Interview: Johnny Depp

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Mans Chest Movie Photo Click for Fullsize ImageOur favorite buccaneer, Johnny Depp, resumes the role of the wildly flamboyant and hilarious Capt. Jack Sparrow, the craziest pirate on the high seas, in Gore Verbinski’s new "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest." In this second installment of a three-part trilogy, he squares off against the legendary Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), a squid faced villain with slimy tentacles who lives beneath the sea and sails the ghostly Flying Dutchman. Co-written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the film’s action picks up where "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" left off.

In this highly entertaining sequel, Capt. Jack finds himself once more in a serious pickle. He owes his soul to undersea Capt. Davy Jones and his supernatural army of sea phantoms and time is running out. Desperate to find a way out of making good on his promise and save himself from the eternal damnation and servitude that awaits him, Capt. Jack disrupts the wedding plans of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), leaving them no choice but to join him on yet another exciting and comic misadventure.

Once again, Depp lives up to his reputation for being one of the finest, most versatile actors of his generation who constantly surprises audiences and critics alike with the unpredictable choices he makes. He has made a career out of picking diverse, offbeat roles. And no matter how small the part, he always puts his characters front and center, developing unique physical traits and building depth for them that often comes at the expense of his own good looks. After playing a series of iconic loners in a succession of inspired collaborations with respected directors as diverse as Tim Burton, Lasse Hallstrom, Jim Jarmusch, Terry Gilliam, and Roman Polanski, Depp surprised both the industry and his fans when in 2003 he took on the role of Capt. Jack Sparrow in Disney’s highly commercial "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."

While many of his earlier films met with limited box office success, POTC1 broke all records and rocketed him unexpectedly to the A-list of actors. The rest is history. Yet Depp has never been obsessed with superstardom, and even with the spectacular success of POTC 1, the new POTC 2 about to open, and POTC 3 fast on the horizon, no one can say that he sold his soul for a chest of gold.

Johnny Depp recently sat down to discuss his new film during the POTC2 press day in Los Angeles. Sporting a white t-shirt that revealed his many tattoos, jeans and a grey hat, he appeared relaxed and genuinely enjoying the moment, even taking time to sign autographs and pose for photographs. Here’s what he had to tell us about his new film, his love of the acting process, the joys of having a family, and his struggle to remain authentic. After years of confusion and dissatisfaction in the 90s, it appears he has finally come to terms with his inner pirate:

Q. Why is this the character you can revisit over and over?

Depp: I just feel like I'm not done. I just feel like there are more things you could do. Because, I suppose, with a character like this, the parameters are a little broader, so there are more possibilities I think. And he's a fun character to play. I was really not looking forward to saying goodbye to him.

Q. Any pirate adventures you still want to do, not touched on in Pirates 3 yet?

Depp: Time travel, why not? No, I don't know. Ted (Elliott) and Terry (Rossio), the writers, and Gore (Verbinski), what they were able to do on the first one and then taking that to what they've done now with the second one and then going into the third, it's pretty amazing. We're getting close to just even stretching the boundaries a bit more.

Q. How much freedom do you have to improvise?

Depp: I think with everything you do, it's always… You have the basic structure, you have your basic bones and a solid foundation. But with every one, you do your best to kind of explore it as much as possible while you're shooting. It could be something that comes to you, like sometimes it just comes to me when I'm reading a script. A line will just come to me, and I'll incorporate it into the thing and obviously run it by Ted and Terry and Gore and the other actors certainly. So it can happen that way or it can just happen in the spur of the moment which is more fun in a way, when something just happens because if you feel it and you do it in a big, wide master shot, it alters the rhythm for a second and it kind of throws the thing, takes the bottom out from under you for a second which is quite fun because you sort of see honest reactions all around. People panic for a second, and that kind of panic is fun and I think important, good for you.

Q. The executives panicked the first time. Did the audience prove you right?

Depp: The executives did panic. I mean, bless 'em, they did panic on the first one. And probably to some degree for good reason. But also, I think it's prerequisite to become an executive, you have to have that capability to panic instantly and do your best to resolve it as quickly as possible. So breaking the thing yourself and then fixing it so you look good, it was a case on the first one where I was totally supported by a few in the sort of close knit group. Like Gore was a great support during that time, but really it was a case where the audience, the viewers, actually came in and they were the ones that saved me.

Q. Were you surprised it became so popular, that you're a crowd pleaser now?

Depp: I was definitely never a crowd pleaser. May not be after this one, you never know. I was very surprised, incredibly surprised…still am that "Pirates" did as well as it did and that the character made some friends out there. I am still surprised and touched.

Q. Why do you think it struck a chord?

Depp: I've said for a long time, I for the most part had in terms of commercial success or box office bonanzas, I had about 20 years of sort of studio defined failures. To me they were all great successes because we got them done. In terms of what struck a chord with "Pirates," I said for a long time and I really believe that studios were underestimating the intelligence of the audience or their needs. You go to the movies to be stimulated certainly, but you don't go to the movies to know what the end is going to be. You want to be stimulated so I think that it was such a kind of different angle, that film, that people were ready for that kind of thing. That hyper kind of realism, the action sequences were insane. It wasn't something they've seen all that much I think. I believe that's what it was.

Q. Is it true you might be working with Tim Burton on an Edgar Allen Poe movie?

Depp: No, not that I've heard of. But boy, that's an exciting possibility. We've been talking about doing "Sweeney Todd" together which is very exciting.

Q. How close is that?

Depp: Don't know. Tim and I talked about it a long time ago actually, or the possibility a long time ago. So now the people who panic are panicking.

Q. The musical version?

Depp: I'm assuming.

Q. Do you sing?

Depp: Not yet.

Q. What was it like to stay in character when you went home to your family?

Depp: See, I'm never aware of it, that I'm in character. It never feels like I'm in character. It always feels like you have those moments just before the take and it kind of winds down after the scene is done.

Q. Did you wear the dreadlocks to bed?

Depp: No, I did not, no. There's still time. We've still got to finish 3.

Q. You laugh about the apprehension towards you now?

Depp: I laughed way before that.

Q. Are you at peace with the frustrations of the industry? Were you always?

Depp: I’ll tell you what made it a lot easier to roll with the punches for me was having kids, or at least even before really. Knowing that I was going to be having a kid. That put a lot of things in perspective to me, like instant perspective. I think for a number of years I was frustrated by the whole thing. I didn’t understand any of it. But in terms of success or career or all that stuff, it never made any great deal of sense to me. So I guess, yeah, when I found out Vanessa and I were going to have a baby, you find out what’s important like (snaps fingers) real quick.

Q. Was that a maturity for you, or a camaraderie?

Depp: It was more like just finally understanding what it was all about for me, really. Because for years, there were the two things. There was the sort of business of Hollywood and the business and the business of that career and people saying, ‘Well, you have to do this kind of movie because you’ve got to make money because you’ve got to do this and that.’ And I always felt like, you know, ‘Money is all it’s about. Well, hopefully, it’ll come at some point. But if it doesn’t, that’s alright. I know that I’ve done the things that I felt were right in terms of movies and stuff.’ So it was that sort of business thing. And then there was work which I’ve always just done what felt right to me, so I don’t know. I never really had any problem. The only problem I ever had in terms of frustration with the industry and Hollywood and stuff was basically I didn’t think they understood the movies that I did and I think they didn’t know how to sell them properly because they didn’t know how to label them. And if you can’t label the product, it’s sort of this vague thing. If you don’t understand the product, you can’t sell it and they couldn’t sell it.

Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Mans ChestQ. You've done a lot of really inventive characters?

Depp: You're saying I'm a weirdo?

Q. Have you ever thought of playing a straight romantic character? Or am I missing something?

Depp: It's probably me missing something. I'm probably missing a lot. For example, "Donnie Brasco" was one that I felt was a straight-ish.

Q. He was pretending to be someone else?

Depp: Yeah, but I guess in terms of playing like a straight leading man type thing, I feel like all these guys are kind of not necessarily leading men but straight kind of characters. Even though they may seem bizarre or strange, I feel like I think everybody's nuts. I mean, I really do. And the weirdest thing in the world is to see some guy who is just super earnest. He's probably crazier than any of the guys I've played. And as far as really doing that, it would have to make sense to me somehow. It'd have to be something underneath for me to make that work. Otherwise, there are a bunch of guys out there, actors, actor types who do that kind of thing very well. I don't think I could for myself. There's got to be a bunch of different things going on, layers to stuff.

Q. What was the most fun scene?

Depp: Which scene was the most fun in Pirates 2? Boy, oh boy. Well.

Q. Getting slimed?

Depp: God, that was horrible. That was just horrible. But the good news is I was expecting the worst and it was horrible, but it wasn't as bad as I suppose it could have been. I didn't inhale any of the slime which is good. I guess the most fun was just one scene that comes to mind when Jack realizes that there's a moment when Elizabeth is talking about how she wants to get married, and he has that sort of moment of weakness of 'Ah well…' That was a lot of fun to play. That was a lot of fun to shoot.

Q. Now that it's almost over, are you getting sad again?

Depp: No, I figure because we've got a few more months to go. It's the home stretch, so I think probably the last month I'll start going into that deep, dark depression.

Q. Do you have the rights to the Nick Hornby book?

Depp: Oh, "A Long Way Down." I don't know that I'll be acting in it, but just kind of hoping to get it made I suppose.

Q. They’re doing a "21 Jump Street" movie.

Depp: I think it's a great idea.

Q. Are you far enough past it that you'd do a cameo?

Depp: Wow, I certainly… Why don't I just go back and play… It'd be good at 42. That would be interesting. To go back and play the same character I played 20 years ago with no one saying anything. A bunch of people going, they don't' say anything to him but they talk behind his back, 'Is he out of his mind? He's really old now, but he thinks he's still young.' That, I would love to play.

Q. What's it like being in the Disney ride?

Depp: Boy, that's so exciting. They showed me the drawings and the plans for what it might be.

Q. Thanks so much for your time this afternoon.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest" sets sail in theaters on July 7th and promises to be an exciting, action packed adventure that’s guaranteed to put plenty of swash in your buckle. Indeed, POTC2 may well be the highest grossing and most entertaining movie of the summer. I invite you to read my Pirates of the Caribbean 2 Movie Review. Also be sure to watch our behind the scenes of Pirates 2 video tour with the entire cast.


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