Month: September 1991

UK Sky 02 / 1991

Johnny Deeper

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

Johnny Depp is his real name. As a boy he was ridiculed for it. In the schoolyard he was called Dipp. Or Deppity Dawg. Later he was called Johnny Deeper, this being based upon a popular adolescent joke he barely remembers:

“Something about some guy having sex with some girl who kept saying, ‘Johnny, deeper!’”

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

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

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

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

If Depp is anything, he is interesting. He takes the big risks. Though Michael Jackson expressed an early interest, Tom Cruise, the rumour goes, wanted to play the role of tragic, disfigured Edward Scissorhands – but only if his face was cosmetically restored by the end of the film.

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