England There is no ground; there is only mudthick, oozing, inches deep, and alive. Put your foot in and pull it out, and you can hear it breathe. Above the dark woods, the sky is a flat piece of black construction paper. Perfectly, uniformly, almost unnaturally black. Somewhere between the mud and the sky isjohnny Depp. ‘l’hat`s about as specific as he likes to get. It`s the middle of the night in the middle of March in the middle of England, which means it`s raining. And cold. Tim Burton, the director of movies in which night is never far away (two of them, Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood, with Depp) is shooting his latest collaboration with the actor: Sleepy Hollow, a creepier, more violent take on Washingtori Irving`s tale ofthe Headless Ilorseman. Burton and his crew have built an entire18th- century village in an isolated valley about an hour’s drive from London. There are fully constructed houses, shops. an inn, a pub, and a covered bridge with a rooster weather vane. All are beautihilly crumbling outside and mere shells inside, empty but for the fog.
The fog is a character in Sleepy Hollow as are the mud and the rain and the natterjack toads that clack in the dark like monster crickets. lt wraps itself ‘around you, soaks you to the skin. It softens the edges ofeverything: the crewin their fleece jackets; the extras in spattered gowns or tricornered hats; the scaffolds and generators and trucks parked on sheets of metal so that they don’t sinkinto the muck and disappear forever. And the fog does great things, really English things, to the graveyard behind the village, where headstones tilt out of the hillside like teeth in a skull. Everyone is in church. At this point in the story. the Headless Horseman has decapitated half the town and is out gto claim the rest, including Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci), her father (Michael Gambon, of the acclaimed BBC series The Singing Detective), and a passel of elders played—as in all Burton films—by relentlessly talented character actors:Jeffrey Jones (Beetlejuice), Ian McDiarmid (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace), Christopher Lee ‘ (whose Dracula movies of the 50´s and 60´s Depp, 36, grew up watching).
To set the scene, smoke machines churn and a crew member runs around removing the protective Styrofoam cups that cover the spikes on the iron chandeliers, while someone else ignites the candles with a blowtorch. Outside, a three·ton light box the size ofa Manhattan studio is rising into the sky atop a crane. “0h, that rig can hold 225 tons,” one of the safety engineers says. “This is like hoisting a bag of peanuts.” The “first time the light box was raised, people in the surrounding villages phoned the police to report a UFO. At the exact moment when the light box has been swung over the steeple, and the extras have packed their muskets with gunpowder, and the white, wooden church has tilled with choking smoke, its double doors bang open and ]ohnny Depp walks in. At nearly six feet, he is taller than people think, spindly as a tree branch, and possessed of a handsomeness that is almost otherworldly: big, burning eyes; soft, elegantly mussed hair; strong yet delicate hands. The hollows of his cheekbones have hollows. He is wearing a black frock coat and pants tucked into muddy, calf-high boots; he is smoking a thin cigarette (he hand-rolls them in brown, licorice- flavored paper); and he looks spectacular. “W’e really wanted to evoke the spirit of the old Hammer horror films, Vincent Price movies, Roger Corman’s work,” Burton says. “The heroes in those films are always kind of separate, ambiguous, absorbed in their work. They’ re there, but you don’t know much about them. Andjohnny is perfect for that; he radiates like a silent—movie actor. He hardly has to say anything. It’s something you can’t manufacture?
Depp’s Ichabod Crane is not, as in the Irving story, a schoolteacher; instead, he’s a fussy police constable brought up from New York City who insists for too long that the grisly murders in Sleepy Hollow have an earthbound explanation. At first, Depp resisted the idea that Ichabod be a cop —· but it grew on him.
He loved the notion of a detective “who has a facade of bravado, but in fact would be on the verge of tears, like, if an insect
comes near him,” he says later. “You’d feel his butt cheeks clench. I just liked that the hero of the story, whom one would expect to be romantic, I liked the idea that he’s more than half a woman.” For example, Depp knew he’d found Ichabod’s true character the day he shot a scene in which Crane and his 12—year—old assistant, Masbeth (newcomer Marc Pickering), investigate a cave. As Ichabod, Depp slipped an arm around Masbeth, supposedly to protect him, and actually ended up pushing the boy forward as a human shield. “So it’s beyond cowardly,” he says.
No actor has ever fought against playing a conventional romantic lead as fiercely as Depp. He thinks it’s been done enough. “There are plenty of people who do that. And do it well, I guess,” he says. “And do very well by doing it. It’s not that interesting to me. I’m interested in all the things that go on underneath? “Johnny has an outlaw personality. He identifies with the outlaw image in what he reads, the movies he makes. He’s not faking it,” says his friend, the writer Hunter S. Thompson. (Depp played the king of gonzo journal- in Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.) “Johnny’s particular path in life is to constantly nudge people awake,” Gilliam says. “The films he chooses force you to reconsider what you , think ofthe worId.” In tonight’s scene, Ichabod has abandoned all pretense of bravery and cowers in church with the rest—”Ichabod Crane, girl detective,” Depp
zooms im again, believing that the Horseman, being unholy, cannot enter. In fact, over the next 20 hours, Depp will utter only that line on camera: “He cannot enter? Everything else, all the darting panic and desperate suppression of it, he does with his eyes. After the townsmen tuck their cell phones into their breeches and line up at the church windows for a master shot, Depp strides in and implores, “He cannot enter? Then he jumps into an idling jeep and is whisked half a mile down the road to his cozy trailer, where he practices an acceptance speech, in French, for the lifetime- achievement César (the French Oscar) he will receive that weekend.
Meanwhile, the extras, many children and old people, trek through the mud into a tent to huddle around space heaters and Styrofoam cups of tea. When Gambon, jones, and McDiarmid have finished setting up their two-shots, Depp zooms in again, looks pleadingly at them, says the line- “He cannot enter? —then slips back into the fog. Throughout the long night, while Gambon et al. stand in a loose circle by the altar, adjusting their ascots, trading dirty jokes, and roaring with laughter; while Tim Burton—looking happy and prosperous, in black from head—to-toe (beret, goatee, pea coat, pants) — paces back and forth behind the camera, framing shots with his hands like a silent-film director; while tough-guy producer Scott Rudin, working three separate cell phones, calls backward across the globe (to Tom Stoppard in London, Mike Nichols in New York, then .
Vince Vaughn, Richard Donner, and Curtis Hanson in Los Angeles); while the stunt Horseman tries to keep his Andalusian stallion—as big, black, and spooky as you imagined when you first heard the story as a kid from bolting into the graveyard, Depp will yo-yo in and out, saying, “He cannot enter.’” and melting away.
He does have a long chat with a young female extra named Helena, who, with her brother james and their mom, is visiting the set courtesy of the Make- A-Wish Foundation, the group that helps seriously ill children realize a dream. Depp has worked with
the foundation for iz years, since his days on the teen cop show 21 Jump Street. “The most courageous people I’ve ever met have
been nine years old, I5 years old,” Depp says later. “The strength that they have—that`s some kind of strength. I don`t know it.” On Helena’s last night as an extra, Depp sticks around until she’s released, then gently helps her on with her coat.
Occasionally Depp also hangs out with the old pros in the cast, whom he clearly reveres. He slouches beside them on the church pews, legs stuck out and ‘ bent like a spider’s, rolling his cigarettes and smiling sweetly as they talk. And Depp and Burton, who are as easy as brothers, frequently reduce each other to tears of laughter. Currently, they`re mutually obsessed with the late entertainer Georgie jessel; a few takes get off to a slow start because Burton yells “Action.’”’ in Jessel’s trademark chipmunk—with-marbles—in-his- mouth whine, which paralyzes Depp. Depp and Burton have a few off-kilter, Jessel esque qualities of their own. Both feel deeply “that the things that are considered completely normal and are totally accepted by society are, in fact, absurd,” A Depp says. “The characters I’ve played in Tim’s films are all related in the sense that they are”-—he pauses- “kind ofdeeply damaged.” He laughs. “Which I think of as a good thing. The damaged individual dealing with the world. That is probably, at its very root, why Tim does what he does, and why I do what I do.” “Johnny knows as well as anyone could that Be things are not what they seem,” Burton says. “He makes you see the world from a different perspective. And even though this is the third film we’ve done together, we never fall into, ‘Let’s go back to formula A or B.’ He’ll always explore each thing on its own, and he does it so well. It`s why you want to be in movies.” Over the next few nights, Depp’s disappearing act continues. For the few seconds that we`re in the same room, he is cordial and friendly. (I interviewed him eight years ago.) But he’s antsier, crankier than I remember- more fed up. He has an unnerving habit of vaporizing: He stands before you, yet he is elsewhere; you could put your arm right through him. “He can be intensely self-protective,“ Thompson says. “He’s perfected thejohn Wayne stare, where you walk through a room full ofpeople and never look at anybody.” It’s been made clear that Depp is busy, that he wants only two things. The first is to think about his work, which is undergoing a sea change.
He’s never been a huge draw at the box office. “I’m no treat for marketing departments,” he admits. But in the past few years, Depp has moved away from the roles that gave him a reputation (oversimplified, but it stuck) for playing wide—eyed waifs— in Cry-Baby, Edward Scissorhands, Benny and joon, Whats Eating Gilbert Grape, Don Juan DeMarco, and Dead Man—toward more adult, ambivalent characters. In Donnie Braseo, he is a disillusioned undercover agent opposite Al Pacino`s tragic, aging mobster. In The Astronauts Wife
released in August, he plays a space cowboy possessed by an alien. And in his upcoming The Ninth Gate, he is a corruptible rare-book
dealer hired to find satanic texts; it was directed by Roman Polanski, who also invoked the devil in Rosemary? Baby. –
“You know, it’s weird,” Depp says later. “When I did Donnie Brasco, people within the industry said, ‘He finally played a man.’ And I didn’t particularly get it. It’s like, why was I a man? Because I punched a couple of guys? Because I kissed a girl, had sex? Iguess that’s it. I was sort of fascinated by that.” “I find it surprising that people don’t think of johnny as a leading man. He’s the most gorgeous, talented man in the world,” says Anne Heche, who played Brasco’s wife. “I wouldn’t have trouble buying him as anything. Most actors play different versions of themselves. Not Johnny— you never think he’s going to do whatever his next movie is.” “What amazes me is that the critics are always surprised by Johnny,” Gilliam says. “It’s like they don’t really watch what’s there. They don’t understand how good an actor he is. He doesn’t cheat by giving you all those cheap emotions. He won’t make you comfortable —- for him that would be a foot in the grave.” At first glance, Depp’s recent films seem to be allover the map. But look closer, and they are linked by his urgent desire to subvert otu‘ notion of who the good guys are. In The Astronauts Wife, in particular, Depp takes great delight in gathering up the qualities that are widely considered to be heroic and flipping them the bird. “I liked the idea of playing, on the surface, what looks like a leading—man type: white teeth, sun-kissed hair, healthy Southern boy, sort of all-American,” Depp says. “But the way I looked at it, being taken over by an alien just allowed him to be exactly who he was, in fact: a filthy shithead, just a full-on scumbag.” The second big thing Depp wants right now is simply to be left alone. His recent history has been A tumultuous: The end of his long-term relationship with model Kate Moss overlapped with a move to France and the beginning of his life with French actress—pop singer——superstar Vanessa Paradis, 27, who became pregnant. Last winter, Depp grabbed a piece of wood and attacked a half-dozen paparazzi who were waiting outside a London restaurant to snap a photo of the expectant couple. He was hauled off to jail in handcuffs, where he spent five hours. When Paradis was in labor (Lily-Rose Melody Depp was born on May 27), photographers lined up outside her Paris hospital window. Depp had to skulk behind an umbrella to have a smoke, “so they didn’t get a photograph of johnny Depp waiting for his baby to be born,” he says, sneering as he pronounces _his own name. “Now, that’s no way to live. That’s a sick thing to have mixed in with the most beautiful memories of your life. It’s like a jail.” At this moment, being left alone is the central quest in Depp’s life. So I’m not surprised when one night I search for him to say goodbye, only to discover that he left three hours earlier, and is probably home in bed. You’re not supposed to go to Paris in August. No one is there, people say—at least no Parisians. But the truth is, there are Parisians aplenty: African-Parisians, Indo-Parisians, Asian—Parisians, swinging down the street in groups of two or three, smiling madly because
those other Parisians are out of their hair. Depp loves Paris in August. “Europe becomes him,” says Polanski, who also makes Paris his home. “He doesn’t look expatriated. He looks as though he really lives here. He’s very much at ease.” Our meeting is scheduled, if somewhat vaguely, for tomorrow, so tonight is a good time to wander around and look for traces of Depp in his new hometown. It’s easy to see why he likes it: It is, well, Paris —beautiful A and full of art and good red wine, one of his favorite indulgences.
More importantly, in Paris Depp can disappear. There are dozens of gentle-looking brown—haired boys with dark eyes and fabulous bone structure strolling around the Marais and the Left Bank and Montmartre, where Depp, until recently, kept an apartment (he now has a house just outside the city). It’s very, very far from L.A. “I’m happy to be removed,” Depp says later. “I’m happy that I made the decision to stop looking at magazines, that I don’t see many movies, that I don’t know who people are, in terms of the movie executives, or other actors and actresses.” The only celebrity anyone is rushing to photograph at the Louvre is the “Mona Lisa,” who faces down the constant flashbulbs of the tourist paparazzi from behind her glass case. She looks friendly, patient, secretive. She looks a bit, in fact, like Depp. There is no trace of the actor at Man Ray, the restaurant off the Champs—Elysées that he co-owns with a few pals, including Sean Penn and Bono. The decor is underwater Thai eclectic—massive wooden figures, gold-flecked mosaic tiles, orange and green Iighting—and the menu is a lumpy list of everything—not—French. Has the waiter, valiantly struggling’ to grow his first beard, ever seen Johnny? “At the movies, yes. Here, no,”he says. And the lovely, model—ready maitre’d, has she seen Johnny? “Once we made a party for Puff Daddy,” she says. (Actually, being French, she says Puff Daddy, which is what he should call himself from now on.) “I was not here, but I heard Johnny was.” In fact, Depp is not here at all. In Paris, that is. He was supposed to be here. Or someone thought he was. He was here a couple of days ago. He may or may not be back soon. He may have one to the south of France, where he ind Paradis have a house by a vineyard near the sea. He may have gone to London. The only thing that anyone knows is that no one knows anything.
So 24 hours after arriving in Paris, I leave. People seem upset about this, especially Depp’s publicist and his sister Christi, who handles his affairs from her home in Florida. Later, Depp himself will apologize, though he swears he had no idea a meeting was scheduled. I, however, float along ’ on a cloud of nonchalance, in a kind ~of sleepy, Zen—like, privileged peace induced by jet lag and spending copi-
ous amounts of someone else’s money. Though I didn’t talk tojohnny Depp, I think I learned something about him: I felt, for a moment, what it’s like to be him. Or at least the part of him who never answers his phone, who is put onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards to utter exactly eight “words (“Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Nine Inch Nails”), who gavors certain decisions (what to read what to look at, what to smell) while jutterly surrendering others (financial affairs, itineraries, business details).In that moment, tickets and phone calls and hotel reservations and taxi drivers swirled around my head, but I didn’t see them. All I had to think about was being exactly where I was. Depp goes to great lengths to hangonto this state of mind. I have to tell i you, it felt good.
Los Angeles When I finally do see Depp again, I can barely see him at all. I wait for him at a small, subterranean bar inside the Viper Room, the Sunset Boulevard nightclub he has owned for nearly a decade. He is running late. The lights are turned down low and the air is
dense with the smoky-sweet smell of the lilies, which spill out of their vases at every table; the steady, thumping bass of the band doing a soundcheck on the floor above rattles the ceiling. Depp glides into this scene silently, as if on a cushion of air. His hair is longer and lanker than it was in England, shoved under a fishing cap that he could have borrowed from an old man. He wears giant plastic sunglasses, a cotton shirt that buttons up the front, frayed work pants, and construction boots. Two medals-one depicting Shiva, the other Che Guevaradangle from chains around his neck. He looks like a beautiful kook. His voice, which sounds like gravel being poured through chocolate pudding, is so quiet that one has to lean forward to hear him, and he speaks so haltingly it’s as if each sentence has its own apartment. Honestly, it’s like meeting some mystic in a mountain cave. Though we are in a bar, Depp consumes only water and a roll of Spree candy, in between countless cigarettes. (“ Really, he smokes too rnuch,”Polanski says. “I once said to him, ‘You should stop,’ and he replied, ‘Why stop something I do so well?’ “) His manners are courtly, almost quaint; when a tiny bit of my water spills, he insists upon taking it for himself and gets me a new bottle. He’s funny and charming and present, but his longing to be elsewhere is so palpable, it practically makes a sound. Clearly, he’s aching for his (then) three-month-old baby, whose birth is still fresh in his mind. “Yeah, labor’s a very strange thing,” he says. “You learn a lot in a very short period of time. Minute:. The first thing you learn
is that women are far superior to men. The amount of work, the amount of determination required — a man could not do it. A man would fold.” Depp tried to do his part: ‘I`hough he never wears a watch, he kept vowing to buy one so he could time Paradis’s contractions. Finally he did, “but when the contractions started coming, I was useless. I kept fumbling with these hideous little buttons,” he says. “But I tell you what, it’s a powerful thing. If a man goes into that room and watches his girl do that, it does not get any heav-
ier. Certainly I’ve never seen anything as strong as a woman during those moments.” He made sure he was the one to cut the umbilical cord. He didn’t want a stranger breaking the tie that holds mother and child together.“Oh, he’s pathetic,” Gilliam says, giggling madly. “Totally doting, as if she’s the only child ever born. ‘She’s got a skin rash—oh my God!’ He loses all his wit and sharpness around her; she’s reduced him to b!ancmange.” “Look, I don’t think that I lived before. This baby has given me life,” Depp says, unabashedly. “I worked be fore, sure, I lived, but mostly I just existed. I see this amazing, beautiful, pure angel-thing wake up in the morning and smile, and nothing can touch that. She gives me the opportunity to experience something new every day. And to love, so deeply. She is the only reason to wake up in the morning, the only reason to take a breath. Everything else is checkers.” About Lily-Rose’s mother, however, Depp is totally circumspect. He says Paradis is a natural at motherhood, she’s a great girl, she has a nice family (parents, still married, plus a younger sister) who live nearby. That’s it. Nothing about whether she makes him laugh, what she likes about him, what they have in common—other than a desire to avoid the praying eyes of the press, hint hint. Only once does he step up to stamp something concrete about Paradis onto the record. Told that in the public realm, her pregnancy was thought to be an accident that derailed Depp’s return to Kate Moss, he adamantly denies it. “That couldn’t be more untrue,” he says firmly. “I was not put in a situation where I was obligated to do something. Obligation is no way to begin your career as a father. I would never do that to the girl that I’m in-
volved with, to my kid. I wouldn’t live that Iie.”He plans to raise Lily-Rose in France. “I used to think, maybe you i could do it in the middle of the States, Colorado or somewhere. But no. Not when you’ve got cretins going into schools and shooting children.
This country is out of control. It’s become dirty. I think it’s imploding.”Here Depp launches into a string of tirades. About politics: “I always thought politics was horseshit. Never voted once in my life, never. Now, at 36, I’m starting to think it’s more grave. It affects me
now.” About NATO: “If they wanted to take Milosevic out, they could, very easily. Same with Saddam Hussein. But they didn’t. They need a bad guy so they can be the good guys.” And about Clinton. Especially Clinton. Depp hates hypocrisy, and he seems to take Clinton’s waffling personally. “For about zo seconds I thought, That guy’s all right. From Arkansas, an outsider,” Depp says. “But
then it’s like [be mimic: a Clinton accent], ‘I didn’t inhale) You . . . what did he say? Did he say he didnt inhale?” He’s on a roll now; the cigarette he’s about to light is jouncing up and down in the corner of his mouth. “You know what I find really strange?” he asks. “When
Bill Clinton comes off of Air Force One, he salutes the marine standing at the base of the stairs. I remember something about Clinton’s not going to Vietnam, whatever sticky weirdness it was. And instead of just saying, ‘I didn’t want to go to Vietnam because I didn’t
believe in it,’ or ‘I was scared shitless,’ he made up some kind of smarmy story. But now he walks down those steps and salutes that marine. Suddenly he believes in the army, when he doesn’t have to go fight. Fuck that.”But what irks Depp the most right now is his own
fame. (“He would come to work shattered sometimes, because the photographers would make his and Vanessa’s life miserable,” Polanski says.) He’s not sorry that he picked up that two—by—four outside the London restaurant. In fact, he’s more than a little proud of it.
“They wanted a photograph of me and my pregnant girlfriend. And that angered me — that they would take something so sacred and try to turn it into a product,”he says. He told the photographers waiting by the exit that, for just this one night, he couldn’t be what they
wanted him to be —“novelty boy, a product.” He asked them, like a gentleman, to go away. “And they said no—We’ll be here waiting for you.’ ” Depp snapped. He grabbed the wood, rapped one photographer in the knuckles, and told them, “N0wn take the picture. I’m fucking begging you. Because the first flash I see, the guy is gonna be the recipient of this.” He pauses. “Six guys. Nobody took one picture. The beauty, the poetry of the fear in their eyes, in these filthy little maggots’ faces, was so worth it. I didn’t mind going to jail for, what, five, six hours? It was absolutely worth it.”