Blown Away by Whitey: Johnny Depp
by Michele Fontanelli
Fatherhood has changed Johnny Depp. While his past
escapades tell embellished tales of trashed hotel rooms, drunken
(most likely drug-fueled) parties in L.A.'s Viper Room and romances
with the most elusive, beautiful creatures in showbiz-- Winona Ryder
and Kate Moss among them-- Depp has now indelibly ended those wild
Yes, that notorious bad boy who once yielded his soul to the free-wheeling
Hollywood lifestyle has traded fast living for the key to one woman's
heart. While Lily-Rose Melody Depp may not yet be old enough to
tie her own shoelaces, her very presence in her doting daddy's life
has forever severed the knot tying Depp to his reckless former self.
As a father (and significant other to Lily-Rose's mom, French actress
Vanessa Paradis), Depp no longer needs to search for his once lost
spirit. Instead, he's discovered himself once again-- or perhaps
for the first time-- in the innocent eyes of his newborn daughter.
But as the lead in director Ted Demme's Blow, Depp was forced to
re-examine some of his abandoned evils. Taking on the persona of
real-life convicted drug smuggler George Jung, he says, was "the
most exciting thing to me." Stepping into someone else's shoes,
viewing such disastrous actions from a distance, allowed him to
not only see this character in a new light, but his past self as
"I wondered how he, how anyone, could have done it all," Depp says.
"It came down to the adrenaline, I guess. He needed the rush. The
excitement and the danger became the high for him... He never thought
of himself as a bad guy." And America, watching Depp step in and
out of trouble, could never deem him "the bad guy" either. Still
considered one of the most talented actors on the scene today, if
not the greatest of his generation, Depp has made peace with what
he calls "the demon."
He still smokes, of course, strolling into the interview with a
hand-rolled cigarette, his hair pulled back into a greasy ponytail.
But Depp's maturity has transformed him, an it's apparent in the
barely discernible smile that tickles his lips whenever mentioning
"his girls." It seems as if Depp has discovered his best role yet...
You told Interview magazine last year, "I don't think that I
lived before. This baby has given me life... She is the only reason
to wake up in the morning, the only reason to take a breath." Such
a statement draws an interesting parallel to this character, George
Jung, whose outlook on life on drug dealing, on responsibility
definitely changes when he becomes a father.
I think it's a pretty universal feeling for anyone who is blessed
with that moment when you experience fatherhood for the first time.
For me and I've never been one of those self-obsessed, woe-is-me-type
guys it was the first really welcome moment in my life that
was also totally selfless. It was no longer about me, and anything
I'd ever gone through in terms of life experiences just became insignificant.
You seem to be having a wonderful time as a father, so what does
a film need to have in order for you to agree to do it?
It is really hard to leave home when you're surrounded by all that
beauty my girls but you still have to keep the paychecks
coming, you know? But it really just depends on the project. When
the Hughes brothers came to me with the idea of doing From Hell,
there was no way to avoid it; they presented me with a golden opportunity.
It's the same thing with Blow-- it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
It also has to do with timing it so that I'm never away for too
long. I think the most we've ever been away from each other is 17
days, and at that point I was ready to chew my own hand off. You
just go crazy! So now it has to be a great role, with great filmmakers,
and I have to work out the timing as well.
You're quoted in the press kit saying you could relate to Jung's
sudden success: "I started making money like I'd never seen before
in my life. One thing led to another, and suddenly I was on the
rise and there was no stopping it." Do you ever miss those pre-21
Jump Street days, before Hollywood gave you a whole other life?
Was it better then? No, I'm the most content now that I've ever
been in my life. What I did have back then was anonymity. My life
was much simpler before Jump Street came out. But there was some
rough going there: I can remember not being able to pay rent, cashing
bad checks, then Allah or somebody would step in and send me a residual
check from someplace and I'd just think, thank god.
What did you learn from researching the drug trafficking trade?
I do know that if we have a drug problem in this country
which we do, and have for many years it's well-documented
that some people in the upper echelon of our government have allowed
the drugs to come into the country. Diego Delgado in Blow was based
on Colombian drug runner Carlos Leder, and when he was busted in
the early '80s there was an open letter addressed to the President
and published in The New York Times or something about a connection
there. So I do know it ain't just the people like George doing this;
I'm not that na´ve.
What do you want the average moviegoer to take away from this
I hope they'll understand what George went through and why he made
the decisions he made. A lot of it has to do with the conditioning
he went through as a kid. He became what he didn't want to become:
his parents. I hope people will watch and learn from it, especially
kids. We've all gone through that initial phase where we associate
drugs and partying-- where we just get high to have a grand old
time-- but it's not that at all. You can live that lie and think
drugs are just recreational, but they're not. You're obviously trying
to mask something, trying to numb yourself. Getting loaded to that
extent it just postponing the inevitable, which is facing the demon.
You're going to have to look him in the eye someday and go, OK,
let's just get through this.
Have you faced the demon?
I've seen the demon here and there, yeah...
What was George like?
He was a lot of things. He's a complicated guy, but he's first and
foremost just as human as can be. He isn't evil or greedy, just
a good man who recognizes his mistakes and must live with this sort
of devastation everyday. I saw a very strong, very funny and ironic,
yet brokenhearted man.
Does he feel responsible for what he did, or does he view himself
as a victim?
I think he feels more responsible. But from the outside looking
in, I see him as more a victim of his upbringing of all
the pressures and expectations that his parents placed upon him
as a kid.
Many films lately, like Traffic, have dealt with this subject.
What's the appeal there? Do filmmakers simply enjoy exploring the
drama inherent in drug users' lives, or do they really want to comment
upon this controversial subject?
I haven't seen Traffic, but I think Blow is more of a look at this
one man's life. It's more about what he endured and why. Drug smuggling
was just his business: He made a lot of money, and thought that
was going to be the answer to all his prayers. It wasn't, and eventually
he lost all of it, and in the process lost his family. He lost because
he won. What's on the outside for George when he gets out of prison?
His daughter won't even visit him, and really seems to want nothing
to do with him. There were other people busted in the same place
and under the same circumstances as George, yet they only received
two years each. In a federal penitentiary, you do a minimum of 75%
of your sentence, and George got 25 years. For all intents and purposes,
he made a fool of the judge, the local cops and the feds. They thought,
"We finally caught Jung, so--wham-o-- let's get him!" I think that
was pretty unjust. But what's outside? In my opinion, George has
served his time. He's paid his debt to society, and he's not doing
anyone any good rotting away in a prison cell. He's rehabilitated,
and I wouldn't say the system did that. George rehabilitated himself,
coming to terms with all the hideous realities he's had to live
with all these years. Yes, he's definitely paid his debt to society.
He could do so much more good on the outside! He's even working
with the D.A.R.E. program right now, and could go on the road to
teach kids about the dangers of drugs. He could also pay his debt
to his daughter try to give her a father.
During one scene, when he's first busted for dealing marijuana,
he talks back to the judge because he doesn't understand why the
system views his actions as criminal.
Right. He actually says, "All I did was cross an imaginary line
with some plants." He has a really good point, there's no question
about it. He makes a valid argument. But like the judge says, "These
are the rules-- imaginary line or not." I think at that point in
his life, he was feeling pretty cocky. He was starting to buy into
his own press...
Do you think marijuana should be legal?
I'm not a big pothead or anything, but I do believe marijuana is
much less dangerous than alcohol, which can tend to make people
really aggressive. Statistically, alcohol is a big killer. It's
pretty rare that you hear about an accident occurring because a
guy was stoned, or went out and started a fight because he had one
too many puffs on a joint. It's like Prohibition: If there were
100 bars in a city when Prohibition first went into effect, there'd
be 2,000 bars there the next week. People who'd never had a single
sip of alcohol were suddenly guzzling bathtub gin. It's like that
for kids and marijuana: If you say, "Don't ever do this!" they're
gonna go, "You're right..." walk out the door and try to score a