UK The Face 1995

UK The Face 1995

Let me be your fantasy

With roles as the world’s best lover and 

world’s worst film-maker, Johnny Depp has finally allowed his acting to take flight. He’s also secured his reputation as Hollywood’s sexiest man 

 

Ina few hours Johnny Depp will squirm beneath a vaulted ceiling in the guise of legendary makeout artist Don Juan surrounded by fountains, silken shrouds and a harem of 250 women. Two hundred and fifty naked women. He will want desperately to take each one aside and ask, “Are you OK with this? Are you comfortable shedding your clothes?”

So for right now, seated in a vinyl booth at the West Hollywood grunge cafe/billiard parlour Barney’s Beanery, he’ll do his darnedest to make life a little easier for a harried, apologetic waitress named Kelly. Kelly with obvious discomfort has just informed the bleary-eyed movie star the only coffee she can offer him is chocolate mint. “Sounds like a girl scout cookie,” he says. “Wild.” Kelly, shifting from foot to foot, has a look on her face that says, “You know Johnny, if it were up to me, I’d run out to the supermarket myself … ” Depp fixes his soulful doe eyes on hers and in his best nicotine voice soothes, “You know what, I’ll have Coca-Cola instead. Jumbo.” Kelly begins breathing again.

After she takes the rest of his order – scrambled eggs, sliced tomatoes, bacon and rye toast, which will remain untouched for the next two hours gathering a fine coating of pool chalk and cigarette ash – he says, “I have large respect for waitresses. My mom was a waitress when I was growing up. Years and years I watched her wait tables. I’d count her change at the end of the night. I used to skip school. She’d feed me, me and my pal…” His voice trails off. Moments like this, he says, bring out the part of him that is still the “17-year-old gas station geek” in Miramar, Florida, who dropped out of high school to pursue dreams of rock’n’roll stardom.

Today he is the epitome of bad boy chic in paint-spattered black T-shirt, black jeans, scruffy industrial boots and tattered Fifties jacket, a trio of heavy silver chains dangling beneath his fragile features. It’s hard to imagine Depp ever envying the ease with which the captain of the football team chatted up the cheerleaders. “I was not the most popular kid in school,” he assures us. “I always felt like an absolute and total freak. That feeling of

wanting to be accepted. But not knowing how to be accepted as you are, honestly. Wanting to hold a girl but thinking I’ll fuck it up.”

What better revenge than getting paid a seven-figure salary to live out the ultimate male adolescent fantasy? His own harem. But instead of revelling in the exposed flesh, the star of Don Juan DeMarco will only feel discomfort and disorientation. “It’s really strange,” he will say afterwards. “The first thing I felt was uncomfortable. When you walk into a room of 250 naked women it’s very strange. It’s impossible to focus on it. It almost doesn’t register in a way. It’s almost in a way wallpaper. Like a painting. Wallpaper is the white trash in me slipping out. The painting is much more, yeah, that describes it better. There’s so many girls and they’re so nude, it’s not … It almost would have been more intense if there were three nude. It would have been more like, uh, shocking. ‘Cause you’re just not able to register the fact that … ”

Depp inhales deeply on a cigarette, and tries again with a quote from his Don Juan co-star Marlon Brando. “Brande once said, ‘Acting is a strange job for a grown man.’ Nobody’s expressed it better.”

And growing up is a helluva act for a strange boy. With his two current movies, Ed Wood and Don Juan, Depp, now 31, tentatively wades into adult waters. Although his own speech remains in suspended adolescence – a staccato of stutters and uncompleted sentences – he’s “done” with the preverbal oddball roles which lofted him from teen idol to respected actor (one of these, the Emir Kustarica-directed Arizona Dream, finally opens in the UK this month four years after filming began). Gone also are the bravura tales of juvenile delinquency. These days getting neo-adult Depp to talk about his nights in jail, his chemical abuse, his tattoos, his scars, paying people to smell rancid sausages, is like squeezing tears from a rock. Depp reinvented himself once before, shrewdly spoofing his image in John Waters’ Cry Baby to escape the bubblegurn straitjacket of 21 Jump Street. Now he’s determined to graduate from boy-man to, well, man-boy at least.

For Ed Wood, this meant throwing himself into the role of the exuberant cross-dressing director of Fifties C-movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen Or Glenda, concocting a “weird soup” whose ingredients include bits of the Tin Man, Ronald Reagan, radio personality Casey “Top 40 Countdown” Kasem and swashbuckler Errol Flynn. Flynn was also an inspiration for Don Juan, along with a pinch of Hispanic actors Ricardo Montalban and Fernando Lamas.

Both characters appealed to Depp’s innate, and slightly anachronistic, sense of chivalry and identification with the underdog. Wood fancied himself the next Orson Welles, but his low-budget films, starring a motley assortment of hasbeens and wannabes, wallow at the bottom of critics’ “worst ten” lists. Whenever reality impinged, Wood retreated to the comfort of angora sweaters and high-heeled pumps. Depp, reteaming with director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands), scraped off the tarnish to find

a misunderstood knight in shining armour. “He’s one of those guys from the Forties who were real gentlemen, very charming, loyal to his people. Don Juan was also very chivalrous. Those guys don’t exist any more. Everybody is trying too hard to be hip or be accepted.”

A call comes in on the mobile. It’s Jeremy Leven, the writer-director of Don Juan, in which Depp plays a psychiatric patient whose therapist must determine if he is insane merely because he thinks he’s a fifteenthcentury seducer and walks around in suede pants and knee-high boots. (At Depp’s suggestion, Brando was hauled out of semi-retirement to play the therapist, his first proper role since 1990’s The Freshman.) Johnny has arranged for some buddies to see dailies and Leven wants to know if Depp is planning to attend. “No, uh, it’s just for my friends,” he says.

The one and only time Depp braved dailies, on his first movie, A Nightmare On Elm Street, he nearly puked, and has refused to watch them since. “I’m better off not even seeing the [finished) movie,” he explains. In fact, the one and only professional accomplishment Depp can watch without gagging is a ten-minute short film he directed called Stuff, a dog’s-eye journey through an old addict’s beer bottle and pizzabox encrusted life. “We just examine this guy’s house with a Steadicam,” he says. “It’s completely honest.”

As a kid Depp loved to dig tunnels in a vacant lot near his home, getting off on the fear of a cave-in. A few years back, he swung eight storeys above the ground from the edge of the Beverly Center shopping mall. Now, he looks for that pure adrenaline rush in his roles; the possibility that he might mess up keeps it exciting. To make taking the plunge easier, Depp has surrounded himself with “a little built-in family” who trail him from set to set. They include make-up and wardrobe people as well as elder sister Christy Dembrowski, 33, who he has hired as his personal assistant.

An informal poll of the Don Juan make-up trailer comes close to qualifying Depp for sainthood: sweet, kind and, above all, generous. “He’ll give you the shirt off his back,” says Patty York, Depp’s make-up artist on four of his last five films. Literally. The other day she said she liked the shirt he had on. He took it off and gave it to her. He also regularly treats the crew to champagne at the end of the day.

They return the favours. Depp’s wardrobe guy Ken Smiley has helped him transform his trailer from beige Americana to Oriental opium den, draping walls, ceiling and furniture with gold-embossed Indian fabrics. One end of the living area has been converted into a shrine: a copy of William Saroyan’s The Trouble With Tigers, a purple lava lamp and a pewter heartframed portrait of Depp and girlfriend Kate Moss flicker in the light of a dozen votive candles. Burning incense and Ravi Shankar sitar music complete the effect. “Johnny is so totally different from most actors,” says Smiley. “He really likes who he is and he’s really secure in that. He treats other people the way he wants to be treated. That’s why we stay with him.”

St Johnny is not without his demons: insomnia, a fear of crowds, chain smoking, a natural antagonism toward authority figures that has landed him in jail on at least three occasions (jaywalking in Los Angeles, assaulting a hotel security guard in Vancouver and speeding in Arizona) and an “erratic” personality that makes him a little tough to live with. “I’m 30 different people sometimes,” he says. “One day you wake up and you’re somebody else, nowhere near who you were when you went to sleep.”

one of those wears a dress, he insists, though as a teenager he used to borrow frilled blouses and striped flares from his mother’s wardrobe to augment his rock’n’roll wardrobe. Dressing in drag for Ed Wood, says Depp, “tripled” his respect for the ordeal “women go through when they get ZsaZsaed”. “I was the ugliest woman ever,” he adds. (Co-star Patricia Arquette, who plays his wife, Cathy Wood, disagrees. “He looked great in a dress,” she says. “But we both hated wearing those period stockings; they don’t hold up. I think by the end the angora was getting on his nerves. “)

“Let me show you something,” says Depp, disappearing into the back of his trailer. He returns carrying a box of Ed Wood momentos: a pair of cross-strapped pumps; a two-piece gold and black tasselled brocade number used in a striptease sequence; and, carefully wrapped in tissue, long-sleeved angora gloves specially designed to hide his tattoos. “I keep stuff from movies so I can give it to my grandchildren someday … if I have them.”

There was a time not too long ago when Depp would readily volunteer to interviewers that his only real goal in life was to “get married and have kids”. These days the actor is more circumspect. “I believe in loyalty and commitment, but the idea of marriage is not the end all. I don’t think that’s the ultimate answer to true love, if there is such a thing as true love.” He was married once at 20, but divorced two years later. Depp legend has him popping the question again to Sherilyn Fenn, Jennifer Grey and Winona Ryder. He insists the reports of his engagements are a “complete fabrication”, but refuses to elaborate “because I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings”. He’s also vague on what exactly happened to the famous “Winona Forever” tattoo inked on his right shoulder. “It transformed itself,” he says.

Cultivating an aura of mystery has always been a major component of Depp style. And now, more than ever, he seems compelled to keep secrets. “There’s a huge part of him that’s not within your reach,” says Mary Steenbergen, who played his lover in 1994’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and is now a close friend. “He doesn’t casually let himself over to people and let you know who he is. If you’re his oldest friend or his lover, perhaps that’s not true, but for most people I think he’s both accessible and inaccessible.”

Still jet-lagged and shell-shocked from the paparazzi assault during an extended weekend in Rome with Kate Moss, he is in no mood to discuss his affair with her. If she voiced any objections to his numerous love scenes in Don Juan, he’s not telling. “I’ve got a job. She’s got a job. It’s a job. And movies are make believe.” What does he think of the modelling profession? “It’s an oddball gig,” he shrugs uncomfortably. “I’m nobody to pass judgement. I can only have my opinion. It’s real fucking weird. My

relationship with my girl isn’t something I’m going to discuss with anybody, especially a guy with a tape recorder.” If there was one thing he learned from parading his four-year on-again, off-again relationship with Winona, it’s that no matter how many details you feed the media, or as b likes to call it “the sick pig machine”, it is never satisfied.

Johnny Depp as self-proclaimed God’s gift to women in Don Juan De Marco (left and bottom); romantic misfit in Arilona Dream (below right)

“Initially, I tried to be open,” he says of his Hollywood Camelot day “[I thought] I’ll just say what I’m feeling right now, let them swallow that and then they’ll leave me alone. [But] that creates even more of a monster. You’re walking around, you eat a piece of pizza, go visit the Colosseum. next thing you know there’s a guy with a lens about as long as your leg taking pictures. Whether Kate and I are together or not is not going to save anybody’s life. It’s nobody’s fucking business but mine or hers. I’d rather come out in the press and say I’m fucking dogs or goats or rats than attempt to [rely on them to] write anything real about my relationship.”

There is venom in his choice of words, but they are spoken matter-offactly, with an almost eerie absence of malice in the tone. Depp is uncomfortable in the role of the angry man, he’d much rather play the clown. He has an appreciation for the more absurd characters and circumstances of life. He derives fiendish pleasure, for example, from checking into hotels under naughty pseudonyms, forcing friend and stranger alike to participate in the joke. “It’s funny to get a wake-up call at some ludicrous hour, like 5.30am, and the guy has to say, ‘Good morning Mr Donkey Penis. Good morning Mr Drip Noodle, you have to get up now. ‘”

Despite the media frenzy that descended looking for a scapegoat following River Phoenix’s overdose in October 1993, Depp’s Sunset

Boulevard club the Viper Room remains one of the few safe havens he can retreat to. “It’s terrible when anybody dies, especially when somebody’s made a fatal mistake,” he says. “But the tabloid press grabbed ahold of that thing and made a circus out of it. Drugs are the number-one business in this country and they have to come down on one club on the Sunset Strip. River was trying to escape something. He could have been at a supermarket, in a hotel room, driving in a car. Either way, it’s really sad.”

Recently, Depp has begun plotting his own Brande-style escape from Los Angeles, possibly to Paris or the serenity of a twelfth-century monastery in the south of France. “There’s a part of me that would like to have a place with endless land around me,” he says, “a haven in the country, somewhere you could ride a horse, or ride your bike and wouldn’t have to worry about 800 greedy people trying to get somewhere half a second in front of everyone else. ”

For the time being he’ll have to be satisfied with the safe, protected world of the movie set. “Unfortunately, I feel more comfortable in front of the camera now than I do in life,” he admits. “On the set, you feel close to the people; you’re working together. When you’re in a restaurant in real life, you’re having dinner with the girl, drinking wine, you’re looking around and there are all these people looking at you. It’s a little weird.”

Depp pops out of his seat and announces “I have to get the shit taken off my face”, meaning his false goatee and dark foundation make-up. On his way out he tosses a book into my lap. It’s a biography of Joseph Pujol, Le Petomane, a fin de siecle Moulin Rouge curiosity who could fart “Claire de Lune” among other tunes. “That’s courage,” he says. “A guy who says, ‘Here’s my talent. Take it or leave it.’ Blows opera out his ass. That guy was a true artist. I mean that”

Don Juan De Marco is currently shounng in the UK; Ed Wood opens on May 26; the much-delayed Arizona Dream opens on June 30 


The Face, 1995 – Let Me Be your Fantasy

The Face, 1995 – Let Me Be your Fantasy

Title: Let Me Be your Fantasy

Author: James Ryan

Publication: The Face

Issue: 1995

Photo1In a few hours Johnny Depp will squirm beneath a vaulted ceiling in the guise of legendary makeout artist Don Juan surrounded by fountains, silken shrouds and a harem of 250 women. Two hundred and fifty naked women. He will want desperately to take each one aside and ask, “Are you OK with this? Are you comfortable shedding your clothes?”

So for right now, seated in a vinyl booth at the West Hollywood grunge cafe/billiard parlour Barney’s Beanery, he’ll do his darnedest to make life a little easier for a harried, apologetic waitress named Kelly. Kelly with obvious discomfort has just informed the bleary-eyed movie star the only coffee she can offer him is chocolate mint. “Sounds like a girl scout cookie,” he says. “Wild.” Kelly, shifting from foot to foot, has a look on her face that says, “You know Johnny, if it were up to me, I’d run out to the supermarket myself…” Depp fixes his soulful doe eyes on hers and in his best nicotine voice soothes, “You know what, I’ll have Coca-Cola instead. Jumbo.” Kelly begins breathing again.

After she takes the rest of his order – scrambled eggs, sliced tomatoes, bacon and rye toast, which will remain untouched for the next two hours gathering a fine coating of pool chalk and cigarette ash – he says, I have large respect for waitresses. My mom was a waitress when I was growing up. Years and years I watched her wait tables. I’d count her change at the end of the night. I used to skip school. She’d feed me, me and my pal…” His voice trails off. Moments like this, he says, bring out the part of him that is still the “17-year-old gas station geek” in Miramar, Florida, who dropped out of high school to pursue dreams of rock’n’roll stardom.

Today he is the epitome of bad boy chic in paint-spattered black T-shirt, black jeans, scruffy industrial boots and tattered Fifties jacket, a trio of heavy silver chains dangling beneath his fragile features. It’s hard to imag­ine Depp ever envying the ease with which the captain of the football team chatted up the cheerleaders. “I was not the most popular kid in school,” he assures us. “I always felt like an absolute and total freak. That feeling of wanting to be accepted. But not knowing how to be accepted as you are, honestly. Wanting to hold a girl but thinking I’ll fuck it up.”

What better revenge than getting paid a seven-figure salary to live out the ultimate male adolescent fantasy? His own harem. But instead of revel­ling in the exposed flesh, the star of Don Juan DeMarco will only feel dis­comfort and disorientation. “It’s really strange,” he will say afterwards. “The first thing I felt was uncomfortable. When you walk into a room of 250 naked women it’s very strange. It’s impossible to focus on it. It almost doesn’t register in a way. It’s almost in a way wallpaper. Like a painting. Wallpaper is the white trash in me slipping out. The painting is much more, yeah, that describes it better. There’s so many girls and they’re so nude, it’s not… It almost would have been more intense if there were three nude. It would have been more like, uh, shocking. ‘Cause you’re just not able to register the fact that…”

Depp inhales deeply on a cigarette, and tries again with a quote from his Don Juan co-star Marlon Brando. “Brando once said, ‘Acting is a strange job for a grown man.’ Nobody’s expressed it better.”

And growing up is a helluva act for a strange boy. With his two current movies, Ed Wood and Don Juan, Depp, now 31, tentatively wades into adult waters. Although his own speech remains in suspended adolescence – a staccato of stutters and uncompleted sentences – he’s “done” with the pre-verbal oddball roles which lofted him from teen idol to respected actor (one of these, the Emir Kustarica-directed Arizona Dream, finally opens in the UK this month four years after filming began). Gone also are the bravura tales of juvenile delinquency. These days getting neo-adult Depp to talk about his nights in jail, his chemical abuse, his tattoos, his scars, paying peo­ple to smell rancid sausages, is like squeezing tears from a rock. Depp rein­vented himself once before, shrewdly spoofing his image in John Waters’ Cry Baby to escape the bubblegum straitjacket of 21 Jump Street. Now he’s determined to graduate from boy-man to, well, man-boy at least.Photo2

For Ed Wood, this meant throwing himself into the role of the exuberant cross-dressing director of Fifties C-movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen Or Glenda, concocting a “weird soup” whose ingredients include bits of the Tin Man, Ronald Reagan, radio personality Casey “Top 40 Countdown” Kasem and swashbuckler Errol Flynn. Flynn was also an inspiration for Don Juan, along with a pinch of Hispanic actors Ricardo Montalban and Fernando Lamas.

Both characters appealed to Depp’s innate, and slightly anachronistic, sense of chivalry and identification with the underdog. Wood fancied him­self the next Orson Welles, but his low-budget films, starring a motley assortment of hasbeens and wannabes, wallow at the bottom of critics’ “worst ten” lists. Whenever reality impinged, Wood retreated to the com­fort of angora sweaters and high-heeled pumps. Depp, reteaming with director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands), scraped off the tarnish to find a misunderstood knight in shining armour. “He’s one of those guys from the Forties who were real gentlemen, very charming, loyal to his people. Don Juan was also very chivalrous. Those guys don’t exist anymore. Everybody is trying too hard to be hip or be accepted.”

A call comes in on the mobile. It’s Jeremy Leven, the writer-director of Don Juan, in which Depp plays a psychiatric patient whose therapist must determine if he is insane merely because he thinks he’s a fifteenth-century seducer and walks around in suede pants and knee-high boots. (At Depp’s suggestion, Brando was hauled out of semi-retirement to play the therapist, his first proper role since 1990’s The Freshman.) Johnny has arranged for some buddies to see dailies and Leven wants to know if Depp is planning to attend. “No, uh, it’s just for my friends,” he says.

The one and only time Depp braved dailies, on his first movie, A Nightmare On Elm Street, he nearly puked, and has refused to watch them since. “I’m better off not even seeing the [finished] movie,” he explains. In fact, the one and only professional accomplishment Depp can watch without gagging is a ten-minute short film he directed called Stuff, a dog’s-eye journey through an old addict’s beer bottle and pizza-box encrusted life. “We just examine this guy’s house with a Steadicam,” he says. “It’s completely honest.”

A

s a kid Depp loved to dig tunnels in a vacant lot near his home, getting off on the fear of a cave-in. A few years back, he swung eight storeys above the ground from the edge of the Beverly Center shopping mall. Now, he looks for that pure adrenaline rush in his roles; the possibility that he might mess up keeps it exciting. To make taking the plunge easier, Depp has surrounded himself with “a little built-in family” who trail him from set to set. They include make-up and wardrobe people as well as elder sis­ter Christy Dembrowski, 33, who he has hired as his personal assistant.

An informal poll of the Don Juan make-up trailer comes close to qualify­ing Depp for sainthood: sweet, kind and, above all, generous. “He’ll give you the shirt off his back,” says Patty York, Depp’s make-up artist on four of his last five films. Literally. The other day she said she liked the shirt he had on. He took it off and gave it to her. He also regularly treats the crew to champagne at the end of the day.

They return the favours. Depp’s wardrobe guy Ken Smiley has helped him transform his trailer from beige Americana to Oriental opium den, draping walls, ceiling and furniture with gold-embossed Indian fabrics. One end of the living area has been converted into a shrine: a copy of William Saroyan’s The Trouble With Tigers, a purple lava lamp and a pewter heart-framed portrait of Depp and girlfriend Kate Moss flicker in the light of a dozen votive candles. Burning incense and Ravi Shankar sitar music com­plete the effect. “Johnny is so totally different from most actors,” says Smiley. “He really likes who he is and he’s really secure in that. He treats other people the way he wants to be treated. That’s why we stay with him.”

St Johnny is not without his demons: insomnia, a fear of crowds, chain smoking, a natural antagonism toward authority figures that has landed him in jail on at least three occasions (jaywalking in Los Angeles, assaulting a hotel security guard in Vancouver and speeding in Arizona) and an “erratic” personality that makes him a little tough to live with. “I’m 30 dif­ferent people sometimes,” he says. “One day you wake up and you’re somebody else, nowhere near who you were when you went to sleep.”

None of those wears a dress, he insists, though as a teenager he used to borrow frilled blouses and striped flares from his mother’s wardrobe to aug­ment his rock’n’roll wardrobe. Dressing in drag for Ed Wood, says Depp, “tripled” his respect for the ordeal “women go through when they get Zsa-Zsaed”. “I was the ugliest woman ever,” he adds. (Co-star Patricia Arquette, who plays his wife, Cathy Wood, disagrees. “He looked great in a dress,” she says. “But we both hated wearing those period stockings; they don’t hold up. I think by the end the angora was getting on his nerves.”)

“Let me show you something,” says Depp, disappearing into the back of his trailer. He returns carrying a box of Ed Wood momentos: a pair of cross-strapped pumps; a two-piece gold and black tasselled brocade number used in a striptease sequence; and, carefully wrapped in tissue, long-sleeved angora gloves specially designed to hide his tattoos. “I keep stuff from movies so I can give it to my grandchildren someday… if I have them.”

There was a time not too long ago when Depp would readily volunteer to interviewers that his only real goal in life was to “get married and have kids”. These days the actor is more circumspect. “I believe in loyalty and commitment, but the idea of marriage is not the end all. I don’t think that’s the ultimate answer to true love, if there is such a thing as true love.” He was married once at 20, but divorced two years later. Depp legend has him popping the question again to Sherilyn Fenn, Jennifer Grey and Winona Ryder. He insists the reports of his engagements are a “complete fabrica­tion”, but refuses to elaborate “because I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feel­ings”. He’s also vague on what exactly happened to the famous “Winona Forever” tattoo inked on his right shoulder. “It transformed itself,” he says.

Photo3Cultivating an aura of mystery has always been a major component of Depp style. And now, more than ever, he seems compelled to keep secrets. “There’s a huge part of him that’s not within your reach,” says Mary Steenbergen, who played his lover in 1994’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and is now a close friend. “He doesn’t casually let himself over to people and let you know who he is. If you’re his oldest friend or his lover, perhaps that’s not true, but for most people I think he’s both accessible and inaccessible.”

Still jet-lagged and shell-shocked from the paparazzi assault during an extended weekend in Rome with Kate Moss, he is in no mood to discuss his affair with her. If she voiced any objections to his numerous love scenes in Don Juan, he’s not telling. “I’ve got a job. She’s got a job. It’s a job. And movies are make believe.” What does he think of the modelling pro­fession? “It’s an oddball gig,” he shrugs uncomfortably. “I’m nobody to pass judgement. I can only have my opinion. It’s real fucking weird. My relationship with my girl isn’t something I’m going to discuss with any­body, especially a guy with a tape recorder.” If there was one thing he learned from parading his four-year on-again, off-again relationship with Winona, it’s that no matter how many details you feed the media, or as he likes to call it “the sick pig machine”, it is never satisfied.

“Initially, I tried to be open,” he says of his Hollywood Camelot days. “[I thought] I’ll just say what I’m feeling right now, let them swallow that and then they’ll leave me alone. [But] that creates even more of a monster. You’re walking around, you eat a piece of pizza, go visit the Colosseum, next thing you know there’s a guy with a lens about as long as your leg tak­ing pictures. Whether Kate and I are together or not is not going to save anybody’s life. It’s nobody’s fucking business but mine or hers. I’d rather come out in the press and say I’m fucking dogs or goats or rats than attempt to [rely on them to] write anything real about my relationship.”

There is venom in his choice of words, but they are spoken matter-of-factly, with an almost eerie absence of malice in the tone. Depp is uncom­fortable in the role of the angry man, he’d much rather play the clown. He has an appreciation for the more absurd characters and circumstances of life. He derives fiendish pleasure, for example, from checking into hotels under naughty pseudonyms, forcing friend and stranger alike to participate in the joke. “It’s funny to get a wake-up call at some ludicrous hour, like 5.30am, and the guy has to say, ‘Good morning Mr. Donkey Penis. Good morning Mr. Drip Noodle, you have to get up now.'”

Despite the media frenzy that descended looking for a scapegoat fol­lowing River Phoenix’s overdose in October 1993, Depp’s Sunset Boulevard club the Viper Room remains one of the few safe havens he can retreat to. “It’s terrible when anybody dies, especially when somebody’s made a fatal mistake,” he says. “But the tabloid press grabbed ahold of that thing and made a circus out of it. Drugs are the number-one business in this country and they have to come down on one club on the Sunset Strip. River was trying to escape something. He could have been at a super­market, in a hotel room, driving in a car. Either way, it’s really sad.”

Recently, Depp has begun plotting his own Brando-style escape from Los Angeles, possibly to Paris or the serenity of a twelfth-century monastery in the south of France. “There’s a part of me that would like to have a place with endless land around me,” he says, “a haven in the country, somewhere you could ride a horse, or ride your bike and wouldn’t have to worry about 800 greedy people trying to get somewhere half a second in front of everyone else.”

For the time being he’ll have to be satisfied with the safe, protected world of the movie set. “Unfortunately, I feel more comfortable in front of the camera now than I do in life,” he admits. “On the set, you feel close to the people; you’re working together. When you’re in a restaurant in real life, you’re having dinner with the girl, drinking wine, you’re looking around and there are all these people looking at you. It’s a little weird.”

Depp pops out of his seat and announces “I have to get the shit taken off my face”, meaning his false goatee and dark foundation make-up. On his way out he tosses a book into my lap. It’s a biography of Joseph Pujol, Le Petomane, a fin de siecle Moulin Rouge curiosity who could fart “Claire de Lune” among other tunes. “That’s courage,” he says. “A guy who says, ‘Here’s my talent. Take it or leave it.’ Blows opera out his ass. That guy was a true artist. I mean that.”

US Magazine February 1994

US Magazine February 1994

JOHNNY DEPP APPEARS TO BE IN A TRANCE. HIS EYES ARE GLAZED, registering something halfway between panic and pure bliss; his arms twitch in a kind of slow morion; his famously bowed lips are frozen in a secretive semi-smile. 

This is how Depp behaves when he’s really huppy. He is standing in his favorite store, the Heritage Book Shop, on Melrose Avenue, in Hollywood, sraring at a stack of letters – unpublished correspondence between two well-known writers (whose names Depp has requested be kept off the record in case he buys them) – on a desk. Moments before, Depp’s arrival caused a cheery flutter of greetings from the sraff, all of whom the actor knows byname. “This is where he gets into trouble,” says owner Lou Weinstein with a wink, 

The 30-year-old actor has been coming here since he arrived in LA. from Miramar, Fla.,some 10 years ago as a high school dropout who thought playing guitar in a rock & roll band was his destiny. “I didn’t have any money, but they were always nice to me,” he says. Though Depp prohably looks the same as he did back then -today he’s wearing chinos and a black jacket so frayed it gives new meaning to the word threads -now he can afford the pricey first editions and rare manuscripts that put him over the moon: He’s a movie star. 

In the hierarchy of young Hollywood, Depp stands alone. While other actors in his age group compete for the privilege of toting tOm’ my guns, swashbllckling on horseback and diving from planes, he has managed to find roles in movies remarkably free of such cliches. Instead, Depp’s body of work consists of playing innocents

who wander quirkier roads: He was the ultimate juvenile delinquent in John Waters’ sublime teen sendup, Cry-Baby ( 1990), an exploited orphan in Tim Burton’s suburban fairy tale, Edward Scissorhands (1990), and a love-struck dyslexic with Buster Keaton tendencies in last year’s Benny &Joon. Currently he’s onscreen as a grocery delivery boy who has to care for his retarded younger brother and 500-pound mother in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. And mere days ago, he wrapped Ed Wood, his second collaboration with Tim Burton, in which Depp stars in the title role as the legendary bad-movie director with a penchant for wearing women’s clothes. 

Depp’s been turning down high-profile, big-studio pictures for some time now. For example, a few years back when he was TV’s actor du jour via 21 jump Street and Dawn Steel was running Columbia Pictures, she tried convincing him to take a leading role in Point Break. It should have been his big break, but he passed, and it went to Patrick Swayze. “And I’ve just offered him another movie and an enormous amount of money,” confesses Steel, who now heads her own production company at Disney. “And I know he will make the decision not based on anything other than whether or not he likes the part. Rising to the top of thc heap is irrelevant to him.” 

His friend Faye Dunaway doesn’t buy it. ~You may not see him saying, ‘God, I want to make it big in Hollywood,’ but he has – in his soul and in his belly – the fire for good work,” says Dunaway, who co-starred with Depp in Arizona Dream, the 1992 Emir Kusturica movie that has yet to be released stateside, “It would be too easy for him to go for the next Musketeers movie, you know? That’s not what he wants.” 

Says Gilbert Grape co-star Juliette Lewis; “A lot of actors and actresses just want to be safe and look really pretty and cool in front of the camera. Johnny’s not like that. He’s in it for the work and for creating.” 

As successful as he’s been at constructing a unique American art house career, Depp has been unable to control certain aspects of his fame. Although he claims not to understand why anyone cares about his love life, his romantic entanglements make for interesting gossip-column fodder. Married and divorced by the age of 22, he has subsequently been engaged to actresses Sherilyn Fenn, Jennifer Grey and Winona Ryder. His profile rose again when he opened the Viper Room, the Sunset Strip nightspot where rock stars have been known to play impromptu sets. And when River Phoenix collapsed and died outside the club last October, Dcpp again found himself in the news, held personally responsible for any and all of young Hollywood’s mistakes. 

Disarmingly friendly (he’ll say hello to passers-by who’ve recognized him) and unfailingly polite, Depp appears serious, responsible and in control of his life. Over endless cups of coffee and legions of cigarettes – his two vices – he responds to questions, his low voice stopping and starring to clarify a point. Darkly handsome to begin with (“I told him! was leaving my husband for him!” jokes Dawn Steel), he becomes more attractive, but for a different reason: He seems like a man who knows who he is. 

Are you ever gonna quit smokIng?

I’m no quitter. 

Never tried? 

I quit once for two weeks, and I was really, really miserable. And I had boundless energy, and I was having huge conversations with people I couldn’t stand, and at that point I just thought, What are you doing?! I’m really shocked at this whole nonsmoking thing. I mean, let’s just really go the distance: Let’s make it absolutely against the law to eat betwecn the hours of 9 p.m. and 4 a.m., and let’s make people walk backward, you know? [Mocking) I’m angry abour it.

So let’s talk about somethIng more pleasant’ ‘Gilbert Grape’ 

I haven’t Seen it yet. 

Why not? 

I’m waiting until the last possihle second. I think I should see it with a paying audience. I have no way of being objective -I get crazy and make people sick when I watch that stuff. So to see the real reaction would be grounding in a way – not to have those courtesy laughs and applause that happen in screenings. 

I confess I went to a screening – a friend and I – and we cried.

Yeah? Good. It’s nice to be affected by something. 

Your teeth are kind of gross in the movIe -I’m relieved that in person you have lovely teeth. 

[laughs] Yeah, they’re fine. I went to the dentist and had him do some bonding and some chipping for the movie. 

And YOU have lovely red hair in the movie. 

[smiles]  Miss Clairol. l don’t remember the number, just that it was redder than red. It had to do with this guy I grew up with…a friend named Bones, who saved my life once. I was doing a really ridiculous thing-I was blowing fire with gasoline in my mouth [shakes his head], and I lit my face on fire. I couldn’t get it out, and Bones put it out. Bones kind of reminded me of Gilbert. 

In the movie, your mother IS a wreck afler her husband leaves, and her children have to take care of things –  Did that parallel what happened when your parents split? 

I wouldn’t say it’s an exact parallel, but, you know, there are elements of being that age and going through that which parallel what Gilbert’s experiences might have been. It’s traumatic for everybody, and especially for a wife. My mom wasn’t well. So we all pulled together and did the best we could. And everything worked Out fine. Everybody is happy as … a big ball of snot. 

What a nice way of putting it. So, hmm, you’re 30. So …  

Yeah (nods], I’m 30. I’m approaching that area where I find myself thinking about all kinds of things I never thought of before. Like … silverware

Silverware? 

Yeah – silverware, plams, furniture and making an effort to be more organized than I’ve ever been. Whereas for 30 years, I had no control over that – I would just throw things, and it was like a filing system …. Bur now I’m trying to find a place for everything. It’s interesting. I think it’s just growing up. 

I was in this Antique store recently, and I saw this set of silverware – it was from the early ’30s, and it had Bakelite handles and I thought, Wow, this is really beautiful. So I decided to buy it. As I was leaving the store, I thought, Christ,  just bought silverware! This is insane. 

Now you have to get a set of dishes … 

I know. (Whispers] But I’m a little frightened, a little scared to buy plates …. I don’t know if I can do it. 

So you’re starting to think about all that grown-up stuff. 

Part of me does want to be grounded in that way and have a foundation and be amongst my stuff and live quietly, domestically. But the other part of me wants to, you know, rub mud all Over my face and climb trees …. It’s interesring because here I am at 30, and I find the two merging, and it’s easier – it’s not so much oil and vinegar anymore. And the good thing abut being a collector of stuff or having that place you’re afraid you’ll be stuck in because all your stuff is there, is that you can always pile it up and light it On fire.

So when do you think You’ll be ready to have children? 

I don’t know. I Just know that I’ve always loved kids, bur I’m also frightened of them. little tiny babies with their little rolling heads (wide-eyed, as if holding a baby], no neck muscles formed yet. They frighten me, you know? But I have a lot of friends who have kids, and it’s great for them, so…

Is marriage your ideal? 

 Yeah, that is certainly the ideal situation. I wouldn’t do it in this town, though. Ideally I’d have a big chunk of land somewhere, not necessarily in this country, maybe in France or something. A wife, kids, a dog, some chickens, a pig, a mule … But there is still this part of me that can’t sit around in one spot. 

 But an actor doesn’t sit around in one spot. Every moyie is another location. 

 Yeah, but one thing about being on a film  that’s always uncomfortable for me is that I have to be on the set for a certain time, and I have to be there every day. So for three, four months, I have to be somewhere, and there’s a very strong part of me that doesn’t want to have to be anywhere. 

 Are you saying you’re getting out of the business someday? 

 Maybe, I’m not sure. I mean, it could all go away in 20 minutes. Anything’s possible. I like the business – more than I ever did, at this point – and 1 feel myself becoming more adult about the business. But there are other things I want to do. [Pause] I like the process of creating, whether it’s writing – and this is not necessarily for the public, it’s just for me – writing, making little films, drawing, making music for friends, not for any kind of record deal. In the same way, I like acting – I like the collaboration between a filmmaker and an actor, an actor and the Camera crew, an actor and the grips, because to me all those people are working together and conspiring for me. 

 What Is it about seeing yourself onscreen that makes you queasy? 

I don’t know. [Squirming] Everything – it’s Just so uncomfortable. I guess, On a real simple level, as an actor, you see things you could have done. (A bird lands at bis feet and stares at him as if for food. Sorry, I don’t have a any food. I’ll give him Some sugar. [he opens a packet and pours it on the groud.] Bill also, I’m comfortable with the fact that 1 may never be satisfied with my work and I like that-l don’t want to be too satisfied.[The bird moves to a tree above his head.] He’s sharpening his beak …. I think he’s gonna shoot himself into the back of my head, burrow into my skull. 

That would be really great for this story. You’ve gone far in your 10 years as an actor. 

 Yeah, I’ve been very, very lucky. 

But is it luck, or did you want it that way? 

 Well, it is the way I wanted it, but people don’t always get what they want. I’ve been lucky that people like John Waters and Tim Burton were willing to take a chance with me. 

How did you get Tim to see you? 

I resigned myself that he’d never see me in the role (of Edward Scissorhands]. I was sent the script by my agent, read it, thought it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever read, and my agent said I’d meet with Tim Burton. And I said, “Forget it, won’t happen. It’ll just be embarrassing.” I canceled the meeting, but my agent pushed me, and I had the meeting, and it went really well. He liked me, I liked him, but still I thought it would never happen. Then I got the call saying I got It and ... [sbakes head) I was ecstatic. 


And now you’ve iust done ‘Ed Wood’ with him. 

Ed Wood was a perfect experience. I know that sounds like I’m bulls—ting because everybody says that after a film, but it was, really, and a perfect escape from playing a serious role in a kind of sad movie like Gilbert Grape. 

Ed Wood liked to wearwomen’s clothes. Did that require lots of research? 

 No, not really. I just thought I’d get comfortable with the feeling of being in women’s … articles. I’d go out with a tight bra on under my shirt and jacket. Around the house I wore slips and pumps and then tested the waters with garter belts and stockings, I got braver every day. 

 So what surprised you about the experience? 

The shocking thing was how much goes into the process – the stockings, the garters, then doing those things up and then girdles, brassieres, straps! … It made me have more respect for you guys – for women – when you get dolled up. And I have a profound respect for transvestites, who get all dolled up and then have things to hide. It’s painful …. 

 Perhaps you kept an angora sweater from the film? 

I kept an angora Sweater and my pumps. 

Oh, really? 

I like to keep articles of clothing from films I do. I started on Platoon -I kept part of my uniform, the boots, I Stole the helmet. From CryBaby I have my leather jacket and boots and jeans, from Scissorands I have the costume and the hands, from Benny & Joon the cane, the hats and a jacket or two, from Gilbert Grape I think I just took some clothing. 

 Are you aware that people say, “He does all those weird movies”? 

Yeah, [laughs] I just don’t see the point in redoing things that have been done 10,000 times and done better by someone else. 

But do you consciously not do big mainstream movies that make, like, $100 million? 

I’d love to be in a film that makes $300 million -it’d be great. But I’m not gonna do something just to gain more commercial success. 

You wouldn’t shy away from Car chases and guns? 

No. I just don’t feel that it’s right to do something …. I don’t feel like I have to make $15 million or that the picture has to make $300 million. My job is just to try to play a character and take that character from point A to point B to wherever. 

In person, you don’t seem hungry or ambitious at all, yet objectively, considering who you’ve worked with, you seem very ambitious. 

There are things I’d like to achieve in my life …. I do ultimately Want to have enough money so that when I do have kids, they don’t have to worry …. I suppose the only ambition I have is to be able to do the right thing and not have to compromise. 

Do you want to create art? 

I want to create … things. And if it’s art, then that’s good. If it’s not, then I don’t know what I want to call it. I want to create things and to be involved in creating things. I don’t know if movie making is art, either. I really don’t. When you look at something like Beauty and the Beast by Cocteau, there are things in that film that were so beautiful, so surreal, so great, that you think of it as art. But, I don’t know, is it really? I mean, look, it’s too easy to make something today that people consider art. I don’t think that pouring ketchup on your hand and chopping it off is art. 

It just occurs to me that you’re a high scbool dropout. But you’re well read, you know a lot about art and history. Do you think In any way that you’re compensating for your lack of formal education? 

Definitely. But immediately, you know-as soon as I dropped out. When I was in school, I didn’t feel inspired to learn. And when I got out, you know, I wanted to know what my big brother knew. My big brother was a guy who read everything and knew great books and knew great art and knew great music, and I admired that. I don’t think I read a thing in high school. 

So you’re making up for lost time? 

Sure. You Can learn a lot from books. I got obsessed with certain periods in history and the lives of writers and painters, and I want to know about them. And then when I learn about them, I want to know why they did certain things -the process is endless. 

Yeah. So let’s just get something over with. Let’s talk about the Viper Room. You were there the night River Phoenix died? 

[Nods] 

When did you find out that he had died? 

[Clears his throat] Well, before we go into this, which we can, there are two different subjects. One of the subjects is, you know, the unfortunate, very sad death of River. Then there’s me being attacked by tabloids and stuff about the club. So, one, your question: I found out that it was River at about three or four in the morning. I was calling to find out how the young man was who had been taken away in an ambulance. 

I had literally walked off the stage – me and a group of guys were playing – and one of the bouncers said, “One of Flea’s friends is having some kind of seizure,” or something like that. I walked out the door, and the paramedics were there with this young man, and there was a bunch of people around. And I stood there, and I was hoping that, you know, everything would be OK. And I let the person -who 

I later found out was Samantha Mathis – I said to her, “If there’s anything we can do, if yon need a ride to the hospital, whatever,” and she said: “No, I have a way to the hospital. I’m fine.” And they took him away,and Flea went in the ambulance with him. That was probably one in the morning, and then, later that night, after calling the hospital and calling the club back and calling everybody, I found out that it was … that the kid had passed away, and that it was River. 

Did you know him? 

We had met. We weren’t dose friends … and on a professional level, I respected him as an actor. I mean, there was a specific road he was on that I respected as an actor [struggling], and it’s realIy unfortunate and a waste, I think. I feel terrible for his family. And I felt angry at the way that the media handled it. And that’s the tabloid press and the legitimate press. A lot of the legitimate press, I thought, really merged with the tabloids on this thing and exploited the situation, and I Thought it was really disrespectful and unfortunate that his family and friends had to experience that 911 call, you know? And I don’t know his family, but I understand they’re a very close, strong family …. I just … I’m sympathetic. 

You closed the pub for a week? 

About a week and a half, I think. 

Had you considered closing It permanently? 

I considered closing it permanently. I.. [uneasily] I considered it before that night. Our initial feeling on the club is we- 

Who’s ”we”? 

The other two owners, Sal Jenco and Chuck E. Weiss. We can take this little space on Sunset Boulevard, we Can make it nice inside and create a place where people can go and hear Billie Holiday over the sound system, and Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway, and John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra or Chet Baker. … And it took on a life of its own. We had lines outside of the place! And I thought, My God, this is not what I wanted at all. So, yeah, I’ve thought of that all along, since day one. 

One story that was printed said that the night the Viper Room reopened, a well-known drug dealer was standing by the front door. 

[Disbelief] Who’s to say? Does a drug dealer wear a sign or a jacket that says, “I’m a drug dealer”? I mean, who knows who’s what? You cannot – in a nightclub in any city that I know of -go and strip·search people. [Strongly] And I do wonder if these people think that I’m ignorant or insane- that I’m going to allow people to do drugs in a place that I am a part owner of. I would never allow that to happen …. look, jf anything positive is to be gained, it’s this: 

A normal young man with a good head on his shoulders and a promising future, a guy who was a good human being, made a mistake. And it’s a mistake that anyone of us could make. And kids should know that, and adults should know that. People should know that …. you don’t tarnish the memory of this person because he made a mistake. We’ve all done things we shouldn’t have done. Everybody. No one is exempt. 

One more thing, and we’ll change the subject. You’ve answered this before, but once more; Are your drug days far in the past? 

[Nods] Yeah, it’s in the past. Definitely. 

OK. There’s another subject you don’t want to talk about: your personal life. 

[Stiffly] yeah …. 

You were married and divorced by the age of 22? 

[Warily1 Uh-huh. 

Are you still friends with your ex-wife? Yeah. 

Since then, you’ve had a succession of serious relationships, three broken engagements. 

Uh-huh. 

What I’m getting at is, didn’t your divorce scare you from trying marriage again? 

[Long pause] I think what it all boils down to is, I was having a real good time. [Pause] I mean, I can’t say that I regret anything I’ve done, as far as girlfriends or being engaged goes. I had a good time. 

But you didn’t marry any of them …. 

I am very … I’m uncomfortable planning something in the future. I’m uncomfortable saying, “This is going to be happening when I’m 32,” you know what I mean? So I rely very much on what’s happening at the particular moment, and I like living like that. So if I’ve gotten engaged or if I got married and divorced and this and that, vou know, it’s really – in my opinion-unimportant to anybody else’s lives. It is not going to affect their lives one 

way or the other, so why are they so curious about it? 

They’re curious because these women are famous- 

No, when Sherdyn Fenn and I were together, no one had really heard of me. And that was before she had sort of broken out into the public eye. 

So what happened? 

I mean, I couldn’t give specific reasons for anything that l’ve done, you know, and a team of shrinks couldn’t, either, probably. You know? [Dry laught] Am I trying to repair my mother and father breaking up? I don’t know. I don’t know what any of it is. And I really, to be honest, don’t care, because I don’t regret any of it. I had a really good time. 

OK. Let’s lighten up and talk about your movies and the people you’ve worked with. We’ll leave out’A Nightmare on Elm Street.’ 

That was a fun experience. Not many people can say they were Slicked through a bed [laughs1. 

‘Platoon’: What do you remember about Oliver Stone? 

Um, Oliver is a really great director. He’s got his methods that, you know, that work. He wanted to keep us angry and kind of hungry and confused, and he did certain things that kept us that way. He would try to piss us off. I have a lot of respect for Oliver. 

I think you’re being diplomatic. 

[laughts] He’s an interesting guy. 

Cry·Baby·, Where to begin? A cast of millions …. 

A great experience. 

Obviously you bonded big-time with John Waters. 

Yeah, I consider John one of my best friends. But also, not a lot of people can say that they have been able to sit down at a table with Iggy Pop and Patricia Hearst and Polly Bergen and John Waters all at the same time. 

What did you think of Patricia Hearst? 

I love her. I think she’s great. She’s really a good, good, good person. [Pause1 I Sort of had a crush on her. 

‘Edward 5cissorhands .. : 

[Smiles] Edward … 

… and Tim Burton … 

Tim. I love Tim. Tim’s brain is incredible. He was one of the few people I think I could call a genius. Believe me, I’m careful with that word. But Tim is. 

Winona Ryder. 

Um … nice girl. 

C’mon. As an actress. 

A very good actress. A really good actress. 

Aidan Quinn in ‘Benny&Joon.’ 

He is just really a great acror. And my idea of what a real man is, He’s a great husband. He’s a great father. … IGrins] I’m trying to think if there is anyone I Call trash … 

Please do! 

I know. I just can’t think of anyone …. 

What’s Juliette Lewis like? 

Cool. Really calm. Nice, sweet. [Laughs] She’s very funny, you know, l love the way she’s just, like, seen everything. It’s just like [imitating her distinctive voice], ‘Yeah, whatever.’ 

It’s been written that you two have been dating. 

Oh yeah, I know. No, it’s not true. And it was written that we were, you know, shtupping while we were doing the movie. 

Shtupping. 

Shtupping. No. She’s a friend of mine. We made a film together. 

I heard. you loved working wIth Martin Landau in ‘Ed Wood.’ 

I admire Martin. He’s rejuvenated my respect for acting and my respect for it as an interesting and fun creative process. He made me feel like you can do this and have a great time. I don’t go for the whole troubled-actor thing – the pained, tortured actor. I just feel fortunate and lucky. 

So you’ve made a couple of great movies and worked with a lot of interesting people. Does it feel like 10 years since you started? 

No, no …. [Grins] Uh-uh. It feels like 30 years and 2 years at the Same time. 

Can you picture yourself in 10 years? 

Only, You know, very loosely do I think about things like that. It just doesn’t do any good. I just hope, you know what I mean? I hope everything is OK. I hope my family’s OK. And I hope that I’m able to do the things I want to do, whether it’s acting or whatever …. 

There you go again, hinting that you’re leaving the business. 

[Teasing] Yeah, you never know …. 

Just promise that you won’t quit the business by the time this story comes out, OK? 

I [Laughs] No, no, no. I won’t quit. 

US, February 1994 – Johnny Depp

US, February 1994 – Johnny Depp

Title: Johnny Depp

Author: Leslie Van Buskirk

Publication: US

Issue: February 1994

 

Photo1JOHNNY DEPP APPEARS TO BE IN A TRANCE. HIS EYES ARE GLAZED, registering something halfway between panic and pure bliss; his arms twitch in a kind of slow motion; his famously bowed lips are frozen in a secretive semi-smile.

This is how Depp behaves when he’s really happy. He is standing in his favorite store, the Heritage Book Shop, on Melrose Avenue, in Hollywood, staring at a stack of letters — unpublished correspon­dence between two well-known writers (whose names Depp has requested be kept off the record in case he buys them) — on a desk. Moments before, Depp’s arrival caused a cheery flutter of greetings from the staff, all of whom the actor knows by name. “This is where he gets into trouble,” says owner Lou Weinstein with a wink.

The 30-ycar-old actor has been coming here since he arrived in L.A. from Miramar, Fla., some 10 years ago as a high school dropout who thought playing guitar in a rock and roll band was his destiny. “I didn’t have any money, but they were always nice to me,” he says. Though Depp probably looks the same as he did back then — today he’s wear­ing chinos and a black jacket so frayed it gives new meaning to the word threads — now he can afford the pricey first editions and rare manuscripts that put him over the moon: He’s a movie star.

In the hierarchy of young Hollywood, Depp stands alone. While other actors in his age group compete for the privilege of toting tom­my guns, swashbuckling on horseback and diving from planes, he has managed to find roles in movies remarkably free of such clichés. Instead, Depp’s body of work consists of playing innocents who wander quirkier roads: He was the ultimate juvenile delinquent in John Waters’ sublime teen sendup, Cry-Baby (1990), an exploited orphan in Tim Burton’s suburban fairy tale, Edward Scissorhands (1990), and a love-struck dyslexic with Buster Keaton tendencies in last year’s Benny &Joon. Currently he’s onscreen as a grocery deliv­ery boy who has to care for his retarded younger brother and 500-pound mother in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. And mere days ago, he wrapped Ed Wood, his second collaboration with Tim Burton, in which Depp stars in the title role as the legendary bad-movie direc­tor with a penchant for wearing women’s clothes.

Depp’s been turning down high-profile, big-studio pictures for some time now. For example, a few years back when he was TV’s actor du jour via 21 jump Street and Dawn Steel was running Columbia Pictures, she tried convincing him to take a leading role in Point Break. It should have been his big break, but he passed, and it went to Patrick Swayze. “And I’ve just offered him another movie and an enormous amount of money,” confesses Steel, who now heads her own production company at Disney. “And I know he will make the decision not based on anything other than whether or not he likes the part. Rising to the top of the heap is irrelevant to him.”

His friend Faye Dunaway doesn’t buy it. “You may not see him saying, ‘God, I want to make it big in Hollywood,’ but he has — in his soul and in his belly — the fire for good work,” says Dunaway, who co-starred with Depp in Arizona Dream, the 1992 Emir Kusturica movie that has yet to be released stateside. “It would be too easy for him to go for the next Musketeers movie, you know? That’s not what he wants.”

Says Gilbert Grape co-star Juliette Lewis: “A lot of actors and actresses just want to be safe and look really pretty and cool in front of the camera. Johnny’s not like that. He’s in it for the work and for creating.”

As successful as he’s been at constructing a unique American art-house career, Depp has been unable to control certain aspects of his fame. Although he claims not to understand why anyone cares about his love life, his romantic entanglements make for interest­ing gossip-column fodder. Married and divorced by the age of 22, he has subsequently been engaged to actresses Sherilyn Fenn, Jennifer Grey and Winona Ryder. His profile rose again when he opened the Viper Room, the Sunset Strip nightspot where rock stars have been known to play impromptu sets. And when River Phoenix collapsed and died outside the club last Oct­ober, Depp again found himself in the news, held personally responsible for any and all of young Hollywood’s mistakes. Disarmingly friendly (he’ll say hello to passers-by who’ve rec­ognized him) and unfailingly polite, Depp appears serious, responsible and in control of his life. Over endless cups of coffee and legions of cigarettes — his two vices — he responds to questions, his low voice stop­ping and starting to clarify a point. Darkly handsome to be­gin with (“I told him I was leav­ing my husband for him!” jokes Dawn Steel), he becomes more attractive, but for a different reason: He seems like a man who knows who he is.

Are you ever gonna quit smoking?

I’m no quitter.

Never tried?

I quit once for two weeks, and I was really, really miserable. And I had boundless energy, and I was having huge conversations with people I couldn’t stand, and at that point I just thought, What are you doing?! I’m really shocked at this whole nonsmoking thing. I mean, let’s just really go the distance: Let’s make it absolutely against the law to eat between the hours of 9 p.m. and 4 a.m., and let’s make people walk backward, you know? [Mocking] I’m angry about it.

So let’s talk about something more pleasant: ‘Gilbert Grape.’Photo2

I haven’t seen it yet.

Why not?

I’m waiting until the last possible second. I think I should see it with a paying audience. I have no way of being objective — I get crazy and make people sick when I watch that stuff. So to see the real reaction would be grounding in a way — not to have those courtesy laughs and applause that happen in screenings.

I confess I went to a screening – a friend and I – and we cried.

Yeah? Good. It’s nice to be affected by something.

Your teeth are kind of gross in the movie – I’m relieved that in per­son you have lovely teeth.

[Laughs] Yeah, they’re fine. I went to the dentist and had him do some bonding and some chipping for the movie.

And you have lovely red hair in the movie.

[Smiles] Miss Clairol. I don’t remember the number, just that it was redder than red. It had to do with this guy I grew up with, a friend named Bones, who saved my life once. I was doing a really ridiculous thing —I was blowing fire with gasoline in my mouth [shakes his head], and 1 lit my face on fire. I couldn’t get it out, and Bones put it out. Bones kind of reminded me of Gilbert.

In the movie, your mother is a wreck after her husband leaves, and her children have to take care of things. Did that parallel what happened when your parents split?

I wouldn’t say it’s an exact par­allel, but, you know, there are elements of being that age and going through that which par­allel what Gilbert’s experiences might have been. It’s traumatic for everybody, and especially for a wife. My mom wasn’t well. So we all pulled together and did the best we could. And everything worked out fine. Everybody is happy as…a big ball of snot.

What a nice way of putting it. So, hmm, you’re 30. So….

Yeah [nods], I’m 30. I’m ap­proaching that area where I find myself thinking about all kinds of things I never thought of before. Like…silverware.

Silverware?

Yeah — silverware, plants, fur­niture and making an effort to be more organized than I’ve ever been. Whereas for 30 years, I had no control over that — I would just throw things, and it was like a filing system…. But now I’m trying to find a place for everything. It’s interesting. I think it’s just growing up. I was in this antique store recently, and I saw this set of silver­ware — it was from the early ’30s, and it had Bakelite handles — and I thought, Wow, this is really beautiful. So I decided to buy it. As I was leaving the store, I thought, Christ, I just bought sil­verware! This is insane.

Now you have to get a set of dishes….

I know. [Whispers] But I’m a little frightened, a little scared to buy plates…. I don’t know if I can do it.

So you’re starting to think about all that grown-up stuff.

Part of me does want to be grounded in that way and have a foun­dation and be amongst my stuff and live quietly, domestically. But the other part of me wants to, you know, rub mud all over my face and climb trees…. It’s interesting because here I am at 30, and I find the two merging, and it’s easier — it’s not so much oil and vinegar anymore. And the good thing about being a collector of stuff or having that place you’re afraid you’ll be stuck in because all your stuff is there, is that you can always pile it up and light it on fire.

So when do you think you’ll be ready to have children?

I don’t know. I just know that I’ve always loved kids, but I’m also frightened of them. Little tiny babies with their little rolling heads [wide-eyed, as if holding a baby], no neck muscles formed yet. They frighten me, you know? But I have a lot of friends who have kids, and it’s great for them, so….

Is marriage your ideal?

Yeah, that is certainly the ideal situation. I wouldn’t do it in this town, though. Ideally I’d have a big chunk of land somewhere, not necessarily in this coun­try, maybe in France or something. A wife, kids, a dog, some chickens, a pig, a mule…. But there is still this part of me that can’t sit around in one spot.

But an actor doesn’t sit around in one spot. Every movie is another location.

Yeah, but one thing about being on a film that’s always uncomfortable for me is that I have to be on the set for a certain time, and I have to be there every day. So for three, four months, I have to be somewhere, and there’s a very strong part of me that doesn’t want to have to be anywhere.

Are you saying you’re getting out of the business someday?

Maybe, I’m not sure. I mean, it could all go away in 20 minutes. Anything’s possible. I like the business — more than I ever did, at this point — and I feel myself becoming more adult about the business. But there are other things I want to do. [Pause] I like the process of creat­ing, whether it’s writing — and this is not nec­essarily for the public, it’s just for me —writing, making little films, drawing, making music for friends, not for any kind of record deal. In the same way, I like acting — I like the collabora­tion between a filmmaker and an actor, an actor and the camera crew, an actor and the grips, because to me all those people are work­ing together and conspiring for me.

What is it about seeing yourself onscreen that makes you queasy?

I don’t know. [Squirming] Everything —it’s just so uncomfortable. I guess, on a real simple lev­el, as an actor, you see things you could have done. [A bird lands at his feet and stares at him as if for food.] Sorry, I don’t have any food. I’ll give him some sugar. [He opens a packet and pours it on the ground. ] But also, I’m comfort­able with the fact that I may never be satisfied with my work and I like that — I don’t want to be too satisfied. [The bird moves to a tree above his head.] He’s sharpening his beak— I think he’s gonna shoot himself into the back of my head, burrow into my skull.

That would be really great for this story. You’ve gone far in your 10 years as an actor.

Yeah, I’ve been very, very lucky.

But is it luck, or did you want it that way?

Well, it is the way I wanted it, but people don’t always get what they want. I’ve been lucky that people like John Waters and Tim Burton were willing to take a chance with me. How did you get Tim to see you?

I resigned myself that he’d never see me in the role |of Edward ScissorhandsJ. I was sent the script by my agent, read it, thought it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever read, and my agent said I’d meet with Tim Burton. And I said: “Forget it, won’t happen. It’ll just be embarrassing.” I canceled the meet­ing, but my agent pushed me, and I had the meeting, and it went really well. He liked me, I liked him, but still I thought it would never hap­pen. Then I got the call saying I got it and…[shakes bead] I was ecstatic.

And now you’ve just done ‘Ed Wood’ with him.

Ed Wood was a perfect experience. I know that sounds like I’m bullsting because everybody says that after a film, but it was, really, and a perfect escape from playing a serious role in a kind of sad movie like Gilbert Grape.

Ed Wood liked to wear women’s clothes. Did that require lots of research?

No, not really. I just thought I’d get comfortable with the feeling of being in women’s…articles. I’d go out with a tight bra on under my shirt and jacket. Around the house I wore slips and pumps and then tested the waters with garter belts and stockings. I got braver every day.

So what surprised you about the experience?

The shocking thing was how much goes into the process — the stockings, the garters, then doing those things up and then girdles, bras­sieres, straps…. It made me have more respect for you guys — for women — when you get dolled up. And I have a profound respect for transvestites, who get all dolled up and then have things to hide. It’s painful….

Perhaps you kept an angora sweater from the film?

I kept an angora sweater and my pumps.

Oh, really?

I like to keep articles of clothing from films I do. I started on Platoon—I kept part of my uni­form, the boots, I stole the helmet. From Cry-Baby I have my leather jacket and boots and jeans, from Scissorhands I have the costume and the hands, from Benny & Joon the cane, the hats and a jacket or two, from Gilbert Grape I think I just took some clothing.

Are you aware that people say, “He does all those weird movies”?

Yeah. [Laughs] I just don’t see the point in redoing things that have been done 10,000 times and done better by someone else.

But do you consciously not do big mainstream movies that make, like, $100 million?

I’d love to be in a film that makes $300 million — it’d be great. But I’m not gonna do something just to gain more commercial success.

You wouldn’t shy away from car chases and guns?

No. I just don’t feel that it’s right to do something…. I don’t feel like I have to make $15 million or that the picture has to make $300 million. My job is just to try to play a character and take that char­acter from point A to point B to wherever.

In person, you don’t seem hungry or ambitious at all, yet objectively, considering who you’ve worked with, you seem very ambitious.

There are things I’d like to achieve in my life…. I do ultimately want to have enough money so that when I do have kids, they don’t have to worry…. I suppose the only ambition I have is to be able to do the right thing and not have to compromise.

Do you want to create art?

I want to create…things. And if it’s art, then that’s good. If it’s not, then I don’t know what I want to call it. I want to create things and to be involved in creating things. I don’t know if movie making is art, either. I really don’t. When you look at something like Beauty and the Beast by Cocteau, there are things in that film that were so beautiful, so surreal, so great, that you think of it as art. But, I don’t know, is it really? I mean, look, it’s too easy to make something today that people consider art. I don’t think that pouring ketchup on your hand and chopping it off is art.

It just occurs to me that you’re a high school dropout. But you’re well read, you know a lot about art and history. Do you think in any way that you’re compensating for your lack of formal education?

Definitely. But immediately, you know—as soon as I dropped out. When I was in school, I didn’t feel inspired to learn. And when I got out, you know, I wanted to know what my big brother knew. My big brother was a guy who read everything and knew great books and knew great art and knew great music, and I admired that. I don’t think I read a thing in high school.

So you’re making up for lost time?

Sure. You can learn a lot from books. I get obsessed with certain periods in history and the lives of writers and painters, and I want to know about them. And then when I learn about them, I want to know why they did certain things — the process is endless.

Yeah. So let’s just get something over with. Let’s talk about the Viper Room. You were there the night River Phoenix died?

[Nods.]

When did you find out that he had died?

[Clears his throat] Well, before we go into this, which we can, there are two different subjects. One of the subjects is, you know, the unfortunate, very sad death of River. Then there’s me being attacked by tabloids and stuff about the club. So, one, your ques­tion: I found out that it was River at about three or four in the morning. I was calling to find out how the young man was who had been taken away in an ambulance.

I had literally walked off the stage — me and a group of guys were playing—and one of the bouncers said, “One of Flea’s friends is hav­ing some kind of seizure,” or something like that. I walked out the door, and the paramedics were there with this young man, and there was a bunch of people around. And I stood there, and I was hoping that, you know, everything would be OK. And I let the person—who I later found out was Samantha Mathis — I said to her, “If there’s anything we can do, if you need a ride to the hospital, whatever,” and she said: “No, I have a way to the hospital. I’m fine.” And they took him away, and Flea went in the ambulance with him. That was probably one in the morning, and then, later that night, after calling the hospital and calling the club back and calling everybody, I found out that it was.. .that the kid had passed away, and that it was River.

Did you know him?

We had met. We weren’t close friends…and on a professional lev­el, I respected him as an actor. I mean, there was a specific road he was on that I respected as an actor…[struggling], and it’s real­ly unfortunate and a waste, I think. I feel terrible for his family. And I felt angry at the way that the media handled it. And that’s the tabloid press and the legitimate press. A lot of the legitimate press, I thought, really merged with the tabloids on this thing and exploited the situation, and I thought it was really disrespectful and unfortunate that his family and friends had to experience that 911 call, you know? And I don’t know his family, but I understand they’re a very close, strong family…. I just…I’m sympathetic.

You closed the club for a week?

About a week and a half, I think.

Had you considered closing it permanently?

I considered closing it permanently. I…[uneasily] I considered it before that night. Our initial feeling on the club is we —

Who’s “we”?

The other two owners, Sal Jenco and Chuck E. Weiss. We can take this little space on Sunset Boulevard, we can make it nice inside and create a place where people can go and hear Billie Holiday over the sound system, and Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway, and John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra or Chet Baker…. And it took on a life of its own. We had lines outside of the place! And I thought, My God, this is not what I wanted at all. So, yeah, I’ve thought of that all along, since day one.

One story that was printed said that the night the Viper Room re­opened, a well-known drug dealer was standing by the front door.

[Disbelief] Who’s to say? Does a drug dealer wear a sign or a jack­et that says, “I’m a drug dealer”? I mean, who knows who’s what? You cannot — in a nightclub in any city that I know of— go and strip-search people. [Strongly] And I do wonder if these people think that I’m ignorant or insane — that I’m going to allow people to do drugs in a place that I am a part owner of. I would never allow that to happen…. Look, if anything positive is to be gained, it’s this: A normal young man with a good head on his shoulders and a promising future, a guy who was a good human being, made a mis­take. And it’s a mistake that any one of us could make. And kids should know that, and adults should know that. People should know that…. You don’t tarnish the memory of this person because he made a mistake. We’ve all done things we shouldn’t have done. Everybody. No one is exempt.

One more thing, and we’ll change the subject. You’ve answered this before, but once more: Are your drug days far in the past?

[Nods] Yeah, it’s in the past. Definitely.

OK. There’s another subject you don’t want to talk about: your per­sonal life.

[Stiffly] Yeah….

You were married and divorced by the age of 22?

[Warily] Uh-huh.

Are you still friends with your ex-wife?

Yeah.

Since then, you’ve had a succession of serious relationships, three bro­ken engagements.

Uh-huh.

What I’m getting at is, didn’t your divorce scare you from trying mar­riage again?

[Long pause] I think what it all boils down to is, I was having a real good time. [Pause] I mean, i can’t say that I regret anything I’ve done, as far as girlfriends or being engaged goes. I had a good time.

But you didn’t marry any of them….

I am very…I’m uncomfortable planning something in the future. I’m uncomfortable saying, “This is going to be happening when I’m 32,” you know what I mean? So I rely very much on what’s happening at the particular moment, and I like living like that. So if I’ve gotten engaged or if I got mar­ried and divorced and this and that, you know, it’s really —in my opinion —unimportant to anybody else’s lives. It is not going to affect their lives one way or the other, so why are they so curious about it?

They’re curious because these women are famous —

No, when Sherilyn Fenn and I were together, no one had real­ly heard of me. And that was before she had sort of broken out into the public eye.

So what happened?

I mean, I couldn’t give specific reasons for anything that I’ve done, you know, and a team of shrinks couldn’t, either, proba­bly. You know? [Dry laugh] Am I trying to repair my mother and father breaking up? I don’t know. I don’t know what any of it is. And I really, to be hon­est, don’t care, because I don’t regret any of it. I had a really good time.

OK. Let’s lighten up and talk about your movies and the people you’ve worked with. We’ll leave out ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street.’

That was a fun experience. Not many people can say they were sucked through a bed [laughs]

‘Platoon’: What do you remember about Oliver Stone?

Um, Oliver is a really great director. He’s got his methods that, you know, that work. He wanted to keep us angry and kind of hun­gry and confused, and he did certain things that kept us that way. He would try to piss us off. I have a lot of respect for Oliver.

I think you’re being diplomatic.

[Laughs] He’s an interesting guy.

‘Cry-Baby’: Where to begin? A cast of millions….

A great experience.

Obviously you bonded big-time with John Waters.

Yeah, I consider John one of my best friends. But also, not a lot of people can say that they have been able to sit down at a table with Iggy Pop and Patricia Hearst and Polly Bergen and John Waters all at the same time.

What did you think of Patricia Hearst?Photo4

I love her. 1 think she’s great. She’s really a good, good, good per­son. [Pause] I sort of had a crush on her.

‘Edward Scissorhands…’

[Smiles] Edward…

…and Tim Burton…

Tim. I love Tim. Tim’s brain is incredible. He was one of the few people I think I could call a genius. Believe me, I’m careful with that word. But Tim is.

Winona Ryder.

Um…nice girl.

C’mon. As an actress.

A very good actress. A really good actress.

Aidan Quinn in ‘Benny & Joon.’

He is just really a great actor. And my idea of what a real man is: He’s a great husband. He’s a great father…. [Grins] I’m trying to think if there is anyone I can trash…

Please do!

I know. I just can’t think of anyone….

What’s Juliette Lewis like?

Cool. Really calm. Nice, sweet. [Laughs] She’s very funny, you know, I love the way she’s just, like, seen everything. It’s just like [imitating her distinctive voice], ‘Yeah, whatever.’

It’s been written that you two have been dating.

Oh yeah, I know. No, it’s not true. And it was written that we were, you know, shtupping while we were doing the movie.

Shtupping.

Shtupping. No. She’s a friend of mine. We made a film together.

I hear you loved working with Martin Landau in ‘Ed Wood.’

I admire Martin. He’s rejuve­nated my respect for acting and my respect for it as an interest­ing and fun creative process. He made me feel like you can do this and have a great time. I don’t go for the whole troubled-actor thing — the pained, tortured actor. I just feel fortunate and lucky.

So you’ve made a couple of great movies and worked with a lot of inter­esting people. Does it feel like 10 years since you started?

No, no…. [Grins] Uh-uh. It feels like 30 years and 2 years at the same time.

Can you picture yourself in 10 years?

Only, you know, very loosely do I think about things like that. It just doesn’t do any good. I just hope, you know what I mean? I hope everything is OK. I hope my family’s OK. And I hope that I’m able to do the things I want to do, whether it’s acting or whatever—

There you go again, hinting that you’re leaving the business.

[Teasing] Yeah, you never know….

Just promise that you won’t quit the business by the time this story comes out, OK?

[Laughs] No, no, no. I won’t quit.

UK Sky 02 / 1991

UK Sky 02 / 1991

Johnny Deeper

Michael Jackson was interested in the part. So was Tom Cruise. But the title role in Edward Scissorhands went to former teen-idol Johnny Depp. Described by one movie director as  “he best looking gas-station attendant who ever lived”, Depp looks set to finally shed his pretty boy image an emerge as a serious actor. Bill Zehme met him in LA….

Johnny 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 fiancee, 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 dryas 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 therote 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 entireworld,and even inthe 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 impassloneo, 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!”; 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 evi I 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:Hilis. 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 operrt”

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 asto balance the Indian chieftattooed 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 (‘(win 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.

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 (Beetlejuice. 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 child 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 ajerk,” 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. Theirfirst date. a few weeks later. was a party atthe 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 regu larly 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 shittyabout 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;’! 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 …. lts 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 livingroom 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.

We 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.1 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 t.ugosi’s old house.” he says. “Or Errol Flynrrs. Or Charlie Chaplins. 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.the 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 .. ” 

US – The Face July 1991

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Premiere

CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF THE DEPP KIND

I had begun working in NYC in early May while on break from school. Well 3 of my close friends happened to be in the city on the day of the Fear and Loathing premiere, although I had no idea it was going on. Well they got wind of it mid-day and hurried down (camera in hand) to capture the whole thing for me.

My friend Jesse, a sometimes over zealous fellow, somehow got into the press box at the premiere. He said that it had been getting late and he thought that maybe Johnny wasn’t coming. However, out from the last limo to arrive, stepped Johnny himself.

I will now tell the story as Jesse told it to me:

Johnny stepped from the limo wearing a dark suit and the appropriate dark sunglasses and began to walk the red carpet. By now the photographers and on-lookers were whipped up into a frenzied excitement. Jesse said that people were climbing all over each other, shouting his name. Jesse, who is usually calm, said that at this point even he was star struck. I guess he was swept up in the moment or something but he became obsessed with getting Johnny’s attention.

Jesse started taking pictures and shouting his name but did not think he could be heard over the photographers who were doing the same thing. Well just as Jesse was sure that Johnny was about to pass him–Johnny stopped with his back facing Jesse for the photographers. Jesse started shouting for Johnny’s autograph–and with that Johnny turned around–lowered his sunglasses, and as Jesse tells it looked “intensely” into his eyes. Jesse repeated his request and Johnny was polite and took his time signing an advertisement for Fear and Loathing that Jesse had taken from a magazine. Jesse thanked him and Johnny said “your welcome” and that concludes the close encounter—although I made Jesse tell it over a few times to make sure I had savored every detail.

I realize that this is not the most action packed meeting and although it comes to me second hand, I did make out with a few crazy little souvenirs (photos, autograph, etc.) that I enjoy. My favorite, however, is the blue sharpie marker Johnny used to sign with. He had put one end in his mouth and bit down when pulling off the cap leaving his teeth marks clearly defined on the other end. Ah…the little things that make me happy!

SKY, June 1990 – Baby Face

SKY, June 1990 – Baby Face

Title: Baby Face

Author: Tony Fletcher

Publication: SKY

Issue: June 1990

 

Photo1At the top of Johnny Depp’s lean and muscu­lar right arm, above the fading tattoo of an Indian chief’s headdress, are two words that were etched into the actor’s skin for all eternity only months ago. They read “Winona Forever”. A public and permanent declaration of the 26-year-old’s love for his pregnant fiancée, actress Winona Ryder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An enormous fan of Waters’ happy-go-lucky kitsch films, Depp’s only fear when offered the chance to star in one was that Cry Baby’s char­acter as the local tough guy and sex symbol was uncannily close to the public persona that he was determined to shake off.Photo2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The one thing I don’t think they like about me is that I’m honest about it. That type of hon­esty can make for problems. But I do respect them, and I do respect what the show has done. At the same time, if it gets repetitive it could be dangerous. If they’re going to tackle issues like racism they should really do it, instead of beating around the bush.”Photo3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK Sky 03/1990

UK Sky 03/1990

Johnny Depp – tough guy or cry baby?

baby face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOUGH GUISE: Depp in his new film, Cry Baby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naturally, this approach fails completely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

copied from Johnny-Depp.org

Charles meets Johnny in a bar

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

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

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