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A Look at Johnny Depp
By Jarrod Sarafin
May 13, 2007
Johnny Depp in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END (2007).
© Walt Disney Pictures
I received two comments on my feature for Ridley Scott. Either all those fellow Maniacs I love to read from went out to lunch last week or not enough of you have seen Bladerunner, Alien, Black Hawk Down or Gladiator. I prefer to choose the former option. You were all out to lunch last week. (Or rather Spider-Man 3)
Did you enjoy the meal? (Or the movie?)
This week, we’re going to talk about an actor just hitting his stride in some peoples’ minds but have always been a favorite from critics. He’s always been selective with his roles and as such, he has stayed out of the whole blockbuster mainstream audience field of vision… until some film about Pirates, that is.
I put Johnny Depp in the same category as Leonardo DiCaprio. A lot of people equate these two actors with “former Teen Magazine buff balls” but to me, that aspect was never in their control. In point of fact, neither liked that whole Teen Girl Fantasy image branded them and they did their best to shed such an image early on in their careers. They chose roles which were tough, gritty, and outside the mainstream in the early years of their careers.
I notice now as they’ve aged, they’re both getting some light in the Academy spotlight for so many years of hard work and dedicated movie selective foresight.
Depp didn’t have the most successful of early careers in the manner that he got branded what I mentioned above. His first movie was a very popular horror movie about a cursed man with knifes for fingers killing teens in their sleep. Yes, that’s the one.
Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).
I’m getting ahead of myself here though. I’ll do a brief summary of his childhood. Depp was born on June 9, 1963 to his father John Christopher Depp Sr and mother Betty Sue Wells along with one brother and two sisters. Depp didn’t have what you would call the most “stable” childhood upbringing in the fact that they moved 20 different locations through his early years. He was also a nervous insecure trainwreck and suffered from anxiety issues. This in turn caused him to adopt “self mutilation” as a particular cure for his insecurity & anxiety. By the age of 7, he was self mutilating himself causing 6-8 scars he still carries around today. He’s always been upfront to the media about this childhood issue of his.
“My body is a journal in a way. It's like what sailors used to do, where every tattoo meant something, a specific time in your life when you make a mark on yourself, whether you do it yourself with a knife or with a professional tattoo artist”—Depp
Seeing how he has 13 different tattooes, I would say that quote is a self aware explanation of it on his part.
Around the time I was born (1978), his parents divorced and Depp felt the need to drop out of highschool and pursue his musical interests, something he’s had since his mom got him a guitar at the age of 12. The irony about this situation is two weeks after he dropped out of school, he wanted back in but the Principal told him to go on and pursue his dreams instead. Depp described this particular example of strange education practice as “really sweet” on the Principals part.
I just found the whole bit funny. Depp would go onward to play with his band “The Kids”. They actually got pretty good and would have some success outside the mainstream music scene. It was here where Depp found his first wife and caused friction within the band which ultimately break them up. Depp married Lori Anne Allison, brother of the bands drummer in late 83 and it was she which suggested he pursue the acting career and introducing him to Nic Cage. Another small irony is the fact that he got this advice which would help shape his success and they would no longer be married by 1985 or the band which had him meet his first wife who started his career would break around this time as well.
So Depp found himself going into the acting scene and it was here which had him accepting the role as a “boyfriend” which gets swallowed whole in blood and guts by one of the most pop culture iconic villians of the last era, Freddy Kreuger.
As I said though, Depp didn’t immediately start out as a success. All good actors run into some problems along their early years accepting bit parts and working their way into the scene. As I wrote in the Star Spotlight on Samuel L. Jackson, it’s just part of the hiccups along the journey to stardom. Depp would end up playing another bit role in Oliver Stone’s Platoon before going into a brief stint in television which would make him a Teen Idol favorite.
That brief stint which Depp doesn’t consider to the “best beginning” of his career is where he got notoriety but notoriety he was trying to avoid.
I’m referring to the popular teen loved show 21 Jump Street. I’m putting it lightly when saying he didn’t enjoy this part of his early years and he couldn’t wait to jump out of it.
Depp and DiCaprio are two actors which didn’t like being branded teen sex symbols. They wanted to be recognized as serious actors whom weren’t afraid to take on more serious roles in their careers. It’s just another one of those ironies that 21 Jump Street and Titanic their careers into mainstream and more specifically teenaged girls.
On the experience of the show, Depp described it as this:
“forced into the role of product" and that it was "a very uncomfortable situation and I didn't get a handle on it and it wasn't on my terms at all."
As soon as his contract allowed, he jumped ship and swore he would only take one roles which he felt fit his personality and subject matter he covered.
If this is true, he must have one of those twisted personalities we all seem to have at times because he quickly found himself a best friend in the business, fellow up and comer Tim Burton who would just be finished making Batman 1 and Batman 2 around this time. Depp wouldn’t star in Burton’s two Batman films but he would go on to star in a lot of Burton’s “other” movies. Movies which helped jump start Depp’s movie career and leave the teen idol persona behind.
Tim Burton/Director and Johnny Depp/Actor Partnerships:
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Ed Wood (1994)
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Corpse Bride (2005)
They’re both working together right now on Sweeney Todd (2007).
By the way, he ended up adopting that horse (Golden Eye) from Sleep Hollow to save him from the Glue Factory. Not sure why I said that but thought you would get a kick out of it.
As for his relationship with Burton, here’s what he had to say on him:
He credits Burton's belief in him for rescuing him from being "a loser, an outcast, just another piece of expendable Hollywood meat."
“He can ask me everything. If he wants me to have sex with an aardvark in one of his next movies, then I will do that."
In the foreword on the book “Burton on Burton”, he wrote it and said this: “What more can I say about him? He is a brother, a friend, my godson's father. He is a unique and brave soul, someone that I would go to the ends of the earth for, and I know, full and well, he would do the same for me."
Obviously, their friendship is strong. I mean, it goes without saying towards anyone who would admit they would have sex with an aardvark for them.
But Depp hasn’t just been in Burton films. He’s starred in quite a few classics that get little to no attention in the mainstream media but catch a lot of movie lover’s eyes. One such film was early on and which also starred Leonardo DiCaprio in it as his brother. I’m speaking of course of the emotional film, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993).
Here’s some other films of his. Some gained notoriery and some didn’t:
Arizona Dream (1993)
Benny & Joon (1993)
Ed Wood (1994)
Don Juan Demarco (1994)
Dead Man (1995)
Nick of Time (1995)
Donnie Brasco (1997)
The Brave (1997)-also directed by Depp
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)—one of my personal favorites
L.A Without a Map (1998)
The Ninth Gate (1999)
The Astronaut’s Wife (1999)
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
The Man Who Cried (2000)
Before Night Falls (2000)
From Hell (2001)
Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
Secret Window (2004)
And They Lived Happily Ever After (2004)
Finding Neverland (2004)
The Libertine (2004)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Corpse Bride (2005)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
Sweeny Todd (2007)
Sin City 2 (2008)
The Rum Diary (2008)
You can tell from his upcoming movies which other partnerships he has molded from his past. He’s always been an avid fan of, now deceased, writer Hunter S. Thompson. He even toured with the writer on his last tour before his death. His potrayal in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was instant classic material in my eyes and I can’t wait for him to pick up those reigns again in the long awaited next title, Rum Diary.
Also, while he only filmed with Robert Rodriguez on Once Upon a Time in Mexico for 9 days, he fell in love with his role and made an instant connection with the style that Rodriguez brought to the table. Enough so that he actually wrote the theme song for Sands in the soundtrack and played another role a lot of people don’t know about in the film. He put on his best Marlon Brando impression and played the priest behind the curtain in the church scene. Now he’s possibly appearing in another Rodriguez film, Sin City 2.
Add into the fact that he’s also set to appear in another Tim Burton movie, Sweeny Todd, later this year and it’s these connections from his past which help shape the future of possibilities for him.
You then take into account that he now has box office success (something foreign to him) and a mainstream following due to his Pirates of the Caribbean dominance these past few years and I think it’s safe to say Johnny Depp will continue tacking on more great movie credits for years to come.
That’s going to do for this edition of Star Spotlight. See you next time, Maniacs.