Johnny Depp indeed has a dream career. Not only is he the world’s most bankable male movie star, but he has been able to mount a mix of big budget and quirky indie projects back to back, while adding cred and clout to his ever expanding career. He has also been able to climb the Hollywood ladder of fame without living in Los Angeles (he lives with wife Vanessa Paradis and his two children in seductive seclusion in France) but has remarkably kept his private life private, something Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston and other overexposed tabloid stars do not have the power to accomplish. He has served as the muse for such directors as Tim Burton (EDWARD SCISSORSHANDS, ED WOOD, SWEENY TODD, ALICE IN WONDERLAND), Oliver Stone (PLATOON), John Waters (CRY BABY), Jim Jarmusch (DEAD MAN) and Julian Schnabel (BEFORE NIGHT FALLS). He has rocketed to superstar fame and super wealth with the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series, one of the most profitable franchises in current movie history, while mixing and matching the bigger budget extravaganzas with smaller projects more closely attuned to his bohemian and intellectual demeanor.
The more intimate films in his oeuvre so far have included such “difficult” and “challenging” projects as ARIZONA DREAM (1991), BENNY AND JOON (1993), WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE (1993), DEAD MAN (1996), BLOW (2001) and ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (2003). He has been directed a film close to his heart, the nouveau western THE BRAVE (1997), which co-starred one of his idols, Marlon Brando, who he met on the film DON JUAN DEMARCO (1995), in which they both appeared opposite Faye Dunaway. While seeming to work almost constantly, Depp still reserves time for his second career, as a musician in the garage band that he founded back in the years when he was earning a living pumping gas at a petrol station in central California. His recent foray into Broadway musical drama, an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s dark tale of SWEENEY TODD, was a major critical success and showcased Depp’s lyrical voice.
He has had a kind of obsession with the life and philosophy of bohemian iconoclast Hunter S. Thompson. After starring as Thompson in the romp FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS in 1998, he became close with the ailing writer, who had burned himself out with alcohol, drugs and his anarchic lifestyle. When Thompson committed suicide in 2005, Depp became determined to film one his early novel THE RUM DIARY, which had sat in a drawer for more than four decades. The film, released by Film District this week, is directed by Bruce Robinson, a British cult director of the equally anarchic WITHNAIL AND I (1988), who had pretty much retired from the screen but was lured back by the prospect of putting Thompson’s vision on the screen.
The film is set in the early 1960s as a young writer (presumably a stand-in for Thompson himself) arrives at his new job at an English-language daily in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There his drunken and rather outrageous behavior is complemented by equally boozed out rakes, played by Michael Rispoli and Giovanni Ribisi, who join forces to battle both their laconic editor in chief (played with characteristic low key charm by Richard Jenkins) and a real estate sharpie (played with sinister menace by Aaron Eckhart). The forces of conservative complacency and wild-eyed anarchy collide with many sequences of binge drinking, drug experimentation (including an extended sequence of the lead characters tripping on LSD) and foul-mouthed poetry. The film gives Depp a great character to inhabit….a wildly expressive motor mouth who is also his own worst enemy. It is the kind of part that an actor covets that is certainly not entirely sympathetic, and yet maintains its own crazy charisma as our “hero” battles the forces of corruption and calumny. Depp seems to relish the character’s unpredictable reliability and predictable cool, which seems to parallel his own vision of the world. He has once again championed Thompson as a legendary prophet and a touchstone for all that is creative and incorruptible in American life. Depp’s newest entry in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series opens this December, but we are looking forward to his next quirky and quixotic project, of which the actor and superstar seems to have many up his sleeve.