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French Premiere 9/03
Translated by Jess
Depp - Pirate attitude.
When Johnny Depp, actor and American citizen living in the south of France, no longer has demons, he has still has idols. For "Première", he sums them up and makes the bill on a a-typical and surprising route. Be carefull: this interview can make you "deppendant". (Sophie Grassin)
LOS ANGELES (CALIFORNIA), END OF JUNE, 30°
Johnny Depp is working. Rasta hat, small glasses that make him look intelligent, he's defending his work on Pirates of the Caribbean - The Curse of The Black Pearl, by Gore Verbinski, produced by Disney. He plays Jack Sparrow, unlikely pirate, in a small boat, decorated up to his shoulders, carried by bottles of rum and inclined to protect. It's not too much to say that he steels the show. The journalists appear one after the other. Today, the Europeans. Tomorrow, the Japanese. "Depp answers every question, even the really stupid ones," says one of them that came from the officer. That's a good thing: there are a few of those. Première has 30 minutes. Johnny Depp tries in French by summing up the fruits that are on the table: "Ananas (pine-apple), orange (orange), pa-tèque (should be pastèque: watermelon)." Watermelon, he's corrected, as we go inside, because the minutes are ticking away. People think he's a rebel. He lights the hearts of women. None can escape him. He comes back to his roles of outcasts, his love for silent movies ("one of the best things that ever happened to the human race"), his taste for anarchy that made his refuse a part in Interview With The Vampire and other sure successes. The interview is interrupted. It's a bit like when they take away your copy of War And Peace when you're on page 3. He promises to return. We don't really believe it.
COULOMMIERS (SEINE-ET-MARNE), MID JULY, 30°
We're with Vanessa Paradis' parents, who's in the middle of filming in Cologne (Germany) of The Return of James Bataille, by the brothers Poiraud. Three sources irrigate a piece of water. A beaver of 20 kilos is playing around. "He's very nice," assures André, Vanessa's father, who has seen our surprised looks. Johnny Depp ends the interview that started a month earlier. He has spent the night with the Rolling Stones that had a show in Paris. He's leaving the next day for Montreal where he plays the main part in Secret Window, Secret Garden after a Stephen King book. A psychological thriller with two characters. Depp plays a retired writer who gets accused of plagiarism. The accuser will be John Turturro. Behind the camera, David Koepp (Chain reactions and Hypnoses). Relaxed, Francophile, Johnny Depp, 40 years, shows his capacities of joking around, of renewing things and of transforming things. A job well done? Maybe, but someone who never feels the effort. He resembles de Funès. He revives Gabin. He is Jean Rochefort. Worried about working with directors that push the limits (Waters, Burton, Kusturica), he also moves the ones that are made for him. (???)
How did you construct the character of Jack Sparrow?
By asking myself questions. What makes a pirate? The killing, the steeling, the pieces of gold? Or the legend that precedes him? It seems to me that when a ship arrives in the harbour, the majority of the work is already done because the inhabitants are trembling of fear or are jumping of excitement. That reminds me of what happens when a rock group arrives in a town. The pirates were the rock stars of the 18th century. To play Jack Sparrow I, of course, immediately thought of Keith Richards. His elegance, his wisdom, his freedom. His ways of not caring about anything, while he does care. I was also inspired by Shane MacGowan, of the Pogues, or by the attitude of Mohammed Ali in the ring. I have read encyclopaedia's about pirates. And a lot of dreaming about the horizon, that unreachable line that pirates spend their whole lives reaching for, without ever getting there.
Isn't Jack Sparrow the real pirate type…
Is he solemn? Drunk? Stone? Funny? To me, above all he's A… Amoral. A-sexual. His image, the myth he carries around, it replaces his sexual appetite. He intensely enjoys it.
Quite a few people were surprised to see you make a movie for Disney.
(he's laughing uncontrollable) And I was such a nice boy when I was young….
But you don't really look like a blockbuster actor…
Who says that this movie will become a blockbuster? If it will be, Disney will make millions of dollars. I won't. on the contrary, it would be a total failure. When the chiefs of Disney came looking for me with the idea of making a pirate movie, my instinct told me to accept. I did know that we would be fascinated by the character. I doubted that they would try to work against me. But I kept saying to myself: "Lets try it". a part of me even thought: "Lets just see how far we can go. Lets go, lets infiltrate the enemy lines."
And did they do it, work against you?
They demanded some compromises. They thought that the make-up on Jack Sparrow's eyes made him look like a drag-queen. They hated the fact that his beard was trimmed pointy. They were horrified by his golden teeth. They rejected the rasta pearls in his hair. To go short, they first hated the way I saw him. I said to them: "You hired me to do a job, so let me go with my idea, or fire me. Replace me. Now." They choose to let me do it my way, and not interfere.
Two or three people - and not the least - really supported me. Real gentlemen. But the youngest of the executives called them each day, and said: "Depp is ruining the movie." The gentlemen didn't listen to them. The problem is that they have too many chefs in the kitchen. And they all have their own opinion.
Compromise, did you know that?
Not really. The directors I have worked with - John Waters, Jim Jarmusch, Tim Burton, Emir Kusturica, Terry Gilliam - neither. And the characters I have played, even less. They are free electrons that go along their ways without worrying about belonging to what it is.
Does that make a good definition of yourself?
And how! During the years, in Hollywood, people said of me: "He only plays outsiders." But I have always been an outsider. Even as a kid. Others were passionate about sports, wanted to become class representative or master of their own promotion. Me, the anti-social one that was a bit strange, I didn't want anything. I played guitar. I was in love with the girl with the long hairs that was adored by everyone and who was in love with the football captain. We went out for a little while, but it didn't really work. It wasn't my thing to be "Mister Popular".
The character of Jack Sparrow confirms your potential for comedy, discovered by Tim Burton ["Ed Wood"; "Sleepy Hollow"]. Is it something you want to do more?
An actor has to tackle everything. His fears. Comedy. Ridicule. Have you ever seen someone talk to a dog on the screen? He talks to it like it's a human being. Me, I have a dog for about 10 years now. I lift him up to my face and mumble: "tipoupoutipapa". I act silly. I become really stupid.
Have you got a sense of humour?
Yes, I've got one, a very childish one. Like that of Marlon Brando. My prof, my mentor, my friend. A father figure. He did The Brave for me. It was a blessing. Yes, it really was a "cadeau" (gift).
Will you make another movie as a director?
Yes. But without appearing in it. Being an actor requires you to lose all control. Being a director you have to keep control at all cost.
Is it true that for Pirates of the Caribbean, you were trained by the arms master of Errol Flynn?
(he gets up and stands 'en garde') A great man. 81 years old. A crazy way of acting. A thousand times more gracious than me. He knows the taste of the old Hollywood. There isn't an Errol Flynn left today. It's like in France. Who, except maybe for Jamel Debbouze, can measure himself with de Funès, whom I adore? De Funès, for me, is the master of the moment. He possesses every moment in an absolutely magnificent way. His charisma is complete. La Soupe aux choux, I love La Soupe aux choux. And Jean Gabin… Incomparable in drama, he shows he has a great sense of timing in comedy. In La Traversée de Paris, Jean Gabin gives me goose bumps. (He stutters in French) " Eh bien, pour moi, Monsieur Jambier, ce sera 2 000 francs. " (Well, for me, Monsieur Jambier, that will be 2 000 francs.) When Jean Gabin and de Funès appear on the screen together, like in Le Tatoué or in La Traversée, I don't know where to look anymore. It's too much. Too much.
Which other admirations do you have?
I have a tender spot for Annie Girardot. I met her once. I was smoking a cigarette while waiting for Vanessa. She was walking down the street with two friends. I see that beautiful woman. She looked at me. And she shouted: "I love you".
What did you answer?
(he laughs) "I love you too." People started talking. She was adorable, very moving. The thing she admitted, on night, at the Césars - "I don't know if the French cinema has missed me, but I know I missed the French cinema" - touched me by its strength and honesty.
Yvan Attal. Ma femme est une actrice seems like a very courageous movie to me. It's endlessly brave to choose the genre of romantic comedy. To enter in that arena that has been trampled on so many times. To do it what that kind of humour. And with his wife, that beauty of Charlotte Gainsbourg. They make a very impressive couple. Extremely glamorous. I understand that jealousy. I'm in the right place to understand it. Seeing Vanessa do love scenes touched me. Deep inside, I'm not worried. (he laughs) but I do come from Kentucky. We are primitives, cave men, ???. Always ready to draw blood.
Is someone still missing on the list?
Tony Gatlif. His movies really get to me. (he sums up) Gadjo dilo, Latcho drom, Swing,… the gypsies have been looked down on for centuries. Tony Gatlif is their voice. And he talks rather good… but also Alejandro Jodorowsky, who has sent me a script ("Triptyque"). He has a unique universe. He's an outcast, a renegade. Scorsese. I do hope he will give me a job one day. We have talked about it anyway. De Palma. Next to that, there is the music: that of the Romas, of Gainsbourg - there's no one like him -, of Dutronc. Dutronc, together with Jacques Lanzmann, has invented the punk-rock. Fais pas ci, fais pas ça…L'Opportuniste… When was that, 1965? 66 ? One day, I gave Iggy (Pop) a CD of Dutronc. He thought it was stupid: he already knew him.
Is there a political figure for which you have a bit of respect?
Lyndon Baines Johnson, he was president of the United States between Kennedy and Nixon. But for a really sad reason. During a gathering of his generals, his staff asked him a question he couldn't respond to. Being in a bad mood, he didn't care about it. "What do you think of it, Mister President? - What I think of it?" he dropped his pants and showed his d***. (Johnny mimes the scene.) A d*** of a respectable size, they say. "And you, hat do you think of that?"
A punk gesture…
Human and funny, anyway.
And more seriously…
(He thinks about it.) Damn, I don't know. Not George Bush, of course. The American soldiers that invaded Iraq were children. And those Iraqi children? In that story, there isn't a winner… There can't be one.
Certain American actors - think of Sean Penn who went to Baghdad - have offended the government, with the risk of being put on the black list…
Sean Penn hasn't been anti-patriotic. He went to Iraq to evaluate the situation. Did he get the answers to his questions? I've ignored it. What I know is that just the idea of a black list in that town of Los Angeles has brought back ill-fated memories.
Do you vote?
I have never done that in my life. And the victory of George Bush wasn't really a fact to take a way the assumption. I don't believe in it. I don't buy it.
Why do you show of your Indian blood so often?
My family has, without a doubt, faced quite some violence by the government during 150 years. I'm proud of it. Yes, I'm proud of the fact that, in my blood line, someone stood up to defend what he believed in.
What do you think of your career?
After the horror that the soap "21 Jump Street" was for me - I had even become a republican figurine, a pure marketing product, the equivalent of a hamburger - I saw Cry-Baby (John Waters) as a first pawn on the chessboard. Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton) was my second pawn. The screenplay made me cry: I recognized my own pain and fears of my teenage years. Then there was Arizona Dream, by Kusturica. The whole of Hollywood was surprised: "You're not going to make that movie (an attack on the American dream) with that guy, are you? Are you crazy or what?" Then Jim Jarmusch, who, to me, is the symbol himself of perfection. Then, the rest… What can I say? Satisfaction is very immodest. I'm not discontented.
What did Chocolat (Lasse Hällstrom) mean to you? A bad move?
I found Lasse again. I discovered Juliette (Binoche), a really good women. Lily-Rose was born. I lived. Those are moment that are part of the construction of an actor. The bad as well as the good experiences make you progress rapidly.
The anger has left you?
No, it's still there. Like a waterfall. But it doesn't take control of me as easily as it used to. Even though the ignorance and the lack of attention for others still makes me completely outraged.
Why did you cut yourself when you were younger?
I thought I had to inscribe the journeys in my life in my skin, like you do in a diary. I was a bit of an idiot.
What's your favourite French curse?
With us, there's Daniel. Daniel does the garden and looks after the house. He's the gentlest type in the world. One day, he climbed on a chair to change a light bowl. He touched the wire and felt the electricity. "Enculé!", with a southern accent. "Enculé," with that accent, is inimitable to me. Is that masculine?
I doubted it.
Jean on Johnny, Johnny on Jean
Johnny Depp: Jean, that's nobility in it's pure state. He can't do anything wrong. I loved him in Le Mari de la coifeusse, by Patrice Leconte. He made me role over laughing in Cible émouvante, by Pierre Salvadori. On the set of The Man who killed Don Quichote, the cursed movie of Terry Gilliam, he scared us. He suffered terribly of his disk hernia. But he didn't want to say it. Even less show it. In the end we didn't fulfil our dream. We never made The Man who killed Don Quichote. Faith didn't want it. Without a doubt, it wasn't the right moment for it. And you don't replace Jean Rochefort.
Jean Rochefort: Johnny (he plays Sancho Panza) developed a strange empathy for my position during filming. I had a trailer that was a lot smaller than his. He demanded that I would get one that was at least as big as his. I was lying in the back of an ambulance that took me back to the nearest town, when I saw an incredible convoy with their headlights on: it was the trailer. He also has Indian blood and that counts. When Vanessa was pregnant, I had the chance to put my hands on her belly.
She and him
When Vanessa brought out her last album, "Bliss", I was very proud. And not just because it was her. I knew the process of the maturing of the album. I knew at which point she gave herself. I have assisted at that as a witness. "Bliss" is a pure work. Like Vanessa herself, who always shows that she's incredibly wise, incredibly funny. Generous and French. She grew up very fast. The environment of show business didn't leave her a choice. I also admire La Fille sur le Pont (The Girl on the Bridge), by Patrice Leconte. Especially the first ten minutes where she talks to the camera. That isn't acted. That's really her. The Americans brought up with vulgar tabloids - break up of Pamela Anderson, last brushing of David Hasselhoff - are probably waiting for us to break up. Not the French. They are happy to see people in love. They encourage us. They approve of us. They give us their blessing. They have a side of "good future" that deeply touches me.