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January 1, 2001   Articles No Comments

Title: Johnny Depp

Publication: : Movie Idols

Issue: January 2001

 

Photo1JOHNNY DEPP is an interesting man. As an actor he has that rare chameleonic quality that allows him to inhabit a role and convince you that what you see on screen isn’t a performance but a possession. Yet if you see or hear him being interviewed he can seem inarticulate, hesitant, something of a cipher. So you may conclude that he is one of those performers who, lacking a clearly defined character of their own is able to put on new characters like a suit of clothes. Then again, if you were to read any of the articles he has written about his influences and heroes, or pick out key quotes from printed interviews, he seems to be a deep thinker, a true eccentric, a strong and unique individual.

He is, in short, not an easy man to profile, a figure of apparent contradictions and paradoxes. Only one thing is certain – he is probably the finest actor of his generation. You can be assured that whatever film he is in it will be worth watching for him alone. Also, the fact that he has chosen to make it indicates that it has something in the script or the vision that will make it outstanding on one level or another. He doesn’t make popcorn trash, he is a genuine artist and his choices command respect.

John Christopher Depp III was born on the June 9, 1963 in Owensboro, Kentucky. Yes, he’s nearly 40 years old, though you’d never guess it from looking at him. His mother was a waitress, his father an engineer, and Johnny was one of three children. His childhood was one of constant change. “By the time I was 15,” he revealed, “we had lived in about 20 houses.”

They moved house almost at the drop of a hat, although they stayed roughly in the same area, so he didn’t have to change schools too often. There’s a sense from interviews that this lack of stability and predictability in his life left him restless, rootless and looking for some sort of certainty to hold onto. “To this day, I hate it when I have to move from location to location.”

He was a difficult and mischievous kid. “I hung around with bad crowds,” he said. “We used to break and enter places. We’d break into the school and destroy a room or something. 1 used to steal things from stores.”

He liked tape-recording people when they didn’t know. He dug a huge tunnel in his front yard, trying to reach his bedroom and “pretty much any drug you can name, I’ve done it,” he claimed. He lost his virginity at 13 and dropped out of school at 16, the same year his parents divorced.

At this time, his best friend Sal found himself homeless and living in a car, a ’67 Impala. Johnny joined him, and they filled the car with empty beer cans and lived off sandwiches. It wasn’t the most auspicious of starts in life – high school dropout from a broken home living in a car at 16, playing around with drugs and petty crime. For many people this would have been the beginning of a long, slow decline.Photo2

“When I was a kid, I did drugs when I freaked out… They were hurting me physically and mentally. Drugs were dragging me down. They were killing me. I quit.”

Simple as that. No rehab, no trauma. He just decided to stop and did so. This strength of spirit, refusing to give in and go down the self-destructive path that seemed so set, would stand him in good stead. “Everybody puts a label on it and calls me a bad boy or a delinquent or a rebel or one of those horrible terms, but to me, it was much more curiosity. It wasn’t like I was some malicious kid who wanted to kick an old lady in the shin and run, you know? I just wanted to find out what was out there.”

But Depp eventually found one certainty that kept him focused – music. When he was only 12 years old, he bought himself an electric guitar for $25, and from that moment on he devoted a lot of his time to practicing and playing. He skipped classes, actually with the help of his music teacher who allowed him to use a rehearsal room, and when he went home in the evening he would lock himself in his room and practice.

But even though he was devoted to music he couldn’t quite quit the habit of changing and moving that his parents had instilled in him. In just a few years he notched up a grand total of 15 different bands. Finally, he ended up playing lead guitar in The Kids, and he thought this could be his ticket to stardom. The band moved from Florida to LA in 1983 and started playing the club scene, looking for the big break. Depp is phlegmatic about their lack of success. “We didn’t make it, although we loved music. And 1 still do. I guess it happens.”

It was at about this time that he got married, to Lori Anne Allison, but the marriage only lasted two years and in 1985 they were divorced. Johnny and Lori remained on good terms and she soon started seeing Nicolas Cage, who made friends with Depp and suggested that he try his hand at acting. Realizing that his musical career had stalled – he was stuck telemarketing ballpoint pens – Depp decided he’d give it a try.

“Nick set up a meeting for me with his agent and she sent me to read for a movie,” he said. “They gave me a script to study. Two days later, I read for it and they gave me the role. That was Nightmare on Elm Street.”

During the two days between getting the script and giving the audition Depp had an actor friend stay at his home and help him prepare and learn his lines. Once he got the part he never looked back.

Photo3Depp had no experience or training as an actor. He’d never even been in a school play. His entire experience of performance was as part of a band, a collective, four people playing together as one. Now he had no one to rely on – he had to learn his lines, hit a mark, give a performance all on his own. It was a huge leap in the dark with huge potential for failure. And he knew it.

“Doing Nightmare On Elm Street was a trial by fire. The fact that it was totally new to me was a tremendous challenge. I found it was just me. It all depended on me and my own choices.”

Happily, his choices were sound. Wes Craven, the director of Nightmare, recalls why he cast an unknown quantity. “He just had a very powerful and yet subtle personality, there was some sort of charisma about him. He really had sort of a James Dean attraction.”

The fact that Craven’s teenage daughter, on set at the time, “flipped out” for Depp, may also have had some bearing on things!

Nightmare on Elm Street was a huge hit and Depp decided to stick with acting and see where it led him. Unfortunately it led him nowhere fast. A couple of TV guest spots kept him afloat for a year but his next movie project was a dire teen sex comedy called Private Resort. It bombed, and for a while he seemed to be suffering as a result of his lack of training and experience. His Private Resort co-star. Northern Exposure’s Rob Morrow, said that Johnny “had no idea what he was doing, yet he had an understanding of how people operate. He had obstacles, but he was aware of them.”

Next came a small part in another smash hit. Platoon, which gave his profile a much-needed boost. Part of the problem was that Depp didn’t want to do TV. “Television is a little frustrating for me,” says Depp. “There’s no time for preparation. In features, you have loads of time to do the work. And the work is the most important thing of all.”

Immediately upon returning from three-and-a-haJf months filming Platoon in the Philippines he got his big break, in TV.

21 Jump Street was a show about a group of young cops who help sort out troubled kids and teach them the error of their ways. Depp was approached but refused to even look at the script. “It wasn’t that I was snubbing television or anything, but I wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment,” he said.Photo4

Another actor was given the role and Depp continued pursuing movie roles. Three weeks later the other actor left the show and Depp was approached again. This time he agreed to read the script. He liked it and was on the set by the end of the week. “People weren’t banging my door down with scripts, and the pilot was very good, had a lot of strong possibilities. Plus, the average life of a TV series is not a long one, you know? So I decided to do it.”

He didn’t, however, consider it a big deal. “I thought it would go for one season, tops.” A bit of experience, a bit of exposure, another rung on the ladder and then back to movies, that was the plan. Unfortunately, the show was a runaway success and eventually ran for five seasons, making Depp a teen idol and a small-screen superstar.

He had to adjust to being greeted everywhere by crowds of screaming teenage girls. “After we’d shot the first season, it got a little strange. I don’t hate it; I don’t mind it; it’s not an ugly thing, but it’s a little strange.”

His love life then came under scrutiny, which did make him more than a little uncomfortable. For the record, he was engaged to Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Fenn for three years, and then to Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Grey before Winona Ryder came on the scene and thrust Depp into the tabloid big league.

Back on Jump Street, Depp earned $45,000 an episode but when the show’s creator left at the end of the second season Depp came to question the morality of the show and the fact that scripts were often watered down to keep advertisers happy.

Photo5By the middle of the third season, he became so outraged by some of the scripts that in one instance he simply refused to appear in an episode. This forced the programme-makers to create a new supporting character specifically designed to do the things Depp didn’t want to do. Depp wanted to leave, but he was their star so he was held to his contract. There was a lot of on-set strife, rumours flew, things got bitter and angry and eventually, at the end of the fourth year, Depp was able to leave the show.

A lot of Depp’s subsequent movie choices are clearly dictated by the lessons he learnt at this time. His desire for offbeat, independent, uncompromising, quirky roles in films helmed by auteurs and visionaries comes from learning early on how easily art can be compromised, sullied and sold out in the commerce-driven Hollywood hills. During his time on 21 Jump Street Depp had been able to make a couple of movies in order to begin building the reputation that he hoped would support him when he inevitably left the show. That the films he made were Cry-Baby, for iconoclastic camera loony John Waters, and Edward Scissorhands for gothic genius Tim Burton, both give some idea of the risks he was willing to take. That’s not all; they show how much he wanted to balance the production-line working in TV with exciting and challenging big-screen work. It’s also a testament to Depp’s talent that such intriguing creators were anxious to work with someone who was, after all, just the star of a flashy kids TV show.

Having been so entirely trapped by commercial considerations for so long, so early in his career, Johnny Depp vowed never to fall into that trap again. He was going to forge his own path.Photo5

 

Four Johnny Depp films you’ve probably never seen but really should!

 

ARIZONA DREAM

The most eccentric and impenetrable of Depp’s early films, it’s a heady mix of magic realism and family drama. There’s a flying halibut, some sledging, a little bit of flying, Jerry Lewis, and a turtle. Depp is Axel, a fish counter worker from New York (Depp describes Axel as a “more positive Holden Caulfield”) who is summoned to Arizona by his uncle, Lewis, who wants him to take over the family business, a Cadillac dealership, and marry a local girl. Unfortunately, Axel is more interested in the dreams of fish. Depp chose to work with Yugoslav director Kusturica alter seeing his earlier film, Time of the Gypsies, which moved him to declare, “If this film doesn’t affect you, you have no pulse.” If you can just go with the flow, the film is a total delight, and it won the special jury prize at the 1993 Berlin International Film Festival. Depp’s verdict: “Arizona Dream was the first time I watched myself where I didn’t feel sick.”

To go and make such a surreal film after the box-office hit Edward Scissorhands was incomprehensible to Hollywood’s money men but says Depp, “It’s refreshing to know now what I knew then, which really is, who cares about the numbers? When you’re able to, experience something like this, and live through something like this, and be involved with something as magical as this. You forget about how much a movie made in the box-office.” (1993)

 

DEAD MAN

A Western filmed in black-and-white that dances along the edge of incomprehension. Jarmusch’s film is an irony-free journey that is almost existential in its pointlessness and poetry. Depp plays William Blake, an accountant not a poet, who arrives in the town of Machine in the 1870 to take up a post that no longer exists. Turfed out of the factory that had offered him the job, he meets a young girl, shoots, and is shot by, her jealous lover. He then goes on the run, pursued for the man’s murder. He is befriended by an Indian who believes he is the poet Blake, even though he insists he isn’t and so wander off in search of Blake’s destiny. Depp is sweet and clueless as Blake, and Robert Mitchum makes his final screen appearance as the factory owner and father of the man Blake kills. Depp’s main co-star, Gary Farmer said that it’s “sort of a road movie with a horse”. Depp is, said Farmer, “pretty much half dead for most of the movie. It takes a lot of patience to be half dead. Especially for someone like Johnny.” Jarmusch claimed that Depp is “one of the most precise and focused people I’ve ever worked with… 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.” (1995)

 

NICK OF TIME

A man’s daughter has been kidnapped and unless he assassinates a US State Governor she will be killed. To save the day the would-be patsy must rescue his daughter, try to keep the governor alive, and defeat the bad guy who, it transpires, has merely been hired by more powerful backers. And to add extra suspense the film takes place in real time, giving it a palpable air of tension and threat. No, I’m not talking about 24, but a forgotten Depp gem from 1995, which saw him cast as an ordinary Joe, an accountant – again – and father, caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

Depp makes an interesting action hero, never entirely comfortable holding a weapon and constantly trying to outwit rather than outfight his foes. This man is no John McLane. That his nemesis is played to the hilt with a marvelously unhinged performance from Christopher Walken only adds to the value. Not a great film, but it showed the way for 24 and gave Depp a chance to some something very different for a change -be ordinary. He was accused of selling out but he refutes that. “I read the screenplay and liked it a lot. I was on the edge of my seat when I read this thing. I wanted to do it, and I wanted to work with John Badham. I also wanted to work with Christopher Walken, whom I’ve always admired.” He also insists it was nice to play someone normal for a change. “What happened to me for a while is that people started calling me

‘oddball’. They thought I could only play these outcasts. So, this was a chance to play something really straight.” (1995)

 

THE MAN WHO CRIED

Depp plays a character with almost no dialogue in a haunting vision of Paris before and after Nazi occupation as seen through the eyes of a Russian emigrge, played by long-time Depp co-star Christina Ricci. Depp wanders enigmatically in and out of the film, a gypsy character riding a large white horse, and doesn’t really do a huge amount except look broody and magnificent. It’s almost as if he’s making a silent movie, and it’s startling how much he can communicate with just his face and eyes. This is a visually rich movie from director Sally Potter, full of subtext and muted character that manages to be both silent and operatic. (2000)

March 10, 2000   Uncategorized No Comments

Opening like a cheap horror movie with titles that fly out of computer-animated castle facades, The Ninth Gate has an uphill battle to recover respectability from the very beginning – by Rob Blackwelder.

Until “Ninth Gate” turns vapid in the last couple reels, Depp gives a deeply immersed performance, playing Corso’s serpentine nature beautifully and even affecting a deeper, clearer, more educated vocal inflection than we’ve heard from him before. However, his credibility as a book expert is shaky at best. A true connoisseur would closely examine bindings, etc. A true connoisseur wouldn’t smoke while flipping through fragile, 600-year-old volumes, letting ash fall on the pages.

Copyright Contactmusic.com Ltd 2005

This is an article excerpt. To view the article in full, please visit the ContactMusic website.

January 1, 2000   Articles No Comments

Title: Village of the Damned!

Author: Simon Braud

Publication: Empire

Issue: January 2000

 

Photo1AFTER TREKKING UP THE MUDDIEST FOREST TRACK in the entire history of mud (and, no doubt, tracks), Empire finally crests a densely wooded hill to be met with an arresting and slightly unsettling sight: occupying a clearing in the trees some 300 meters below is a tiny, perfectly formed 18th century village which appears to be under attack from alien spacecraft. Hovering above the spiky church, ramshackle half-timbered cottages and suspiciously bijou bridge is a collection of vast, incandescent slabs which are bathing the settlement below in a pale and unearthly light. It looks like the type of tableau you might find gracing the interior of an enormously expensive snow globe.

What is also rather eerie is that earlier in the day Empire inspected exactly the same scene, complete with glowing monoliths, meticulously rendered in miniature in a model shop at Leavesden Studios. And to add a further prickle of unease, as we set off down the mercifully less soggy path that leads to the cluster of buildings below, it occurs to us that this Is precisely how New York constable lchabod Crane first enters the Hudson Valley hamlet of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of grisly murders. And it’s here that he first encounters the local legend of the headless horseman.

THERE’S NO CAUSE FOR ALARM, OF COURSE. THE village is hardly more substantial than the cranially-challenged equestrian spook who haunts it. It is in fact, the setting for director Tim Burton’s cinematic retelling of the Washington Irving classic, The Headless Horseman Of Sleepy Hollow; the menacing illuminated blocks overhead are a vast lighting rig designed to provide the requisite ethereal hue during night shoots. And obvious that the set is vintage Burton. Based initially on early Dutch settlements in upstate New York, where the real town of Sleepy Hollow is located — its ostensible quaintness is undermined by a hint of stylised gothic: the houses are slightly too tall and slightly too thin, and they crowd together slightly too tightly. It’s an artful, almost comical corruption of cosiness — this is a community huddling together in fear of the spectre which stalks the dark woods that surround it.

Irving’s much loved supernatural yarn (renamed Sleepy Hollow for the screen) is perfect material for Burton. Set in 1799, it’s a dream-like mix of horror, fantasy and romance that tells the tale of awkward loner lchabod Crane — a schoolteacher in the book, a policeman in the film — who is sent to Sleepy Hollow after several of its inhabitants have been mysteriously decapitated by, he soon learns, the monstrous figure of a headless black rider. “lchabod is someone who is basically behind the times and ahead of the times,” says Burton, “and it’s the contradictory aspects aspects of his character which are always fun and interesting. One of the original images that I had in my mind is a character who lives in his head versus a character with no head, which I always thought was a wonderful symbol.” While pitting his expertise in forensics against the terrifying horseman, lchabod also manages to fall in love with Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter of the town’s most eminent family. Thus the stage is set for a perfectly Burtonesquc fairytale and the eccentric director has assembled something of a dream team to flesh out his typically phantasmagorical vision: Johnny Depp — in a piece of casting that was surely engineered by God plays lchabod; Christina Ricci is similarly blessed with the role of Katrina; Casper Van Dien plays Ichabod’s brutish love rival and, providing icing on an already tantalising cake, is the eminently strange Christopher Walken as the horseman. And in a nod to Burton’s beloved Hammer Horrors, the great Christopher Lee makes a cameo appearance as the New York burgermeister who orders lchabod to Sleepy Hollow. And just to whet your, no doubt by now, keenly honed appetites still further, the screenplay comes courtesy of Seven’s Andrew Kevin Walker, music is by long-time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman and, hot off his movie-stealing turn as Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, Ray Park stands in as Walker’s double for the fight scenes. That alone should lead you to suspect plenty of blood and thunder alongside the misty romance.

THE LAST TIME EMPIRE ENCOUNTERED JOHNNY DEPP was when he sauntered onto the terrace of the Hotel Du Cap at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. Sporting a superbly unusual suit and smoking a cheroot, his perfect features adorned by a moustache roughly as wide as a crack in a coffee mug, he was every inch the movie star, captured in his natural habitat. Now, seated at a rough trestle table in an arctic catering tent as night-time rain pounds the canvas roof, he is dressed in a flowing white shirt, ample of cuff, and an embroidered full-length waistcoat. The pencil-thin stogie has been replaced by liquorice roll-ups and his facial hair is a less raffish goatee. He looks tiny, unreal, like a Dresden figurine come to life. Seated next to him, Christina Ricci appears even more as if she has wafted in from some enchanted waking vision. Her saucer-eyed, elfin features are framed by lustrous blond hair. They are a mesmerising apparition.

Following Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood. Sleepy Hollow marks Depp’s third collaboration with Burton, and for him this reunion is definitely a Good Thing. “Going back to working with Tim for me is like recharging the batteries,” he says, directing his whispery drawl towards his feet. “I can go out and do other things and I start to question why I do them and what the point of certain things is, so coming back to Tim is a rejuvenating experience. It makes me understand why I do this and what it’s all about.” But this being Johnny Depp, a man whose predilection for all things off-the-wall is legendary, other incentives were of course involved.

“I love the story,” he says, simply. “I’ve been familiar with it since I was a little kid — it’s just one of those great American stories. And I think the character is very interesting. It’s a challenge to play someone who fills the role of the leading man, but to not play him as a standard hero.”

Photo2In that respect, lchabod is a character very in keeping with many others in the Depp cannon, particularly those he has played for Burton. Edward Scissorhands has the most obvious parallels, but even the delusional-yet-lovable Ed Wood provides plenty of evidence of Depp’s predilection for society’s waifs and strays.

“Yeah, Ichabod’s a freak,” he chuckles. “He’s very much an outsider. He’s definitely got his problems, his weird ticks, stuff like that.” And Depp is perfectly frank about why he is constantly drawn to endearing weirdos. “I’m an idiot,” he says, smiling. “No, I don’t know ,.. It’s like, yeah, there are a lot of characters I’ve played who seem to be related in some way. It’s kind of like a painting in a way; like something that you’re trying to achieve, something that you’re trying to say that’s never quite finished. I don’t know if a painter ever really finishes a painting. Maybe that’s what it is with me — I’m exploring this arena and I haven’t finished exploring it yet.”

In creating Ichabod Crane, Depp drew on a rich, if slightly perplexing, store of influences. There’s a great deal of Roddy McDowell in there (the late actor was a close friend of Depp’s), but, he alleges, he also pilfered freely from the classic Basil Rarhbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films. Not surprisingly, he was also persuaded to take in a few Hammer Horrors to get him in the mood.

“Yeah. Did you watch any of those?” he says to Ricci. She shakes her head. “No, you said you were going to give me some but you never did.”

“I lied” he says. “I lied to Christina. I said I’d give her some films and I lied. I was familiar with some of them just from being a horror fan in general. Tim gave me a couple of Hammer tapes initially and we talked about the style. What I find fascinating about them is that there’s a style of acting that’s borderline bad, but it’s so borderline that it’s actually brilliant. I find that very interesting. I think Peter Cushing was a master craftsman, and Christopher Lee definitely is, and it’s a style of acting that I find very interesting.”

Sleepy Hollow is the second film that Depp has made with Christina Ricci — she had a small role in Terry Gilliam’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas — and it’s another re-match that he seems inordinately happy about.

“When Tim brought it up that he was casting Christina as Katrina I was very excited about going to work with her again, and about having more stuff to do together. I think Christina is one of the few actresses out there who is making brave choices — not just in the films she chooses, but in the work she’s doing. I think she’s terrific. She’s the real thing, and there’s a lot of fakes out there.” The fact that Ricci is sitting in very close proximity to him and there are still several more weeks of filming ahead of them shouldn’t lead you to doubt his sincerity. And he fiddles with his Zippo in a quite charming, “Aw, shucks” fashion as Ricci enthusiastically returns the compliment. “He’s amazing,” she says with feeling. “When we were doing rehearsals he would just slip into things. Like, he’d remember things from Ed Wood and he’d just start doing his Ed Wood thing. And we work together really well and he’s just really-genuine. I mean, I first met him when I was nine years old and he’s always been so kind. He remembers my mother’s name every time he meets her, which makes her life worth living. He’s also an amazing actor and look at him — he’s beautiful.”

On paper this comes over as unadulterated gush, but in fact, it’s very sweet and to his credit, Depp looks as if he’s about to suffer bashful meltdown. And if nothing else, it points to some highly convincing on-screen slushiness.

“Oh, I think that’s gonna be fine,” says Depp. “But certainly one of the first things that popped into my head was that, “My God, I’ve known her since she was nine years old and we’re going to be kissing and stuff!’ That was a little odd at first. But, you know, we’re both pretty calm, we’re not walking bags of neurosis — or if we are, we don’t bring our neuroses to work with us.” Oh no. That kind of thing, as we know, is reserved for snooty Mayfair restaurants and is traditionally accompanied by swinging planks of wood at intrusive paparazzi and yelling in an inexplicable Irish accent. Although Heaven forbid we should go into that here.

ONE OF THE DELIGHTS OF VISITING A MOVIE SET, APART from wallowing in mud and gawping at extras in period costume reading The Daily Mail, is that while you’re waning, you get shown all kinds of interesting behind-the-scenes stuff to fill the time. Today, we are taken to meet the horses. This turns out to be an unexpectedly terrifying experience, and not one we’d like to repeat anytime soon. Banish from your thoughts any notion of petting velvety noses and administering sugar lumps to four-legged friends, and imagine instead standing three feet away from a gigantic fiery steed which is stamping its anvil-sized hooves and blowing great clouds of steam out of its gaping nostrils — at one point, it even rears up on its hind legs and whinnies like a steam train. This is the headless horseman’s horse, and frankly, he’s fucking welcome to it.

Standing somewhat forlornly beside this colossal, highly-strung beast is Ichabod’s ride. This is a dumpy, docile old mare, hilariously broad in the beam and short in the leg who looks as if her rearing up days are a dim and distant memory. Again, it’s perfect casting.

Back with the talent of the two-legged variety and Johnny Depp appears as wary of the equinties as Empire. But apparently for entirely different reasons.

“We have a kind of edgy relationship.” says Depp guardedly, when informed of our harrowing ordeal. “One day she can be fine and the next she can be a little . . . peculiar.”

“He gives you hours of amusement,” chimes in Ricci. “Johnny loses it every time the horse farts.”

“Yeah,” he says seriously, “and the horse farts constantly. I take it as her statement about movies in general. She just doesn’t give a shit about what’s going on. She farts constantly and shits all over the set,” he smiles. “I like that horse very, very much …”

December 11, 1999   Articles No Comments

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.”

 

December 1, 1999   Articles No Comments

Title: Where’s Johnny?

Author: Johanna Schneller

Publication: Premier

Issue: December 1999

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He never makes it. I never thought he would.

November 1, 1999   Articles No Comments

Title: Johnny Depp Acting in Character for Sleepy Hollow

Author: Jean Cummings

Publication: Shivers

Issue: December 1999

 

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

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

Inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

Only Himself

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

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

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

Inspiring

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

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

September 1, 1999   Articles Interviews No Comments

Title: Johnny Deeper

Author: Bill Zehme

Publication: Sky Magazine

Issue: September 1991

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depp compliments him on his clothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 8, 1999   Uncategorized No Comments

By Johnny Depp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence — a LONNNGG silence. Ticktock tickrock ticktock

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

published in Rolling Stones Magazine  07/08/99

June 1, 1999   Articles No Comments

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

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

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

INSPIRATION 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ONLY HIMSELF 

 

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

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

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

 

INSPIRING 

 

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

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

 

CREATING SLEEPY HOLLOW COSTUME DESIGNER COLLEEN ATTWOOD 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

CREATING SLEEPY HOLLOW 

STUNT CO-ORDINATION 

AND SCENIC DESIGN 

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

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

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

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

CREATING SLEEPY HOLLOW 

CREATURE EFFECTS ARTIST KEVIN YAGHER 

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

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

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

January 1, 1999   Uncategorized No Comments

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

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

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