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
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.