Johnny Depp Lets Down His Hair
It's the second time around for our roving reporter and Hollywood's best-looking bad boy. Depp gets loose and lets fly on everything from Winona Ryder, collecting skeletons and making movies he's not ashamed of, to Buster Keaton, breast-feeding and "making love with Bonnie Parker."
"So, you're in a bar and you go to the bathroom to take a pee, right?" says Johnny Depp, spewing smoke from a cigarette at our table in a Melrose Avenue breakfast joint, "and you're standing at the urinal with your dick in your hand and some guy comes up to you and goes, 'Hey, so how are you and Winona doing?' I mean, Jesus Christ."
Glamorously pallid in hip rags, faint violet circles ringing his eyes, locks shoved under a baseball cap, Depp squints, lets fly a deep, amused chortle and adds, "What I call 'The Display-Case Syndrome' has got to be dealt with, because, after all, if you're in the public eye, that kind of stuff ... well, it just goes with the territory, ya know? But man, in a public restroom?" After a beat, he mutters, "Ooops, gotta take a pee," excuses himself, and cuts across the joint, where, every few tables, he reciprocates boisterous greetings from black-clad, sunglass-wearing, many-earnnged habitues. The room is his.
I'm wondering whether I ought to follow Depp, then stride up beside him at the urinal and ask how are he and Winona doing? I mean, I've interviewed this guy before and one of the things I know about him is that he loves a good goof. After all, isn't his "Are-they-or-are-they-not-a-couple?" status with Ryder one of those need-to-know Depp essentials? Just then, though, a leggy waitress sidles over, refills Depp's coffee mug while purring to me, "Johnny's the real kind of cool, cool for life." Before I can say anything, she adds, "Not like Richard Grieco, who comes in here acting like King Shit!"
These days, the former "21 Jump Street" rave has a thing or two to feel cool about. By the time he's finished up a new flick in Texas, a total of three Depp movies will be theater-ready, his first since Cry-Baby and Edward Scissorhands, if we don't count his cameo in the last Nightmare on Elm Street (and we don't). First up is the oddball Benny & Joon, featuring Mary Stuart Masterson as Depp's schizophrenic girlfriend and Aidan Quinn as her domineering brother. Then comes the oddball Gilbert Grape, which director Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog) made from Peter Hedges's novel about an emotionally shut-down guy who tries to break free from a fabulous assortment of small-town loons. And later there will be the oddball Arizona Dream (a.k.a. The Arrowtooth Waltz), from the set of which art-house director Emir Kusturica bolted--then, months later, returned--in which Depp beds Faye Dunaway and out-quirks both Jerry Lewis and Lili Taylor. Admirably, there's not a high concept, nor a low-brainer, in the pack.
Unlike the trying-too-hard-to-be-bad-to-be-really-bad guy I met and interviewed for Movieline a few years ago, the current-model Depp shapes up as more than just someone with whom the camera wants to pick out sofa beds. He's speedier, edgier, more limber. The former teen pinup looks ready to play grifters, sociopaths, doomed romantics, sexy flotsam, saints.
While he shambles back to our table, I calculate where exactly to jump back in.
I realize I could take the high road with my questions, but where's the fun in that? "How are you and Winona doing?" He laughs, torches a cigarette, and replies, "At a certain point, that stuff is really no one else's business. There's certain things you just don't want to talk about. I have to partly blame myself for the situation, all these rumors. Let's say that my mistake, from the beginning, was thinking I could do interviews, talk about it and be fairly open. But my doing that started a whole chain of events that were kind of disturbing. It somehow gave people in the street--total strangers--the key to open up my little treasure-chest box. I know this sounds whiny, and I don't mean it to, but it can be real unfair to the people involved."
Not whiny exactly, Johnny, just evasive. He shrugs, grins, and says, "Everything's, you know, fine. To the public or to the people in Hollywood, it doesn't appear like we are together sometimes because she's working there while I'm here or I'm somewhere else working while she's here. We don't go to a whole lot of functions. I went to a function one time when she was out of town and, with the press, it turned into, like, some junior high-school thing. I mean, I would never walk up to another actor or anybody and say, 'How's your romance?' or, 'When was the last time you two ...?'"
So what's all this about Ryder's recently "buying" him a celestial body and having it named for him? He breaks up in a happy cackle. "Oh, the star thing, yeah. It's true. Romantic, isn't it? I didn't know it was coming. I was completely surprised. I'd like to see it through a telescope. Get to know it. From what I know, it looks exactly like me. Same nostrils and all. It's amazing."
I'm curious to know what sort of hand Depp thinks the press has dealt him since, hell, even I've knocked him in print in the past and yet here he sits again, obviously game for another go-round. I tell him that I've heard that he recently did an Us interview, even though they've given him a hard time in the past as one of Tinseltown's worst-dressed young actors. He laughs. "They also voted me one of the worst actors for Edward Scissorhands, but, considering some of the 'Best' and 'Worst' stuff they've done on everybody in the past, I took that as a very high compliment. As far as being one of the worst dressed, I was proud. My goal is to be number one worst dressed. Press stuff just rolls off me."
The waitress comes along to refill our coffee cups and, when she's retreated, Depp suddenly declares, "There are definite disadvantages to not having been breast-fed." Excuse me? Seeing a blank look on my face, he waves his smoking cigarette through the air, and says, "I wasn't breast-fed. But then, that'd be pretty obvious, considering my smoking. I got addicted to these in Paris. I tried going back to Marlboros, but they tasted like apricots." Depp leans back in the booth, then says, "Breast deprivation can also lead to a fondness for alcohol, to a certain extent. I figure that there's got to be a balance, another advantage-type side to the whole breast question. And there is: breast-feeding and, yes, breasts, are back in. Not that they've ever been out. But now women are taking pride in them, and men are taking pleasure in them--whether they're real or not. Breasts are just nice things that help get me through the day. They're classic, right?"
While pondering the deeper implications of Depp's mammarian rhapsody, I ask whether there's any truth to the stories that he deliberately shies away from doing parts like Keanu Reeves's role in Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Billy Baldwin part in Backdraft, the Christian Slater roles in Mobsters and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Brad Pitt's part in Thelma & Louise. He shifts in his seat, clearly less than comfortable with this topic. "Maybe one of those guys who actually did those movies--and I'm not saying I could have done them, either--thinks he got the offer first, you know?" he says. "Then he reads this interview and, all of a sudden, it destroys his whole thing. I pretty much know the people who are going to get a shot at a role before me and I definitely know who's going to get it after me." I persist. "Okay, on one of those movies you mentioned," he says, "I thought about the era it was set in, the cool cars, the pinstriped-and-double-breasted suits--"I'm guessing we're talking about Mobsters here, whaddya think? "--on the other hand," he continues, "I thought about the piles of money they were just willing to put into my hand, and I smelled something wrong. The more I thought about that, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. It's amazing how easy it is to get on a big money trip of doing the routine stuff that comes your way."
But has he been choosing off-kilter stuff--movies that aren't necessarily the hot tickets at mall theaters--by design or by default? "Cry-Baby wasn't this esoteric thing," he points out. "It had plenty of cool jokes--ones that apparently no one got-- and plenty of music. The people putting the movie out sold me, and John Waters, out for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which destroyed us that first weekend. At least I can say, 'It's not my fault nobody saw Cry-Baby, because there was this really sick turtle-karate-judo thing going on.' But when that happened, I thought, 'If this is how it's going to be, better just keep making movies I like.' It's not really my goal to become that Tom Cruise thing, being one of the biggest box-office stars in the world. But it's not like I'm allergic to commercial success, either."