Shivers, December 1999 – Johnny Depp Acting in Character for Sleepy Hollow

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.


“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


“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.”

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