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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 oat-sowing days.
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 well.

"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 film?
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 nickel bag.