Film Review, June 1997 – Depp Undercover

Film Review, June 1997 – Depp Undercover

Title: Depp Undercover

Publication: Film Review

Issue: June 1997

Photo1DON’T EXPECT Donnie Brasco to have any of the inno­cent charm of Edward Scissorhands or the kitsch sensi­bility of Ed Wood – Johnny Depp’s latest film is as far removed from these as is possible. The 33-year-old actor stars as Joe Pistone in the almost unbelievable true tale of an FBI agent who manages to infiltrate a Mafia ring for six years in the 1970s. Starring with Al Pacino – who plays Joe’s mentor and guide through the Mafia world, Lefty Ruggiero – Depp is astonishing as the FBI agent whose double life threatens to tear him apart. And while Depp isn’t exactly renowned for being typecast, if he were to find himself a comfortable niche in other films that are as unflinch­ing and graphic as Donnie Brasco, the likes of Brad Pitt would be looking over their shoulders.

The Mafia men in Donnie Brasco are not the sort that a mother-in-law would welcome with open arms. They can appear to be friendly enough but running through them is a streak of vicious ruthlessness. In their world it’s often kill or be killed. Amazingly, Depp managed to meet Mafia men before shooting the film.

“Yeah, well, we spent some time with some guys,” he says almost nonchalantly. “You know, all I can say really is that it’s not exactly what we’ve come to know in the movies – that sort of wise-guy persona. I found the majority of them to be good guys – real gentlemen, family men, good fathers, good husbands. I had the utmost respect for the guys that I met.”

Not exactly the response that you would expect from someone meeting the Mafia. We’ve all seen The Godfather!

Depp continues. “I never asked them about their business and they never volunteered any information. I wouldn’t really have been ready to receive that! I just got to know them and found them to be very, very good guys.” He pauses for a moment. “What they do for a living is a mystery to me. Again, I don’t believe it’s exactly what they portray in the majority of the movies. I think it’s closer to what happens in Donnie Brasco.”

It’s true that you don’t find a horse’s head in anyone’s bed but if the film is even remotely true to life, the Mafia men that Joe Pistone met were cold killers.

“ I don’t think they’re serial killers,” says Depp of those he met. ‘There’s a circle in which they live, and within that circle there’s a game of survival. You know, you can tag this to anyone who has a pulse: ‘If it’s him or me, he’s going down’. I mean, I can’t be more plain than that. That’s just the way it is. If somebody’s going to get you, you’re going to try and get them first.”

The fact that Depp sounds like he understands these people does not mean that he condones their way of life. The film made him very aware that his life as an actor is far removed from their terrible reality, and he never found any similarities between the life of an undercover agent who has to be somebody else and his life as an actor.

“It’s different. I can always back up and do a second take. Joe didn’t have that advantage. I think what got him through is that he didn’t portray a character. He didn’t pretend to be anything else. Obviously he didn’t run into the room screaming that he was an FBI agent. He was himself with those guys. I think the pressure of having to go and pretend to be somebody or play a character would’ve probably sunk him.”

Indeed, the fact that Pistone could be revealed at any time in the film as an imposter frazzles the nerves of the viewer, never mind what Pistone went through in real life to break the Mafia ring. It comes as no surprise that Depp wanted to lighten the atmosphere during filming.Photo2A

“Al [Pacino] and I were experimenting with some…” he pauses, then laughs, “…noises. It’s important on a movie set, you know, to have a good time. I had this little device that sends out a noise that could make you think that the guy sitting next to you was, er…very ill.”

He admits that playing the same trick on Pacino, an actor who never gets anything less than the utmost respect from his co-stars, was a little risky. “There was always that chance,” he laughs. “I had a sneaking suspicion that he had a sense of humour. And I was right. He’s really one of the funniest guys I’ve ever worked with.”

That wasn’t quite the same experience he had with the director, Mike Newell, who didn’t always appreciate Depp’s attempts to lighten the mood.

“Mike got a little hot under the collar now and again. He was like [affects a deep, booming voice!, ‘Oh my God, Johnny! Stop!’ He got a little sick of it. It actually made me want to do it more – and then he laughed and lightened up.”

For all his attempts to make people smile, Depp acknowledges that playing Joe was difficult.

“The most challenging [aspect] was to play Joe Pistone in such a way that he would be able to live with it for the rest of his life. This is a guy who lived through something unbelievable for six years. And for some actor to come in and sort of make-believe and pretend… I felt a huge responsibility to him and to his family to do it right and to make him proud; so that it was something he wouldn’t be embarrassed by.”

It has been reported that Pistone himself felt a sense of deja vu watching Depp play his life on the big screen, especially in the scenes with Depp and Pacino together. Depp is superb as Pistone and, rat her humbly, he is a little wary of admitting that he managed to capture the real Joe Pistone.

“I can’t say for sure. He would be the best judge of that. I feel like I did. I spent a lot of time with him beforehand. I really put myself as far into this character as I could. I certainly did my best. I hope [Joel is happy. He hasn’t punched me yet, which is a good sign!”

If what Depp says is true, there is some similarity between Joe Pistone’s attitude as an FBI undercover agent and his own movie career: they were both themselves and weren’t interested in creating an image.

“It’s what I’ve tried to do,” confirms Depp. “Just be myself and not manufacture some formula that’s worked before. I just want to be myself and allow that to get out there. I don’t know if it’s successful. Who knows? I’ve read a couple of things and it’s so far from me”.

Depp appears resigned to his treatment at the hands of the media, but it doesn’t mean he has to like it.

“The biggest misconception is that I’m, you know, a whisky-guzzling, drug-taking, drug-addled menace. I’m just not any of those things. There were incidents in my life that have become public knowledge. The media have taken those little things, grabbed the ball and run with it. It’s a drag, but it’s something you’ve just got to carry around with you.”

While he might laugh at being nominated one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world, Depp views the way in which the media can completely fabricate a person’s life with weariness. He doesn’t want it but can’t do much about it. The hassle comes with the job.

Being famous can be a liability, but one of Depp’s biggest assets is that he refuses to be typecast. He’s no Schwarzenegger or Stallone who, try as they might, cannot fight their way out of the mould Hollywood has made for them. He recognizes that when he first appeared he was pigeonholed (“They do that with everybody, everybody”) but the films he has made and what he has learned ensures that he won’t be following in Arnie’s and Sly’s footsteps.

Photo3“The only time I tried to promote something was when Fox [US| was building its network and they needed to build it on someone or something,” he recalls. “Suddenly I was watching television and I would see these commercials. They weren’t commercials for 21 Jump Street! the series which launched Johnny to television fame, they were commercials for Johnny Depp. That really scared me, really scared me. I had gone from not being able to pay my rent and being completely anonymous to suddenly walking down the street and people were pointing and looking and all that stuff. It was a very strange time for me. So the only thing I did was to try and fight that. I just wanted to show myself-and that can be a problem. I was very naive.”

But who doesn’t know Johnny Depp now? After over a decade of making films and being a big box-office draw, hasn’t he become used to being recognized and pointed at?

“It will always be strange. On some level, I hope it is always strange. I hope I don’t get used to it, because that would be a very strange existence.”

Moving on, Depp has high hopes for his next project, The Brave.

“I wrote it with my brother and decided to direct it and be in it. I’ve been cutting for a few months and getting very close to that final edit and to doing the score and all that stuff.” Depp hopes to have the film ready for entry into this year’s Cannes Film Festival. At the time of writing there’s still no confirmation if it will premiere there, but he’s keeping his fingers crossed.

Like almost every movie he’s done. The Brave is very different from the one before, and it’s certainly going to be controversial as its subject matter involves ‘snuff movies’. Despite the fact that the media have picked upon this, Depp insists it isn’t the film’s focus.

“It was never meant, at least from my point of view, to be a shocker or something that had horrible violence in it. That was just part of the structure of the story. I really believe in it. I’m very proud of it so far.”

Depp stars (with good friend Marlon Brando) as a man whose family are given money in return for Depp sacrificing his life in the snuff film.

“Marlon did his time in the film as an incredible gesture of generosity,” Depp says happily. “He’s been very, very supportive

of me over the last few years and it’s more than a dream come true.”

Johnny Depp, true to form, isn’t worried that people will be put off by the film’s disturbing subject matter.

“It’s not very graphic at all. What I try to do is leave a lot to the imagination. This is just an opinion, it’s not a judgment on anything, but the majority of films made today are made within a certain structure and a formula that has worked before. I don’t think they leave enough for the audience-to think about. I think the audience is intelligent, but most films don’t allow them to be.”

BARRY GETS CLOSE TO JOHNNY AT THE VIPER ROOM

Background: Summer-Fall 1995 I went to the Viper Room a few times, the energy was amazing! I went on December 31st. Sandra Bernhardt was performing, which was terrific.

Suddenly, I turned-around and I saw Kate Moss sitting on the back of the booth near the bathrooms, and I said to myself “He’s gotta be here!” I looked down from Kate, and there he was, sitting in the booth drinking wine. Hair hanging in his face, being kind of sullen.

Edward Scissorhands and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape have touched me deeply. I so wanted to tell him, but there was no getting near him with all the bodyguards. Flea showed-up. It was quite the scene.

Nevertheless, the crowd (and bodyguards) became casual by 2AM, when I was coming out of the men’s room, and there he was, standing right next to me: tee shirt and cords, very Johnny. I lingered for a moment, as he was talking with someone. I considered approaching him, but didn’t want to be rude by butting- in.

Suddenly, he headed-off down those stairs, into the night. Maybe some other time!

Barry

UK Film Review June 1995

UK Film Review June 1995

Look back in Angora

PICTURE THE SCENE, if you will. In one of the scummiest parts of West Los Angeles, Johnny Depp is being put through his acting paces by director Tim Burton. The air is as thick and grimy as an unserviced U-bend. The ambience as comforting as a shower of warm sweat. As the cameras grind slowly into motion, Depp steps out into the light… wearing high heels, black nylons, a blue dress, a beige corset, a pink blouse and red lipstick. 

“It’s strange, but it really doesn’t feel so bad,” Depp says about his stint in the frillies. Will his reputation ever be fully restored in the town of Tinsel? 

The actor is playing Edward D Wood, arguably the worst director in the history of Hollywood, who lived and worked during the ’40s and ’50s. Wood directed Z-grade features such as Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bride of the Monster and Glen or Glenda, a movie which became a bizarre plea for understanding of his own penchant for cross-dressing. 

The role is a bold move for the former teen idol who kicked started his career in the TV series 21 Jump Street, moved on to the silver screen with the original Nightmare on Elm Street movie, and gained celebrity status as the lead in John Waters’s outrageous spoof Cry Baby. However, a shrewd Depp nevertheless expanded artistically in a number of wayward character roles in offbeat movies; the fairy tale fantasy Edward Scissorhands, the romantic drama Benny and [oon, and the rural rites-of-passage piece What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. 

Each role has revealed much more of a depth in Depp than you would have expected from an actor of his calibre. He has been attached to a number of worthy future projects including a powerful drama called It Only Rains At Night and an untitled new movie from Jim Jaramush. 

So what was the attraction – if that is the right word – of playing Edward D Wood? 

“Essentially, you really can’t refuse anything that Tim [Burton] asks you to do,” Depp explains. “You know he has a solid belief in you, and even if you do have any reservations about the part, he will talk you through them. Sure, it’s a kinda weird role for me, but would you expect anything else from Tim? 

“There was such a great ensemble of people working on the movie, too. I’ve turned parts down and regretted them in the future, and I think I would have been sick as a dog if I’d walked away from this one, I don’t think I’ve worked on anything where everyone was so close-knit.” 

The twisted family of performers who bring Ed Wood to life are as outrageous as the story itself. Martin Landau plays Bela Lugosi, the morphine-addicted Horror star regarded by most as being well past his sellby date. Bill Murray is outrageous supporting actor John ‘Bunny’ Breckinridge, who was a reputed transsexual wannabe. Model Lisa Marie is Vampira, the late night Horror show hostess who had a seventeen-inch waist, 50s-style ‘headline’, and skin that can be described as dead. Sarah Jessica Parker is Wood’s girlfriend Dolores Fuller, and Patricia Arquette is his wife Kathy. 

“It was a very vibrant shoot,” Depp recalls. “I mean, it was really tough. We were filming in some of the most claustrophobic, badly ventilated, most uncomfortable locations in Hollywood. My adrenalin was pumping all the way, but everyone from the ground up was giving the movie 200 per cent. I think it has to be most ensemble picture I’ve made.” 

Then, of course, there was the matter of the frilly underwear. Weird, huh? 

“Actually, it didn’t feel weird at all,” the actor admits. “In fact, it’s spookily comfortable. The only time it felt weird was when I had to do a striptease. But I didn’t have any fear about what the audience would think. I know they’ll have a good time with the stacle was one he had created himself. Burton wanted to shoot the movie in black and white, and original backers Columbia didn’t see eye to eye on the matter. 

“I think it was apt thai we shoot the movie in black and white,” Burton maintains. “I resisted the idea at first, but the more I thought about it, I knew that the characters wouldn’t work in colour. It is a period film. I think that pari of the Fifties’ should be remembered in black and white. 

“I didn’t really want to compromise with the movie. I believed that if I compromised in any way, then we would dilute the original idea, and I didn’t want to do that, lowed that to everyone involved, and to the original spirit of Ed Wood.” 

The project was eventually snapped up by Disney, who allowed Burton to have a free rein. 

A noted perfectionist who never appears to be fully satisfied with his finished work, Burton admits the movie is one of his most accomplished projects. 

“You shouldn’t gel too dose to films, especially after they are in the can. But I guess that Ed Wood is the closest thing I’ve made, which has a connection between my childhood and my morematureartisticside. For me, that is a huge accomplishment and one I’d be happy to rest on.” 

 Patricia Arquette is most certainly  at odds with many of the characters she has played on film: notably as the provocative, day-glo-outfitted Alabama in the Tarantino-scripted True Romance and as the heavy-drinking wife of a Hollywood transsexual in Tim Burian’s latest film, Ed Wood. This slightly outrageous style of screen personality is pretty much at variance with the true nature of the twenty-six-yearold actress – and that is very, very shy. 

“How I got into acting I’ll never know,” admits Patricia. “I was always so reserved. I wasn’t an exhibitionist of any sort and friends from my childhood really can’t believe I played some of these roles.” 

Her father is an actor, and so.of course, is her big sister (Rosanna) and lillie brother (Alexis). All have a reputation in the business for being a little … well, quirky. 

Patricia admits she could be the black sheep, but something in the Arquette gene pool may be responsible for attracting the middle sibling to some of Hollywood’s more bizarre projects lately. 

“I do have a strange sense of humour. I think I share that with my family,” says the actress. “Before I started True Romance, a journalist read me the namesof my co-stars: 

Christian Slater, Brad Pitt, Cary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken .. 

“He said it was a cross-section of Hollywood’s brilliant crazies, and asked where I fitted in. I just laughed. Maybe they need someone a little more composed to balance out the picture. 1 don’t know. I still find it is funny that journalists think I’m really a little loopy.” 

Like her Ed Wood co-star, Johnny Depp, Patricia made her Hollywood splash in a Freddy Kreuger slice ‘n’ dicer. Depp in the originalNightmare on Elm Street; Arquette as the resourceful heroine who dispatched the dream bogeyman in Part III. 

She played a couple of wayward roles in Sam Shepherd’s Far North and Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner, before bouncing to the attention ofTim Burton for his bioplc of the bizarre cross-dressing director. 

“l’m always surprised where I go after each movie,” says Patricia. “I’m not confident or organized enough to map out any career yet. Things just come and I make a choice then. But I don’t think to myself: ‘Oh, this is weird. I’ll give this a shot’. 

“But I have such a strange sense of humour that I am usually drawn to stories which are more unconventional than other. With Ed Wood it was simply too good an opportunity to miss. Tim is a great director and I was anxious to do something with him.” 

Patricia plays Wood’s second wife, Kathy O’Hara, who nurtured the frustrated filmmaker through the worst part of his strained career. The challenge facing the young actress was to convey a sense of normality in what was a bizarre real-life relationship. Patricia didn’t do much research into the life of Kathy O’Hara. 

“Apparently she was a heavy drinker and very judgmental about his past relationships,” she explains. “She’d set out matching night-gowns for them every night. 

“Tim didn’t want to trivialize this fact. He also wanted to do it straight, which I can understand and admire. I was encouraged to read up on the life of Edward 0 Wood, but during filming I really st~ck to the script and my own interpretatrbn.” 

Like most of the cast and crew Patricia was overwhelmed by the confidence and performance of Depp in the role. 

“He was amazing,” she exclaims. “Absolutely amazing. The stuff where he had to wear the woman’s clothing was inspired. He was a natural. I would give him tips on undressing, particularly with the bra strap.

He was very strict who he undressed in front of. “I think he energized everyone on the set. He was as much a guiding force on the movie as Tim [Burton]. We had these very intimate scenes together, and he would get right into the part and stay there for hours. 

 I’m not that disciplined. I still have fits of laughter during a scene. But Johnny could do it straight.” 

If anything, Patricia has learned that she may have been more at home in an Edward D Wood movie than she would have expected. “I’m told that Wood liked to nurture women, specially those who didn’t have as much confidence. He adored actresses. Ithink headored bad actresses more. But he thrived on anyone who had determination and wanted 10 fulfil a dream. They reckon he wasn’t talented, but I think he was an individual who was determined to fulfil his own dream.” 

The same notion could also ring true for Patricia, who, in some respects, may now be outshining her more famous sister. 

As a young mother (her baby, Enzo, is almost three years old), “struggling to learn her craft and make a living in Hollywood”, as she describes it, Patricia might still have front of. “It’s strange,” she sighs, returning to the original question about her being misunderstood in public profile. “Most people pitch me somewhere between my big sister and Alabama. I’m certainly the most intraverted of my entire family, and still have to pinch myself to make sure that I’m not dreaming. But what I haven’t got used to yet is that look of surprise in everyone’s eye, after they have been talking to me for more than five minutes, and the phrase: ‘Gosh … you are quite normal, aren’t you?” 

Will the Real Dolores Stand Up? 

DOLORES FULLER met Ed Wood at a casting call. An actress with big dreams, she fell for the man who vowed to make her a star. 

“He was the most unusual producer I had ever met,” she tells Flint Revie’w. “They were usually very old and smoked cigars all the time, but here was a young, creative, handsome man with an effervescent personality. Eddie believed in what he was doing, and he made everyone else believe it 100.” 

Soul mates from the start, Ed and Dolores shacked up together. She was his leading lady. He was her director. She cleaned up his act. He cleaned up her wardrobe. 

“He tried to hide his cross-dressing from me for about a year or so,” remembers Dolores. “I’d been a health nut all my life, I cooked him meals every night and tried to keep him from drinking, and I guess it wasn’t easy for him to admit something so unusual to me.” 

But admit it he did, and life went 0n .. 

“He only wore my angora sweater while he was working late at night. It was cool and he wanted to feel cosy – he said it turned him on and helped him to write. I didn’t mind it though, I felt he only wanted to do it in the privacy of our own home, and that nobody would ever know about it,” the irony stops Fuller dead in her tracks, “And then that picture came out … ” 

That picture.written and directed in about a week and a half, turned out to be Glen or Glenda, Ed Wood’s semi-autobiographical tale of love and transvestitism, co-starring the writer/director as Glen (and Glenda)and the writer/director’s girlfriend as his fiancee. 

“I didn’t want him to use our life and put it in front of the camera,” explains Dolores. “I was very, very uncomfortable about that and I begged him not to use me, but he said that nobody would ever see it, that it would only play in way out markets, and then he said, ‘Please do this for me, because then I will get a writer/director credit, and we can go on to better things, and make much better movies.” 

The gift of hindsight informs us that Ed Wood never did cross paths with those better things, but what did Dolores know? She stuck by her man, and that was that. 

“But I still didn’t like doing it, and he didn’t let me on the set when he was doing the cross-dressing. In fact, I didn’t really know about all thai until I saw the picture. I had never seen him in a wig or dress before, only the angora sweater.” 

The revelatory first screening of Glen or Glenda (available on video from May 15 as part of the Ed Wood collection from Pickwick Video) surprised just about everyone, but even though Dolores admits that at the time she felt like “crawling under the seat”, she stayed with Wood long enough to make the likes of Jail Bail before finally running away to New York to study acting and write songs for Elvis (remember Rock-a-Hula Bnby and Do the Clam?) 

Yet she never forgot Ed (she just never spoke to him again). 

“His dreams were my dreams, but they weren’t high enough quality to suit me .. at least he had ideas in his pictures.” 

Marshall Julius 


 

ED WOOD 

**** 

Stars: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray Director: Tim Burton 

Certificate: 15 

Running Time: 2 hrs l mins Opening Date: May 26 

The story of the worst film-maker in Hollywood history. 

It is something of an irony that generations of cinema-goers will henceforth associate the works of Edward D Wood Jnr – the man responsible for the cross-dressing ‘classic’ Glen or Glenda, and the execrable Plan 9 From Outer Space – with this very enjoyable movie. And Tim Burton’s affectionate bio-pic is certainly that, not only for the technical proficiency that contrasts with Wood’s own amateurism, but for the superb casting and wonderful ensemble playing. 

In reality Wood (wonderfully played by Johnny Depp) was a decorated war hero, who landed on the Pacific beaches in 1941 as America fought Japan in the East, and unbeknownst to his comrades wore a frilly bra and panties under his uniform – a fetish that was to inform his artistic vision in the years to come. 

Driven by a reckless optimism and a belief that a good movie was anyone that got made, Ed surrounded himself with a stalwart repertory company of similar Tinseltown misfits – Bela Lugosi among them – and raised his finance privately. With disastrously memorable results. 

If audiences come to this film knowing little or nothing about Ed Wood to begin with they may balk at the awfulness of his work and the extreme oddness of his friends and co-stars. Yet Tim Button has done the writerdirector proud by making this most eccentric of men both likeable and believable 

Choosing to shoot the film in black and white and recreating the kind of cheesey score that Ed would probably have liked to use himself, Burton introduces us to the array of wel1- played oddball characters. Bu t Depp’ s wonderfully upbeat performance holds the movie together. The casting of Ed Wood was obviously crucial but it is hard to imagine any other actor of Depp’s generation being able to wear an Angora sweater with such authority. He manages to be comic without being outwardly funny, and is immensely charming in the role. 

Martin Landau – a deserving winner of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Bela Lugosi – is also quite wonderful. He becomes the ageing Hungarian actor before our very eyes, and soon forms a tight bond with his adoring director. And all the while a voice in your head reminds you that however outlandish the screen antics might seem, the reality was far more odd, far more unbelievable and probably far less entertaining. 

Without seeming to have taken too many liberties with the facts Burton and his screenwriters, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who might now be forgiven for the Problem Child movies, have woven a charming tale around the strangest of Hollywood characters. Which is rather like describing Wood as the tallest player on a basketball team. 

Amusing, sometimes poignant and always totally absorbing.Ed Wood may show that Ed himself was no great shakes as a movie-maker but it proves once and for all the consummate talent that Tim Burton has become. 

Anwar Brett 

 


John Tesh’s producer’s encounter

A few years ago, when I was the Marketing Director for John Tesh?s music I heard that Johnny Depp?s trailer was parked right outside my office on the Paramount lot. He was shooting a film on a stage right behind the Mae West building where I worked.

That put me in a bit of a fix. I had a policy against any sort of star deference on the lot. It was rampant and kind of sickening and I wanted no part of it. I routinely passed Kevin Costner, Niles from Fraiser, Tom Cruise and others while walking around to the catering truck or on errands and we would smile and nod, like anyone else. I once had a temp assignment working for Patrick Stewart. Being no fan of Star Trek, I didn?t know who he was until someone told me later that morning. At lunch, Patrick and his girlfriend came back all lit up. Apparently Pierce Brosnan was right outside, having also eaten at the Commissary. I didn?t say anything.

?Pierce Brosnan!? Patrick told me. “Don?t you like him??

?I don?t know who that is.?

?James Bond!? his girlfriend blurted.

?James Bond! Don?t you know James Bond?? Patrick asked me, leaning over my desk to make the point right in my face.

?Listen,? I said, ?I didn?t know who you were until about fifteen minutes ago.?

But Johnny Depp?I knew who he was. And he was on my short list. What to do?what to do?

Part of my job was to manage the swag?the merchandise?John Tesh cds, videos, t-shirts. I didn?t have much to offer. I got out a piece of letterhead and tried to tell him what I needed him to know.

Johnny,

I was in Macon, Georgia when I discovered you three years ago?watching What?s Eating Gilbert Grape with my family. We?re still quoting that movie. So?years of laughs, then. And then there was Arizona Dream and Benny and Joon and Dead Man. The thing is, I never thought I?d have the chance to tell you?to thank you for doing what you do. And to let you know about just one family whose days you made better.

And also to thank you for not becoming what this industry insists you become. For doing this on your own terms.

Keep shining?

I pulled one of the coveted wool John Tesh tour jackets from the top shelf and put it in the box.

PS Didn?t want you to be the only one of your friends not to have one of these.

And with a lick and kiss it was done. I walked it next door to Stage 19.

?Is Johnny Depp here?? I asked the stage manager?

?Yes he?s right there ? just finishing up this scene ? give him just a minute.?

?No no ? will you please just give him this for me??

?Why don?t you give it to him ? I?m sure he?d love that and he?ll be done in just a minute,? she whispered.

?Really,? I told her, ?I?ve said everything I have to say in the letter ? I don?t want to put him on the spot but do please make sure that he gets it. Will you??

?Yeah if you?re sure,? she said.

?Thanks.?

That was late Friday afternoon.

What a kick. To get to let him know. How often does that happen.

By Sunday I?d forgotten all about it.

Monday morning I walked into my office to a ringing phone.

?John Tesh Productions? ?

?I?m looking for Samantha.?

?This is Samantha.?

?This is Johnny.?

John Tesh is on a plane, I?m thinking, Oklahoma bound, and why is he calling himself Johnny to me. How creepy. Too early. I didn?t respond.

?Johnny Depp?? he continued.

I sat down on top of my desk, reminding myself we?re all people and trying to breathe normal and not say anything that would give me away.

?Hi Johnny.? Safe enough.

?Samantha??

?Yes??

?That is one of the coolest, sweetest, funniest things that?s happened to me and I have to meet you.?

?Oh you don?t,? I told him. ?Really that?s so good of you but you don?t have to do that.?

?No I do! I want to ? I have to meet you. And by your letterhead I can see you?re close. Will you come to my trailer??

I flashed back to bands of my youth. Not the old ?ever see the inside of a tour bus? line. But no, he wasn?t like that. Something told me he wasn?t.

?Sure,? I said.

?Come soon,? he said. ?Today is our last day of shooting and we?ll be done by noon. Will you really come??

He sounded entirely earnest.

?Yes I?ll come.?

?Great ? I?m looking forward to it.?

I sat on my desk for a few minutes, replaying the conversation ? burning it into my memory. Then I called Ingrid upstairs.

??so how long do I wait??

?Go now!? she said. ?Johnny Depp has invited you over — GO!?

?One hour it is!?

The minutes took forever and I knew I was taking a chance to wait. But pride wouldn?t let me do otherwise.

The hour passed. By the time I got to his trailer, I was having a hard time passing for nonchalant. Who?s nonchalant in the middle of a dream coming true? How fraudulent.

The door was cracked and I knocked and someone said to come in. When I opened it the sun poured in on exactly four Johnny Depps sitting side by side on the sofa. Stand-ins and doubles all dressed exactly the same. The one on the right end leaned forward, then the one in the middle almost stood up. The one on the far left smiled and nudged the one next to him. (Will the real Johnny Depp PLEASE…) ?I ? I?m??

The one on the end stood up. ?Samantha??

?Johnny??>

He leaned down so as not to hit his head as he strode across to the door with his hand out. Then he came down the steps and hugged me and thanked me and asked if I had time for a walk. At first I didn?t know how to be. ?Yes but I really don?t have anything to say ? I told it to you in the letter.?

?That?s ok,? he said. ?I have some things to say.?

?Oh yeah??>

?Yeah! What?s it like working for John Tesh??

“It’s uh?”

We both laughed and it was entirely normal and easy and funny and familiar?like we?d known each other from way back.

?Well do I look like you imagined me?? I asked at the end. He looked down and gave my overalls a tug. ?Exactly.?

I saw him a couple years later at the party for the premiere of SLEEPY HOLLOW and he stopped talking to Marilyn Manson when I walked by. He looked at me like you do when someone is vaguely familiar but you?re seeing them somewhere you?re not used to seeing them and you just can?t put it together. But he did stop talking mid-sentence and smiled and said hello. It was enough.

He is enough. In a town where egos are huge and presents are always looked upon with suspicion or the idea that they are owed, he is more than enough. He plays a different game. >

A few years later, working in the international marketing department of Paramount Pictures, a publicist acquaintance had to get down an interview with Johnny Depp at the Cannes Film Festival in France where Depp now lives. He came by my office afterwards. ?How was it?? I asked, feeling somehow like I was asking after a distant friend.

He shook his head. ?He doesn?t even shower. He?s a lousy interview. His hair was filthy. He wouldn?t even put on a clean shirt. He wore the same shirt for three days in a row. We offered him a clean one.? I was laughing. ?It?s not funny,? he snorted.

Oh yes it is. It?s brilliant. He?s found a way to keep the dogs at bay.

As recently as Sunday night at the Golden Globes, Joan and Melissa Rivers deemed him the absolute worst-dressed. Must?ve been a real feather in his cap. The truth is he?s never looked better ? he just didn?t look like what the industry had dictated the ?look? is for such events.

Whatever you think, he?s inching his way through the cesspool of Hollywood moviestardom. Tuesday he was officially nominated for his first Oscar ? fittingly enough, a role in which he plays a pirate.

And from Macon to LA ? we?re pulling for you. We?ll be holding the back door open for you ? we?ve watched long enough to know how you come in.

UK Premiere February 1995

Now you see Johnny Depp, now you don’t

 

Johnny Depp believes in ghosts. He has come to this haunted place looking for one in particular, a little girl wearing a silk party dress with a powder blue sash. She is often heard playing in the room across the hall from where Depp is sleeping in the Mackay Mansion, a three-story Victorian built high in the mountains of Nevada.

The small spirit likes the room. A cranberry glass chandelier casts spirals of ruby light upon shelf after shelf, each filled with antique French and German porcelain dolls. Side by side they sit, forty pairs of eyes staring toward the door, waiting for her.

Depp waits as well. “I want to run into some spirits here!” he says eagerly. When he isn’t gazing across the hall, he’s shooting Jim Jarmusch’s film Dead Man, a western set in the late 1800s, in which he finds his mug on a wanted poster. “When I was a kid I used to have these dreams,” says Depp. “But they weren’t dreams. I was awake, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. And a face would come to me. Someone told me it was the spirit of someone who died that was very close and never got to say something that they wanted to say. And I believe it.”

DEPP’S FACE POSSESSES a beauty usually reserved for apostles and saints and silent-movie stars. Draped over perfect bone structure, his impossibly pale skin is without a line or a crease-this despite 31 years, too many cigarettes, other interesting substances, and frequent extreme acts of human expression. It is a countenance one would not hide, but in his latest film, Don Juan DeMarco, Depp is a masked man.

“It chose me, it came to me,” he says, speaking not of a ghost but of the script by writer and first-time director Jeremy Leven. Depp in turn chose Marlon Brando to play the psychiatrist who tries to convince a Don Juan wannabe that he’s not the world’s greatest lover, just a guy having delusions of greatest lover grandeur.

His first meeting with the mythic Marlon took place at Brando’s house, over Chinese takeout. “He’s maybe the greatest actor of the last two centuries,” says Depp. “But his mind is much more important than the acting thing. The way that he looks at things, doesn’t judge things, the way that he accesses things. He’s as important as, uh, who’s important today? Jesus, not many people … Stephen Hawking!”

The admiration is mutual. Faye Dunaway, who played Depp’s lover in Arizona Dream (which was never released in the United States) and plays Brando’s wife in Don Juan, says. “Brando adores him. He loves Johnny’s genuineness and modesty and that he is who he is. You’re not a great actor like Brando for nothing, you know. He knows how to recognize a sham in any shape.”

Dunaway says that the two became so close. in fact, that when Depp went through “this recent fracas in New York at the Mark, Brando called the police station, he called the hotel-he called everybody!-to do what he could do to be of help.”

In the Mark hotel incident, Depp deconstructed the furniture in his room at a cost of more than $9,000 and several hours in jail. “I thought it was funny-l had to go to jail for assaulting a picture frame or a lamp! The rags said, ‘Well, he was drunk and he was having a huge fight with his girlfriend.’ Complete bullshit! But, you know, let’s say the guy over here in the bar, he’s having a hard day. man, and

eventually-one more stubbing of the toe-the guy’s gotta hit something. So you punch a wall or do this and that. Fuck it, I’m normal and I want to be normal. But somehow I’m just not allowed to be. Why can’t I be human? I have a lot of love inside me and a lot of anger inside as well. If I love somebody, then I’m gonna love ’em. If I’m angry and I’ve got to lash out or hit somebody, I’m going to do it and I don’t care what the repercussions are. Anger doesn’t pay rent, it’s gotta go. It’s gotta be evicted.”

“Sometimes you feel like you’ve just got to kick over the traces,” explains Dunaway. “And the Mark took advantage of it. A publicity trip; it’s outrageous. I would have probably smashed up the lobby after that. I think they should count themselves lucky that he didn’t.”

After taking just so much of being “scrutinized, judged, even stalked at times,” Depp escapes to Europe. where he moves undetected.

“It’s a different thing in Paris. It’s more about the work than about anything that’s called celebrity. It’s not as sensationalized.” Another bonus: interesting spirits. ‘I’ve stayed at this little hotel in Paris. in the room where Oscar Wilde died,” says Depp. In homage to the wit, the furniture is kept in the style that it was at the moment of his passing. “I slept in the room that Oscar Wilde died in, and I thought that quire possibly, if I fell asleep too deeply, somewhere about 4 A.M. I might be abused in some obtuse way. Get taken advantage of. At least he had a good sense of humor.”

HE CONCEALS HIMSELF behind a veil of Marlboro smoke and verbal mirrors. With the skill of a magician, Depp pulls odd but entertaining answers from the air, all the while willing to let you check up his sleeves. “If someone were to harm my family or a friend or someone I love-I would eat them,” he says quite seriously. “I might end up in jail for 500 years-but I would eat them.” Of his latest tattoo. three small black boxes staining his ring finger. Depp explains, “I always used to just draw these. Somehow they mean something for me, a personal significance. I don’t understand it totally yet. I think I will someday.” Ask what could possibly frighten a believer in ghosts: “I’m especially scared of boogers. Snot freaks me out. If someone ever showed me a booger I’d smash their face.” Oh, grow up. “I would! There’d be lawsuits everywhere.”

Only later do you realize that what he has really done is perform a disappearing act. Depp’s utter openness is the sleight of hand that keeps him from being seen. ,

Here’s a trick: finding a revelation about someone who has already had all the significant and insignificant details of his life scratched out on a whole forest of paper.

“He was born in Kentucky,” Depp drones, his head lolling to one side. “He’s the youngest of four children. He moved to Miramar, Florida. His parents were divorced. He dropped out of school. He played in a band. He has tattoos …. ” And he was engaged to so-and-so and, of course, to you-know-who of that tattoo.

Even the subject is bored with the subject matter.

Just about the only unknown is the extent of his dental work. It’s a glib observation, but no sooner is it made than Depp unhinges his jaw, opens wide, and happily gives an intimate tour of his choppers. “I’ve got loads of cavities. I had a root canal done eight years

 

ago that’s unfinished. It’s like a rotten little stub.” He pulls back the curtain of flesh covering his upper-right molars, revealing the oddity. “But I like it. It’s like when the Indians would make something beaded, they would always put imperfections on it.” Running a finger along his zigzagging bottom front row, he says, “I’m proud of these. When I see people

with perfect teeth, it drives me up the wall. I’d rather swallow a tick than have that!”

While bumping your nose up against his uvula, you notice the most fascinating facet of this oral inspection. Despite a chain of cigarettes and several glasses of merlot, Depp’s breath has no odor.

SIFTING THROUGH the voluminous chronicles of his existence, you can forgive Depp the fact that he has on more than one occasion recycled “sucked into a bed” to describe his role in A Nightmare on Elm Street. After that painful initiation, Depp costarred with Rob Morrow in the ‘J-and-A’ spectacle Private Resort, and played a soldier in Platoon. Then came Fox’TV fame as undercover cop Tom Hanson in 21 Jump Street. “Oh God, was that my name?” he says. “For the last two years of the show I didn’t know what my name was.”

“He made a choice when he came out of the television series to take a left turn as opposed to a right,” says his ICM agent, Tracey Jacobs. Hence Edward Scissorhands, Benny & Joon, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Arizona Dream, Ed Wood, and Don Juan DeMarco. There’s not a Dracula, Speed, or Interview With the Vampire type of film in the bunch, yet according to a source in a position to know, he has been offered all of those and many more.

Depp is a gambler. He committed to four of his past six projects before financing was secured. When Ed Wood was put in turnaround by Columbia, he stayed with the movie even though he was offered seven other films during that period. Says Jacobs, “He had an allegiance to Tim [Burton] and stuck with that process for almost six months. He did the exact same thing for Dead Man.” 

If you were earning 10 percent of Depp’s winnings, you might want him to play for bigger stakes. ”Am I disappointed that he turned those projects down? No!” blasts Jacobs. «Do I want him to be in a movie that does $400 million? Of course! I’m not stupid! Let me make this really clear to you-he wants to be in a commercial movie. It just has to be the right timing and the right one, that’s all. Hope-

fully he’ll be available when those come along again.” His Ed Wood costar Sarah Jessica Parker observes, however, that “things aren’t arbitrary in his life at all. There is nothing random in anything that he does.” Who wants to see Johnny Depp riding a bus through a movie, anyway? What a miserable fate that would be for a guy who just wants to turn left.

Remark that Depp’s offscreen life seems full of left leanings, and Jacobs suggests, ” ‘I have taken the road less traveled and that has made all the difference’? That would be the quote I would use to describe him in general.”

‘HE’S A DOLL. He’s a dreamboat. He’s a delinquent.”

That’s the tag line on the poster for CryBaby, Depp’s first film after he was sprung from television. In one cool move, with one very cool director, Depp totaled his teen-idol image. John Waters’s Cry-Baby was such a riotous send-up of a rebel loverboy that there was no way in hell Depp could ever be credibly cast in such a role again. Whether conscious or unconscious, it was an ingenious career move- Depp was now free to play the beautiful losers everyone longed to save.

“He has almost a burning desire to make ugly choices,” says Peter Hedges, who wrote Gilbert Grape. “He comes with a physical beauty that’s just astonishing, and at the same time he has no interest in being that.” Depp committed to do the film, about a young man drowning in a dysfunctional family, before there was even a screenplay. “When I met him he had this really long hair,” recalls Hedges. “He showed up at the meeting, very quiet, really shy, and was teaching us magic tricks. I thought, I suppose he could be Gilbert …. ”

Costar Leonardo DiCaprio saw the parallels pronto. “He was extremely like Gilbert,” says DiCaprio, who played his retarded younger brother. “But it wasn’t something Johnny was trying to do. It naturally came out of him. I never quite understood what he was going through, because it wasn’t some big emotional drama that was happening every day on the set-but subtle things I’d see in him would make me question what was going on. There’s an element of johnny that’s extremely nice and extremely cool, but at the same time, he’s hard to figure out. But that’s what makes him interesting.”

“His childhood informs who he is, but his choice of roles is where he wants to live as an artist,” says Dunaway. “Whatever has happened to Johnny Depp, this is what he in his own uniqueness made of it.”

IT’S WHEN YOU’RE NOT looking that he appears. Relaxing between questions, Depp lets his psyche wander into the room.

” … Like a person who makes a fatal mistake with drugs for instance,” he’s saying one night at Adele’s, a restaurant just down the highway from the Dead Man shoot in Virginia City. “You can say, ‘Okay, the guy was having a good time but he made a big mistake and now he’s not there. He doesn’t breathe anymore and his mom doesn’t get to see him anymore.’ ” Are we talking about River Phoenix, who died of an overdose outside Depp’s dub, the Viper Room, mote than a year ago?

“Yeah, oh yeah,” he says quietly. “He made a mistake, you know? And if he hadn’t done this particular thing that night, it wouldn’t have been … but he was … it happened. It scares the shit out of me because I see my nieces and nephews growing up and it’s fucking hard. It was hard for me to grow up and it’s even harder now with an the scary. spooky shit that’s out there and … ”

He breaks off, looks up. River Phoenix should see Depp’s eyes now. “The thing is, he came with his guitar to the club. You could cut me open and vomit in my chest because that kid … what a beautiful thing that he shows up with his girl on one arm and his guitar on the other. He came to play and he didn’t think he was going to die-nobody thinks they’re gonna die. He wanted to have a good time. It’s dangerous. But that’s the thing that breaks my heart, first that he died, but also that he showed up with his guitar, you know? That’s not an unhappy kid.”

What’s his take on the afterlife? “Oh boy, I don’t know.” Depp sighs heavily. “I would hope to think that this is maybe hell. Maybe this is hell because then we could go on to something else. Because this ain’t so bad.”

He bites into a steamed clam; his face grows genuinely pained. “It’s chewy,” he says, chewing aerobically. “These are big clams. Are you sure about these clams?” He swallows hard. Using his fork, Depp pokes about the bowl. “These are brown. I don’t think I can go there.” Prodding a green spot on a particularly large specimen, he makes the diagnosis. “That’s his doo-doo.” Depp retreats. “‘I tried. I did one.”

An older, elegant woman with a silver bun crowning her head glides toward the table. “I came in when I heard you would be here,” she says, extending a soft, well-manicured hand. “I’m Adele. I’m quite a fan of yours.”

“Well, thank you,” replies Depp graciously. “I’m quite a Ian of yours.”

“I can’t believe how you look like yourself!”

“Do I?” Depp asks, smiling.

“Yes, you do. It’s great!”

“Well, that’s good.” He laughs. “I guess.”

“Will you come and meet my son Charlie?

He’s cooking your dinner tonight.”

 

“Sure. Can I bring my cigarette?”

Back in the kitchen, Charlie chats with Depp: “You couldn’t have picked a worse day to shoot in Virginia City.”

”Ah, visibility was about like this,” says Depp, holding a hand to his face. “You couldn’t see the camera, couldn’t see anybody. It was kind of nice, actually. I was standing in a fog somewhere.”

“It’s a real early winter,” Adele says, on the way back to the table. “Well, I’m upstairs sitting next to the white-haired man.”

“Buck? He’s a crazy man!” says Depp.

Buck isn’t a stranger to film sets: He mentions that he had small parts in MASH and The Wild Bunch. These days, Buck is in the actor’s

employ; Depp calls him his partner.

“Do you want me to tell him to join you?” Adele asks.

“No, he’s okay. He’s fine.”

“He’s having soda with lime,” she reports.

“Obviously, he doesn’t drink, which is nice.”

She walks away and Depp shakes his head in appreciation. “Oh, what a doll she is. She’s beautiful! Married 44 years-that’s happiness. See what that does for you?” Perhaps Depp should try it soon himself. “I’m happy, I’m happy,” he stutters. “I’m happy right where I am. Sliding along. I’m in good shape.

“You know,” he continues, lighting another cigarette, “I was married when I was twenty. It was a strong bond with someone but I can’t necessarily say I was in love. That’s something that comes around once, man, maybe twice if you’re lucky. And 1 don’t know that I experienced that, let’s say, before I turned 30.

“I remember being in seventh grade and I was one of the kids that was considered a burnout. I had the most intense crush on this very popular girl. I pined for this girl, like beyond Romeo and Juliet. Shocking. I just chewed my tongue up for her. Eighth grade comes along, we hang out a little at those parties where you end up making out. So we did that and I just couldn’t have been happier. Then she goes for the football guy, and leaves me just dangling in the breeze.

“Years later, after I dropped out of high school, I’m playing a club. I’m onstage and I look out and I’m like, ‘Fuck, it’s her!’ So I finish the set and I go directly to the bar where she’s sitting and I walk up to her and it’s that face, man-incredible. And I went, ‘It’s so nice to see you!’ And I look at her and she’s 250 pounds! She is mammoth! She’s as wide as this table, but her face is still the same. And

I went, ‘Oh my, nice to see you-how many kids do you have?’ And she had four kids, and I thought, What fitting payback for fucking breaking my heart when I was a little kid.”

If he really hasn’t been in love before 30, that would make model Kate Moss the only woman eligible for in love status. The two met a year ago in a restaurant, introduced by a mutual friend. “And we’ve been together ever since,” says Depp, eager to fade from the topic. “We’re just having fun. A lot of fun.”

“She must be great,” opines Sarah Jessica Parker. “I’m going to just assume that and endow her with good qualities because I can’t imagine him spending time with anyone who wasn’t his equal.” Dunaway sees Depp as “uncorruptible-he always believes in this pure way about love, ya know? He’s got those kinds of values and it’s all instinctive with him. This isn’t something he’s worked out in his head. I love that he believes in love.”

It isn’t by accident that he’s playing Don Juan.

“Oh yeah!” Dunaway growls. “He’s a greeaat kisser!”

BUCK HAS SURRENDERED to the strong stuff. It is three hours later and upstairs at the bar he is glowing. A rail, fit, handsome devil with clear blue eyes and a white shock of hair, he has been listening to ghost stories and enjoying himself, having been told that PREMIERE would be happy to pick up his dinner. So Buck has pickled half the patrons, unaware that Depp paid the bill without looking at it,

“Darling,” he says, smiling broadly, “your magazine bought four rounds for everyone at this bar!” Depp’s eyes pop. “Bu-bu-bu-buch, what have you been doing?” The peanut gallery roars, and Depp recovers when the bartender delivers a round on the house.

“The whole town is haunted,” a local named Tiro has been telling the assembled.

Sipping his merlot, Depp is anticipating. “I hope I don’t get a wink of sleep tonight!”

“We’re going up into the attic with a flashlight!” says Buck, rubbing his hands together. “Come on out, you bastards!”

The Mackay Mansion was built in 1860 and its first resident was William Randolph Hearst’s father, George. The attic was once the servants’ quarters, and their horsehair mattresses still rest against the walls, blanketed with layers of dust and cobwebs. “You have to crawl up a ladder to get there,” explains Buck. “The sign on the door says DON’T ENTER.”

“That’s probably where she lives!” says Tiro, talking about the little girl ghost.

“Have you been in the room where she plays?” inquires Depp. The doll room. “The one that’s really scary is a slave doll from the Civil War. A black rag doll with red thread stitched eyes.”

The bar sits entranced. Depp smiles, throws back his drink, and sets his glass down. “I just want to go back to the house, roll up a big fatty, and wait for the little girl to sit on my lap!”

VIRGINIA CITY HAS SEEN its share of death. Signs posted along the highway into town urge travelers to Stop at the Bucket of Blood saloon and an attraction called the Suicide Table, where more than one gambler, after losing his life’s savings, ate a bullet.

The Dead Man crew members could themselves use a shot of something as they ready a location on the side of a snowy hill above town. They work quickly in an effort to beat the fading light and falling mercury, which, measured by the frozen carton of milk on the craft-service table, is below 32 degrees. In this scene, Depp leaves the fictitious Dickinson Metalworks (actually an old mill near the Comstock Lode), having been turned away after seeking much needed employment.

“He really is one of the most precise and focused people I’ve ever worked with,” says Jarmusch. who’s also a friend. ‘The whole crew is’ kind of amazed by that.” He chuckles warm puffs of breath. “That’s a side of him that I’m not really familiar with, you know? I’m more familiar with seeing him fall asleep on the couch with the TV on all night. But it somehow fits; he’s full of paradoxes.”

In Depp’s ratty little trailer, which Buck has plastered with a chaotic constellation of glow-in-the-dark stars, the Mackay Mansion ghostbusters are reporting back their findings, or lack thereof. “We were in the attic with the bats, and in the basement with the rats,” says a disappointed Buck. “I think we scared off the ghosts, though.”

“They’re not used to people looking for them,” says Depp consolingly.

Buck nods in agreement. “1 checked with the owner today and he said, ‘Yes, if you get aggressive with them, they’ll back off:”

“We were caning, ‘Come on out, you bastards!’ ” adds Depp, cleaning his fingernails with the point of a Beavis and Bun-head pin.

“Of course,” Buck says, facing facts, “they knew we were hopelessly insane.” He turns to leave. Depp calls fondly after him, “Be careful out there, Becky, it’s a cruel world.”

After shutting out the cold, Depp settles down to demonstrate a video game called Road Rash. “Watch this,” he says, revving a biker’s engine.

 

 

“He can jump the curb and punch pedestrians.” Gee, he really can. With each innocent bystander sent flying, Depp lets out a hearty howl. His delight in such harmless delinquent behavior is contagious.

“I bought these for my little Kate,” he says, pointing to a skeleton accessorized with long strands of copper, silver, and gold beads. The necklaces are heavy, cold, yet sensuous to the touch. Around Moss’s neck, they’ll warm to body temperature. Back when Dead Man was shooting in Sedona, Arizona, Depp bought Buck a present too: a suede billfold embossed with a cowboy on his bronco and the words LITTLE BUCKEROO. If one were shopping for Depp, what would be the killer purchase? “A Jean-Michel Basquiat, I guess. There’s one of his paintings called Riding With Death. That’s my favorite.”

Moss’s picture is taped to the dressing table mirror. It shows her with a bride-of Frankenstein hairdo, modeling a purple, sequined one-piece pantsuit. FROM YOUR DISCO QUEEN . . . HA, HA, HA, HA. LOVE ALWAYS, KATE. Also on the mirror is a single coarse, gray hair with a note: HAIR OF JARMUSCH. These seem like distractions. Warning: Objects in the mirror may appear closer than they really are. Depp’s real reflection, also stuck on the mirror, is in a typed quote from the playwright and novelist William Saroyan: “In the time of your life, live, so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”

Depp dies at the end of Dead Man. Hardly a giveaway, given the title. “I hope that this is the last of these innocents I play,” he says. “It’s a character that is, again, like a naive young guy who’s trying to get his life together. He’s trying really hard to make his life work and he ends up slowly dying. And he knows he’s dying.” A half smile. “It’s a beautiful story, though.”

“There is something haunting about him,” says Parker. “But it’s not like Johnny is this troubled young actor and he’s poetic and brooding. It’s just that he’s real and complicated. He’s not like a showman. He doesn’t belong in show business. He belongs somewhere better.”

A month of shooting left, and he’ll be a free man in Paris unfettered and very much alive. But at this moment, the actor is being filmed slowly walking away from the mill through the fog. You can see nothing, save his sorrowful eyes. Emerging from the mist, a face takes shape, the only thing distinguishing it from the grayish whiteness being a black frame of hair. He continues past the camera, staring intently at something in the distance. Following his gaze … there appears to be nothing there.

Holly Millea is a senior editor of PREMIERE.


Premier, February 1995 – Ghost in the Machine

Premier, February 1995 – Ghost in the Machine

Title: Ghost in the Machine

Author: Holly Millea

Publication: Premier

Issue: February 1995

 

Photo2Johnny Depp believes in ghosts. He has come to this haunted place looking for one in particular, a little girl wearing a silk party dress with a powder blue sash. She is often heard playing in the room across the hall from where Depp is sleeping in the Mackay Mansion, a three-story Victorian built high in the mountains of Nevada. The small spirit likes the room. A cranberry glass chandelier casts spirals of ruby light upon shelf after shelf, each filled with an­tique French and German porcelain dolls. Side by side they sit, forty pairs of eyes staring toward the door, waiting for her.

Depp waits as well. “I want to run into some spirits here!” he says eagerly. When he isn’t gazing across the hall, he’s shooting Jim Jarmusch’s film Dead Man, a western set in the late 1800s, in which he finds his mug on a wanted poster. “When I was a kid I used to have these dreams,” says Depp. “But they weren’t dreams. I was awake, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. And a face would come to me. Someone told me it was the spirit of someone who died that was very close and never got to say something that they wanted to say. And I believe it.”

Depp’s face possesses a beauty usually re­served for apostles and saints and silent-movie stars. Draped over perfect bone structure, his impossibly pale skin is without a line or a crease—this despite 31 years, too many ciga­rettes, other interesting substances, and fre­quent extreme acts of human expression. It is a countenance one would not hide, but in his latest film, Don Juan DeMarco, Depp is a masked man.

“It chose me, it came to me,” he says, speaking not of a ghost but of the script by writer and first-time director Jeremy Leven. Depp in turn chose Marlon Brando to play the psychiatrist who tries to convince a Don Juan wannabe that he’s not the world’s greatest lover, just a guy having delusions of greatest-lover grandeur.

His first meeting with the mythic Marlon took place at Brando’s house, over Chinese takeout. “He’s maybe the greatest actor of the last two centuries,” says Depp. “But his mind is much more important than the acting thing. The way that he looks at things, doesn’t judge things, the way that he assesses things. He’s as important as, uh, who’s important today? Je­sus, not many people . . . Stephen Hawking!”

The admiration is mutual. Faye Dunaway, who played Depp’s lover in Arizona Dream (which was never released in the United States) and plays Brando’s wife in Don Juan, says, “Brando adores him. He loves Johnny’s genuineness and modesty and that he is who he is. You’re not a great actor like Brando for nothing, you know. He knows how to recog­nize

a sham in any shape.”

Dunaway says that the two became so close, in fact, that when Depp went through “this recent fracas in New York at the Mark, Brando called the police station, he called the hotel—he called everybody!—to do what he could do to be of help.”

In the Mark hotel incident, Depp decon­structed the furniture in his room at a cost of more than $9,000 and several hours in jail. “I thought it was funny—I had to go to jail for as­saulting a picture frame or a lamp! The rags said, ‘Well, he was drunk and he was having a huge fight with his girlfriend.’ Complete bull­shit! But, you know, let’s say the guy over here in the bar, he’s having a hard day, man, and eventually—one more stubbing of the toe—the guy’s gotta hit something. So you punch a wall or do this and that. Fuck it, I’m normal and I want to be normal. But somehow I’m just not allowed to be. Why can’t I be human? I have a lot of love inside me and a lot of anger inside as well. If I love somebody, then I’m gonna love ’em. If I’m angry and I’ve got to lash out or hit somebody, I’m going to do it and I don’t care what the repercussions are. Anger doesn’t pay rent, it’s gotta go. It’s gotta be evicted.”

“Sometimes you feel like you’ve just got to kick over the traces,” explains Dunaway. “And the Mark took advantage of it. A public­ity trip; it’s outrageous. I would have probably smashed up the lobby after that. I think they should count themselves lucky that he didn’t.”

After taking just so much of being “scruti­nized, judged, even stalked at times,” Depp es­capes to Europe, where he moves undetected.

“It’s a different thing in Paris. It’s more about the work than about anything that’s called celebrity. It’s not as sensationalized.” Another bonus: interesting spirits. “I’ve stayed at this little hotel in Paris, in the room where Oscar Wilde died,” says Depp. In homage to the wi, the furniture is kept in the style that it was at the moment of his passing. “I slept in the room that Oscar Wilde died in, and I thought that quite possibly, if I fell asleep too deeply, somewhere about 4 a.m. I might be abused in some obtuse way. Get taken advantage of. At least he had a good sense of humor.”

He conceals himself behind a veil of Marlboro smoke and verbal mirrors. With the skill of a magician. Depp pulls odd but enter­taining answers from the air, all the while will­ing to let you check up his sleeves. “If some­one were to harm my family or a friend or someone I love—I would eat them,” he says quite seriously. “I might end up in jail for 500 years—but I would eat them.” Of his latest tat­too, three small black boxes staining his ring finger. Depp explains, “I always used to just draw these. Somehow they mean something for me, a personal significance. I don’t under­stand it totally yet. I think I will someday.” Ask what could possibly frighten a believer in ghosts: “I’m especially scared of boogers. Snot freaks me out. If someone ever showed me a booger I’d smash their face.” Oh. grow up. “I would! There’d be lawsuits everywhere.”

Only later do you realize that what he has really done is perform a disappearing act. Depp’s utter openness is the sleight of hand that keeps him from being seen.

Here’s a trick: finding a revelation about someone who has already had all the signifi­cant and insignificant details of his life scratched out on a whole forest of paper.

“He was born in Kentucky,” Depp drones, his head lolling to one side. “He’s the youngest of four children. He moved to Miramar, Florida. His parents were divorced. He dropped out of school. He played in a band. He has tattoos. . . .” And he was engaged to so-and-so and, of course, to you-know-who of that tattoo.

Even the subject is bored with the sub­ject matter.

Just about the only unknown is the extent of his dental work. It’s a glib observation, but no sooner is it made than Depp unhinges his jaw, opens wide, and happily gives an inti­mate tour of his choppers. “I’ve got loads of cavities. I had a root canal done eight years ago that’s unfinished. It’s like a rotten little stub.” He pulls back the curtain of flesh cover­ing his upper-right molars, revealing the oddi­ty. “But I like it. It’s like when the Indians would make something beaded, they would al­ways put imperfections on it.” Running a fin­ger along his zigzagging bottom front row, he says, “I’m proud of these. When I see people with perfect teeth, it drives me up the wall. I’d rather swallow a tick than have that!”

While bumping your nose up against his uvula, you notice the most fascinating facet of this oral inspection. Despite a chain of ciga­rettes and several glasses of merlot, Depp’s breath has no odor.

Sifting through the voluminous chroni­cles of his existence, you can forgive Depp the fact that he has on more than one occasion re­cycled “sucked into a bed” to describe his role in A Nightmare on Elm Street. After that painful initiation, Depp costarred with Rob Morrow in the T-and-A spectacle Private Re­sort, and played a soldier in Platoon. Then came Fox TV fame as undercover Cop Tom Hanson in 21 Jump Street. “Oh God, was that my name?” he says. “For the last two years of the show I didn’t know what my name was.”

“He made a choice when he came out of the television series to take a left turn as op­posed to a right,” says his ICM agent, Tracey Jacobs. Hence Edward Scissorhands, Benny & Joon, What’s Eating Qilbert Qrape, Arizona Dream, Ed Wood, and Don Juan DeMarco. There’s not a Dracula, Speed, or Interview With the Vampire type of film in the bunch, yet according to a source in a position to know, he has been offered all of those and many more.

Depp is a gambler. He committed to four of his past six projects before financing was se­cured. When Ed Wood was put in turnaround by Columbia, he stayed with the movie even though he was offered seven other films during that period. Says Jacobs, “He had an alle­giance to Tim [Burton] and stuck with that process for almost six months. He did the ex­act same thing for Dead Man.”

If you were earning 10 percent of Depp’s winnings, you might want him to play for big­ger stakes. “Am I disappointed that he turned those projects down? No!” blasts Jacobs. “Do I want him to be in a movie that does $400 million? Of course! I’m not stupid! Let me make this really clear to you—he wants to be in a commercial movie. It just has to be the right timing and the right one, that’s all. Hope­fully he’ll be available when those come along again.” His Ed Wood costar Sarah Jessica Parker observes, however, that “things aren’t arbitrary in his life at all. There is nothing ran­dom in anything that he does.” Who wants to see Johnny Depp riding a bus through a movie, anyway? What a miserable fate that would be for a guy who just wants to turn left.

Remark that Depp’s offscreen life seems full of left leanings, and Jacobs suggests, ‘I have taken the road less traveled and that has made all the difference’? That would be the quote I would use to describe him in general.”

‘He’s a doll. He’s a dreamboat. He’s a delinquent.”

That’s the tag line on the poster for Cry-Baby. Depp’s first film after he was sprung from television. In one cool move, with one very cool director, Depp totaled his teen-idol image. John Waters’s Cry-Baby was such a ri­otous send-up of a rebel loverboy that there was no way in hell Depp could ever be credi­bly cast in such a role again. Whether con­scious or unconscious, it was an ingenious ca­reer move—Depp was now free to play the beautiful losers everyone longed to save.

“He has almost a burning desire to make ugly choices,” says Peter Hedges, who wrote Gilbert Grape. “He comes with a physical beauty that’s just astonishing, and at the same time he has no interest in being that.” Depp committed to do the film, about a young man drowning in a dysfunctional family, before there was even a screenplay. “When I met him he had this really long hair,” recalls Hedges. “He showed up at the meeting, very quiet, really shy, and was teaching us magic tricks. I thought, I suppose he could be Gilbert. .. .”

Costar Leonardo DiCaprio saw the parallels pronto. “He was extremely like Gilbert,” says DiCaprio, who played his retarded younger brother. “But it wasn’t something Johnny was trying to do. It naturally came out of him. I nev­er quite understood what he was going through, because it wasn’t some big emotional drama that was happening every day on the set—but sub­tle things I’d see in him would make me ques­tion what was going on. There’s an element of Johnny that’s extremely nice and extremely cool, but at the same time, he’s hard to figure out. But that’s what makes him interesting.”

“His childhood informs who he is, but his choice of roles is where he wants to live as an artist,” says Dunaway. “Whatever has hap­pened to Johnny Depp, this is what he in his own uniqueness made of it.”

It’s when you’re not looking that he ap­pears. Relaxing between questions, Depp lets his psyche wander into the room.

“. . . Like a person who makes a fatal mis­take with drugs for instance,” he’s saying one night at Adele’s, a restaurant just down the highway from the Dead Man shoot in Virginia City. “You can say, ‘Okay, the guy was having a good time but he made a big mistake and now he’s not there. He doesn’t breathe any­more and his mom doesn’t get to see him any­more.’ ” Are we talking about River Phoenix, who died of an overdose outside Depp’s club, the Viper Room, more than a year ago?

“Yeah, oh yeah,” he says quietly. “He made a mistake, you know? And if he hadn’t done this particular thing that night, it wouldn’t have been … but he was … it hap­pened. It scares the shit out of me because I see my nieces and nephews growing up and it’s fucking hard. It was hard for me to grow up and it’s even harder now with all the scary, spooky shit that’s out there and . . .”

He breaks off, looks up. River Phoenix should see Depp’s eyes now. “The thing is, he came with his guitar to the club. You could cut me open and vomit in my chest because that kid . . . what a beautiful thing that he shows up with his girl on one arm and his guitar on the other. He came to play and he didn’t think he was going to die—nobody thinks they’re gonna die. He wanted to have a good time. It’s dangerous. But that’s the thing that breaks my heart, first that he died, but also that he showed up with his guitar, you know? That’s not an unhappy kid.”

What’s his take on the afterlife? “Oh boy, I don’t know.” Depp sighs heavily. “I would hope to think that this is maybe hell. Maybe this is hell because then we could go on to something else. Because this ain’t so bad.”

He bites into a steamed clam; his face grows genuinely pained. “It’s chewy,” he says, chew­ing aerobically. ‘These are big clams. Are you sure about these clams?” He swallows hard. Using his fork, Depp pokes about the bowl. “These are brown. I don’t think I can go there.” Prodding a green spot on a particularly large specimen, he makes the diagnosis. “That’s his doo-doo.” Depp retreats. “I tried. I did one.”

An older, elegant woman with a silver bun crowning her head glides toward the table. “I came in when I heard you would be here,” she says, extending a soft, well-manicured hand. “I’m Adele. I’m quite a fan of yours.”

“Well, thank you,” replies Depp gracious­ly. “I’m quite a fan of yours.”Photo1

“I can’t believe how you look like yourself!”

“Do I?” Depp asks, smiling.

“Yes, you do. It’s great!”

“Well, that’s good.” He laughs. “I guess.”

“Will you come and meet my son Charlie? He’s cooking your dinner tonight.”

“Sure. Can I bring my cigarette?”

Back in the kitchen, Charlie chats with Depp: “You couldn’t have picked a worse day to shoot in Virginia City.”

“Ah, visibility was about like this,” says Depp, holding a hand to his face. “You couldn’t see the camera, couldn’t see anybody. It was kind of nice, actually. I was standing in a fog somewhere.”

“It’s a real early winter,” Adele says, on the way back to the table. “Well, I’m upstairs sit­ting next to the white-haired man.”

“Buck? He’s a crazy man!” says Depp. Buck isn’t a stranger to film sets: He mentions that he had small parts in M*A*S*H and The Wild Bunch. These days. Buck is in the actor’s employ; Depp calls him his partner.

“Do you want me to tell him to join you?” Adele asks.

“No, he’s okay. He’s fine.”

“He’s having soda with lime,” she reports. “Obviously, he doesn’t drink, which is nice.”

She walks away and Depp shakes his head in appreciation. “Oh, what a doll she is. She’s beautiful! Married 44 years—that’s happiness. See what that does for you?” Perhaps Depp should try it soon himself. “I’m happy, I’m happy,” he stutters. “I’m happy right where I am. Sliding along. I’m in good shape.

“You know,” he continues, lighting another cigarette, “I was married when I was twenty. It was a strong bond with someone but I can’t necessarily say I was in love. That’s something that comes around once, man, maybe twice if you’re lucky. And I don’t know that I experi­enced that, let’s say, before I turned 30.

“I remember being in seventh grade and I was one of the kids that was considered a burnout. I had the most intense crush on this very popular girl. I pined for this girl, like be­yond Romeo and Juliet. Shocking. I just chewed my tongue up for her. Eighth grade comes along, we hang out a little at those par­ties where you end up making out. So we did that and I just couldn’t have been happier. Then she goes for the football guy, and leaves me just dangling in the breeze.

“Years later, after I dropped out of high school, I’m playing a club. I’m onstage and I look out and I’m like, ‘Fuck, it’s her!’ So I fin­ish the set and I go directly to the bar where she’s sitting and I walk up to her and it’s that face, man—incredible. And I went, ‘It’s so nice to see you!’ And I look at her and she’s 250 pounds! She is mammoth! She’s as wide as this table, but her face is still the same. And

I went, ‘Oh my, nice to see you—how many kids do you have?’ And she had four kids. And I thought. What fitting payback for fucking breaking my heart when I was a little kid.”

If he really hasn’t been in love before 30, that would make model Kate Moss the only woman eligible for in love status. The two met a year ago in a restaurant, introduced by a mu­tual friend. “And we’ve been together ever since,” says Depp, eager to fade from the top­ic. “We’re just having fun. A lot of fun.”

“She must be great,” opines Sarah Jessica Parker. “I’m going to just assume that and en­dow her with good qualities because I can’t imagine him spending time with anyone who wasn’t his equal.” Dunaway sees Depp as “uncorruptible—he always believes in this pure way about love, ya know? He’s got those kinds of values and it’s all instinctive with him. This isn’t something he’s worked out in his head. I love that he believes in love.”

It isn’t by accident that he’s playing Don Juan.

“Oh yeah!” Dunaway growls. “He’s a greeaat kisser!”

Buck has surrendered to the strong stuff. It is three hours later and upstairs at the bar he is glowing. A tall, fit, handsome devil with clear blue eyes and a white shock of hair, he has been listening to ghost stories and enjoy­ing himself, having been told that Premiere would be happy to pick up his dinner. So Buck has pickled half the patrons, unaware that Depp paid the bill without looking at it.

“Darling,” he says, smiling broadly, “your magazine bought four rounds for everyone at this bar!” Depp’s eyes pop. “Bu-bu-bu-buck. what have you been doing?” The peanut gallery roars, and Depp recovers when the bar­tender delivers a round on the house.

“The whole town is haunted,” a local named Tito has been telling the assembled.

Sipping his merlot, Depp is anticipating. “I hope I don’t get a wink of sleep tonight!”

“We’re going up into the attic with a flash­light!” says Buck, rubbing his hands together. “Come on out, you bastards!”

The Mackay Mansion was built in 1860 and its first resident was William Randolph Hearst’s father, George. The attic was once the servants’ quarters, and their horsehair mat­tresses still rest against the walls, blanketed with layers of dust and cobwebs. “You have to crawl up a ladder to get there,” explains Buck. “The sign on the door says don’t enter.”

“That’s probably where she lives!” says Tito, talking about the little girl ghost.

“Have you been in the room where she plays?” inquires Depp. The doll room. “The one that’s really scary is a slave doll from the Civil War. A black rag doll with red thread-stitched eyes.”

The bar sits entranced. Depp smiles, throws back his drink, and sets his glass down. “I just want to go back to the house, roll up a big fatty, and wait for the little girl to sit on my lap!”

Virginia City has seen its share of death. Signs posted along the highway into town urge travelers to stop at the Bucket of Blood saloon and an attraction called the Suicide Table, where more than one gambler, after los­ing his life’s savings, ate a bullet.

The Dead Man crew members could them­selves use a shot of something as they ready a location on the side of a snowy hill above town. They work quickly in an effort to beat the fading light and falling mercury, which, measured by the frozen carton of milk on the craft-service table, is below 32 degrees. In this scene, Depp leaves the fictitious Dickinson Metalworks (actually an old mill near the Comstock Lode), having been turned away after seeking much needed employment.

“He really is one of the most precise and focused people I’ve ever worked with,” says Jarmusch. who’s also a friend. “The whole crew is kind of amazed by that.” He chuckles warm puffs of breath. “That’s a side of him that I’m not really familiar with, you know? I’m more familiar with seeing him fall asleep on the couch with the TV on all night. But it somehow fits; he’s full of paradoxes.”

In Depp’s ratty little trailer, which Buck has plastered with a chaotic constellation of glow-in-the-dark stars, the Mackay Mansion ghostbusters are reporting back their findings, or lack thereof. “We were in the attic with the bats, and in the basement with the rats,” says a disappointed Buck. “I think we scared off the ghosts, though.”

“They’re not used to people looking for them,” says Depp consolingly.

Buck nods in agreement. “I checked with the owner today and he said, ‘Yes, if you get aggressive with them, they’ll back off.’ ”

“We were calling, ‘Come on out, you bas­tards!’ “adds Depp, cleaning his fingernails with the point of a Beavis and Butt-head pin.

“Of course,” Buck says, facing facts, “they knew we were hopelessly insane.” He turns to leave. Depp calls fondly after him, “Be careful out there, Bucky, it’s a cruel world.”

After shutting out the cold, Depp settles down to demonstrate a video game called Road Rash. “Watch this,” he says, revving a biker’s engine. “He can jump the curb and punch pedestri­ans.” Gee, he really can. With each innocent bystander sent flying, Depp lets out a hearty howl. His delight in such harmless delinquent behavior is contagious.

“I bought these for my little Kate,” he says, pointing to a skeleton accessorized with long strands of copper, silver, and gold beads. The necklaces are heavy, cold, yet sensuous to the touch. Around Moss’s neck, they’ll warm to body temperature. Back when Dead Man was shooting in Sedona, Arizona, Depp bought Buck a present too: a suede billfold embossed with a cowboy on his bronco and the words little buckeroo. If one were shopping for Depp, what would be the killer purchase? “A Jean-Michel Basquiat, I guess. There’s one of his paintings called Riding With Death. That’s my favorite.”

Moss’s picture is taped to the dressing-table mirror. It shows her with a bride-of-Frankenstein hairdo, modeling a purple, sequined one-piece pantsuit. from your disco queen . . . ha, ha, ha, ha. love always, kate. Also on the mirror is a single coarse, gray hair with a note: hair of jarmusch. These seem like distractions. Warning: Objects in the mirror may appear closer than they really are. Depp’s real reflection, also stuck on the mirror, is in a typed quote from the playwright and novelist William Saroyan: “In the time of your life, live, so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”

Depp dies at the end of Dead Man. Hardly a giveaway, given the title. “I hope that this is the last of these innocents I play,” he says. “It’s a character that is, again, like a naive young guy who’s trying to get his life together. He’s trying really hard to make his life work and he ends up slowly dying. And he knows he’s dying.” A half smile. “It’s a beautiful story, though.”

“There is something haunting about him,” says Parker. “But it’s not like Johnny is this troubled young actor and he’s poetic and brood­ing. It’s just that he’s real and complicated. He’s not like a showman. He doesn’t belong in show business. He belongs somewhere better.”

A month of shooting left, and he’ll be a free man in Paris—unfettered and very much alive. But at this moment, the actor is being filmed slowly walking away from the mill through the fog. You can see nothing, save his sorrowful eyes. Emerging from the mist, a face takes shape, the only thing distinguishing it from the grayish whiteness being a black frame of hair. He continues past the camera, staring intently at something in the distance. Following his gaze . . . there appears to be nothing there.

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.

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