On the 29th of July, 2013, Johnny Depp said the following in an interview with BBC Radio: When you add up the amount of dialogue that you say per year and you realize that you've said written words more than you've had a chance to say your own words, you start thinking about that as an insane option for a human being.
Spanning across numerous films, going through countless interviews and listening to his speeches, you can see a key defining element about Johnny Depp. He’s perhaps trying to tell you something, but with his brilliantly spoken dialogues and his stumbling with real life words, he’s maybe unable to convey what he really wants to say. This got me unstoppably thinking as to what one of the greatest actors in the world is really trying to tell us?
If you think about Johnny Depp, you get a very vivid image of perhaps Edward Scissorhands, Jack Sparrow, Willie Wonka and the Mad Hatter. All these characters are quirky, weird and incredibly mysterious to look at. The way Johnny looks, smiles, thinks, talks, moves and interacts while embodying these characters is something where he immeasurably distances himself from the reality.
But if you dial back the distance, you’ll find your way to three key projects that Johnny did. Ed Wood, Donnie Brasco and Black Mass where Johnny was able to take the reality and mold it into something mind twisting where you believe the fictional world is the reality and the funny thing is that all these stories were based on real life characters.
These projects were like character arcs where Johnny went from a failed crazily never giving up positive movie director to a subtly moving below the radar undercover cop to an insanely dark criminal who wouldn’t even think twice before pulling the trigger on someone.
Encapsulating all these projects, there are his interviews which hold your attention for the very same reason his performances hold your attention. Johnny tries to say something in a manner that immediately grabs. You begin to think like he’s hiding something as he carefully searches for his words and sentences.
You move on to any other interview with stars like Dicaprio or Cruise and you’ll see how they’re enjoying these incredible real life moments of stardom and spotlight whereas Johnny seems very off putting about living these moments. He seems like he desperately wants to go back to whatever character he was playing at the time as it gives him the medium and format he thrives in and fully express himself where his real life personality doesn’t allow him on a psychological level.
In the middle of the 1980s, Johnny was going completely broke, but his salvation was just around the corner. It came in the form of a lead role in the TV series 21 Jump Street. Johnny instantly rose to fame and prominence as his undercover cop character became a huge hit with the teen audiences. But instead of enjoying the spotlight and the millions that came with it, he became disgruntled with the recognition attached to being known as a teen idol.
This is where Johnny Depp the mad actor was born. He went on to choosing the roles that moved him farther and farther away from the reality he created for himself that saved him from the materialistic problems of his life. Even though his highly despised role placed him on the right track, he’s perhaps disturbed by the fact that the thing which saved him was the thing he hates and this perhaps led him to creating unhinged storytellers, psychotic lovers and hallucinating writers.
In the middle of Johnny Depp’s life and work, there’s a musical horror story called Sweeny Todd. This was arguably the darkest character Johnny played, a character who wants nothing but revenge from the man who wronged him. He’s driven only by the thought of killing his enemy and once he achieves that goal, the story ends with Johnny dying holding his dead wife in his arms. The narrative allowed Johnny to combine two of the most crucial elements that helped him define who he is today, his intense love for music and his knack for creating memorable characters as a result of his genius level acting.
It doesn’t surprise me that the movie came in a collaboration with Tim Burton, the master of cold, dark and oddly mysterious storytelling. Producer Scott Rudin once defined Burton and Johnny’s collaboration as Johnny playing Tim Burton in all of Tim Burton movies and even though Burton dismissed the comment himself, Johnny nodded a ‘yes’.
The ending of Sweeny Todd is where I realized what Johnny is trying to say…, he’s trying to say nothing. He’s just simply trying to act. He’s just simply trying to express himself. He continues to choose acting as his prime form of expression because it allows him to not be who he is and make a great living out of it. He’s trying to act his way through and out of life. Just like Sweeny Todd, Johnny is perhaps driven by one goal, the goal to search for himself by not being himself which brings me to his statement in the interview with BBC radio, I don’t think he’s going anywhere.
He may believe acting to be an insane option in the long run for a human being, but Johnny Depp with all his talent, creativity, thoughts, movements and words would rather die than not being able to make us believe that all his characters were nothing but real. All sides of Johnny Depp might disappear someday, but Johnny Depp the actor…, is going nowhere.
I struggled immensley to find a narrative about Johnny Depp that I would have loved tell. Now I don't know if I nailed this narrative, but if somebody asks me who Johnny Depp is then this is how I would define one of the greatest actors who ever lived.
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