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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 true.

"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 suppliers.

"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 society."