PLAYING A PIRATE IS EVERY BOY'S DREAM
He's famed for his eccentric roles, from Edward Scissorhands to a transvestite film director. No wonder, then, that Johnny Depp chose an off-beat approach to his swashbuckling role in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
There comes a time in every leading man's life when he dons a bandanna and gold gnashers to become a pirate, Errol Flynn-style. Most of them, like Johnny Depp, say they are doing it for their kids, but few take the meaning of walking the plank to heart.
"I spent three days standing at the end of a long two-by-four, 15 foot over the rolling ocean waves and then swimming fully clothed in pirate gear with boots strapped to my legs," says Johnny Depp, who plays Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which premieres on Sky Box Office this month.
"The stunt work was the hardest I've ever done and that includes being dragged on the ground by a team of horses in Sleepy Hollow.
"It's every boy's dream to be a pirate. And to invent a pirate from the ground up was a great role for me. My pirate is a guy who is able to run between the raindrops. I can't speak for all pirates, but my pirate, I think, stole everything. His one mission is to get his ship, the Black Pearl, back from evil pirate Captain Barbossa with whom he has a long, sordid history.
"I modelled a large part of the character after Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, added a bit of cartoon character Pepe LePew and tossed in some modern Rastafarian. After all, pirates were the rock stars of their day."
In Pirates, Depp, 40, looks like an 18th century rock star probably would have - with a braided goatee, kohl-rimmed eyes and golden teeth. He decided to have his dentist cap four of his teeth. "I wanted more," says Johnny, "but my producer wouldn't let me."
Pirates is set in the Golden Age of Piracy, probably the late 1720s. A $125m adventure movie, it's inspired by a popular Disney ride. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Bad Boys, Black Hawk Down), the film also stars Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa, Orlando Bloom, Jonathan Pryce and Keira Knightley. The worldwide success of the movie has naturally spawned a sequel: Pirates II is scheduled for release in 2005.
"I never actually saw the project as particularly gigantic until I saw some rough cuts for the trailer and realised it wasn't some intimate little pirate movie," laughs Johnny. "Now my kids go round telling people that their father does pirating for a living."
Johnny, who in the flesh is much more understated and shorter than you would imagine, has been acting since he was 20. He started with bit parts in A Nightmare on Elm Street and Platoon before reluctantly starring in popular TV show 21 Jump Street, which turned him into a heart-throb.
In 1995 he moved off the wall as a pin-up to join the ranks of quirky actors. There was Ed Wood, with him looking pretty in women's clothes as the transvestite cult B-movie director, and roles in films such as What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, Don Juan DeMarco, Edward Scissorhands, Donnie Brasco, Sleepy Hollow, Chocolat, Blow and From Hell
Born in Kentucky as John Christopher Depp II, and brought up in Florida, he became a resident of Hollywood in the early 80s, where he still owns Bela Lugosi's old house. He originally moved to LA as a guitarist in a rock band called The Kids and spent a lot of time exploring the dark side. He refers to it as a time "when the light wasn't turned on".
Nowadays, he is a million miles from his bad-boy past, when he was tempted by too much of everything - namely booze, drugs and women. He was engaged to actresses Sherilyn Fenn, Jennifer Grey, Winona Ryder and model Kate Moss, and divorced from a Florida make-up artist. He allegedly proposed to so many women that at one time there was a car sticker which read 'Honk if you've been engaged to Johnny Depp'.
Now Johnny, who in conversation is cordial, yet slightly otherworldly, lives quietly outside Paris with his wife, French actress/singer Vanessa Paradis - who he met on the Paris set of the Roman Polanski film The Ninth Gate - and their two children, daughter Lily-Rose, four, and son Jack, two. "Now I'm a daddy and I go to work and the family comes with me on location and things are rather different," he says.
He wants to improve his French and direct more films - his debut, The Brave, did the festival circuit.
"Since I've worked with so many wonderful directors and I've stolen as much as I can, I feel I'm ready to try it - I should at least try," he says. "If it fails, I can always go back to trying to make it as a rock musician!
"Mind you, I wouldn't say no to a cowboy movie in black and white, with co-stars like Gabriel Byrne, John Hurt, Alfred Molina and Robert Mitchum. And music by Neil Young," Johnny muses. "Would you?"
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