Johnny Depp Interview

Captain Jack Sparrow on his work with Tim Burton and his recent success.

He's the hottest actor in the past four years. Johnny Depp just keeps getting more and more popular, and now in his latest film, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, he's a stop motion puppet.

It's the fifth time he's worked with Tim on a film, his first being Edward Scissorhands. And he talked about the closeness he feels now with Tim.

Johnny also gave us a teeny preview of Pirates 2 and 3:

Do you have to get in the character of this as well?

Johnny Depp: Well, I guess under normal circumstances you would, but I was somewhat remiss only because I was so focused on Charlie, so focused on the Wonka character. Somehow in my mind I thought 'Well, we'll do Corpse Bride I'm sure in a couple, 2 or 3 months.' Then suddenly, one day on the set Tim came to me and said 'Maybe tonight we can go and record some Corpse Bride.' And I was like 'Yeah, sure we can.' I had no character so I sat him down and grilled him for about 15 minutes and that's how I found the guy.

Did you look at the puppet at all?

Johnny Depp: Oh, yeah, that was one of the great luxuries was when I arrived that night to do the coding that night for the session; Victor was standing right there so, I got to meet the puppets, beautiful, beautiful, really inspiring.

Were you thinking of anyone in this particular role?

Johnny Depp: No, not particularly, no. I was just trying to save my own ass for being ill prepared. Tim was so helpful - and he always is - and he's a character who isn't so far away from character's I've played in the past with Tim. Edward Scissorhands or a little bit outsider, bumbling, deeply insecure, nervous, a lot like me in life.

What is your reaction to Charlie being a big worldwide hit?

Johnny Depp: I have learned to condition myself not to have any expectations in terms of box office or results to that degree. Because, as you all well know as well as I do, that kind of thing escaped me for many, many years. It's a relatively new experience to have more than a few people go and see my films, it's very exciting. Literally, that whole part of the process is so foreign to me that I literally maybe two or three weeks ago and called my agent, Tracy, and said 'Is Charlie doing ok?' And she said 'Well, yeah, looks like it's going to cross the $200 million mark domestically.' And I didn't know what that meant and I said 'Is that good?' (laughing) She said 'Yeah, it's very good, don't worry.'

It's a blockbuster.

Johnny Depp: Yeah, I guess, I dunno. Which is good, I suppose. (laughing)

How do you feel about this crest of personal popularity that's been going on for a couple of years now?

Johnny Depp: I have noticed a bit of a change. I've noticed certainly a change in the attitude from me from the upper echelon in the industry, which is pretty interesting.

That means everyone wants you in their movies?

Johnny Depp: I dunno about that, but I mean like for example every time that Tim wanted to cast me in his films he had to fight like a bastard with the studio to be able to cast me. And he was telling me today, the funny thing is he sat down and the Warner people came to see him in London and said 'Let's talk about cast.' And Tim was like, 'Uh, yeah, let's um talk about cast...so maybe.' And they were like 'What about Johnny?' And Tim was like 'Oh, yeah, good.' (laughing) The fact they brought it up was pretty astonishing, it surprised him.

What brings you together all the time and do you have anything in the future planned?

Johnny Depp: I hope so, it's all up to him, he gives me the job. Yeah, working with Tim, I've said this before. The only analogy that works is working with Tim is like going home to this place that's very comfortable. Even with the knowledge there are a lot of risks that have to be taken and you really have to be prepared to explore. But there is great comfort and great safety there.

Is this something he approaches you about? Or is it something you bring to him?

Johnny Depp: Uh, no, I haven't done that yet. But, it's always been with Tim and I - besides Scissorhands which was more of a general meeting - but after that I get these mysterious phone calls out of nowhere. After months, sometimes years, he'll say 'What are you doing?' 'Nothing, just sort of hanging around.' 'Can you meet me for dinner next week?' 'Sure. Where?' 'New York.' 'Ok.' 'Ok, I'll see you then.' (laughing) No subject, there is no project, there is nothing! I see Tim in a week, it's always been like that.

Are you longing to play a character more like yourself now?

Johnny Depp: No, that's any actor with any semblance of sanity or insanity that's probably our biggest fear - to go anywhere near who you are. It's ok to use certain truths.

Is that a great challenge though?

Johnny Depp: It is a great challenge and I've touched on it here and there even though it's more charactery parts. Like The Libertine coming up. It is a great challenge, more than anything, I'm kind of interested in exploring one area and being like 'Well, that's territory covered. Let's see what happens next. Where can you go next?' The voice of Marlon sort of reverberating in there. Yeah Marlon's words reverberate. One day he said to me 'How many films do you do a year?' I said 'I dunno, two or three?' So he said 'You gotta watch yourself.' And I said 'Why is that?' 'Because we only have so many faces in our pockets.' And you get to a certain point playing all these different characters and you're like 'My god, he really was right.' But, one of the luxuries for an actor, one of the joys of the gig is that you get to observe people; and by observing people you find these little traits, these little interesting traits of what people do and you go 'Oh, I'll have a bit of that and I'll have a bit of that and you'll store it and save it for later,' and you never know when you'll need it.

Which is the most important validation for you and your career?

Johnny Depp: I think the thing that is most touching, because of a couple of people who have been with me stuck with me since the early days. One being my agent Tracy Jacobs who really believed in me - you can hear the violins starting - who really believed in me when no one else wouldn't even look at me - Tracy was always there. I didn't believe in me and she did. But more than anything it's those kids and I don't like the word 'fan.' I don't like to refer to anyone as a fan, but the kids who are outside the movie theater and the kids who have stuck with me on a very, very long, lengthy, strange road. That's the ones that mean most and those are the people who keep me employed. That's why I kind of look at them like they are my boss.

What do your kids think of seeing you in your movies?

Johnny Depp: Jack was real little when Pirates came out, sort of Neanderthal face. Lilly Rose had been there for a while so she was used to seeing it. Interesting, because they would come on the set of Pirates and they were used to seeing poppa as this weird greasy pirate guy. And they knew I was going to play Willy Wonka they were very excited about it, because they knew original film with Gene Wilder and my daughter briefed me with the book and story. And when they came and visited me on the set they walked into my trailer and there was I decked out with the top hat, Prince Valiant hairdo, and the eyes and the teeth and the rubber gloves and they just kind of froze and just starred at me. It felt like an eternity, like two minutes. (laughing) And then they sort of got over it and wanted to try everything on, you know, the top hat and glasses. I was so scared when they went to see Charlie - way more than being reviewed by movie critics. I was so in fear that my kids were not going to react well to the film. So, I was waiting for them to come back and they arrived back and my son, three years-old Jack, looked up at me and quoted Wonka 'You're really weird.' (lots of laughing) And I was suddenly liberated.

Did they like the Corpse Bride?

Johnny Depp: Yeah, they did. That was another amazing experience, because Lilly Rose, sort of ready for this kind of thing, loved it, really enjoyed the ride. My boy, three years-old, short attention span - wants to break things, run. And he sat on my lap for the entire film and was just glued and riveted. Really reacting well to the music, quoting lines, loved all the characters.

As you become more famous, is it more difficult to observe people to become characters?

Johnny Depp: That's the rub, yeah, that's the rub man, yeah, yeah, yeah. That's a sort of occupational hazard; you want to be the observer, but then you walk into that room and everybody goes 'Hey, isn't that, that guy? What's his name?' Yeah, that's one of the dangers, but, there are ways to do it, you can still do it from a far. What's fascinating to me is watching the straightest couple in the world, really straight laced, super conservative couple, having a meal or whatever. And if you watch them long enough, you'll realize they are absolutely insane. The things we do are insane, it is really fascinating.

What would it take for you to return to a character? What about Jack made you want to?

Johnny Depp: What happens to me, and I can only speak for myself, what happens to me is that for every character, when you know every character and you really know the guy, you become very close to him, love him and enjoying playing with him. So, it's always very difficult at the end. There is that week to ten days before wrap where you can feel and hear the clock ticking and then you go through a really natural depression after. There is an odd separation anxiety, you've just been this person for a good amount of time and then suddenly [whistles] gone! For me, with Captain Jack I had a sneaking suspicion I'd see him again. And when they said they wanted to do Pirates 2 and 3 back to back I was all for it. Just selfishly to be able to be the guy, to play him again.

Are there any characters where the separation is welcome?

Johnny Depp: Oh yeah, definitely. It's weird sometimes it's more emotional than others. I remember after Scissorhands and I really feel like a dunce having to say this and it's the truth; I remember the last day of Scissorhands, 89 days or something, after we did the make up, I remember looking in the mirror and thinking 'This is it, this is the last time I'll see you.' So yeah, it becomes a very emotional thing. I don't think it's normal and I don't think it's particularly good for you, but it's sort of what I got.

What do you regard as the best and worst work you've done?

Johnny Depp: Oh, I cringe at all of them; that's a subject that is so far away from me. I am not a particular judge of my own work, I do my best to actually avoid seeing the things and with all due respect to the filmmakers, technicians and filmmakers involved most of the time, but I just can't stand seeing myself up there. Because I start to second-guess why did I do this or why did I do that or I hate my nose. You just start thinking about yourself and that's where you don't want to be because you were playing a character. So, I have a tendency to take the experience with me and that's plenty; I feel like once they grab me, it's none of my business anymore.

Are there movies that are only for grown ups that you'd only consider making or playing?

Johnny Depp: Well, The Libertine which I did just last year before Wonka and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a film that I think my kids will see that when they are about 40. (lots of laughing)

You and Tim Burton are so good together. Do you see yourself as his muse? Do you see his intentions better than anyone else?

Johnny Depp: No, for me I see myself as just a very, very lucky boy who has been drafted to come along for the ride. I would say the fact he chose me these five times to interpret these characters is either great luck or a huge mistake on his part. No, I think we are good friends, we understand each other, we have a similar sense of humor, similar backgrounds, fascinations so, I just feel real lucky; I felt lucky after 'Scissorhands.'

In Corpse Bride, you mentioned you had a lot of similarities with your character; is there one thing that you really responded to?

Johnny Depp: Yeah, the feeling of failure, I suppose, the feeling of being inept, unable to be understood. That's a pretty consistent theme in a lot of people's lives. It's like Victor kind of represented in the same way Edward Scissorhands of not feeling comfortable of feeling in life, that universal feeling we all drag around with us for the rest of our days.

Are any of the characters reflections of Burton himself?

Johnny Depp: Oh, they definitely are to some degree and a reflection of me too, but the seed starts with Tim. Edward Scissorhands is a character Tim started drawing as a teenager that developed over the years, but clearly it's him. So, yeah there is a lot of Tim in this character.

Are you going to ever finish 'Man of la Mancha' with Terry Gilliam?

Johnny Depp: Yeah, he keeps threatening that. I really hope there is away to salvage that. When we were there, it was going to be the best of Terry Gilliam. It really was going to be a great film, but unfortunately there was that hideous curse on it, but I hope so. I'd certainly get back and get in that world, Vanessa too.

What do you think Tim's vision of the land of the dead is?

Johnny Depp: Well, Tim he explained it really earlier, but I'll butcher it. He'll explain it himself. The idea that in life there is this constant fear and obsession with death and the mystery of what death is to the point that people are unbelievably tense about arriving there. We all know we're going to arrive there at some point. The fact that the land of the living is this supper, uptight, grey, heavy place and going down to the land of the dead that could be heaven, hell or purgatory and it's like 1920's Paris. (laughing) Flappers with craziness. I thought it was pretty amazing.

What did you think of Corpse Bride?

Johnny Depp: Honestly, it's the first time I was able to make a movie I was involved in that I didn't go ‘ugh' because I felt the distance, I felt the character.

What did you think of Helena?

Johnny Depp: Firecracker, amazing.

Did you record the stuff by yourself or ever together?

Johnny Depp: No, that's the weird thing. You end up recording this character and doing scenes with people you've never met.

Have you heard anything from Keith Richards?

Johnny Depp: No, it's not official yet, everybody's trying, you know he's got this tour.

What about Jack Sparrow that's new in Parts 2 & 3 so far?

Johnny Depp: I dunno.

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride opens in limited release September 16th; it opens nationwide September 23rd. It's rated PG.