(note: recently, when Ivy met Johnny, he told her he remembered the zone and he remembered his meeting with Irene!)
‘Adventures in Neverland’ – The Night I Met Johnny Depp
I had the privilege of meeting Johnny Depp during the filming of ‘Neverland’ in summer 2002. They were filming night shoots at the Richmond Theatre, Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey, England on three consecutive nights: Sunday 18th to Tuesday 20 August ’02. On the first evening that I visited the filming location I had to leave before Johnny was due to show up on set. On my second visit, however, I had the incredible good fortune of being able to watch him at work for over 6 hours – an evening that culminated in meeting him at 3:15 in the morning! I don’t have any photographs of that extraordinary night, but I do have vivid and wonderful memories together with Johnny’s inscription for me in my little ‘Dead Man’ book.
The simplest way to tell my adventure is to Start at the Beginning and keep going until I reach The End and then Stop. My story’s a long one, but I hope you enjoy it.
CHAPTER ONE – Sunday 18th August 2002
I went over to Richmond-upon-Thames in Surrey yesterday, Sunday 18 August, to see if I could watch the ‘Neverland’ location filming that Reemi reported from the ‘Dark Horizons’ site. And I arrived about 6 hours too early, because they were doing NIGHT shoots!
2:00pm: Finding the location was easy enough – the big film lorries parked outside the Richmond Theatre were a bit of a giveaway, together with the notices from ‘Neverland Films’ apologising for the road closure. At first I thought I’d actually missed everything because nothing seemed to be happening, but after about an hour people began bringing props out of the theatre and decorating the roadway with them. So, having spent ages getting there, I decided to stay and wait for the action. Luckily I’d bought a good book with me, so I found a shady spot on Richmond Green and watched the set decorators in action between the chapters of my novel.
8:00pm: CUT to many hours later, and the little road outside the theatre has been transformed with glowing Victorian lamp-posts, greenery covering the few modern-day signs, earth-covered roads, a splendid mixture of horse-drawn gigs and flys and early motorcars, and a couple of ENORMOUS floating air balloons suspended 60 foot up, shining light down upon the scene. I was very surprised that there weren’t any big arc lights, or any of the other cumbersome equipment that you normally associate with film sets. The huge air balloons were lit up (with halogen gas? I don’t know), and the one suspended directly above the theatre steps looked like the full moon magnified x 10. Although these suspended lights were brilliant white, they cast a warm night-time glow upon everything.
The theatre has a little open green right in front of it (it’s actually called ‘Little Green’) so all the crew and the extras were parked there, and they’d slung up a tape barrier in the shape of a large ‘V’ for the public to stand behind. So there was plenty of space to stand and get a view – and even a couple of park benches to sit on if you were lucky!
The filming had been mentioned in this week’s local Richmond newspapers so there were quite a few people standing around the perimeter when I joined them again at sunset. I took up a position on the right, about 120 feet from the theatre, with a very good view of everything that was going on – except when some of the extras were standing in the way, or when an Edwardian motorcar drove past!
You can probably imagine what the next few hours were like.. I stayed and watched it for as long as I could, although they didn’t actually film very much. The director didn’t yell ‘Action!’ or ‘Cut!’ like I’d expected – all the main crew and security were hooked up to earpieces so they knew what was happening. Basically they did lots of rehearsals of the extras entering and leaving the theatre for the performance of one of JM Barrie’s plays. They had a little billboard on the pavement in front of the theatre, but I couldn’t read what play it was. And they’d erected big maroon signs on either side of the theatre entrance that read ‘Duke of Westminster’s Theatre’ (the real theatre is the ‘Duke of York’s’, so there must have been some sort of copyright problem with using the real name). The few times the cameras did roll, the extras did their bit and then suddenly there in their midst would be someone dressed in t-shirt & jeans, exiting the theatre with them, so you knew that the take was finished! The security guys stopped anyone who took pictures because the flash would show up on the film – even though they were scarcely filming anything.
Just before I left, Dustin Hoffman appeared and did a scene, standing on the upper steps and greeting the people as they were arriving. As far as I could tell they’d greyed his hair, but by that time my eyes were so sore with looking that I couldn’t have cared less if he’d been wearing a fruit bowl on his head a la Carmen Miranda. I then heard that Johnny wouldn’t be arriving to do his scenes until midnight.
Apparently they’ve been filming at the Richmond Theatre for a week now, but someone told me they’ve only been doing interior scenes inside the theatre. ‘Neverland’ is doing 2 more night shoots – today (Monday) & tomorrow, although the final night will be ‘foyer scenes’ so there won’t be much to see.
11:00pm: I had to push off home otherwise I’d have been stranded in Richmond overnight, but I’m going back today for another peek. Wish me better luck for tonight!!
CHAPTER TWO – the evening of Monday 19th August 2002
8:40pm: I arrive at the theatre just after nightfall on Monday night, and the action’s already under way. Some extras are loading scenery into a Victorian removals van outside the theatre. When this little bit of action finishes, they unload all the props, take them back into the theatre, and start the process all over again.
Although the air-balloon lights are suspended high in the air, they’re using a big arc light and a white reflective sheet suspended between the trees for this scene. The first wonderful thing I notice is that tonight the camera is positioned in the little street right in front of the theatre, so they’ve set up the crowd tape barrier much closer to the theatre than on Sunday night!
I walk around & get a great position at centre-left, about 70 feet from the set. As well as giving me a superb uninterrupted view, I’d noticed that all the actors come on set from that direction, either walking or in cars, along the little roadway that disappears to our left between the houses.
I ask around to see if anything much has happened yet and someone tells me that they’ve been doing this same scene for the past half-hour!
The watching crowd is much, much smaller than on Sunday night – possibly because the novelty has worn off but also because it’s no longer the weekend. When I arrive there are only about 50 onlookers gathered around, and the numbers get smaller as the night wears on. I chat with a couple of people who I discover actually live on the Little Green, facing the theatre, and they’re a mine of information. They tell me that Sunday night’s filming went on until 4 o’clock in the morning, and they wrapped just as dawn was breaking! They also tell me that everyone living on Richmond Green had been sent a letter by Neverland Films, giving the dates of filming and apologising for the inconvenience, and that they’ve been filming inside the theatre for the past couple of weeks. I also discover that there hadn’t been any external filming on Saturday night: these night-shoots are just Sunday-Tuesday. That’s a good start to the evening, finding out that I hadn’t missed a whole night’s filming over the weekend.
I hit very lucky with these people because they have some really interesting titbits of information about the filming & they’re clearly delighted that their beautiful theatre is in the spotlight. They point out the buildings that have been specially done up for the film, and also tell me that the film company is using the college just up the little road to our left as the cast’s changing rooms. I figured this was the same place that the security men had mysteriously referred to as ‘base’ on my last visit – presumably to stop people from following their noses and taking a wander up there! Throughout all of this conversation, the extras repeat their scenery-shifting sequence endlessly?
Finally the replica Removals Van is hauled away, and things start moving again. Several cars arrive from the little side-road and pull up inside the tape barrier, the entrance of which is guarded constantly by a couple of security men. Lots of crew get out of the cars and meanwhile a group of extras walk down the road and mingle with them on the set. Amid all the comings-and-goings, I’m still chatting with the locals and generally looking at all the new activity. And then, quite suddenly, I involuntarily suck in my breath:
9:10pm: Johnny Depp is on the set!!!
He’s standing at the top of the theatre steps, on the right-hand side as you look at it. I have no idea how he got there – presumably he’d only just arrived in one of the cars and I was too busy chatting to notice [blush]. He’s dressed in mid-brown trousers, matching waistcoat with a cream satin back, and white shirt. And even though I’ve only just clapped eyes on him, this lithe slender figure is unmistakeably Johnny Depp.
He’s talking to a very tall bald young man (who I later figure out is the director, Marc Forster), and to a tall heavily-set man standing on Johnny’s right. JD is gesticulating about something – lots of hand and arm movements. Every time the heavy guy disappears inside the theatre, Johnny calls him out again. At first I wonder what’s going on & whether something’s wrong, and then my brain starts working again and I realise that they’re simply talking through the action for a scene! (As it later turns out, the heavily-set tall man was acting as a temporary stand-in for Dustin Hoffman, which is pretty funny when you recall what Hoffman is really like.)
While this pre-rehearsal is going on, the crew are taking down the big arc light and the white sheet, so we’re getting an even better view of the set! You can now see a small pavement-mounted billboard for ‘Peter Pan’.
Finally, everyone is satisfied with the talk-through and they do a couple of dry runs. JD stays at the top of the stairs on the right-hand side as you look at the theatre, and looks disconsolately up and down the road. A man dressed as a theatre usher comes out from the foyer, rings a silent bell, and calls out “Last call, ladies and gentlemen! Last call for the – “. He’s cut short by someone inside. Hoffman’s stand-in appears from the left-hand door of the foyer (as you look at the theatre) and speaks to the usher. They both go back inside. Then suddenly Johnny spots some movement in the street to his left, and whips around to lean over the banister to his right and call out “Charles!” Hoffman’s character comes outside again and Johnny indicates what’s happening in the street. The only dialogue I could hear is what I’ve included above; I couldn’t make out the rest of what they were saying. By the end of the night I was probably as familiar with this dialogue as were the actors themselves, since it’s almost the only scene that was filmed!
Everyone seems happy with the pre-rehearsals, and Johnny descends the stairs and talks to the crew. Then:
9:25pm: Johnny climbs into a big silver people-carrier [luxury SUV] and is driven back to ‘base’. I settle down for what I expect to be a long wait for his return.
CHAPTER THREE – 9:25pm to 11:30pm
9:25pm: The crew settle down to rigging up different lights and repositioning the second air-balloon to give extra light to the set. I settle down on the grass to give my feet a rest for a while.
Something interesting finally happens when a tall slim dark-haired young man takes up the same position as Johnny had at the top-right of the theatre stairs. He’s dressed in grey t-shirt & jeans and is obviously JD’s stand-in. Two other people come to join him: a short, medium-built older man with a bushy beard [Dustin Hoffman’s stand-in] and a blonde woman who stands between the two men. I assume that she’s Kate Winslet’s stand-in, although Kate never appears on the set and the scene is played without her. Very curious! There’s endless checking and re-checking of lights, distances, etc while this trio stand still and let everything happen around them.
The mix of people in our crowd of onlookers is changing all the time. People arriving during this period of set-up don’t hang around too long. I chat to different people and happily give my expert advice on what the film’s about and who’s in it.
10:20pm: Johnny arrives back on set – and stays on set until 03:15 in the morning!!!
There’s the sound of motors in the little side-road to our left, and several cars emerge one after the other. Finally ‘Johnny’s’ big silver people-carrier moves slowly into view and keeps on going until it’s well inside the tape barrier. The doors open and several people emerge. And right in amongst them is JD! A few brave people in the crowd call out his name [this is England, remember, and we don’t really do that sort of thing over here!] but Johnny resolutely carries on chatting with the people he’s with, moving on to the set & towards the director & his crew. Anyone in the crowd who’s foolish enough to take out their camera is instantly pounced upon by one of the security men & told in no uncertain fashion that they can’t take any pictures whatsoever at any time. I subtly untwine my fingers from the camera that I’m just about to hike out of my bag and go back to taking notes in my head?
Having missed Johnny’s earlier entrance on to the set, this time I have a wonderful surprise coming. Instead of the brown ‘workaday’ outfit he was wearing earlier in the evening, he’s now decked out in immaculate Edwardian evening dress!
The one thing that particularly strikes me this time is his graceful way of moving. I remember reading an article recently where the journalist particularly noticed his poise and said that Johnny carries himself very straight and upright. That’s an accurate observation. To some extent, possibly, his costume is having its effect upon him, but whatever the cause for the rest of the evening he moves with an innate grace and elegance. He reminds me of Fred Astaire at his prime – and there’s a man who could really move! [In fact, at one point much later in the evening when things were clearly starting to drag, Johnny takes up a typical ‘Top Hat’ pose right in the middle of the pavement for a couple of seconds. It was a spectacular spot-on imitation of the great Astaire and I would have dearly loved to have captured that moment on camera! Anyway, I digress..]
Johnny climbs to the top of the theatre steps, takes up his position once again at the right-hand side, and things start to get under way. At some point Dustin Hoffman joins him but I can’t say I particularly noticed when that happened [blush]. There’s lots more discussion with the director, and eventually the wardrobe mistress comes up with JD’s black tailcoat and fits it on to him. And finally he’s given a gold-topped cane which he proceeds to play with, a la ‘Benny & Joon’, for the rest of the evening.
By this time it’s 11pm and the pubs are coming out, so there begins an endless troop of slightly-drunken youths across the green from various directions. Most of them stay for a while and just about every new group uses some variant on the phrase: “Johnny Depp! Is that Johnny Depp?! Really?! Cool!” For about the next 2 hours the mobile phone bill in Richmond-upon-Thames rises by 600% as everyone decides to hang out by the Green and call all their friends to explain what they’re up to. One young guy’s phone conversation which I found particularly funny ran like this: “Hey, guess where I am and who I’m looking at?!?The Richmond Theatre….Johnny Depp!!? Yeah, really!!? I dunno.. About 5’10, 5’11, I’d say?”
Some guys decide to be completely cool about the whole thing and intermittently play a noisy game of football behind us.
But my eyes (if not my ears) are focussed on one slender charismatic man rehearsing the same lines and actions over and over again; varying it this way; trying it out that way…
CHAPTER FOUR – 11:30pm to 01:50am
Sometime after 11pm a big troop of children of all ages – from teeny tots to 10 year olds – arrive with their minders from ‘the base’ and join the set. The rehearsals now include these kids, all dressed up in Victorian garb, with a woman at their head. They queue up in an orderly line down the road from the theatre, out of camera shot.
And suddenly the scene starts to make more sense, as ‘Barrie’s’ reaction on the theatre steps is in response to seeing a load of children arriving at the last moment to watch his play. They troop up the steps in crocodile-fashion and enter the theatre as Johnny and Dustin watch them go in. Then ‘Barrie’ spots a boy standing alone on the pavement, off by himself. He walks down to greet this new boy and bends down to speak with him. Then he persuades the boy to run in and see the play. Barrie stands alone on the pavement, looking at the boy entering the theatre and twirling his cane in contemplation.
This scene gets rehearsed and filmed time and time again, with varying changes in the way things are played. It must have been way after midnight by the time the scene is safely in the can.
One thing I haven’t mentioned – I guess because it’s always reported from film sets anyway – is that, despite the boring repetition, JD and Dustin & other members of the crew often chat and share a joke. I witness a lot of that typical ducking-of-the-head that Johnny does when he’s laughing.
Around 1am there’s quite a long break for the actors as the crew start re-setting for different camera angles and the continuation of the scene. We have a brief buzz of excitement as Johnny wanders over towards some crew members standing on the Green – he’s coming closer to us with each stride!! He chats to the crew, shaking people’s hands as he greets both old and new friends.
The watching crowd by this time includes a young couple beside me who’d managed to get a photo of Dustin Hoffman on the previous evening, when Dustin deliberately crossed over the tape barrier during a break to go and lie down for a few minutes on one of the park benches! This couple begin waving madly and calling Johnny’s name. Johnny looks over at our group, gives a big grin, and happily gives us a big double-arms wave in return, but he doesn’t come over. At the same moment the security men home in on us, in case any of us get the bright idea of stepping over the skimpy tape and heading towards JD. But we’re a well-behaved little bunch – plus by now we know that we’d get kicked off the green if we did anything as naughty as that.
JD soon returns to the main set area and goes and perches on the theatre steps alongside Dustin and several of the crew. One woman has two small children in tow and Johnny chats with them; he has pictures taken with some of the children and their mothers; he takes a couple of phone calls. In general there’s a lot of dallying around that looks very tedious for everyone.
Eventually he seems to get tired of being looked at (and who can blame him!) and he crouches down in the road with his back to us. Someone eventually lines up several directors chairs and offers him one, and although he’s fractionally nearer to us, all we can see now is the back of a beautifully-white shirt and a very neatly groomed head!
In the meantime I’m being entertained by a couple of new people who’ve arrived very late – or very early, given that it’s now Tuesday! It transpires that they both live on Richmond Green (the larger open space close by) and they’ve come along separately to see how the filming is getting on. I find out that they both happened to witness the Neverland crew’s flying visit to another house on Richmond Green in late June – the event that gave us Johnny’s picture with his duck friend. They said that nothing much really happened that day: Kate Winslet and Julie Christie came out of the house, went back in, and came out again – all day long!
Both of these people are welcome additions to our dwindling flock of onlookers – it’s now well past 1:30am and all but the strong-willed have packed it in and gone home to bed. The woman has a great admiration for Johnny’s work so we have lots to chat about; the man is a William Blake fan who’s determined to get an interview with Johnny to discuss “Dead Man Dead Man” (as he calls it).
We get acquainted when I tire of hearing him calling the film by the wrong title and leap up to give him a quick synopsis of the different themes in Jarmusch’s masterpiece and show him my little British Film Institute book at the same time.
He looks at me doubtfully as though he’s encountered a roving Dead Man fanatic.. and to a large extent he’s right!
CHAPTER FIVE – 01:50am to 02:40am
At around 1:50am the set is ready for the next piece of action, which is to be played out on the pavement in front of the theatre.
First up, Johnny’s stand-in takes position on the pavement as the lighting, distances and camera angles are checked, and then finally JD steps up into place, swinging and twirling his cane while he’s waiting for the crew to finish their checks. It’s around this point that Johnny does his brilliant ‘Top Hat’ pose.
Suddenly there’s lots of ‘street action’ happening, as the horse-drawn carriages and ancient motorcars that have been parked up all night are brought into play.
Johnny retires back up to the top of the theatre steps as the little street becomes busy with the passing traffic and people strolling along. One particular horse-drawn fly [a vehicle with just two very large wheels and a little front-opening cabin for the passenger] approaches from the left and draws up in front of the theatre. The boy we’ve seen earlier climbs out and pays the driver. ‘Barrie’ notices his arrival, walks down the steps to meet him, and bends over and exchanges some words with the boy. Then the boy goes in to the theatre leaving ‘Barrie’ standing contemplating on the pavement next to the fly.
This scene is rehearsed and filmed over and over, before they move on to the next little section of the scene. By this stage there are only 4 spectators left: me, the two people from Richmond Green, and a young woman in her early 20s. She’s been sitting quietly by herself and one of the security guards has taken quite a shine to her! He brings her some coffee and sits on the grass chatting with her, while the other woman and I have a laugh about why we weren’t offered anything to drink. In the meantime, the William Blake fan is writing a long note for Johnny’s P.A, asking for an interview. I hope for his sake that he’s got the name of the film right this time…
Eventually the scene with the boy is done, and now Johnny turns to the cab driver, says a few words to him, then climbs into the cab of the fly. It moves off down the street to our right, out of camera range. After a lot of navigation the fly comes back up the street into position again. This scene is clearly going to take a little while to get right, so I decide that now would be a good time to take a quick break. I head off for my hotel and the Richmond Green woman decides that she’s going home to get warm.
2:40am: I return about 20 minutes later, hurrying back so I don’t miss too much. And when I reach the Little Green my heart almost stops.
All of the barrier tape has been taken down; the carriages and cars have gone; there are no spectators left; and the crew are packing gear and street props into the lorries parked around the corner. I get a cold feeling around my mouth and my feet feel like clay as I hurry onto the green? Have I missed meeting Johnny?
CHAPTER SIX – 02:40am to 03:10 am
I run onto the deserted pathway, my heart thumping madly, all the while muttering “No, no, no?Please don’t say?!”. As I head around the trees on the darkened green, I spot the young girl spectator silhouetted against the set, sitting on one of the park benches close up beside the little road in front of the theatre. If she’s still here, then there’s hope..
My heart slows down a bit as I sit down beside her and ask what’s happening. She shrugs her shoulders. “Nothing much at the moment.” “Is Johnny Depp still here?” I ask, trying to keep the panic out of my voice. All the while my eyes are scouring the set – it’s so close to me now that it’s hard to take it all in. “I don’t know” she says, half-laughing. Apparently the security guard had invited her to sit with him on this privileged bench at the front, and he’d been talking to her so much that she’s not been able to follow the comings-and-goings too closely.
And what a privileged position it is too! As I gradually calm down and take in my surroundings, I realise that we’ve got the best seats in the house!! The bench is slap bang in line with the front of the theatre, and we’re within 20 feet of the stairs leading up to the entrance doors. The camera is now positioned near the top of the stairs, and there are still a few people milling around inside the brightly lit foyer. Then I notice a dark blue Jaguar parked very close to us on our right hand side and, just beyond it on the other side of the street, the big silver people-carrier. My heart does a little flip and I finally let out my breath. With any luck he’s still here.
The girl Caroline and I chat about the evening and why we’ve stuck it out until this time in the morning. She came along at 10:30pm to have a look at the filming and hasn’t been able to tear herself away! ‘Her’ security man arrives and does a bit of a double-take seeing me back on the scene, so I shift over to let him sit down and continue his courting.
And then something wonderful happens: the crew begin to emerge from the foyer and behind them comes Johnny! (and Dustin probably. Did I mention that Dustin Hoffman was on the set as well?) Johnny’s only about 25 feet away and he looks sensational: rich black brilliantined hair, combed straight back; immaculate and startlingly vivid black & white evening dress; and he’s laughing with someone as he comes through the theatre door.
He takes up his position to the right of the entrance, and the crew get ready to film close-ups. It’s exactly the same scene that I’d first witnessed 6 hours previously: the theatre usher emerges from the foyer, rings his silent bell, and calls out: “Last call, ladies and gentlemen! Last call for the – “. Even though I’m very close now, I still can’t make out any dialogue beyond Johnny calling for ‘Charles’ to come back outside. Either they have extraordinarily sensitive mikes or, since it’s a location shoot, they plan to dub in the dialogue later. (3rd theory: that I’m going deaf in my old age).
The security man has gone off again so Caroline and I have a short whispered talk in between the rehearsals and takes. She’s a JD fan too, and we debate whether we’ll be brave enough to ask for his autograph when the time comes – if the time comes! I’m starting to fret about how close his car is to the set, and whether he’ll make a dive into it before we can reach him. But I’ve read so many times of how gracious and generous he is about giving autographs to fans that I put that thought firmly aside, and concentrate instead on whether I’ll have the nerve to approach him (not a very clever move given my failing confidence). To try and give myself some courage I take my little ‘Dead Man’ book and a biro from my bag and make myself a promise that I won’t put them back until I’ve got his signature!
I glance up and catch Johnny yawning – after all, it’s gone 3am and he must be dead tired. And then suddenly he’s looking straight at the both of us, sitting there on the park bench watching him, and I’m completely unnerved. I feel like screaming “Mummy!” at the top of my voice and making a run for it. But I gamely hold my position and do my best to continue watching him doing his scenes, even though I’m now acutely uncomfortable that he’s aware of our presence.
Finally, finally the last take is in the can and Marc Forster calls out: “OK, thank you, that’s a wrap!” The lights inside the foyer are immediately dimmed, and everyone breaks position. The director then continues by thanking certain people (I couldn’t catch their names) and everyone laughs and applauds. Caroline and I join in with the clapping, laughing together at the strangeness of our situation. There’s good-humoured chat as the set breaks up, and Johnny and Dustin come down the stairs and stand talking together on the pavement. I’m half-inclined to finally take out my camera to try and get a shot, but by this time Johnny is embracing Dustin and it’s clear that they’re saying their farewells, so I think better of the idea.
And now that the moment for autograph-hunting is upon us, my heart and my stomach seem to have swapped places inside of me. I turn to Caroline. “I don’t know if I can do this.” She looks at me for a moment and then says “If you don’t, you’ll always regret it won’t you?” I think about that. “True”, I say, “Come on then.” And gripping my little Dead Man book firmly in my hand like a talisman, we stand up.
One of the friendliest security guards comes over and indicates that we can move further on to the set. I ask him if it’s OK to get an autograph and he says “Sure. His car’s right here”, indicating the Jag. “All you have to do is wait because he’ll be coming round to this side.” I’m a bit stunned by this, and size up the dark blue Jag and the silver people-carrier beyond it…and suddenly realise that he thinks I’m after Dustin Hoffman’s autograph! (Security guards obviously categorize fans by their age group.) When I explain that it’s Johnny’s autograph we want, he points out a big blond guy standing in the roadway. “That’s his minder. Go and ask him.” So I set off across the road, Caroline following gamely behind me, trying to avoid all the cables and gear. I’m actually on the set at last!
The big blond man has disappeared so, with time running out, we head round to the other side of Johnny’s car and look in. It’s already fully loaded with 5 men – there’s just one vacant seat right in front of me. Johnny’s seat. I ask the minder if it’s OK to get Mr Depp’s autograph, to which he shrugs his shoulders and says “It’s not up to me.”
So it’s down to us having the nerve to ask Johnny ourselves – and my nerve failed me 10 minutes ago! We step back from the car and wait, and I just want the ground to open right there and swallow me up.
And suddenly here he is: walking rapidly towards the car and looking ahead and to his right, his focus far way across the green. It’s now or never.. Here we go…
CHAPTER SEVEN – 03:10am to 03:15am
As Johnny heads towards us I decide right there and then that ‘hero worship’ and ‘nerves’ are both evils of the first water. I mean, you follow someone’s comings & goings, dying to have the chance to meet them, and kick yourself hard when you miss an appearance somewhere in your own back yard? And then, finally, finally when you get that once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet your hero offered up to you on a plate, you completely lose it. And I do mean completely. With a capital ‘C’. Your intelligence deserts you; your sense of humour hides in your boots until the whole thing’s over; and all those bright, interesting questions that you’ve carefully prepared just float away through the top of your head in little invisible bubbles? I can hear them bursting in the quiet night air as Johnny approaches where we’re standing.
He’s still in full evening dress, and the black & white contrast of his clothes, face and hair is even more startling up close. But I’m so nervous I can hardly focus on him, because my do-or-die moment is upon me… “Mr Depp, would you mind signing this for me?” My voice comes out as a hard-edged strangled squeak because my throat’s so contracted with nerves. “Sure.” Oh! That’s his voice!! And he’s talking to me!!!
I thrust my ‘Dead Man’ book into his hand, already opened ready for him to sign, and give him my biro. Then I realise that I should have explained what the book was – don’t want him to think that he’s being duped into signing something completely inappropriate! – so I grab the book back out of his hand and turn the cover back for him to read the title. (Great start, irene.) It’s not very likely that he can read the title in this half-light anyway, and I’ve probably done it too fast for him to focus on it. “It’s a book on Dead Man – it’s my favourite film of yours.” “Oh, OK.” [He’s probably thinking: ‘I made that film 7 years ago. Doesn’t she like anything more recent than that?’]
He takes the book back and holds it up to sign it, and suddenly there’s this weird white light shining on the open pages of the book? I look up and realise that one of the biggest security men is standing right beside us, holding a tiny flashlight over the proceedings. These guys think of everything!
“Who shall I make it out to?” Johnny asks me, with the biro poised above the page. He’s looking right at me and in the gloom his eyes are completely black and fathomless. I’m both shocked and delighted that he’s actually going to personalise it, and I think of what I want written. Shall I ask him to make it out ‘to Irene and everyone at the Zone’? Or do I want this just for little me?.. If I mention the Zone, he might ask what that’s about and then things might start to get complicated.. And after all, it is my little book?Hmmm, decisions, decisions.. and the inside of my head is spinning so fast that I can’t seem to get a grip on an answer. In the meantime Johnny is waiting patiently, biro poised, no doubt thinking ‘For heaven’s sake, this woman is so petrified she can’t even remember her own name.’ Finally I spit out “To Irene. Please. Thank you.”
Johnny starts writing. But rather than savour the moment, I decide that it’s time to say the only thing that’s still stored in the left-luggage locker that used to be my brain. “And about 100 people have asked me to say thank you for making all of your movies. We really love them.” He glances up and makes that characteristic protesting noise that he does whenever he’s complimented on his work. “Oh no.. Well.. That’s very sweet. Thank you.” And his mouth twitches briefly at the corners before he resumes writing his inscription.
Now is the first time I’ve really had the chance to look at him, and I’m both surprised and fascinated by what I see. The word that immediately springs into my head is ‘ethereal’. And the second is ‘delicate’ – which comes as the surprise given that he’s such a lithe, active man. And the third is ‘incredibly fine-boned’. I feel like a lumbering giant beside him although he’s a lot taller than me. He’s looking down as he writes but I can scarcely bear to look at his face because I feel it’s almost cheating to do that. So I look mainly at his hands. Such fine artistic fingers! Very creative, delicate hands…
And suddenly Johnny’s finished writing and he looks up and hands the book back to me. I mumble some idiotic thanks and he turns to Caroline to do the same for her. And once he’s done that he shakes her hand. I hurriedly shift my book to my left hand because I’d love to be able to shake his hand too and thank him properly, and I can tell by the slight shift of his head that he’s immediately aware of that. He turns back to me and shakes my hand, saying “Nice to have met you.” This is the time when Caroline and I should be diving in with loads of questions and he pauses, waiting for us to say something more. But both of us just stand there, grinning inanely and thanking him. I’m very aware of the men waiting for him in the car, and that it’s 3am and he must be exhausted from the night’s shoot. Plus my brain is now running on empty since I made my little speech earlier on.
So Johnny gets into the car, glancing back at us in case there’s one last thing we want to say, and they close the door on him. The window’s already turned down, and as the car moves slowly away he leans out to wave back to us. But we haven’t rediscovered our courage or our humour enough yet to wave back or shout goodbye.
And, of course, as soon as he’s disappeared up the road we both relax and start talking twenty to the dozen! And the questions I wanted to ask him about ‘Neverland’ come pouring back into my brain. Drat! And Double-drat!!
We both head back to the bench and cross-check our impressions of meeting Johnny. I try to read the inscription that he’s written in my book but I can hardly make it out in the gloom, so Caroline reads it out for me. And she jokingly compares Johnny’s signature with the one on her paper to confirm they’re the same.
I check my watch and we conclude that we got to meet the great Johnny Depp at 03:15am on Tuesday 20th August 2002. A date to be entered in my perpetual calendar, I think.