One of the most recognizable actors in Hollywood today is Johnny Depp. Despite his youthful appearance, Depp will be turning 50 in June 2013. He is an artist in every sense of the term – he reads poetry, records music, and continually stretches his comfort zone on screen. I find Depp’s unique artistic blend fascinating and wanted to find out how he went from being a 15-year old high school dropout fronting a garage band to becoming an A-list celebrity with total box office revenue exceeding $7.5 billion (worldwide).
Depp was born in Kentucky, moved to Florida at age 7 and was the youngest of four siblings. In this wake of his parent’s divorce, Depp became somewhat of a rebel in high school and was involved with vandalism and narcotics. He left high school to focus on his dream of becoming a rock star and felt that his punk/new wave band The Kids was destined for superstardom. The Kids did achieve a measure of success, having opened for Iggy Pop, Duran Duran and The B-52’s. Depp’s love of music continues to this day - he plays lead slide guitar on “Fade In-Out” from the Oasis album “Be Here Now”. As a young man, Depp had no intention of acting. It was his then-wife who introduced Depp to actor Nicholas Cage while both were in LA in the early 1980's. Cage recognized Depp’s potential and persuaded him to try acting.
Depp’s first on-screen role was in the 1984 horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it wasn’t until his 1987 TV role on 21 Jump Street that his career really took off.
At the risk of becoming typecast into the role of a Ralph Macchio-like teen-idol, Depp took a huge risk to showcase his acting talents while under heavy makeup in Tim Burton’s 1990 movie Edward Scissorhands. In retrospect, this movie became a defining moment in Depp’s career for two reasons. Firstly, this was his first (of seven) movies with Burton, and secondly, he began to develop a reputation as a serious actor capable of taking on dark and enigmatic roles.
Through most of the 1990’s, Depp was plagued by reputational issues that detracted from his box office appeal. While he was receiving many “sexiest man” type awards, he had trouble staying out of the tabloids for his rebellious behaviour. In 1993, he was accused of selling drugs inside the club that he owned (The Viper Room) to River Phoenix. These accusations were never substantiated, however months later Phoenix died of a cocaine and heroin overdose on the sidewalk outside of the Viper Room while Depp’s band “P” played a set inside the club. In Phoenix's memory, the Viper Room was closed for 2 weeks following the death and annually on Oct 31st (until Depp sold his shares in the club in 2004). Furthermore, Depp’s short fuse resulted in arrests in New York City (1994 – trashing a hotel room) and London (1999 - roughing up a member of the paparazzi). These incidents spooked the movie studios and ended up costing him the role of Neo in 1999’s The Matrix. In addition, his love-life provided further fodder for the tabloids. Through the 80's and 90's, he had failed engagements to Sherilyn Fenn, Kate Moss, Jennifer Grey and Winona Ryder. In fact, he had "Winona forever" tattooed on his arm. After the break-up, he had the "na" removed and the tattoo now reads "Wino forever!"
Since the birth of his daughter in May 1999, Depp has matured and is no longer a Hollywood ‘bad boy’. His 2003 role as Captain Jack Sparrow rehabilitated his reputation with moviegoers and he is now a major box office draw. For those who are wondering, Depp cites Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards and Looney Tunes character Pepe Le Pew as key influences for Sparrow's mannerisms.
Some of his more prominent roles include:
- Sam in Benny & Joon(1993)
- Gilbert Grape in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
- Ed Wood in Ed Wood (1994)
- Don Juan in Don Juan DeMarcoI (1994)
- Donnie Brasco in Donnie Brasco (1997)
- Raoul Duke in Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
- Commander Spencer Armacost in The Astronaut’s Wife (1999)
- Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow (1999)
- Roux in Chocolat (2000)
- George Jung in Blow (2001)
- Inspector Fred Abberline in From Hell (2001)
- Sands in Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
- Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
- Sir James Matthew Barrie in Finding Neverland (2004)
- Victor in Corpse Bride (2005)
- Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
- Pirates of the Carbbean: At World’s End (2007)
- Sweeney Todd in Sweeny Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
- Imaginarium Tony 1 in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
- John Dillinger in Public Enemies (2009)
- Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland (2010)
- Frank Tupelo in The Tourist (2010)
- Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
- Kemp in The Rum Diaries (2011)
- Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows (2012)
In all, Depp has been in 57 movies or television shows. The fact that he has not rested on his Pirates success is an sign that he takes his craft very seriously and is constantly pushing himself to grow as an artist. He has compiled an extremely varied body of work and remains one of the busiest actors in Hollywood.
Despite the variety in his roles, a few common traits have emerged:
- Several roles involve a freakish outcast who is misunderstood (Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Don Juan, Fear and Loathing, Sweeney Todd, and Pirates);
- Has worked with Director Tim Burton on 7 films (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland, and Dark Shadows);
- Has co-stared with Helena Bonham Carter in 5 of the Burton films (all except Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood);
- He has played a real-life character in 10 movies; and
- Often speaks with a British accent.
Depp is now earning $20 million per film. Estimates place his annual income at $100 million per year (includes royalties on previous projects) with an estimated net worth of $350 million. In the coming decade, Depp will naturally transition into the next phase of his career and will be able to take on roles for middle-aged characters. I would expect that he will continue to take parts that involve obscure and eccentric social misfits and wouldn't be surprised to see him reprise the role of Captain Jack Sparrow a few more times.