Like a Rolling Stone

Us­ing a hard-liv­ing rocker as a role model has kept Johnny Depp at the helm of one of Hol­ly­wood’s hottest fran­chises, writes Peter Mitchell

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Movies -

THE way Johnny Depp tells it, he never set out to be a movie star.

At Bev­erly Hills’ Mon­tage Ho­tel, the 47-year-old from Owens­boro, Ken­tucky, is rem­i­nisc­ing about how his early am­bi­tion was to be an ac­tor who worked on in­ter­est­ing in­de­pen­dent films, but along the way he be­came a heart-throb and the face of the multi­bil­lion-dol­lar Pi­rate­softhe Caribbean movie fran­chise.

‘‘It’s in­ter­est­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence that kind of a ride af­ter es­sen­tially 20 years of en­joy­ing a ca­reer based on fail­ures, then sud­denly some­thing clicks,’’ Depp (pic­tured) says.

‘‘The weird thing is I never changed a thing. The process is still the process. The fact peo­ple de­cided to see a movie I was in was prob­a­bly the most shock­ing thing I’ve been through.’’

The fourth chap­ter, Pi­rate­softhe Caribbean:OnS­trangerTides, will earn Depp a re­ported $33 mil­lion, one of the big­gest pay days for an ac­tor in Hol­ly­wood. ‘‘It’s not my fault,’’ he says, laugh­ing. ‘‘I did my best, you know, even to a point of try­ing to get fired on the first one, but they couldn’t bring them­selves to do it.’’

It has largely been for­got­ten, thanks to the $ 2.4 bil­lion the first three Pi­rates films earnt Dis­ney, that stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives had ques­tions about Depp’s de­ci­sion to por­tray Cap­tain Jack Spar­row in the orig­i­nal Pi­rates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in 2003, as an odd, slur­ring, wob­bly char­ac­ter.

Alarm bells sounded when the first footage made its way to Dis­ney’s Los An­ge­les head­quar­ters.

Ex­ec­u­tives won­dered if Spar­row was sup­posed to be drunk. They wor­ried whether this was the way the lead of a $ 130 mil­lion fam­ily film should act.

The truth was Depp was hang­ing out with close friend and Rolling Stones gui­tarist Keith Richards be­fore film­ing be­gan when he had an epiphany that Spar­row should be based on Richards’ de­meanour.

Af­ter a tense pe­riod, Dis­ney de­cided against sack­ing the star and the rest is movie his­tory, with Depp nom­i­nated for an Os­car for his per­for­mance and the Pi­rates fran­chise, based on a ride at Dis­ney­land, be­com­ing one of the stu­dio’s most prof­itable.

With the fran­chise’s po­ten­tial for in­fi­nite, colour­ful, ad­ven­ture-packed sto­ry­lines, Depp says au­di­ences should ex­pect many more Pi­rates of the Caribbean films – with Spar­row even­tu­ally sail­ing the high seas strapped in a wheel­chair.

While he and Aus­tralian Os­car-win­ner Ge­of­frey Rush, as the in­de­struc­tible Cap­tain Hec­tor Bar­bossa, re­turn in On Stranger Tides, Or­lando Bloom and Keira Knight­ley are not part of the cast.

An­other Os­car-win­ner, Pene­lope Cruz, is in­tro­duced as An­gel­ica, a feisty Span­ish pi­rate and for­mer love of Spar­row, while Bri­tish ac­tor Ian McShane is in­tro­duced as the no­to­ri­ous Black­beard.

Rob Mar­shall, di­rec­tor of Os­car-win­ning Chicago, re­places Gore Verbin­ski.

Mar­shall raves about Depp’s abil­ity to pick up com­plex ac­tion scenes. ‘‘ I could talk for seven hours about Johnny Depp be­cause there’s no one like him,’’ he says. ‘‘ Johnny has this amaz­ing abil­ity to watch some­thing and then pick it up in sec­onds.

‘‘ He’ll hate me for say­ing this, but I don’t care – he’s Fred As­taire. He’s this ge­nius dancer. He says he can’t dance, but he can. He’s ex­tra­or­di­nary phys­i­cally.’’ While Depp’s Hol­ly­wood ca­reer is red-hot, his life away from the movie set is also sweet.

Af­ter split­ting with Bri­tish model Kate Moss in 1998, Depp was in Europe shoot­ing the Ro­man Polan­skidi­rected mys­tery-thriller The Ninth Gate when he met and fell in love with French ac­tor-singer Vanessa Par­adis.

The cou­ple now has two chil­dren Lily-Rose, 10 and John, 8.

‘‘ Smooth sail­ing. That’s what I hope for,’’ Depp says when asked what he hopes for in life.

‘‘ As a fam­ily man, all you want is pure hap­pi­ness for your kids. That’s a uni­ver­sal par­ent thing. That’s my dream – happy kids.’’

Au­di­ences will quite likely see Cap­tain Spar­row in a wheel­chair one day, with pro­ducer Jerry Bruck­heimer con­firm­ing fifth and sixth chap­ters are in the pipe­line, but the sto­ry­line and set­ting for these re­main a se­cret.

‘‘ There is a very clever idea be­ing hatched in terms of Pi­rates 5 and 6,’’ Depp says.

‘‘ We are ac­tu­ally go­ing to shoot them on the ride, just go­ing around in cir­cles non­stop – kind of like Andy Warhol’s Sleep.’’

Depp was hang­ing out with close friend and Rolling Stones gui­tarist Keith Richards be­fore film­ing be­gan when he had an epiphany that Spar­row should be based on Richards’ de­meanour

IN­SPIRED: Johnny Depp as Jack Spar­row – with a bit of Keith Richards.

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