“The only gossip I’m interested in is things from the Weekly World News – ‘Woman’s bra bursts, 11 injured’. That kind of thing.” — Johnny Depp

It’s his birthday today.

In recent years, he has been taken up/hijacked/ by his personal problems and his terrible misguided marriage and subsequent trial. Before, he was taken up with gargantuan franchises, etc., and some of the clarity of his oddball status had dissipated. I miss oddball Johnny. He may be in the best position right now to “get back” to what made his career special in the first place, although going back is impossible.

But I’m going to talk about him BEFORE. What was striking about him at first, especially as such a pretty boy, was his creativity and the big risks he took. You wouldn’t expect someone like him – a former teen idol – to be so risky in his choices. Like, way WAY out there. Dialogue wasn’t his thing. Physical action WAS. He could be very “mannered”, but it usually looped in to the overall style of the film. He was sensitive to style (a lot of actors are afraid of style, or shy away from it, or do it badly).

If you think back to his earliest days, the risk-taker was there from a start. His youthful soulful beauty was a force to be reckoned with, but he was 1. casual about it, it didn’t seem to interest him, and 2. “meta” about it. It’s not like he wanted to make himself ugly in order to be taken seriously (he has joked that if you ever hear him referring to himself as a “serious actor” please punch him in the face). The looks are a fact of his life, and in something like Cry Baby, the looks were used in almost a camp way, a call-back to 1950s heartthrobs, Elvis in Jailhouse Rock, and Depp was fully aware of what he was doing and referring to, and he consciously participated in the iconography – he understood it. I mean, watch this number:

He didn’t spent his youth as an actor in teeny-bop envelope-thin heart-throb love-interest roles. It was never his thing. He could have made a lot of money playing such roles. But Johnny Depp had a flaw/asset. He had IRONY. Irony is present in everything he does.

Edward Scissorhands shifted the perception of him for all time.

Okay. So … he’s a WEIRDO. Got it. He’s almost a throwback to the silent era. Full-body expressiveness, unafraid of being presentational, broad, but always with the lightest of touches.

I love Fear and Loathing. When Hunter said he wanted his ashes to be blown out of a cannon, he tapped Johnny Depp to do it. Because Depp was so “out there” he’d actually DO it. And he did.

I love Blow. I adore Ed Wood and Dead Man and Donnie Brasco.

I felt like I hadn’t written much about him, but a quick search shows me I have, a couple of them those in-depth actor-persona type things I used to do all the time here. Here are some links:

I wrote this big long thing about Depp as the Mad Hatter. I didn’t care for the movie but his performance gave me a lot to think about, and I had a lot to say – about him, in general, as an actor. So the Mad Hatter performance is discussed, but it’s more about Depp’s sensitivity to context.

Johnny Depp: The Mad Hatter’s Context

I absolutely loved Michael Mann’s Public Enemies. I wasn’t aware this was a controversial opinion, at least among cinephiles. A lot of people had issues with the look of the film. But what interests me is the performances and how those performances tell the story. Johnny Depp as John Dillinger was doing what I have called “blank” acting, and it’s one of my favorite things to talk about and to try to parse out and discuss. Actors who are able to divest themselves of normal emotional apparatus due to the character they’re playing, actors who are able to empty themselves out of typical human emotions, if warranted. John Dillinger was not a complicated man and Public Enemies presents him pretty straight.

Actors like to add things. It’s part of the actor’s job, to fill things in. But Public Enemies not only didn’t require this, it would have hurt it. Johnny Depp’s opaque performance, blank, almost flat-affect is the opposite of “filled in”. It’s more like he was literally playing an animal, an animal trying to get its needs met in uncomplicated ways. This is hard to do. Try it yourself and see. Try not to feel much. Anyway, I won’t go on and on, because I go on and on … and ON … in the piece I wrote about it. I love his performance.

Opacity Is a Virtue: Johnny Depp as John Dillinger

And finally: a piece YEARS in the making – about a virtually un-seeable film called Arizona Dream (yes, it is on DVD but the film was so butchered I cannot recommend you watching it) – which I saw during its 5-day run at the Chicago Art Institute back in the mid-90s and I have never been able to get it out of my mind. Sometimes the full version shows up on YouTube. See that one. It’s a magical film and he is great in it. I wrote about Arizona Dream for my column at Film Comment.

Embroiled in controversies over the last five years, which have depleted him physically and emotionally, manipulated and lied about and silenced, there is much good will out there towards him. People say “Believe victims.” Well, I do. If you get my drift. He also clearly has substance abuse issues but aren’t we supposed to be sympathetic towards these and not look at them as character flaws but maybe a disease?

Depp is a relatively young man. He is a character actor in the body of a leading man. I would love to see him collab again with Jim Jarmusch, Tim Burton … the directors who understand him. The blockbusters are fine, and he brings something weird and inventive to the table, but I’d love to see him in something smaller, lower stakes, where he can be set free. Johnny Deep set free is a “thing of beauty and a joy forever.”

I’ll leave you with this. Here’s a beautiful and sad video of Depp reading the letters he received from HST. I love it.

This entry was posted in Actors, Movies, On This Day and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to “The only gossip I’m interested in is things from the Weekly World News – ‘Woman’s bra bursts, 11 injured’. That kind of thing.” — Johnny Depp

  1. Biff Dorsey says:

    A beautiful piece, Sheila.
    In this age, it is often wise to keep those OPINIONS to your self.

  2. regina Bartkoff says:

    Fabulous writing on Johnny Depp! You really articulate and nail it for me and I didn’t get to everything here yet.
    And to start by saying by my instinct and gut I didn’t believe the Amber side of the story.
    I came to Depp slowly and I really don’t know why since I liked everything he has been in since Cry-Baby. Like I was resisting him for some unknown reason.
    Edward Scissorhands, Blow, Johnny Brasco, Public Enemies. But one big thing missing, I haven’t seen any of the Pirates! Except in clips.
    The one we saw three times obsessively was Alice in Wonderland. And really it was all for him. (I too felt embarrassed for Anne Hathaway. It was like she put on a great Halloween costume and thought that was enough)
    “Acting for him seems to happen in a realm that has nothing to do with words. It’s like a painter, perhaps. If it’s not on canvas then all the explaining won’t matter.” Sheila O’Malley
    “And so like a painter, he can point at the canvas of work and say, “there, I put all of it there, there’s nothing more to say.” Sheila O’Malley
    I felt so excited reading this in reference to Depp because it’s exactly how I feel as a painter!
    I think Depp is exciting as an actor too because of who he is. His deep love for music and writing and how he is quite talented at both. How he talks about Kerouac moves me. And I love his letters back to Hunter Thompson and how strong he is as a person and wouldn’t let him walk all over him.
    He is as you say a character actor in a leading man’s body. Like Cary Grant and Brad Pitt, And like these two he’s a great comedian. And of course we know Elvis had this too! haha!

  3. mutecypher says:

    //I hope that soon he can get back to work, and properly.//

    Yes please. It’s a better world when he’s up on screen.

  4. gina in alabama says:

    I would love to see Burton’s Ed Wood issued by Criterion.

    • sheila says:

      I have been thinking the same thing. I think a lot of people have been pushing for it – which is (hopefully?) a good sign.

      Bela Lugosi struggling with the fake octopus is one of the funniest and saddest things I’ve ever seen – and, in its way, a tribute to the art of acting.

  5. Eve says:

    I highly recommend reading Michael Hobbes’ reporting on the situation. Your opinions may change – mine did.

    At any rate, looking forward to catching the uncut Arizona Dream when it resurfaces again.

    • sheila says:

      I just don’t know what the deal is with the uncut Arizona Dream – it’s such a bummer. I guess the film didn’t make enough of a splash for a director’s-cut version to be in the cards – part of why I wrote that piece was to maybe get the conversation going, or at least inform people of what had happened to the original. The movie was butchered and it just isn’t the same thing as the uncut version!

      I’ve read Hobbes’ reporting. I get where he’s coming from – I see the other side of this – I think people are making way more of this situation than it is, men’s rights activists, feminist activists, it’s just one of those flashpoint cases I guess – I understand why these people are doing that. I’ve been following this thing from the beginning and have thought a lot about it. It’s obvious this was a very toxic relationship and they brought out the worst in each other – exacerbated by his substance abuse – and honestly I hesitate to say more. There was some bitch on Twitter who was keeping a LIST of people who “liked” any post on Instagram that was complimentary of Johnny. This is like writing down the license plates of people attending a so-called Communist Party meeting in early 1950s America. It’s appalling. What is she going to do with this list? “Call people out”? I am sure this feels like activism to her.

      I hope Depp and Heard can put this behind them and go on and have happier lives and do the work they want to do.

  6. Cassandra says:

    I have opinions as well, and I’d kind of love to discuss at some point. With the whole social work/mental health background, I feel like my opinions are fairly well informed, and I’m getting whiffs of the 2016 “how dare you call yourself a feminist if you choose Bernie over Hillary” vibes from the people who disagree with me. But as far as Johnny is concerned – I also want to see him working again. One of my absolute favorite performances of his is in Benny and Joon. His character could so easily have become cartoonish, but instead he’s just eccentric and sweet and vulnerable. (I actually love all the actors and characters in that movie.)

    • sheila says:

      // I’m getting whiffs of the 2016 “how dare you call yourself a feminist if you choose Bernie over Hillary” vibes from the people who disagree with me. //

      Oh my God, I know. This is kind of like the ridiculous “If you don’t ship Destiel, you’re homophobic” thing. Or … “JA is homophobic because he doesn’t want to talk about a FICTIONAL SHIP”. People are still screaming at each other on Twitter and the show ended two years ago.

      So now it’s: the pop culture you like or don’t like can be used against you. If you like THIS, you are a bad feminist. If you DON’T like this, you are a bad feminist. I get that all the time in the reviewing racket. Boy do people like consensus. They DEMAND consensus. God help you if you are a woman and you not only love Lars von Trier (guilty), but think he’s one of the best directors of and FOR women currently out there (guilty). This would all be very innocent if people didn’t come for your head – your job – etc. – for “liking” these things. Death threats because you DON’T condemn something, death threats for NOT liking something that is deemed by a certain group of people to be excellent and/or progressive. I’m not saying I don’t agree with the cause – but this movie stinks, I don’t care what you say, lol.

      Dangerous creepy times out there! It’s hard to always watch your step, and not say something that will bring death threats down upon your head. and it doesn’t matter if you “didn’t mean it that way” – they’ve already condemned you. Yikes.

      // One of my absolute favorite performances of his is in Benny and Joon. //

      I love him in that! What a sweet character. Depp always had a silent-film-star thing about his style – and it was so fun to see that made explicit in Benny and Joon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.