Categories: Articles20 Comments
February 21, 2008

By Susan Rushton

‘Idiot,” Johnny Depp likes to joke, is the German translation of his surname. The swooned-over film actor, who picked up his first Golden Globe for his all-singing portrayal of Sweeney Todd, has, over a 24-year career, gained a reputation for playing the outsiders, rejects and oddballs – the idiots. Big-bucks, twinkly-eyed romantic leads have never held any allure.

Instead, Depp has transmogrified into pallid Edward Scissorhands, kohl-eyed pirate Captain Jack Sparrow and Cry-Baby Walker, the delinquent of John Waters’ 1990 Cry-Baby. He has cross-dressed in Before Night Falls and Ed Wood, shaving his legs for the latter.

“I always thought it’d be interesting to see them all in the same room together,” Depp says of his characters.

Tim Burton, who’s directed Depp six times, describes him as a risk-taker. “He could’ve gone and made millions as this great-looking lead guy. But no.” Depp turned down leads in Speed and Interview With A Vampire, but he’s not in penury: he picked up $20-million for each his Pirates Of The Caribbean films, and smaller movies reputedly start at $8-million.

With the straggly beard, skull rings, nerd specs, fedora, leather jackets or Rat Pack suits, Depp doesn’t have the clean-cut appeal of a Pitt or a Cruise. His is “a delicate beauty that’s startling, perhaps more so for being intermittent … with a tilt of the head, impossibly handsome,” according to Franz Lidz in the New York Times.

On celluloid, Depp does not exude menace or muscularity, but rather a lightness and naturalness. “Johnny doesn’t rely on tricks, his acting is about ease and intuition,” says Lasse Hallström, who directed him in Chocolat and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

After the success of the Pirates films, Depp is now a blue-chip Hollywood name with indie appeal. He doesn’t play the La-La land games and claims not to have seen the final version of many of his films: “Once my job is done, it’s none of my business. I walk away.”

In 1983, Depp escaped to LA and joined the Loft Studio school to take acting lessons, but dropped out to concentrate on his band, The Kids. The Kids were successful enough to support the Talking Heads and the B-52s, but Depp was still forced to find sales work. “We sold ink pens. I’d met Nicolas Cage who was, like, a friend of a couple of friends. And he told me one day, ‘You should try acting or whatever’.”

Depp went to see Cage’s agent and, in 1984, landed his first significant role, in Wes Craven’s Nightmare On Elm Street, playing a boy who was swallowed by a bed, and he made $1 200 a week . That was followed, in 1986, by a role as a Vietnamese-speaking private in Platoon. But TV gave Depp his big break, as an undercover cop at a high school in 21 Jump Street.

The teen idol image was all but forgotten after his first movie with Burton, Edward Scissorhands. But, even as Depp chalked up critically acclaimed roles in Gilbert Grape and Benny & Joon, he took more drugs. “It was anything I could stuff into my system to medicate, self-medicate, or numb myself,” he admits.

The role of Ed Wood, another Burton project, was for Depp “the rocket ship that took me away from that horrible black bleak time”. So convincing was his female impersonation, Depp was reportedly considered as the first transvestite cover girl of US Vogue.

During the late ’90s, he starred in Don Juan DeMarco, Donnie Brasco, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Sleepy Hollow and Chocolat. In 2001, he played the 1970s cocaine kingpin George Jung. Then came a curious career transition. From that seedy role, Depp moved into the world of Disney, starring as Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates movie in 2003. More than that, fatherhood altered his tastes. “I thought it’d be great to make a movie my kids could watch.”

Sweeney Todd, which opens tomorrow, has been hailed as the Burton-Depp relationship at its best. Even Depp’s singing has mostly been praised; only the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane dismissed his warblings as a “Bowie impression”.

If there is criticism of Depp’s work as an actor, it is that his weirdos are so emotionally guarded that we never get beneath their skin. “For me, it seems he’s been hiding a bit beneath eccentrics and outcasts,” says Hallström.

For all his rebellious instincts, Depp is uncomfortable with political statement. In 2003, he tried to withdraw quotes that criticised the Iraq war – dismissing America as “a dumb puppy that has big teeth” – given to Stern magazine in 2003.

Perhaps that attitude will have to change: Depp’s production company has bought the rights to the story of the Litvinenko poisoning.

If all else fails, he’s kept the scissorhand gloves. “In a couple of years, I may be doing birthday parties at McDonald’s – as Edward. You know, $200 a party.”

Idiot? Hardly. – The Independent

  • Feb 21Sarah saunders says:  

    that was an awesome article about johnny

  • Feb 21Nikki says:  

    I wonder what role he would have played if he actually did accept the movie Interview with the Vampire? I absolutely love this film and I honestly couldn’t see the roles being played by anyone else other than Pitt and Cruise who now completely embody those characters. And Speed? really now, can you imagine him delivering that Keanu favorite line “What would you doooo…what would youuuuu dooo?” LOL, I like these movies but I’m glad he turned them down. They just don’t seem very Depp. I guess because the characters aren’t completely skew. He plays skew really well, course I wouldn’t mind seeing his take on being Lestat or Louis. He’d make a beautiful Louis…wouldn’t you think?

  • Feb 22karen says:  

    I think I read somewhere that he was offered Lestat in “Vampire”. That would have been interesting. I agree “Speed” is not his style of movie!

  • Feb 22Sabrah says:  

    OK, now that bit about the first transvestite is awesome!!!!

  • Feb 22Brie says:  

    I read he turned down the role as Jack in Titanic. He gave it to Leonardo Decaprio.
    Love the article!!! Thanks

  • Feb 22Brie says:  

    Johnny also turned down Keanu’s part in the Matrix!!!

  • Feb 22Nikki says:  

    Johnny playing Lestat would have been absolutely crazy. Still trying to get my head around that one. I could possibly see him as Armand though, course in the book version, Armand was bout 15 years old. Maybe he could have been Daniel. Yeah, he would have made a nice Daniel of the Talamasca (so yeah, I’m an avid Anne Rice reader)

  • Feb 24selina says:  

    WOW!!!!! Nice Artical Im Johnnys Biggest Fan!!!! To me it really doesnt matter if he backed out of a chance to play a role in what ever movie!! JOHNNYS a GREAT Artist & will continue to concore THE BEST OF THE BEST OF THE BEST!!!!!!!! He has MY LOVE & MY SUPORT!!!! SO KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK & DO WHAT YOU DO BEST!!!
    !!!!LOVE ALWAYS!!!!

  • Feb 24Nicole says:  

    Nice article…!!!I luv it..!!!I’m big fan of Johnny Depp and I really believe that he was and he will always be the world’s most desireable man..!!!;)
    I love u Johnny!!!<333

  • Feb 24Lena says:  

    idiot? hardly xdd


    i love you johnny <3

  • Feb 25Sandra says:  

    Johnny highlights for his incredible talent, also that it is very handsome. the article is brilliant, it reveals as an actor so journey can undress its interior without difficulty, as well as it acts. this article is very good because it is like a synthesis of its extensive biography.

    I am his biggest admirer, they would be surprised if they come all that I have with his image, he is very complete!!!!!! HE IS THE BEST!!!

  • Feb 26maylis says:  

    me i think he would have replaced tom cruise very well i can’t stand him i hate tom cruise!
    he’s the worst actor i have ever seen (except in this movie and collateral damages) must be that movie makers were very tallented!!

    and interview with a vampire is a great film which would have been pretty interesting with johnny depp playing in.

    Johnny depp is a brilliant actor! I have been loving him as an actor since my dad (which is into cinema’s) showed me a movie of him i was about 7 years old maybe… and i guess i was crazy about christmas of mr jack (i dont know english name)

    I guess what is brilliant is that he is not popular for the way he looks (ok he is looking good) But when i started watching him i didn’t like the way he looked just his acting way!

    I’d like to say that they forgot a big part of his filmography!!! What about the 9th gates? Chocolat? Secret window? Charlie and the chocolate factory?

    I’m so happy he is in relationship with a compatriot (vanessa paradis) so we might see him more on french screens…. (she’s so pretty lucky i would love to be her or my boyfriend to be just like him writting songs about us and about my daugter)

    He is just perfect in every points : his brain, his heart, his acting way and his look!!!

    Sorry for my english I’m french.

  • Feb 26Laurie says:  

    I am a huge Johnny Depp fan! I have always loved the choices he makes not only with the oddball roles he chooses but the way he plays his characters. They are all sooo different, and 150% believable. It amazes me the range he has! he goes from Quirky Edward, to playing a druggies writer, a cocanie dealer, a dective from the 1800’s to violent sweeny and my personal fav suave Captain jack! He is the finest and sometimes most underappreciated actor of our time! He is so humble and so NORMAL in an odd way that he seems like my bff not big movie star man! He might never know how hot he is or how smart or talented but we all do! And we love each and every bit of him

  • Mar 01Naomi says:  

    Before I say anything I’d like to clarify that I am, indeed, Johnny Depp’s biggest fan. He is a true artist who remains true to himself and always plays at his own standards. He not only picks odd and interesting roles, but it is the very way he PLAYS them that make them all not only lovable but utterly memorable. He’s a heck of a performer, great article.

  • Mar 05allison says:  

    if depp reads this good i love you!!

  • Mar 05allison says:  

    naomi you are so wrong i’m his #1 fan he’s so much hotter in person!!! have you ever met him? no!!!

  • Mar 15patrycja says:  

    he is beautyfull

  • Mar 15patrycja says:  

    Johnny Depp i love you :):):)

  • Aug 22Sunny Nooyen says:  

    I heard that Johnny depp is half-vietnamese!!! that’s where he gets his awesome cheekbones and nice skin tone. Johnny Depp = Johnny Diep.

  • Dec 09Gabriella says:  

    Actually he has irish and german blood and a little bit of cherokee in him… People like him gives inspiration and reminding of always follow your passion. I want to thank him for being part of these meaningfull people who always remind me to follow the path of my heart.

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I love the idea of changing my look. I think one owes it to the audience, to go out there and give them something different each time, so as not to bore them to death. And I always felt that if you're not trying something different each time out of the gate, you're being safe, and you don't ever want to find that place of safety. I like that, each time, before I even go in front of the cameras, the studio's reaction will be fear. They have those hideous pangs of fear where they go, "He's fucking killing the movie." And I can't argue with them, because I might be. But I just know for the character that this is the right thing to do. And I've always enjoyed hiding behind these characters. It's a strange thing, you're more comfortable as a character than you are in life. You know what I mean? I could stand up in front of, it doesn't matter how many people, as a character. But if I had to do it as myself and give a speech, I would be liquid.

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