Johnny Depp doesn’t think of himself as a global movie star but the fact is that he is. With such roles as Edward Scissorhands and Jack Sparrow, Mr. Depp has created some of the most memorable characters we’ve seen on the big screen in a long time. We recently sat down with him to discuss his new movie, The Tourist, starring alongside another global movie star, the beautiful Angelina Jolie. Here he discusses working with her, shooting on-location in Venice and what it’s like shooting an action scene in your pajamas.
In the film, your character Frank, confuses Spanish with Italian, he’s got that horrible electronic cigarette, he’s kind of the least cool person in the room. How much of that stuff was in the script and how much of it was you playing with the director to create the part?
Johnny Depp: I don’t know that a fully formed Frank was in the script. We sat down and went through ideas and the idea was to make him really the everyman of the movie, the math teacher who doesn't have particular highs or particular lows in his life and has a slight amount of obsessive compulsive disorder in his weird routines and things like that. The idea was to take this normal guy and put him into these situations that are less than normal. The electronic cigarette was the device that would sort of ring the alarm when he's in panic mode.
The director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck said you added this other element of humor to the film that wasn’t there originally. What made you think that would be a good tone for the film?
JD: I just thought that if you took this guy and put him into these situations, especially if he's going to stick around, he has to recognize the level of absurdity in what he's going through here. And for what, ultimately. And also I’m a real sucker, if I see a gag coming around the corner, I snatch it up immediately. I can't help myself. You spend 9/10’s of the time when you're working trying to make your co-star laugh, and I guess some of it's in the film.
Now that you’re this huge global movie star, what’s it like now at this point and time, how do you view your career after all this time?
JD: Well, certainly not like a ‘huge global movie star.’ I never even think of myself on those terms. I can't help but smile because it just doesn't register as me. It still feels like I'm doing the same bits, just trying something different each time, exploring something new. That’s what’s important is to keep challenging myself and try to come up with some new faces every now and again. Many years ago Marlon Brando asked me, "How many films do you do per year, kid?" I said, "I dunno, maybe three or something." And he said, "Too much. We only have so many faces in our pockets." And I went, you know, that's really true, but I feel like I still got a few faces in my pocket so.
A lot of those faces that you’ve had in the past are behind a lot of makeup or costumes, whether it be Willy Wonka or Jack Sparrow. In this film, you’re very comedic, you’re very funny in it as you, so are you going to pursue more of those roles as just you without the makeup and the hair and the costumes?
I think it depends on the story, it depends on the script, and the character on the page dictates where you're going to go. My process is still the same as ever, I get these images of someone that I may have known in the past or that reminds me of the character. For example, Frank with this heavily groomed beard, which I, by the way, can't grow! [Laughter] That was all glued on. That perfect landscaped beard came from a guy that I knew years ago and I was always fascinated with that beard because it just looked like, I don’t know, something in a jar. I couldn't believe someone could actually have that and treat it so pristinely. So, yeah, it depends on what comes to you, it’s really like what the story tells you you need to do so it’s always changing from story to story.
I don’t think we’ve ever seen an action sequence in a film with a man in his pajamas before. I’m curious about the genesis of the pajamas. What is the background of the jammies?
JD: Backgound of the jammies? I wanted footie pajamas with little bunny ears, but Florian wouldn't go for it. No, I think initially the guy was supposed to be either in a towel or in his underpants, I can’t remember, but there was something about the image of a grown man in pajamas that looked like Wally Cleaver’s. They look like something you'd pull out of the ‘Leave It to Beaver's’ dad's drawer. So I thought the imagery juxtaposed with the background of Venice, I just thought there was something really funny about it, so Florian went for it.
Can you talk a little bit about the water scenes? Were you actually in a Venice canal because that water is not clean?
JD: Oh no it’s not! Oh no. I mean the stunts, doing the stunts, being yanked down a Venice canal in a boat handcuffed to the railing, all that stuff, that was way secondary to the immense fear that I had of going into the drink. Because that’s like, God knows what you come out with. The stunt guys who did have to go into the drink were on antibiotics for like weeks and weeks and weeks, intense antibiotics for weeks prior to. I actually remember just being cuffed up to that railing and getting ready to take off and saying to myself, “you're going in. You're going into this water.” And I didn’t, luckily, but it was pretty close a couple of times.
You did get bloody feet running across the rooftops, we heard?
JD: I did. Yes, I did. That was wild because when you’re doing it and your adrenaline is going you don’t really notice things like that but I was standing talking to Florian and he just went, “Oh my God,” and there was blood dripping down these terra cotta tiles and I guess I’d left a little trail of blood behind me. I didn’t feel it when I was doing it, when I was in the scene you don’t feel it until later.
What was it like working with Angelina and is this the beginning of a Hepburn/Tracey pairing?
JD: Boy, I certainly would like to think so. I hope so cause she’s a real treat. She’s a real treat to get in the ring with. She’s a lot of fun, deeply committed to the work, very smart, great approach, fun, funny and very absurd and perverse sense of humor. We met, oddly, right before we did this, which was just weird because I think we have a lot of mutual friends, we have a lot of mutual acquaintances, and people that we've worked with and we’d never met. When we sat down together, it was kind of instant. We got each other. Within minutes we were yakking about our kids, the perils of parenthood, and all that fun stuff.
Would you want to work with her again?
JD: Oh jeez, yeah, if she'll have me again, I'd be more than happy. She's a good girl. And I have a lot of respect for her. In the face of all that she and Brad and their kids and that life that they have to deal with, being globally under the microscope every second of the day, and she's as grounded and as cool, and as normal, and low key a person as you'd want to meet. She doesn't take it all that seriously. She is a wonderful mommy, a great mommy, which you've gotta take your hat off to as well certainly. And she's out there trying to do things in the world, trying to help. She's impressive. She's a force.
Making a movie in such a beautiful city such as Venice, did you have time to be a real tourist?
JD: My tourist times were between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. That was the only time that I could really wander and have a look around, because there's virtually no one on the streets at that point. I was amazed that everywhere you look is kind of a visual poem – these wonderful facades, and clotheslines with people's laundry, and little signs on churches "bread for the poor." Beautiful, really a magnificent place. That's the sort of Venice I like to see as opposed to the going into the gondola and putting a flower in my teeth or something. I like the nighttime Venice, I like the quiet Venice, where it feels like the ghosts are around.
You were given a great deal of latitude in creating this character. What was the first role where you given that kind of latitude and is that something you specifically look for when you agree to a film?
JD: Yeah, what I specifically look for is just is there something in there outside the author's intent that I can add that maybe a little bit different, that is coming from the outside and is not so done to death, as it were. Is there something that I can add to this thing to make it interesting, to make it more interesting? That’s what I sort of look for. I've always had that, it's probably a bad habit, of… I remember doing Platoon back in '86 with Oliver Stone re-writing my dialogue – it’s probably why he cut me out of the film mostly. [Laughter] I’ve always had that kind of, I don’t know, it’s been a part of me. I suppose the first time really outside of… Cry Baby was a character that I felt good about. In Edward Scissorhands nobody really knew what I was going to do. Even Tim [Burton], bless him, was a little nervous initially with my take on him, but I think it all worked out. I guess it probably comes from being locked into that television thing for a few years and the parameters were so rigid there was no room for movement, there was no room to grow. It was just that character, play that character and that was it so I swore to myself after that I couldn't do that again. If I had to go back to construction, that's OK, I was pretty good at that. Pumping gas, I can do that too.
Paris is home to you now. What do you love most about the city?
JD: Everything. Everything. History, the literary history in Paris has been and always will be a fascination for me. The books that were written here, art history, paintings, painters who wandered these streets, great poets – Baudelaire. It's just always been magical for me and I've always oddly felt more at home here than anywhere else in the world. I have no explanation for it whatsoever. I suppose just to be surrounded by all this art, and all this incredible work that people have done over the years. You can feel. It's still there, you still feel all those great writers. You can see James Joyce sitting in the corner. It's very inspiring.
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