The Depth of Depp
by Jeff Bond
Did Johnny Depp really go mano a mano with
Charles Manson? Depp has played just about every other oddball character
around, including cult director Ed Wood, Ichabod Crane, and his
current turn as cocaine smuggler George Jung in Blow. Yet,
while recent reports about Depp attempting to arrange a prison meeting
with Manson seem to make sense, Depp insists they simply aren't
"It is one of those Internet things," the actor says. "This guy
offered me the role and I just thought Steven Railsback did such
a good job in Helter Skelter [a '70s television movie on
the Manson Gang ] that it has been done, there is no point in doing
it again, he did a beautiful job."
Not that Depp hasn’t been behind bars lately. He did enter the big
house in order to speak with George Jung while he was doing research
for the fascinating new movie Blow detailing the rise and
fall of Jung -- one of the country’s most significant U.S. cocaine
"There were a lot of large clanging metal doors behind you, it was
really uncomfortable," Depp says of the experience. "You have to
empty your pockets and go through metal detectors and get checked
out. It was great to have had that opportunity."
According to Depp, it was Jung himself who drew the actor to the
story of the smuggler who helped establish the pipeline from Pablo
Escobar's Colombian drug cartel to America in the 1970s.
"[Writer Ted] Demme was so passionate about the material and spent
time with George and kept telling me about George," Depp says. "I
read the book and I thought 'I want to go meet this guy, I have
got to speak to him' cause I wanted to know if I would like him
and if he would like me. When I met him I saw what I was hoping
to see, that there is no good guy, no bad guy--just a guy. He is
as human as any of us and recognizes the mistakes he has made and
in a way I saw kind of a victim in George. He is a victim of his
parents, of his upbringing and the conditions that were put upon
him by his parents. I saw a strong guy, a funny guy, a smart guy,
a broken guy, a broken heart."
Depp's next role involves more than broken hearts—over
the course of the Hughes Brothers' From Hell, just about
every internal organ in the human body gets sliced and diced. Based
on a graphic novel by Alan Moore, From Hell investigates
the long unsolved Jack the Ripper killings in London's Whitechapel
slum in 1888. Depp plays Inspector Frederick Abberline, a police
investigator with psychic abilities who gets more than he bargained
for when he takes on the Ripper case.
"There are so many theories about Jack the Ripper, this is one of
the better ones," Depp notes. "It is really complicated. Kind of
the government involved, people in higher places in the British
government and the royal family. You don't really know exactly,
there are a few candidates. Everybody is a suspect."
One genre blockbuster that won't feature Depp is Tim Burton's remake
of Planet of the Apes, with Mark Wahlberg filling the outsized
shoes of Charlton Heston as an astronaut who discovers a planet
where apes have evolved from men. Despite his track record with
director Tim Burton (which includes Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands
and Sleepy Hollow), Depp missed his chance to be rounded
up by apes.
"When Tim was saddling up to do Planet of the Apes I was
doing From Hell I think and then I was going to do Don
Quixote," the actor explains. Sadly, the Don Quixote
project fell apart soon afterwards. "It was like a combination of
a whole bunch of things. It was a disastrous relief, we started
out and everything was cool. However, Jean Rausberg who was playing
Don Quixote, had back problems and he was on a horse constantly
and he was very ill so we had to stop shooting for a while and take
a break. One thing led to another and the insurance company came
in and cleaned it up."
Depp currently resides in France, a locale that
he says helps him to keep a perspective that's different from the
average deal-obsessed Hollywood actor. "It solidifies the fact that
I can keep distance away from Hollywood and the games," Depp notes.
"It is what I do for a living but I don't want it interfering in
my personal life. It is what I do to bring home the bacon and what
I do to keep my brain occupied but I don't want to live and breath
and swallow it everyday.
"I remember back in the late 80's, early 90's after 21 Jump Street
when I had started doing movies, you would see yourself on magazines
and you would see others and I remember thinking 'I don't want to
read these, I don't want to know any of this, there is nothing positive
or any redeeming qualities about any of this' and I remember just
walking away from it and saying 'nothing, no more.' I haven't read
a magazine, I don't know who anybody is, I don't know who is popular
or unpopular, who is winning or not winning the wars I don't
know any of it and I am really, really happy."
And while he's at it, Depp demonstrates a few mixed feelings about
his country of birth. "I love the States, I love this country and
what it could be and what it has been in the past," the actor says.
"There are a lot of great people in this country, farmers who are
just trying to get by and get on with their lives but what it has
become with all of the violence and the ignorance, you can’t live
here and stay sane. It is such an ambitious, gluttonous kind of