Quick Fact
Box Office

Johnny Depp Talks Blow: The Drugs Don't Work
by Clare Whipps

Laid back in his chair, cigarette in hand, actor Johnny Depp explains "If a role scares you, it's the challenge that's the greatest thing for an actor." Therefore finding a way to portray a convicted drug smuggler as a character for which an audience can be sympathetic was undoubtedly a challenge the actor relished. Depp, who now resides primarily in France ("because I can smoke there and you get really good wine" - not to mention he also has a child being raised there) took time out recently to discuss drugs, prisons ... and uncomfortable women's shoes.

Blow follows hot on the heels of another recent movie tale of drugs and destruction, the acclaimed Traffic, and this time charts the roller coaster truelife story of one man. George Jung went from a middle class high school football hero to being Pablo Escobar's righthand man and importer of roughly a staggering 80% of the US cocaine supply in the 1980s. If recorded legally, the cocaine business at that time would have ranked as the sixth largest enterprise in the Fortune 500. When finally busted by the DEA, ironically whilst he was making one last deal to afford to buy his daughter a new car after loosing his wealth, Jung brought down with him one of the biggest cartels ever captured in US history.

Never one to shy away from playing more unusual or controversial roles, Depp took the role of the man living his own version of the American dream after meeting with George Jung, who is still serving time in Otisville Penitentiary, where he is due to remain until 2014. "It was important not to be judgmental, to tell the story as it happened, but I think it is a cautionary tale. I spent two days with him - two very intense days, 12-14 hours a day. We had a lot of information to pack into not a lot of time," explains Depp. Determined to get it right, the actor, who was always the first choice for the role, wasn't the only one to visit Jung in jail. Director Ted Demme also made a visit and is, in fact, still in touch with him. "He's very intoxicating. He made me laugh ... I couldn't get him out of my head for a week."

Access to Jung and his high strung wife Martha (played on screen by Penelope Cruz) allowed the filmmakers to follow the couple's real life events closely. They in turn were happy to be portrayed frankly, with nothing held back. "The final letter that George writes in the movie to his father is word for word the same as what he really put down," explains Depp. The actor found it easy to bring a human and likeable quality to the convicted criminal, despite initially being unsure whether or not he would even like him. "Its just how he is. You have to really work at it to say this guys a criminal, that he's a bad guy. He's really, very charming, very smart, very funny. He's in there doing his time, not whining about it. I saw him as a victim. He's not proud of what he did."

The role of Jung is just one of many right now for Depp, who is currently seen on the big screen in Chocolat and Before Night Falls, both of which were nominated for Oscars. In the latter, he plays a duel role as a cross dresser. In comparing a prosthetic stomach Depp wears in Blow to his Before Night Falls flamboyant outfits, the actor claims there is no contest. "High heels are much worse, much more intense," he laughs.

German actress Franka Potente plays Jung's tragic first girlfriend, Barbara, in blow. It is the only sympathetic female role in the film. Best known to US audiences from the cult hit Run Lola Run, she would not seem as the obvious casting choice for the blonde Californian beach babe, yet Potente jumped at the chance to work with Depp. "I was a bit intimidated at the beginning," she admits, but took the role without even seeing a script when hearing Depp was on board for the title role. "Knowing Johnny was in it took it to a new quality level." The breakthrough role in Blow means we'll be seeing more of Potente on US screens. She is currently filming with Matt Damon for a new picture Borne Identity.

Blow's events spans four decades, allowing for plenty of scope for the wardrobe department to have fun with some really bad wigs and authentic outfits. Yet the main focus of the film is on the cocaine fuelled hard partying extravagant times of the 1970s. Paul Reubens, breaking away from his Pee Wee Herman role (though there is a new movie on the way folks!) plays Derek Foreal, a larger than life California hairdresser who helps Jung on his way to becoming one of the most successful importers of all time, before ultimately betraying him. "It's a movie about drugs covering a 40 year period," muses Reubens, "but what attracted me is that it's really a very personal film about one personal story, and it's very much about failure - as a son, as a father, as a husband. It's so tragic. It was such a more innocent time, before everyone realized how much it was going to unravel." But as the film shows, unravel it did, and the film's message of crime doesn't pay is clear. So what did George Jung think of the final version of the film that depicts his life? "It was very emotional for him," admits Depp. Blow opens in theatres Apr 6, 2001.