Depp’s life. So I’m not surprised when one night I search for him to say goodbye, only to discover that he left three hours earlier, and is probably home in bed. You’re not supposed to go to Paris in August. No one is there, people say—at least no Parisians. But the truth is, there are Parisians aplenty: African-Parisians, Indo-Parisians, Asian—Parisians, swinging down the street in groups of two or three, smiling madly because
those other Parisians are out of their hair. Depp loves Paris in August. “Europe becomes him,” says Polanski, who also makes Paris his home. “He doesn’t look expatriated. He looks as though he really lives here. He’s very much at ease.” Our meeting is scheduled, if somewhat vaguely, for tomorrow, so tonight is a good time to wander around and look for traces of Depp in his new hometown. It’s easy to see why he likes it: It is, well, Paris —beautiful A and full of art and good red wine, one of his favorite indulgences.

More importantly, in Paris Depp can disappear. There are dozens of gentle-looking brown—haired boys with dark eyes and fabulous bone structure strolling around the Marais and the Left Bank and Montmartre, where Depp, until recently, kept an apartment (he now has a house just outside the city). It’s very, very far from L.A. “I’m happy to be removed,” Depp says later. “I’m happy that I made the decision to stop looking at magazines, that I don’t see many movies, that I don’t know who people are, in terms of the movie executives, or other actors and actresses.” The only celebrity anyone is rushing to photograph at the Louvre is the “Mona Lisa,” who faces down the constant flashbulbs of the tourist paparazzi from behind her glass case. She looks friendly, patient, secretive. She looks a bit, in fact, like Depp. There is no trace of the actor at Man Ray, the restaurant off the Champs—Elysées that he co-owns with a few pals, including Sean Penn and Bono. The decor is underwater Thai eclectic—massive wooden figures, gold-flecked mosaic tiles, orange and green Iighting—and the menu is a lumpy list of everything—not—French. Has the waiter, valiantly struggling’ to grow his first beard, ever seen Johnny? “At the movies, yes. Here, no,”he says. And the lovely, model—ready maitre’d, has she seen Johnny? “Once we made a party for Puff Daddy,” she says. (Actually, being French, she says Puff Daddy, which is what he should call himself from now on.) “I was not here, but I heard Johnny was.” In fact, Depp is not here at all. In Paris, that is. He was supposed to be here. Or someone thought he was. He was here a couple of days ago. He may or may not be back soon. He may have one to the south of France, where he ind Paradis have a house by a vineyard near the sea. He may have gone to London. The only thing that anyone knows is that no one knows anything.
So 24 hours after arriving in Paris, I leave. People seem upset about this, especially Depp’s publicist and his sister Christi, who handles his affairs from her home in Florida. Later, Depp himself will apologize, though he swears he had no idea a meeting was scheduled. I, however, float along ’ on a cloud of nonchalance, in a kind ~of sleepy, Zen—like, privileged peace  induced by jet lag and spending copi-
ous amounts of someone else’s money.  Though I didn’t talk tojohnny Depp, I think I learned something about him: I felt, for a moment, what it’s like to be him. Or at least the part of  him who never answers his phone, who is put onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards to utter exactly eight  “words (“Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Nine Inch Nails”), who gavors certain decisions (what to read what to look at, what to smell) while jutterly surrendering others (financial affairs, itineraries, business details).In that moment, tickets and phone calls and hotel reservations and taxi drivers swirled around my head, but I didn’t see them. All I had to think about was being exactly where I was. Depp goes to great lengths to hangonto this state of mind. I have to tell i you, it felt good.

Los Angeles  When I finally do see Depp again, I can barely see him at all. I wait for him at a small, subterranean bar inside the Viper Room, the Sunset Boulevard nightclub he has owned for nearly a decade. He is running late. The lights are turned down low and the air is
dense with the smoky-sweet smell of the lilies, which spill out of their vases at every table; the steady, thumping bass of the band doing a soundcheck on the floor above rattles the ceiling. Depp glides into this scene silently, as if on a cushion of air. His hair is longer and lanker than it was in England, shoved under a fishing cap that he could have borrowed from an old man. He wears giant plastic sunglasses, a cotton shirt that buttons up the front, frayed work pants, and construction boots. Two medals-one depicting Shiva, the other Che Guevaradangle from chains around his neck. He looks like a beautiful kook. His voice, which sounds like gravel being poured through chocolate pudding, is so quiet that one has to lean forward to hear him, and he speaks so haltingly it’s as if each sentence has its own apartment. Honestly, it’s like meeting some mystic in a mountain cave. Though we are in a bar, Depp consumes only water and a roll of Spree candy, in between countless cigarettes. (“ Really, he smokes too rnuch,”Polanski says. “I once said to him, ‘You should stop,’ and he replied, ‘Why stop something I do so well?’ “) His manners are courtly, almost quaint; when a tiny bit of my water spills, he insists upon taking it for himself and gets me a new bottle. He’s funny and charming and present, but his longing to be elsewhere is so palpable, it practically makes a sound. Clearly, he’s aching for his (then) three-month-old baby, whose birth is still fresh in his mind. “Yeah, labor’s a very strange thing,” he says. “You learn a lot in a very short period of time. Minute:. The first thing you learn
is that women are far superior to men. The amount of work, the amount  of determination required — a man could not do it. A man would fold.” Depp tried to do his part: ‘I`hough he never wears a watch, he kept vowing to buy one so he could time Paradis’s contractions. Finally he did, “but when the contractions started coming, I was useless. I kept fumbling with these hideous little buttons,” he says. “But I tell you what, it’s a powerful thing. If a man goes into that room and watches his girl do that, it does not get any heav-
ier. Certainly I’ve never seen anything as strong as a woman during those moments.” He made sure he was the one to cut the umbilical cord. He didn’t want a stranger breaking the tie that holds mother and child together.“Oh, he’s pathetic,” Gilliam says, giggling madly. “Totally doting, as if she’s the only child ever born. ‘She’s got a skin rash—oh my God!’ He loses all his wit and sharpness around her; she’s reduced him to b!ancmange.” “Look, I don’t think that I lived before. This baby has given me life,” Depp says, unabashedly. “I worked be fore, sure, I lived, but mostly I just existed. I see this amazing, beautiful, pure angel-thing wake up in the morning and smile, and nothing can touch that. She gives me the opportunity to experience something new every day. And to love, so deeply. She is the only reason to wake up in the morning, the only reason to take a breath. Everything else is checkers.” About Lily-Rose’s mother, however, Depp is totally circumspect. He says Paradis is a natural at motherhood, she’s a great girl, she has a nice family (parents, still married, plus a younger sister) who live nearby. That’s it. Nothing about whether she makes him laugh, what she likes about him, what they have in common—other than a desire to avoid the praying eyes of the press, hint hint. Only once does he step up to stamp something concrete about Paradis onto the record. Told that in the public realm, her pregnancy was thought to be an accident that derailed Depp’s return to Kate Moss, he adamantly denies it. “That couldn’t be more untrue,” he says firmly. “I was not put in a situation where I was obligated to do something. Obligation is no way to begin your career as a father. I would never do that to the girl that I’m in-
volved with, to my kid. I wouldn’t live that Iie.”He plans to raise Lily-Rose in France. “I used to think, maybe you i could do it in the middle of the States, Colorado or somewhere. But no. Not when you’ve got cretins going into schools and shooting children.
This country is out of control. It’s become dirty. I think it’s imploding.”Here Depp launches into a string of tirades. About politics: “I always thought politics was horseshit. Never voted once in my life, never. Now, at 36, I’m starting to think it’s more grave. It affects me
now.” About NATO: “If they wanted to take Milosevic out, they could, very easily. Same with Saddam Hussein. But they didn’t. They need a bad guy so they can be the good guys.” And about Clinton. Especially Clinton. Depp hates hypocrisy, and he seems to take Clinton’s waffling personally. “For about zo seconds I thought, That guy’s all right. From Arkansas, an outsider,” Depp says. “But
then it’s like [be mimic: a Clinton accent], ‘I didn’t inhale) You . . . what did he say? Did he say he didnt inhale?” He’s on a roll now; the cigarette he’s about to light is jouncing up and down in the corner of his mouth. “You know what I find really strange?” he asks. “When
Bill Clinton comes off of Air Force One, he salutes the marine standing at the base of the stairs. I remember something about Clinton’s not going to Vietnam, whatever sticky weirdness it was. And instead of just saying, ‘I didn’t want to go to Vietnam because I didn’t
believe in it,’ or ‘I was scared shitless,’ he made up some kind of smarmy story. But now he walks down those steps and salutes that marine. Suddenly he believes in the army, when he doesn’t have to go fight. Fuck that.”But what irks Depp the most right now is his own
fame. (“He would come to work shattered sometimes, because the photographers would make his and Vanessa’s life miserable,” Polanski says.) He’s not sorry that he picked up that two—by—four outside the London restaurant. In fact, he’s more than a little proud of it.
“They wanted a photograph of me and my pregnant girlfriend. And that angered me — that they would take something so sacred and try to turn it into a product,”he says. He told the photographers waiting by the exit that, for just this one night, he couldn’t be what they
wanted him to be —“novelty boy, a product.” He asked them, like a gentleman, to go away. “And they said no—We’ll be here waiting for you.’ ” Depp snapped. He grabbed the wood, rapped one photographer in the knuckles, and told them, “N0wn take the picture. I’m fucking begging you. Because the first flash I see, the guy is gonna be the recipient of this.” He pauses. “Six guys. Nobody took one picture. The beauty, the poetry of the fear in their eyes, in these filthy little maggots’ faces, was so worth it. I didn’t mind going to jail for, what, five, six hours? It was absolutely worth it.”

 

Premier, December 1999 – Where’s Johnny?

Premier, December 1999 – Where’s Johnny?

Title: Where’s Johnny?

Author: Johanna Schneller

Publication: Premier

Issue: December 1999

 

Photo1aEngland There is no ground; there is only mud — thick, oozing, inches deep, and alive. Put your foot in and pull it out, and you can hear it breathe. Above the dark woods, the sky is a flat piece of black construction paper. Perfectly, uniformly, almost unnaturally black. Somewhere between the mud and the sky is Johnny Depp. That’s about as specific as he likes to get.

It’s the middle of the night in the middle of March in the middle of England, which means it’s raining. And cold. Tim Burton, the director of movies in which night is never far away (two of them, Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood, with Depp) is shooting his latest collaboration with the ac­tor: Sleepy Hollow, a creepier, more violent take on Washington Irving’s tale of the Headless Horseman. Burton and his crew have built an entire 18th-century village in an isolated valley about an hour’s drive from Lon­don. There are fully constructed houses, shops, an inn, a pub, and a cov­ered bridge with a rooster weather vane. All are beautifully crumbling outside and mere shells inside, empty but for the fog.

The fog is a character in Sleepy Hollow, as are the mud and the rain and the natterjack toads that clack in the dark like monster crickets. It wraps itself around you, soaks you to the skin. It softens the edges of everything: the crew in their fleece jackets; the extras in spattered gowns or tricornered hats; the scaffolds and generators and trucks parked on sheets of metal so that they don’t sink into the muck and disappear forever. And the fog does great things, re­ally English things, to the graveyard be­hind the village, where headstones tilt out of the hillside like teeth in a skull.

Everyone is in church. At this point in the story, the Headless Horseman has decapitated half the town and is out to claim the rest, including Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci), her father (Michael Gambon, of the acclaimed BBC series The Singing Detective), and a passel of elders played—as in all Burton films—by relentlessly talented charac­ter actors: Jeffrey Jones (Beetlejuice), Ian McDiarmid (Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace), Christopher Lee (whose Dracula movies of the ’50s and ’60s Depp, 36, grew up watching).

To set the scene, atop a crane. “Oh, that rig can hold 225 tons,” one of the safety engineers says. “This is like hoisting a bag of peanuts.” The first time the light box was raised, peo­ple in the surrounding villages phoned the police to report a UFO.

At the exact moment when the light box has been swung over the steeple, and the extras have packed their muskets with gunpowder, and the white, wooden church has filled with choking smoke, its double doors bang open and Johnny Depp walks in. At nearly six feet, he is taller than people think, spindly as a tree branch, and possessed of a handsomeness that is almost otherworldly: big, burning eyes; soft, elegantly mussed hair; strong yet delicate hands. The hol­lows of his cheekbones have hollows. He is wearing a black frock coat and pants rucked into muddy, calf-high boots; he is smoking a thin cigarette (he hand-rolls them in brown, licorice-flavored paper); and he looks spectacular.

Smoke machines churn and a crew member runs around removing the protective Styrofoam cups that cover the spikes on the iron chandeliers, while someone else ignites the candles with a blowtorch. Outside, a three-ton light box the size of a Man­hattan studio is rising into the sky.

“We really wanted to evoke the spirit of the old Hammer horror films, Vincent Price movies, Roger Corman’s work,” Burton says. “The heroes in those films are always kind of separate, ambiguous, absorbed in their work. They’re there, but you don’t know much about them. And Johnny is perfect for that; he radiates like a silent-movie actor. He hardly has to say anything. It’s something you can’t manufacture.”

Depp’s Ichabod Crane is not, as in the Irving story, a schoolteacher; instead, he’s a fussy police constable brought up from New York City who insists for too long that the grisly murders in Sleepy Hollow have an earth-bound explanation. At first, Depp resisted the idea that Ichabod be a cop—but it grew on him. He loved the notion of a detective “who has a fa­cade of bravado, but in fact would be on the verge of tears, like, if an insect comes near him,” he says later. “You’d feel his butt cheeks clench. I just liked that the hero of the story, whom one would expect to be romantic— I liked the idea that he’s more than half a woman.”

For example, Depp knew he’d found Ichabod’s true character the day he shot a scene in which Crane and his 12-year-old assistant, Masbeth (newcomer Marc Pickering), investigate a cave. As Ichabod, Depp slipped an arm around Masbeth, supposedly to protect him, and actually ended up pushing the boy forward as a human shield. “So it’s beyond cowardly,” he says.

No actor has ever fought against playing a conventional romantic lead as fiercely as Depp. He thinks it’s been done enough. “There are plenty of people who do that. And do it well, I guess,” he says. “And do very well by doing it. It’s not that interesting to me. I’m interested in all the things that go on underneath.”

“Johnny has an outlaw personality. He identifies with the outlaw image in what he reads, the movies he makes. He’s not faking it,” says his friend, the writer Hunter S. Thompson. (Depp played the king of gonzo journal­ism in Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.)

“Johnny’s particular path in life is to constantly nudge people awake,” Gilliam says. “The films he chooses force you to reconsider what you think of the world.”

In tonight’s scene, Ichabod has abandoned all pretense of bravery and cowers in church with the rest—”Ichabod Crane, girl detective,” Depp calls him—believing that the Horseman, being unholy, cannot enter.

In fact, over the next 12 hours, Depp will utter only that line on camera: “He cannot enter”. Everything else, all the darting panic and desperate sup­pression of it, he does with his eyes. After the townsmen tuck their cell phones into their breeches and line up at the church windows for a master shot, Depp strides in and implores, “He cannot enter”. Then he jumps into an idling jeep and is whisked half a mile down the road to his cozy trailer, where he practices an acceptance speech, in French, for the lifetime-achievement Cesar (the French Oscar) he will receive that weekend.

Meanwhile, the extras, many children and old people, trek through the mud into a tent to huddle around space heaters and Styrofoam cups of tea. When Gambon, Jones, and McDiarmid have finished setting up their two-shots, Depp zooms in again, looks pleadingly at them, says the line — “He cannot enter — then slips back into the fog. Throughout the long night, while Gambon et al. stand in a loose circle by the altar, adjusting their ascots, trading dirty jokes, and roaring with laughter; while Tim Bur­ton—looking happy and prosperous, in black from head-to-toe (beret, goatee, pea coat, pants)—paces back and forth behind the camera, framing shots with his hands like a silent-film director; while tough-guy producer Scott Rudin, working three separate cell phones, calls backward across the globe (to Tom Stoppard in London, Mike Nichols in New York, then Vince Vaughn, Richard Donner, and Curtis Hanson in Los Angeles); while the stunt Horseman tries to keep his Andalusian stallion—as big, black, and spooky as you imagined when you first heard the story as a kid from bolting into the graveyard, Depp will yo-yo in and out, saying, “He cannot enter!” and melting away.

He does have a long chat with a young female extra named Helena, who, with her brother James and their mom, is visiting the set courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the group that helps seriously ill children realize a dream. Depp has worked with the foundation for 12 years, since his days on the teen cop show 21 Jump Street.

“The most courageous people I’ve ever met have been nine years old, 15 years old,” Depp says later. “The strength that they have—that’s some kind of strength. I don’t know it.” On Helena’s last night as an extra, Depp sticks around until she’s released, then gently helps her on with her coat.Photo2a

Occasionally Depp also hangs out with the old pros in the cast, whom he clearly reveres. He slouches beside them on the church pews, legs stuck out and bent like a spider’s, rolling his cigarettes and smiling sweetly as they talk. And Depp and Burton, who are as easy as brothers, frequently reduce each other to tears of laughter. Currently, they’re mutually obsessed with the late entertainer Georgie Jessel; a few takes get off to a slow start because Burton yells “Action in Jessel’s trademark chipmunk-with-marbles-in-his-mouth whine, which paralyzes Depp.

Depp and Burton have a few off-kilter, Jessel-esque qualities of their own. Both feel deeply “that the things that are considered completely normal and are totally accepted by society are, in fact, absurd,” Depp says. “The characters I’ve played in Tim’s films are all related in the sense that they are”—he pauses— “kind of deeply damaged.” He laughs. “Which I think of as a good thing. The damaged individual dealing with the world. That is probably, at its very root, why Tim does what he does, and why I do what I do.”

“Johnny knows as well as anyone could that things are not what they seem,” Burton says. “He makes you see the world from a different perspective. And even though this is the third film we’ve done together, we never fall into, ‘Let’s go back to formula A or B.’ He’ll always explore each thing on its own, and he does it so well. It’s why you want to be in movies.”

Over the next few nights, Depp’s disappearing act continues. For the few seconds that we’re in the same room, he is cordial and friendly. (I interviewed him eight years ago.) But he’s antsier, crankier than I remem­ber—more fed up. He has an unnerving habit of vaporizing: He stands be­fore you, yet he is elsewhere; you could put your arm right through him. “He can be intensely self-protective,” Thompson says. “He’s perfected the John Wayne stare, where you walk through a room full of people and never look at anybody.”

It’s been made clear that Depp is busy, that he wants only two things. The first is to think about his work, which is undergoing a sea change. He’s never been a huge draw at the box office. “I’m no treat for marketing de­partments,” he admits. But in the past few years, Depp has moved away from the roles that gave him a reputation (oversimplified, but it stuck) for playing wide-eyed waifs—in Cry-Baby, Edward Scissorhands, Benny & Joon, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Don Juan DeMarco, and Dead Man—toward more adult, ambivalent characters. In Donnie Brasco, he is a disillusioned undercover agent opposite Al Pacino’s tragic, aging mobster. In The Astro­naut’s Wife, released in August, he plays a space cowboy possessed by an alien. And in his upcoming The Ninth Gate, he is a corruptible rare-book dealer hired to find satanic texts; it was directed by Roman Polanski, who also invoked the devil in Rosemary’s Baby.

“You know, it’s weird,” Depp says later. “When I did Donnie Brasco, people within the industry said, ‘He finally played a man.’ And I didn’t particularly get it. It’s like, why was I a man? Because I punched a couple of guys? Because I kissed a girl, had sex? I guess that’s it. I was sort of fascinated by that.”

“I find it surprising that people don’t think of Johnny as a leading man. He’s the most gorgeous, talented man in the world,” says Anne Heche, who played Brasco’s wife. “I wouldn’t have trouble buying him as anything. Most actors play different versions of themselves. Not Johnny—you never think he’s go­ing to do whatever his next movie is.”

“What amazes me is that the critics are always sur­prised by Johnny,” Gilliam says. “It’s like they don’t really watch what’s there. They don’t understand how good an actor he is. He doesn’t cheat by giving you all those cheap emotions. He won’t make you comfort­able — for him that would be a foot in the grave.”

At first glance, Depp’s recent films seem to be all over the map. But look closer, and they are linked by his urgent desire to subvert our notion of who the good guys are. In The Astronaut’s Wife, in particular, Depp takes great delight in gathering up the qualities that are widely considered to be heroic and flipping them the bird. “I liked the idea of playing, on the surface, what looks like a leading-man type: white teeth, sun-kissed hair, healthy Southern boy, sort of all-American,” Depp says. “But the way I looked at it, being taken over by an alien just allowed him to be exactly who he was, in fact: a filthy shithead, just a full-on scumbag.”

The second big thing Depp wants right now is simply to be left alone. His recent history has been tumultuous: The end of his long-term relationship with model Kate Moss overlapped with a move to France and the beginning of his life with French actress-pop singer-superstar Vanessa Paradis, 27, who became pregnant. Last winter, Depp grabbed a piece of wood and attacked a half-dozen paparazzi who were waiting out­side a London restaurant to snap a photo of the expectant couple. He was hauled off to jail in handcuffs, where he spent five hours. When Paradis was in labor (Lily-Rose Melody Depp was born on May 27), photographers lined up outside her Paris hospital window. Depp had to skulk behind an umbrella to have a smoke, “so they didn’t get a photograph of Johnny Depp waiting for his baby to be born,” he says, sneering as he pronounces his own name. “Now, that’s no way to live. That’s a sick thing to have mixed in with the most beautiful memories of your life. It’s like a jail.”

At this moment, being left alone is the central quest in Depp’s life. So I’m not surprised when one night I search for him to say goodbye, only to discover that he left three hours earlier, and is probably home in bed.

Paris You’re not supposed to go to Paris in August. No one is there, people say—at least no Parisians. But the truth is, there are Parisians aplenty: African-Parisians, Indo-Parisians, Asian-Parisians, swinging down the street in groups of two or three, smiling madly because those other Parisians are out of their hair. Depp loves Paris in August.

“Europe becomes him,” says Polanski, who also makes Paris his home. “He doesn’t look expatriated. He looks as though he really lives here. He’s very much at ease.”

Our meeting is scheduled, if somewhat vaguely, for tomorrow, so tonight is a good time to wander around and look for traces of Depp in his new hometown. It’s easy to see why he likes it: It is, well, Paris—beautiful and full of art and good red wine, one of his favorite indulgences. More importantly, in Paris Depp can disappear. There are dozens of gentle-looking brown-haired boys with dark eyes and fabulous bone structure strolling around the Marais and the Left Bank and Montmartre, where Depp, until recently, kept an apartment (he now has a house just outside the city). It’s very, very far from L.A.

“I’m happy to be removed,” Depp says later. “I’m happy that I made the decision to stop looking at magazines, that I don’t see many movies, that I don’t know who people are, in terms of the movie executives, or other actors and actresses.” The only celebrity anyone is rushing to photo­graph at the Louvre is the “Mona Lisa,” who faces down the constant flashbulbs of the tourist paparazzi from behind her glass case. She looks friendly, patient, secretive. She looks a bit, in fact, like Depp.

There is no trace of the actor at Man Ray, the restaurant off the Champs-Elysees that he co-owns with a few pals, including Sean Penn and Bono. The decor is underwater Thai eclectic —massive wooden figures, gold-flecked mosaic tiles, orange and green lighting—and the menu is a lumpy list of everything-not-French. Has the waiter, valiantly struggling to grow his first beard, ever seen Johnny? “At the movies, yes. Here, no,” he says. And the lovely, model-ready maitre’d, has she seen Johnny? “Once we made a party for Puff Daddy,” she says. (Actually, being French, she says Pouf Daddie, which is what he should call himself from now on.) “I was not here, but I heard Johnny was.”

In fact, Depp is not here at all. In Paris, that is. He was supposed to be here. Or someone thought he was. He was here a couple of days ago. He may or may not be back soon. He may have gone to the south of France, where he and Paradis have a house by a vineyard near the sea. He may have gone to Lon­don. The only thing that anyone knows is that no one knows anything.

So 24 hours after arriving in Paris, I leave. People seem upset about this, especially Depp’s publicist and his sister Christi, who handles his affairs from her home in Florida. Later, Depp himself will apologize, though he swears he had no idea a meeting was scheduled. I, however, float along on a cloud of nonchalance, in a kind of sleepy, Zen-like, privileged peace induced by jet lag and spending copi­ous amounts of someone else’s money. Though I didn’t talk to Johnny Depp, I think I learned something about him: I felt, for a moment, what it’s like to be him. Or at least the part of him who never answers his phone, who is put onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards to utter exactly eight words (“Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Nine Inch Nails”), who sa­vors certain decisions (what to read, what to look at, what to smell) while utterly surrendering others (financial affairs, itineraries, business details). In that moment, tickets and phone calls and hotel reservations and taxi drivers swirled around my head, but I didn’t see them. All I had to think about was being exactly where I was. Depp goes to great lengths to hang onto this state of mind. I have to tell you, it felt good.

Photo3Los Angeles When I finally do see Depp again, I can barely see him at all. I wait for him at a small, subterranean bar inside the Viper Room, the Sunset Boulevard nightclub he has owned for nearly a decade. He is running late. The lights are turned down low and the air is dense with the smoky-sweet smell of the lilies, which spill out of their vases at every table; the steady, thumping bass of the band doing a sound-check on the floor above rattles the ceiling.

Depp glides into this scene silently, as if on a cushion of air. His hair is longer and lanker than it was in England, shoved under a fishing cap that he could have borrowed from an old man. He wears giant plastic sunglasses, a cotton shirt that buttons up the front, frayed work pants, and construc­tion boots. Two medals —one depicting Shiva, the other Che Guevara-dangle from chains around his neck. He looks like a beautiful kook.

His voice, which sounds like gravel being poured through chocolate pudding, is so quiet that one has to lean forward to hear him, and he speaks so haltingly it’s as if each sentence has its own apartment. Honestly, it’s like meeting some mystic in a mountain cave.

Though we are in a bar, Depp consumes only water and a roll of Spree candy, in between countless cigarettes. (“Really, he smokes too much,” Polanski says. “I once said to him, ‘You should stop,’ and he replied, ‘Why stop something I do so well?’ “) His manners are courtly, almost quaint; when a tiny bit of my water spills, he insists upon taking it for himself and gets me a new bottle. He’s funny and charming and present, but his long­ing to be elsewhere is so palpable, it practically makes a sound.

Clearly, he’s aching for his (then) three-month-old baby, whose birth is still fresh in his mind. “Yeah, labor’s a very strange thing,” he says. “You learn a lot in a very short period of time. Minutes. The first thing you learn is that women are far superior to men. The amount of work, the amount of determination required—a man could not do it. A man would fold.”

Depp tried to do his part: Though he never wears a watch, he kept vowing to buy one so he could time Paradis’s contractions. Finally he did, “but when the contractions started coming, I was useless. I kept fumbling with these hideous little buttons,” he says. “But I tell you what, it’s a powerful thing. If a man goes into that room and watches his girl do that, it does not get any heav­ier. Certainly I’ve never seen anything as strong as a woman during those mo­ments.” He made sure he was the one to cut the umbilical cord. He didn’t want a stranger breaking the tie that holds mother and child together.

“Oh, he’s pathetic,” Gilliam says, giggling madly. “Totally doting, as if she’s the only child ever born. ‘She’s got a skin rash — oh my God!’ He loses all his wit and sharpness around her; she’s reduced him to blancmange.”

“Look, I don’t think that I lived before. This baby has given me life,” Depp says, unabashedly. “I worked before, sure, I lived, but most­ly I just existed. I see this amazing, beautiful, pure angel-thing wake up in the morning and smile, and nothing can touch that. She gives me the opportunity to experience something new every day. And to love, so deeply. She is the only reason to wake up in the morning, the only rea­son to take a breath. Everything else is checkers.”

About Lily-Rose’s mother, however, Depp is totally circumspect. He says Paradis is a natural at motherhood, she’s a great girl, she has a nice family (parents, still married, plus a younger sister) who live nearby. That’s it. Nothing about whether she makes him laugh, what she likes about him, what they have in common—other than a desire to avoid the prying eyes of the press, hint hint.

Only once does he step up to stamp something concrete about Paradis onto the record. Told that in the public realm, her pregnancy was thought to be an accident that derailed Depp’s return to Kate Moss, he adamantly denies it. “That couldn’t be more untrue,” he says firmly. “I was not put in a situation where I was obligated to do something. Obligation is no way to begin your career as a father. I would never do that to the girl that I’m in­volved with, to my kid. I wouldn’t live that lie.”

He plans to raise Lily-Rose in France. “I used to think, maybe you could do it in the middle of the States, Colorado or somewhere. But no. Not when you’ve got cretins going into schools and shooting children. This country is out of control. It’s become dirty. I think it’s imploding.”

Here Depp launches into a string of tirades. About politics: “I always thought politics was horseshit. Never voted once in my life, never. Now, at 36, I’m starting to think it’s more grave. It affects me now.” About NATO: “If they wanted to take Milosevic out, they could, very easily. Same with Saddam Hussein. But they didn’t. They need a bad guy so they can be the good guys.” And about Clinton. Especially Clinton. Depp hates hypocrisy, and he seems to take Clinton’s waffling personally. “For about 20 seconds I thought, That guy’s all right. From Arkansas, an outsider,” Depp says. “But then it’s like [he mimics a Clinton accent], ‘I didn’t inhale.’ You… what did he say? Did he say he didn’t inhale?”

He’s on a roll now; the cigarette he’s about to light is jouncing up and down in the corner of his mouth. “You know what I find really strange?” he asks. “When Bill Clinton comes off of Air Force One, he salutes the marine standing at the base of the stairs. I remember something about Clinton’s not going to Vietnam, whatever sticky weirdness it was. And instead of just saying,’I didn’t want to go to Vietnam because I didn’t believe in it,’ or ‘I was scared shitless,’ he made up some kind of smarmy story. But now he walks down those steps and salutes that marine. Suddenly he believes in the army, when he doesn’t have to go fight. Fuck that.”

But what irks Depp the most right now is his own fame. (“He would come to work shattered sometimes, because the photographers would make his and Vanes­sa’s life miserable,” Polanski says.) He’s not sorry that he picked up that two-by-four outside the London restaurant. In fact, he’s more than a little proud of it. “They wanted a photograph of me and my pregnant girlfriend. And that angered me — that they would take something so sacred and try to turn it into a product,” he says. He told the photographers waiting by the exit that, for just this one night, he couldn’t be what they wanted him to be—”novelty boy, a product.” He asked them, like a gentleman, to go away. “And they said no—’We’ll be here waiting for you.'”

Depp snapped. He grabbed the wood, rapped one photographer in the knuckles, and told them, “Now take the picture. I’m fucking begging you. Because the first flash I see, the guy is gonna be the recipient of this.” He pauses. “Six guys. Nobody took one picture. The beauty, the poetry of the fear in their eyes, in these filthy little maggots’ faces, was so worth it. I didn’t mind going to jail for, what, five, six hours? It was absolutely worth it.”

The photos of Depp’s swinging the club and being led away in handcuffs were far more valu­able to the tabloids than shots of him and Vanessa. “He reacts viscerally, and that’s what they’re waiting for. He falls into their trap,” Polanski says. “That’s his teenager reaction. He should shake that off.”

After a dozen years, it’s still day one of being famous for Johnny Depp. He feels just as shocked, just as furious, just as invaded. But even as his rant against the tabloids unspools— “Don’t treat me like a novelty. I ain’t a wind-up toy, and I ain’t your bitch, just because you think I’m Mr. Movie Star Boy. That ain’t where I come from. I mean, I used to pump gas”—on some level, Depp knows it’s been a lot of years (and a lot of paychecks) since he pumped gas. His touching insistence on his regular-guyness provides an essential service: It gives him an enemy to fight against. (If they’re the bad guys, he’s the good guy, right?) It keeps him honest.

Depp was born in Kentucky but grew up in central Florida, with two sisters, Christi and Debbie, and an older brother, Danny, who in­troduced him to Jack Kerouac novels and Beat poetry and Van Morrison’s music. When he wasn’t locked in his room practicing guitar, Depp was out playing with girls and drugs. His household was not Beaver Cleaver’s; it pulsed with more than its share of tension. And what­ever it was that made his family move at least 30 times —once, from one house to the house next door—could not be outrun. His father (and namesake), John Christopher Depp Sr., a civil engineer, and his mother, Betty Sue, divorced when he was 15. Depp left home five years later. “I’ve been middle-aged since I was 15,” he says.

The anger that fuels Depp “was a gift, geneti­cally, that’s been passed down generation to generation,” he says. “Anger is as great an emo­tion as happiness or sadness. It’s a powerful thing, but it’s also a positive thing. It just de­pends on how it’s manifested, and how you use it. What was I mad at? I don’t know. I’m still mad.” He laughs a tiny laugh.

“That’s one of the reasons I like him: He still gets angry about things,” Thompson says. “To me, he gets angry about the right things.”

It wasn’t until he played Gilbert Grape, a young man forced to weigh his obligations to his family against those to himself, that Depp took a hard look at his past. He says it was the darkest period of his life. “The great thing we do as hu­mans is, we keep postponing what is inevitable,” he says. “Whatever it was—growing up, family things —I was finally dealing with it.” The biggest change? Since Gilbert, there is a differ­ence between days and nights for Depp: “They don’t just continue on. I mean, I’m not Mr. Clean, but I don’t poison myself anymore.”

(Although when absinthe, the strong, char­treuse-colored liqueur favored by 19th-century poets because it induced visions, became avail­able again in England, Depp bought cases of it, and passed it out to his friends. “It is the most terrifying drink,” Gilliam says. “It goes to your brain in a second and clamps on. But Johnny loves it. If you’ve allowed yourself to be as open as he is, you’ve got to also have moments where you block everything out.”)

At this moment, Depp is ten minutes late for dinner with his brother, who’s in Los Angeles for a day. First, though, he can’t resist floating the threat that he could quit acting at any time. He reels off a list of talents who walked away: bandleader Artie Shaw, actor Sterling Hayden, “and J.D. Salinger? Admirable move.”

This would be easier to believe if Depp didn’t have films lined up like planes in the sky above Charles De Gaulle airport. In September he began shooting The Man Who Cried, a World War II drama set in Paris, directed by Sally Pot­ter, who made the lush, inscrutable Orlando. In the spring he will probably make Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, in which his char­acter is a smartass advertising executive who ends up back in the 17th century, playing Sancho Panza to a lunatic Quixote.

Depp insists he knows what he wants: “I just want a really simple life. I want simplicity. And a simple life is expensive, in my situation. I don’t want to be stared at while I’m mowing my lawn. I want to wake up and have coffee and wander in my yard nude, or dressed as Abe Lincoln if I feel like it.” He wants “to give Lily-Rose everything, and at the same time, I want her to know what it’s like to work, to punch a clock—and to travel, so she gets to know different cultures, different parts of the world.”Photo4

We walk upstairs into a sudden blast of nightlife. The hallway is crowded with Viper Room employees and regulars. They haven’t seen Johnny since he moved to France, and they want to shake hands with him, tell him their stories, reconnect. “How does the place look?” they ask him, and beam with pleasure when he praises it.

But it’s clear that Depp is a bit disconnected from it all. “Johnny seems happy with his new gentrification,” Thompson says. “But he’s too smart to be really happy. He’s too prone to walking out to the edge of a limb. He’s a hillbilly in his soul.” A bouncer shows Depp a photo of his two-year-old daughter, who was a newborn when the actor last saw her. “Wow,” Depp says softly. “I’ve been away two years.”

Wherever he has gone, we cannot enter. We cannot enter. As he shows me to the door, Depp says he’s willing to talk more. “Why don’t we do something tomorrow, like noon?” he asks.

He never makes it. I never thought he would.

Shivers, December 1999 – Johnny Depp Acting in Character for Sleepy Hollow

Shivers, December 1999 – Johnny Depp Acting in Character for Sleepy Hollow

Title: Johnny Depp Acting in Character for Sleepy Hollow

Author: Jean Cummings

Publication: Shivers

Issue: December 1999

 

Photo1JOHNNY DEPP has always chosen roles that are differ­ent, and his newest film Sleepy Hollow he displays his talent for humour and drama in a film reminiscent of the Hor­ror films of the ’50s and ’60s. Depp has the starring role in this new version of Washington Irving’s fable The Legend of Sleeply Hollow but the success of the film comes from the multi-faceted character of Ichabod Crane.

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

Inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

Only Himself

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

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

Chaney, of course, played some of the greatest Horror roles during his Holly­wood career, popularising the Horror movie long before Karloff or Lugosi.Photo2

Inspiring

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

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

Sky Magazine, September 1991 – Johnny Deeper

Sky Magazine, September 1991 – Johnny Deeper

Title: Johnny Deeper

Author: Bill Zehme

Publication: Sky Magazine

Issue: September 1991

Photo1Johnny Depp is his real name. As a boy he was ridiculed for it. In the schoolyard he was called Dipp. Or Deppity Dawg. Later he was cal­led Johnny Deeper, this being based upon a popular adolescent joke he barely remembers: “Something about some guy having sex with some girl who kept saying, Johnny, deeper!'”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there is fine art: “Gacy!” Depp says excitedly, in reference to imprisoned mass murderer John Wayne Gacy who used to dress in a clown costume and bury his victims under his house. In the coffee shop I hand him an order form listing Gacy’s latest oil paintings, knowing that Depp is the owner of a Gacy clown portrait. (Depp, incidentally, lives in mor­tal fear of clowns.) “The Hi Ho Series’.1‘ he exclaims, impressed. “Shit!” He peruses the form, shudders, then tells me that he’s got rid of his Gacy canvas. “When I got it, I heard the money was going to the victims’ families,” he says, but later he suspects otherwise. “The paintings are really scary and weird and great, but I don’t want to contribute to something as evil as that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following day Winona Ryder arrives with Depp. She is smoking his cigarettes, and she is not a smoker.Photo2

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

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

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

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

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

Depp compliments him on his clothing.

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

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

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

The police didn’t want to hear Depp’s story. He was jailed for a night, fingerprinted, posed for mug shots (“I wish I could have them”), and in the morning he walked.

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

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

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

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

Photo3We pass a coffee shop adorned with a giant rooster. “I have one of those,” he says, meaning the rooster. “I have a nine-foot roos­ter. I have the biggest cock in Los Angeles.”

This is the old Depp, spry and antic as ever. He sees a dog and says, coincidentally, that he bases his Edward Scissorhands performance on a dog.

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

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

The myths of the Hollywood Hills enchant Depp endlessly. “I would love to buy Bela Lugosi’s old house,” he says. “Or Errol Flynn’s. Or Charlie Chaplin’s. I want some old, depressing history to call my own. Plus, I love the idea of a view.” He sits in silent reverie, but within moments is overtaken with purpose. “I think I just have to make a lot of cash,” he says calmly “I also think I want to be a sheik. I want to be the sheik of Hollywood. What do you have to do to become a sheik, anyway? I wonder if it just takes cash…”

The Night I met Allen Ginsberg

By Johnny Depp

An appreciation of Kerouac, Burroughs, Cassady and the other bastards who ruined my life

There I was, age thirteen, eyes shut tight, listening intently to Frampton Comes Alive over and over again, as some kind of pubescent mantra that helped to cushion the dementia of just how badly I wanted to whisk Bambi, the beautiful cheerleader, away from the wedge of peach melba that was the handsome, hunky football hero. …

I was daydreaming of taking her out behind the 7-Eleven to drink Boone’s Farm strawberry-apple wine and kiss until our mouths were raw. ZZZZRRRIIIPP!! was the sound I heard that ripped me from that tender moment. My brother Danny, ten years my senior and on the verge of committing fratricide, having had more than enough of “Do you feel like we do?,” promptly seized the vinyl off record player and with a violent heave chucked the sacred album into the cluttered abyss of my room.

“No more,” he hissed. “I can’t let you listen to that shit anymore!”

I sat there snarling at him in that deeply expressive way that only teens possess, decompressing too fast back into reality. He grabbed a record out of his own collection and threw it on.

“Try this … you’re better than that stuff. You don’t have to listen to that shit just ’cause other kids do.”

“OK, fucker,” I thought, “bring it on … let’s have it!”

The music started … guitar, fretless stand-up bass, flutes and some Creep pining away about venturing “in the slipstream … between the viaducts of your dreams. …” “Fuck this,” I thought, “this is pussy music — they’re not even plugged in! Those guitars aren’t electric!” The song went a bit further: “Could you find me … would you kiss my eyes … to be born again. …” The words began to hit home; they didn’t play that kind of stuff on the radio, and as the melody of the song settled in, I was starting to get kind of used to it. Shit! I even liked it. It was a sound I hadn’t really ever given any attention to before, because of my innate fear of groups like America, Seals and Crofts, and, most of all, the dreaded Starland Vocal Band. I didn’t give half a fuck about a horse with no name, summer breezes or afternoon delights! I needed space to be filled!!! Filled with sound … distorted guitars, drums, feedback and words … words that meant something … sounds that meant something!

I found myself rummaging and rooting wildly through my brother’s record collection as if it were a newfound treasure, a monumental discovery that no one — especially no one my age — could know about or understand. I listened to it all! The soundtracks to A Clockwork Orange and Last Tango in Paris, Bob Dylan, Mozart and Brahms … the whole shebang! I couldn’t get enough. I had become like some kind of junky for the stuff and in turn became a regular pain in the ass to my brother. I wanted to know all that he did. I wanted to know everything that rotten white-bread football brute didn’t. I was preparing to woo that fantastic little rah-rah girl out of the sunlight of the ice cream parlor and into my nocturnal adolescent dreamscape.

And so began my ascension (or descension) into the mysteries of all things considered Outside. I had burrowed too deep into the counterculture of my brother’s golden repository, and as years went by he would turn me on to other areas of his expertise, sending me even further into the dark chasm of alternative learning.

One day he gave me a book that was to become like a Koran for me. A dogeared paperback, roughed up and stained with God knows what. On the Road, written by some goofball with a strange frog name that was almost unpronounceable for my teenage tongue, had found its way from big brother’s shelf and into my greedy little paws. Keep in mind that in all my years of elementary school, junior high and high school, possibly the only things I’d read up to that point were a biography of Knute Rockne, some stuff on Evel Knievel and books about WW II. On the Road was life-changing for me, in the same way that my life had been metamorphosed when Danny put Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks onto the turntable that day.

I was probably about fifteen by this time, and the cheerleader had begun to fade from my dreams. I didn’t need her now. I needed to wander … whenever and wherever I wanted! I’d found myself at the end of my rope as far as school was concerned; there seemed no particular reason for me to stay. The teachers didn’t want to teach, and I didn’t want to learn — from them. I wanted my education to come from living life, getting out there in the world, seeing and doing and moving amongst the other vagabonds who had the same sneaking suspicion that I did, that there would be no great need for high-end mathematics, nope. … I was not going to be doing other people’s taxes and going home at 5:37 P.M. to pat my dog’s head and sit down to my one-meat-and-two-vegetable table waiting for Jeopardy to pop on the glass tit, the Pat Sajak of my own private game show, in the bellybutton of the universe, Miramar, Florida. A beautiful life, to be sure, but one I knew I was destined not to have, thanks to big brother Dan and the French-Canadian with the name Jack Kerouac.

I had found the teachers, the soundtrack and the proper motivation for my life. Kerouac’s train-of-thought writing style gave great inspiration for a train-of-thought existence — for better or for worse. The idea to live day to day in a “true pedestrian” way, to keep walking, moving forward, no matter what. A sanctified juggernaut.

Through this introduction to Kerouac, I then learned of his fellow conspirators Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso, Huncke, Cassady and the rest of the unruly lot. I dove into their world full on and sponged up as much as I possibly could of their works. The Howl of Ginsberg left me babbling like an idiot, stunned that someone could regurgitate such honesty to paper. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch sent me into fits of hysterical laughter, with the imagery of talking assholes and shady reptilian characters looming, always not far behind. Cassady’s The First Third rants on beatifically like a high-speed circular saw. The riches I was able to walk away with from these heroes, teachers and mentors are not available in any school that I’ve ever heard of. Their infinite wisdom and hypersensitivity were their greatest attributes and in some cases –as I believe it was with Kerouac — played a huge part in their ultimate demise.

I had the honor of meeting and getting to know Allen Ginsberg for a short time. The initial meeting was at a soundstage in New York City, where we were both doing a bit in the film The United States of Poetry. I was reading a piece from Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues, the “2nth Chorus,” and as I was rehearsing it for camera, I could see a familiar face out of the corner of my eye: “Fuck me,” I thought, “that’s Ginsberg!” We were introduced, and he then immediately launched into a blistering rendition of said chorus, so as to show me the proper way for it to be done.

“As Jack would have done it!” he emphasized.

I was looking straight down the barrel at one of the most gifted and important poets of the twentieth century, and with all the truth and guts I could muster up, I said in response, “Yeah, but I’m not reading it as him, I’m reading it as me. It’s my interpretation of his piece.”

Silence — a LONNNGG silence. Ticktock tickrock ticktock

I was smiling nervously, my eyes sort of wavering between his face and the floor. I sucked down about half of my 5,000th cigarette of the day in one monster drag and filled the air around us with my poison. It was at that point that I remembered his “Don’t Smoke!” poem … oops … too fucking late now, boy, you done stepped in shit! I looked at Ginsberg, he looked at me, and the director looked at us both as the crew looked at him, and it was quite a little moment, for a moment there. Allen’s eyes squinted ever so slightly and then began to twinkle like bright lights. He smiled that mystic smile, and I felt as though God himself had forgiven me a dreadful sin.

After the shoot, we took a car back to his apartment on the Lower East Side and had some tea. He was gracious enough to speak to me about the early years with Kerouac, Cassady and the others. We spoke of many things, from the cost of a limo ride to the high-pitched voice of Oscar Wilde; he actually had a recording of Wilde reading The Ballad of Reading Gaol. He flirted unabashedly and nonstop for the duration of my visit, even allowing me to smoke, as long as I sat next to the kitchen window and exhaled in that direction. He kindly signed a book to me and a couple of autographs (one for my brother, of course), and then I made my way back to the hotel, only to have already received a call from him, inviting me to some kind of something or other.

From that day forward, we stayed in touch with each other over the next few years and even spent time together from time to time. Our communication continued until our final conversation, which was just three days before he passed on. He called me to say that he was dying, and that it would be nice to see each other again before he checked out. He was so calm and so peaceful about it that I had to ask how he felt given this situation. He gracefully said that it was like a ripple on a sea of tranquillity. He then cried a little, as did I; he said, “I love you,” and so did I. I told him I would get to New York as soon as possible, and fuckin’ A, I was gonna go — the call came only days later.

Ginsberg was a great man, like his old pals, who had paved the way for many, and many more to come. The contribution of these people goes way beyond their own works. Without On the Road, Howl or Naked Lunch, for example, would we have been blessed with the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and Bob Dylan? Or countless other writers and poets of that caliber who were born in the Fifties and Sixties? Where would we be without modern classics like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or The Times They Are A-Changin’?

So much has happened to me in the twenty years since I first sat down and took that long drag on Kerouac’s masterpiece. I have been a construction laborer, a gas-station attendant, a bad mechanic, a screen printer, a musician, a telemarketing phone salesman, an actor, and a tabloid target — but there’s never been a second that went by in which I deviated from the road that ol’ Jack put me on, via my brother. It has been an interesting ride all the way — emotionally and psychologically taxing — but a mother-fucker straight down the pike. And I know that without these great writers’ holy words seared into my brain, I would most likely have ended up chained to a wall in Camarillo State Hospital, zapped beyond recognition, or dead by misadventure.

So in the end, what can anyone … scholar, professor, student or biographer … really say about these angels and devils who once walked among us, though maybe just a bit higher off the ground?

 

 

published in Rolling Stones Magazine  07/08/99

UK Shivers Issue 73, 1999

UK Shivers Issue 73, 1999

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

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

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

INSPIRATION 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ONLY HIMSELF 

 

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

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

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

 

INSPIRING 

 

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

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

 

CREATING SLEEPY HOLLOW COSTUME DESIGNER COLLEEN ATTWOOD 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

CREATING SLEEPY HOLLOW 

STUNT CO-ORDINATION 

AND SCENIC DESIGN 

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

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

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

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

CREATING SLEEPY HOLLOW 

CREATURE EFFECTS ARTIST KEVIN YAGHER 

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

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

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

SLEEPY HOLLOW

What we have here is the product of two men. After his screenplay for “Seven” was produced, Andrew Kevin Walker’s retelling of this Washington Irving story was sold and promptly sat on the shelf for a few years. Director Tim Burton, after a long string of artistic and commercial successes, had a pair of setbacks. His cinematic adaptation of the “Mars Attacks!” trading cards was all sight-gags, and no soul. Recently, he spent a year in pre-production on a Superman movie, only to have Warner Bros pull the plug a couple of months before filming would begin. In a no-brainer, the director and the script found each other. There are two things that make this the perfect Burton project. The first is the latest addition to his gallery of beloved outcasts, Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp)- by Ron Wells for Film Threat.

In this version of the tale, Crane is not a schoolteacher, but a New York City constable in 1799 (though still a foppish girly-man). At this time, superstition and piety still rule the populace. After a childhood trauma, Crane has rejected both in favor of science and reason. When attempting to apply both to police work, the would-be forensic scientist is ridiculed and sent upstate to apply his “detecting” skills to a series of murders in a small village called “Sleepy Hollow”.

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DEPPTH PERCEPTION

Brooding Johnny muses on his motley career and reinventing Ichabod Crane for Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow – by Rob Blackwelder.

Blackwelder: You’ve said you patterned the character after Roddy McDowell, Angela Lansbury in “Death On the Nile” and the old Sherlock Holmes. How did you use those influences to create Ichabod?

Depp: It’s funny, because what happens to me when I read a script, when something grabs hold of me, I start getting these flashes of people or places or things or images…With “Sleepy Hollow,” I was (after) the kind of drive that Basil Rathbone had as Sherlock Holmes, but what’s going on behind that is total and utter confusion. Basil Rathbone knew exactly what he was talking about. He hit in on every note. Ichabod would (seem to) hit it, but he would miss it, in fact.

With Roddy,…he had this very ethereal quality (I wanted), and (with) Angela Lansbury (it was) the energy, the sort of righteousness that she had. I haven’t even seen “Death On the Nile” since I was very young, but she was this force, she was this presence. So those are the ingredients and you just sort of mash then all together and see what you come up with. It’s always dangerous when you try that stuff. With Ed Wood, it was this sort of blending of Ronald Reagan, the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz” and Casey Kasem.

Copyright Contactmusic.com Ltd 2005

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What Makes Johnny Famous?

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

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

What Makes Johnny Famous – part 2

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

CANNES/MAY 15, 1998: ENJOY YOUR TRIP!

ust as a drug trip, the day was an upward motion from reality to a dream, with its rise and its flash when I met Johnny and remembering our meeting when I went to bed after a very special trip.

THE PRESS CONFERENCE: A bad beginning. For the beginning of the day, I’m not really lucky. The press conference is over-crowded and I couldn’t enter the room. Anyway, I didn’t have the right pass. The access is only authorized to the journalists with the pink pass and I had the white. But there was another way to watch the press conference. On the first floor of The Festival Palace, there was a place where you can sit on deck-chairs (as if you were on the beach) and follow the press conference live as it is broadcast on TV Festival ! ! ! A lot of people agree with me when I say that’s the best way to hear and record a press conference. You’re well installed and the sound is better for your recorder. That’s how I saw and recorded the Fear and Loathing press conference. Vicki will put some clips from the conference soon with this report.

THE MOVIE: Let the delirium enter your mind. SYNOPSIS – The gonzo journalist Raoul Duke is scheduled to write an article about a motorcycle race in Las Vegas. He travels there with his attorney, Dr Gonzo, driving a crimson convertible full of every sort of drug and pharmaceutical product. They begin a savage drug-fueled trip into the heart of the American Dream. REVIEW – The most interesting part of this movie is Gilliam’s choice to dedicate the entire movie to his characters, by the cinematography, the special effects and the editing, to make the audience live the trip of the individuals from inside. Sure, Gilliam uses too much moving animals for the hallucinations. But the choice of the frames, the deep focus, the colors, the filters, the design ? Las Vegas is absolutely fabulous ? the acting a little exaggerated from Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro but exactly right for their mad characters. The editing which follows the trip exactly, slow or fast depending of the characters’ mind, give the film wealth, which make the hallucinatory trip of the two individuals almost palpable. Terry Gilliam tells a story showing the trip at the good and bad moments, without any morality about drug-addiction in his filmmaking. People may regret his no-engagement against drugs, but it’s an artistic choice depending on his interpretation of the novel upon which the movie is based. The two characters don’t care about the consequences of their behaviour. They just enjoy their journey in Las Vegas, experiencing with drugs the limits of their bodies. That may be shocking for our 90’s eyes, but we have to remember the spirit of the 1971 Hunter Thompson novel. Gilliam’s filmmaking gives a light and humorous but finally realistic description of the perception of drugs in the early seventies. Finally, the only reproach we can address to Terry Gilliam is having lost his idea by giving a sort of morality in two sentences about the drug consequences at the end of the movie, granting to the American morality at the end of a great movie which was just a glance without any message on the story of two individuals.

THE PARTY: The apogee of the trip. In spite of my invitation, it was hard to enter the party. The guards made me wait about 20 minutes. The reason was Johnny Depp himself. He was inside with Kate Moss so the organizers didn’t want too many people around them. After this long wait during such an important moment in my life, I finally entered with friends. First we went to the bar to have some Champagne. Then I went to the area for dancing just to prove to my friends that I’m not there only to see JD but also to have fun. I was very surprised to see Johnny just one meter in front of me, seated at a table with Kate Moss. Arrrrgggghhhh! That’s not a dream : he is there. As I looked again, I saw him talking to someone I knew. So I went over to them, to say hello to my friend and of course to Johnny. Very politely, he talked to me and I answered him stupid stuffs like “Hi ? How are you ? Good Champagne ? Enjoy your party ?” I didn’t want to disturb them anymore. Johnny was touching Kate’s hands for a while and he didn’t seem to enjoy the party very much. So I went back to the dancing area. A few minutes later, he left to attend another party for “The Ninth Gate”. Around three o’clock, I decided to go to bed, my mind full of pictures of the coolest man I’ve ever met. Sure he said those things to me to be polite. He certainly must have said the same words to a lot of people during the party and ours was a 2-minutes meeting that he surely does not remember. Anyway, I was really happy to meet him. He IS really cool.

MARIE

from johnnydeppfan

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