He’s Cool! He’s Cute! He’s Available! The sexy star of 21 Jump Street gets personal in an exclusive SPLICE interview
Ask any member of the cast or crew of 21 Jump Street and they’ll tell you: The only word to describe Johnny Depp is “cool.” It seems, in fact, that he is the coolest creature to hit the small screen since “the Fonz ” strutted his stuff on Happy Days. Johnny Depp is the King of Cool, the valedictorian of the Cool School, and everybody knows it. Everybody, that is, except Johnny Depp.
The handsome 25-year-old actor – who’s blessed with high chiseled cheekbones, courtesy of his Cherokee heritage – is so unimpressed with his own celebrity status that he denies he is the star of 21 Jump Street. He says his character is the “strong center” of the show. On a recent trip to New York City, Johnny was surprised when he was asked to sit backstage in the Green Room to watch a taping of Late Night with David Letterman, because David doesn’t allow celebrities in the TV audience. And what celebrity worth his weight in dark shades would actually convince his mother and stepfather to move to Vancouver, Canada, so they could be closer to him?
Johnny was born in Owensboro, KY on June 9, 1963. The youngest of four children, he and his family moved to Miramar, FL, where Johnny did most of his growing up. After experimenting with drugs and petty crime for a short while, Johnny dropped out of high school at the age of 16 – a move he now admits was not one of his wisest. He’s now openly opposed to all drugs, and tells his fans so in public service announcements.
While still a teenager, Johnny formed a rock and roll band called The Kids, which had a small but loyal following in Florida. They were impressive enough to open in concert for such heavy hitters as the Talking Heads and The Pretenders. Armed with an electric guitar, Johnny and The Kids headed for Los Angeles, seeking fame, fortune, and a recording contract. Unfortunately, the going was a little tough. The Kids were not reaching musical maturity, and Johnny was forced to accept a job selling ball-point pens over the telephone to make enough money to live and play in L.A.
It was during this period that Johnny got married and divorced. Life was looking grim until a friend of Johnny’s (actor Nicolas Cage, of Moonstruck fame) suggested that he try his hand at acting. Johnny met with Nicolas’ agent, who convinced him to audition for A Nightmare on Elm Street. The rest, as they say, is cinematic history. Johnny landed the lead male role, and decided to focus his ambitions on acting for a while.
Johnny’s screen presence caught the attention of Oliver Stone, who cast him in the Oscar-winningPlatoon, as Lerner, the unit’s interpreter. Johnny soon landed parts in Private Resort, Dummies andSlow Burn (with Eric Roberts and Beverly D’Angelo), and he guest starred on TV’s Hotel and Blue Lady.
21 Jump Street’s baby-faced Officer Tommy Hanson now lives in Vancouver, where he films his hip detective series (he also maintains an apartment in Hollywood). Proud to be involved with such a socially-aware production, Johnny recently spoke to SPLICE about his acting career, his past and present, and his life in the public eye. At the time of this writing, Johnny has no serious love interest in his life… he’s unattached and looking for the right girl.
How did you get started in acting?
It was really a fluke. It was divine intervention. When I moved to L.A., one of my buddies introduced me to Nicolas Cage, and he introduced me to his agent. She sent me to read for Nightmare. It was so strange. I’d never done drama before, not even in high school. All of a sudden, I’m talking to my family on the phone and saying, ‘Hi, how are you? I think I just got a part in a feature film.’
What’s the best of working on 21 Jump Street?
The great thing about doing the show is the responses we get from people from the public service announcements we do. We try to broadcast 1-800 service numbers on specific subjects, but if it’s a light show, there’s no sense in running one. And the response to the public service announcements has been great. For instance, we did a show about a kid who had a problem with drugs. After we ran a drug-abuse hotline number, the number of calls they received shot right up!
How did you land the role of Lerner in Platoon?
I found out about Platoon in January of 1986, when my agent sent me over a script. I read it and I was just blown away! It was so right on the money as far as truth and honesty goes. I met Oliver Stone and he said, “I want you to read this. Go out in the hall and study it.” So I studied it and came back in and read for him. He said, “Okay, let’s call your agent.”
Tell us about the training you went through for Platoon.
We went through two weeks of training in the jungle in the Philippines. I gotta tell you, man, it was highly emotional. You put 30 guys in the jungle and leave them there to stay together for two weeks – just like a real platoon – and you build a real tightness. It’s almost like a family. We became a military unit, a platoon. To this day, whenever I talk to Charlie [Sheen] or any of the other guys, it’s just like the same deal. We still get together all the time and try to hang out as much as possible, and it takes us right back to the platoon.
How do you feel about your “bad boy” image?
That sort of thing’s gotten a little out of hand. I run into people who think I’ve done time [in jail] or something. When I was a kid, I was just like any other boy. Boys are very curious, they like to push the walls, you know? I wasn’t the best kid in the world, but I wasn’t an ax murderer either. As a kid, I experimented with drugs and stuff, but I got out of it by the time I was 14 or 15. I saw that it was getting me nowhere. I saw the kids around me, not doing anything, not wanting to change their lives. I didn’t want to be like that. I wanted to continue with my music, and I knew the drugs were holding me back. I’d seen a lot of ugly things. It’s just not worth it.
What are your plans for the future?
I definitely want to do a feature film as soon as I get done with this season of 21 Jump Street. If I don’t do a film, I want to do a play. But I want to continue working. I want to keep growing and learning as much as possible. I want to fill myself in on all aspects of the industry – acting and directing.
What advice you have for young people today?
My advice would be to stay in school, because I didn’t and it was kind of a mistake. It was a stupid thing to do, dropping out. So my advice would be to learn as much as you can, and when you get out of school, continue to learn as much as you can. Just try and always do the right thing. Follow your instincts. Learn, make mistakes, and learn even more from your mistakes.
Do you still play rock and roll?
I still play, but when I got my first movie, A Nightmare On Elm Street, things just sort of fell apart for the band. We split up, and everybody went their own way. Then I joined a band called the Rock City Angels.
Are you going to do a solo album?
I would love to play. But people know me now as an actor. I’d do anything to be on stage again, but I’ve got to be very careful. I don’t want people to say, “Oh great, another actor is going to do a record.” I’m trying to fight the teen idol image, so if I went and did a record, it would make it that much more difficult.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I listen to a lot of [Bob] Dylan, who I like a lot. I like Bruce Springsteen. I like T. Rex. I like all different kinds of music. One minute I’ll be listening to Benny Goodman and the next I’ll be listening to the Sex Pistols!
Tell us about your family.
My dad works for the city of Hallendale in South Florida. He’s the director of public works and utilities, a city engineer. My mom moved up to Vancouver with her new husband. I have two older sisters, Debbie and Christy. And I have an older brother Danny who lives in Kentucky. We’re all incredibly close.
What are you doing during your break?
Coming off the show and doing features, definitely changes the films I want to do. I’m going to do everything I can – fight tooth and nail – to not be put in some teen-idol category. I don’t want somebody who’s writing out checks to limit me, to put me in a herd of people who can only do one thing. I don’t want to be limited by other people’s opinions. I don’t necessarily want to always play the leading man – I’d like to shave my head and sew my eyeballs shut. It would be terrible to just do teen exploitation films. It just wouldn’t be worth it.