Johnny Depp Interview – Ten Years Ago… VIVA PRESS ARCHIVE.
Johnny Depp isn’t dressed like a pirate as he casually saunters through the crowded lobby of the St. Regis, a fancy hotel in L.A. Even so, every woman – and most men – can’t help checking him out. It’s hardly surprising, though, as.Depp looks almost as striking off-screen as he does on film. Always happy to play the chameleon on screen, Depp exudes some of that same shape-shifting ability in real life, and today, on a cool late-June morning, he doesn’t disappoint.
OK, he’s not in his full swashbuckling ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ buccaneer gear, complete with the Keith Richards- inspired diction, hair-beads and heavily mascara’ed eyes. But he is still sporting a mouthful of gold teeth, a black knit cap over long hair, a goatee and moustache, a mysterious bunch of beaded strips of material tied around his left wrist, a small, inky-blue tattoo on each hand, and enough rings – including various thumb rings, a silver bejewelled skull and crossbones and a gold Indian head – to sink a man ‘o war. The overall effect is part Bohemian gypsy, part eccentric rock star.
And then there’s the fact that Depp is increasingly a rare sight in America these days. And no, it’s not because of any continuing fallout from his little run-in with some furniture at a New York hotel a few years ago. It’s because the 40-year old actor and ex-paramour of Kate Moss now lives happily in Paris with his wife, French actress and singer Vanessa Paradis, and their two kids – 4-year-old daughter Lily-Rose and 2-year-old Jack.
Soft-spoken and unfailingly polite, the actor comes across as a very sweet, old-fashioned type as he talks about his new film, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ his friendship with the Rolling Stone, family and fatherhood, and how he’s managed to escape the feeling of being under a microscope when it comes down to his private life.
You seemed to be channelling Keith Richards for your character.
I wouldn’t say ‘channelling’ – that’d be very hard to do, and I certainly wasn’t trying to do an imitation. It’s more of an homage, a salute to him. He’s just such a rich human being.
Aren’t you good friends?
Yeah, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know him a bit. First of all, he’s always been a big hero of mine, for ever and ever. He’s such a great man, so funny and cool and smart.
So did you do this with his blessing?
(Laughs) I don’t know yet. Keith was actually in LA a bit when we were shooting the film, so it definitely trickled down his way that I was using him as part of the inspiration and one of the ingredients of the character. So he knows about it, and I just spoke with Jane, his manager, a couple of days ago, and apparently he just smiled when they told him. So I’m sure he’ll be OK with it.
Apart from the Keith thing, how else did you come up with this character? There were rumors that your choices made the studio very nervous.
It’s funny, because all the studio executives didn’t like it at all at the start. I think they felt he was a little too unpredictable, too weird, which I really understood. And they had their concerns about the look – all the mascara and so on, it was quite upsetting to them. And the choices I’d made to play Captain Jack were a bit disturbing for them. But they never said anything directly to me. It was always through sideline whispering, and I eventually got wind of it. So then I sat down with them and said, ‘Look, you hired me to do this, you know the kind of things I’ve done before so you had to know to some degree where I was going to go with it, so you have to trust me. I know what I’m doing and I really believe I can deliver an interesting, fun character and one I’m pretty sure audiences will connect to -so you have to trust me. And if you can’t, you’re better off replacing me.’
The way you play him, he’s definitely a little camp, and stoned, and off-kilter.
(Laughs) Yeah, he’s a fun guy! There’s the Keith element – the wise kind of sage, and a bit of Pepe Le Pew – the guy with blinders on who only sees what he wants to see. And then there’s also the Dean Martin aspect. To me, Captain Jack was like this strange, pulsating organism who’d shape himself to mould whatever situation he’s in, but with a martini glass. He’s the guy with the martini glass – always. He’s that guy. For me, anyway. And interestingly the character came to me in extreme heat. I was in the sauna and I’d begun thinking about these guys out on the high seas, totally at the mercy of the elements at all times, the
swaying of the ocean, the constant blazing heat hammering their heads. And I felt he’s a guy who’s always swaying slightly and who’s infinitely more comfortable on the water, and with its rhythms, than on land. I also think he’s a guy who’d use that to some degree with people, that hypnotic rhythm, like a moving target.
How come you kept all your gold caps?
Because generally when you finish a film there’s always the possibility of reshoots. So I left LA immediately after the end and flew back home to France. Then there were no reshoots, so I was kind of stuck across the pond with no dentist. And there’s a very specific way to take these things off, and i didn’t want to just chance it with anyone. I didn’t want some guy grinding away.
So I kept them till I could get back here.
Pirate movies haven’t done very well in recent times. Did you worry about that?
No, other people might have been worried but not me. I never saw any of those other pirate films, and I don’t even attempt to predict what’ll work or be successful. I mean, I’m certainly not the reigning king of success at the box office – which is fine with me (laughs). I just thought it was so good and so much fun, and it was. I had a great time doing it.
What was your first reaction when they told you, ‘We’re making a movie out of the famous Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland ride’?
That’s how I heard about it the first time – just the title and the ride connection, and for some reason it sounded really good to me. Instinctively I had a good feeling about it, which doesn’t make sense really. And I think the result really goes beyond your usual pirate movie. The guys who wrote ‘Shrek’ worked on the script, and it’s the same thing. How would you describe or categorize ‘Shrek’? Yes, it’s a kid’s movie, but it’s really clever and also intellectual and very funny. And I felt the same way about this when I first read it.
Were you familiar with the ride?
Oh yeah, I’ve done it and I loved all the little nods to the characters in the ride, like the dog with the keys.
You have a great, decadent look in the film. Do you still get sick of being called a pretty boy?
(Laughs) I think it’s safe to say that that’s dead now. All that stuff was happening to me a long time ago, in my early ’20s. And it was horrific. I never got it, I never saw it or understood it. It just made me really uncomfortable, all those labels. And getting through all that, living through it in terms of career or whatever is quite a battle. But it’s also a great education, and I learned a lot fighting against that image.
Do you think that your looks have ever held you back? That you were too good-looking for some roles?
No, I never felt too good-looking. To be honest, I never even felt good-looking. Christ, no, really.
What did your kids think of your pirate look?
They loved it. I thought Lily Rose would be a little freaked out, but she started telling people that I’m actually a pirate.
And how’s Jack?
He’s basically a little terror. At that age they’re constantly banging into things, throwing up, crying, staggering around – it’s a bit like being around a tiny drunk all the time.
Are you still based in France?
Yes, between there and LA and then wherever we end up on location.
Why do you want your children to grow up there rather than the States?
It’s a far older world, a far older culture, and the quality of life is so different. The opportunities are very different too. What I love about it is that France has afforded me the luxury of having a real normal, simple life. A life where there are no discussions about box office and success and failure or money or no money. None of that ever comes into daily conversation. You talk about what a beautiful bottle of wine you’re drinking, or the great cheese, or how the ponies are doing. Very simple stuff. And I’ve been fascinated with Paris for a long time, so every time I finished a movie I escaped there. There’s something in the air that’s magical, an appreciation for art and artists. I’ve
always had an affinity for London too. I love London, all the history. I feel very comfortable there.
What do you love about being a dad and how has it changed you?
Oh man, more than changed me I feel it’s really revealed me. I was one of those wind-up toys for way too many years; just wind him up and he goes and bumps into walls and falls over and gets back up and shakes it off. In a sense, I never knew where I was going, and it got to a point where I was like, ‘What is all this shit? I don’t get it. I don’t understand it. I’m not interested in the success that people want me to be interested in. I’m just interested in living life and being happy – and I’m not. So why aren’t I?’ So in that way, my whole life began at 35 when I met Vanessa and had my first baby, Lily Rose. As of May 27 1999 when she was born I learned how to breathe, I learned how to see. And I know that probably sounds really corny, but Lily Rose, she gave me life, much more than I had to begin with.
Do you help Vanessa with the kids?
Of course. I love doing all that stuff, changing diapers. It’s great. Every man should do it sometime in their life.
Do you want more kids?
Me, I’d have a boatload of ’em. I love them.
Has your life turned out differently to how you imagined – you used to live such a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, and now you’ve settled down with Vanessa and children?
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! (laughs) It’s been a great surprise – but a good one. Before, I felt like I was in a goldfish bowl a lot of the time, and getting married and having kids and a family has given me such strength and perspective. Things that might have made me very angry before, stuff in Hollywood and the ignorance that this business can sometimes foster, don’t affect me now. Having a family, I now feel, ‘I don’t give a shit about this or that – I just want to take my kids and go play Barbies,’ and that’s what’s important. That’s what really matters. And so I’m in a very, very different place than I ever thought I’d be.
Which people from your past do you miss?
Well, I still see the people I want to, and old friends and my family, so no one, I guess.
If you could choose one song to sum up how you feel about Vanessa, what would it be?
(Laughs) That’s a hard one. How about ‘Michelle’ by The Beatles.
What’s the most extravagant romantic gesture you’ve ever made?
Oh, that’s very private. (laughs)
Sex, cigarette or a book?
(Laughs) Why not all 3?
Would you let Lily Rose see you in this film?
I think she’d be OK. She’s 4 now, and at the age of 2 she was completely obsessed with ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ And all the winged monkeys, it didn’t freak her out at all. Never, nothing. So I talked to her about this and warned her what she might be seeing. I told her it’s all make-believe and at a certain point Papa might be a skeleton. But it’s all fake, and she said, ‘I’ll be fine,’ so I’ll show it to her and if we get to a point where she’s freaked out I’ll just cover her eyes and we can take a walk.
There’s a video game coming out based on this film. Do you like to play games?
I’ve gotten absolutely obsessed with a couple of games. When I was doing ‘Sleepy Hollow’ there were 2 games I played non-stop and I drove everyone around me batty. One was ‘Quake’ and the other was ‘Shanghai Warrior’ – and that starts with this high-pitched Chinese voice that screams out (he imitates it) ‘Who want some Wang?’ That game I gotta play.
Would you do the sequel to ‘Pirates’?
Yeah, I’d love it.
You’ve always marched to the beat of your own drummer. Are you now more interested in doing big commercial studio films?
The truth is, it never entered my mind about what this might do commercially. Every film I’ve ever done, I’ve always hoped it would be acceptable to the mass audience. You always hope that ‘Ed Wood’ or ‘Dead Man’ will be a commercial film. But the chances were slim, I guess. This film just felt good, and regardless of whether it was Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer.
Did you ever think you’d be in a Jerry Bruckheimer film?
Isn’t that weird? But it’s cool. And he’s a major force in the business. To be honest, I was really, really surprised when they came to me, and I tip my hat to him and the studio for being brave enough to take that risk – the risk of diving into the fire with me.
How do you look back on the ‘Don Qixote’ disaster?
Every time I talk to Terry he’s still very confident that we’ll be able to still do it. God, I hope so. But I don’t know if Jean Rochefort would still be in it. I don’t know if he can still get up on a horse, which he’d need to, and so we might need to get someone else. That’d be a pity as he was the ultimate Don Qixote.
Are you a romantic like Quixote or a realist?
I think I’m a bit of both, because I am a realist in a lot of ways. I think everyone’s nuts, to tell you the truth. I think everyone’s absolutely out of their heads a lot of the time, most people – I really do. Just watch people at restaurants or walking down the street or driving their cars. They’re absolutely insane. They just are. I also feel that beauty and poetry and romance in relationships between men and women has been missing for a long time. Because of the way the world is and society right now, we’ve lost that kind of romanticism.
Do you think there’s a curse on the Quixote project?
(Laughs) It certainly felt that way when we were doing it. Everything went wrong that could have. You’re standing under a beautiful blue sky and 5 minutes later there’s torrential rain and you’re dodging giant hail, and then all the equipment’s floating away. Meanwhile, in the background all these F14s are zoomin over the sets and dropping test bombs! We’d hear all these giant explosions, right there. And Orson Welles had all his problems. So maybe it really is cursed.
ENDS/Copyright Viva Press 2014