Inside Johnny Depp’s Head

Johnny Depp on Rango and working with Gore Verbinski.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Inside Johnny Depp's Head

Johnny Depp plays a lizard in his latest movie. Normally a talking animal movie is just a quick voice gig, but of course it’s a major acting job for Depp. We’re probably no closer to understanding his process after listening to his press conference for Rango, but it sure is fun to hear him explain it.
How to lie on cue
Johnny Depp: Finding the voice or finding the character, we talked about people in life, when they have a tendency to exaggerate or lie or whatever, you always sort of notice that their voice goes up quite high.  It goes to a completely different register.  Whereas, if I’m talking to you and speaking and babbling non-stop, and then suddenly I’m really nervous about telling you the truth… but I’m lying so that’s kind of where it came from. You imagine the character to just really like a nervous wreck.
Depp exposes the Santa Claus lie:
Johnny Depp:  I actually tell lies for a living. I mean, that’s what acting is, really.  I felt having kids and stuff like that, I had horrific guilt for many years, playing along with the Santa Claus thing. Do you know what I mean?  And waiting for that moment to arrive, because you’re never going to bring it up to them.  They’re going to arrive and say, “Hey, you’ve been telling me a lie for my entire life.  What are you prepared to do about that?”  I mean, it’s like that kind of thing.  So yeah, I had horrific guilt.  And we’re now kind of just on the outskirts of that, so I feel okay.  But no, these are lies that society tells you you must keep these lies going, these kind of myths, and I feel guilt about it. I still do.”
The secret language of Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski:
Johnny Depp:  It really is that, exactly. “Ah, let’s make, you know, maybe some more fuzz.  Let’s put some more fuzz on it.”  “Okay. Gotcha.” I mean, working with Gore, in three Pirates films and Rango certainly, there are no limits to the possibilities. He allows you to try all kinds of things, that sometimes fail miserably. And other times, you’ve just arrived at some place that you know no one’s ever been to before.  He welcomes it and he creates an atmosphere that allows you to just go essentially ape.
Kids get Johnny Depp:
Johnny Depp:  I think kids, in general as an audience, are the way forward because they’re not sort of sullied by intellectual expectation or this or that.  It’s a very pure kind of response to the work.  And the great luck that I had, for example, before Pirates 1 I had a daughter.  For about four years, all I watched was like cartoons, just cartoons. I realized at that point that the parameters were far away from what we do in sort of normal, everyday movies, and that you can get away with a lot more.  Kids accept a lot more, and they buy it, because they’re free.  So for me, that was everything, in terms of coming up with what Captain Jack would be.  So yeah, I trust kids far more than I do adults.  Kids give you the honest opinion.  They tell the truth.
Johnny Depp is the new Lizard King:
Johnny Depp:  They actually call me the Lizard King. My children do.  I’ve forced them to address me like that since they were tykes. No, it was an odd sort of thing.  “Where you going, Daddy?”  “Ah, I gotta go to work.”  “What are you doing?”  “Well, I’m playing a lizard.” “Okay.”  It’d literally be that kind of thing. You drop your kids off at school, give them a kiss and it was, “Oh, yeah, now I’m gonna go be a lizard.”  The things that I’ve done that my kids have been sort of privy to, I mean, Willy Wonka and all, it doesn’t register.  They’re far more interested in Family Guy or Justin Bieber.
Johnny Depp’s Oscar picks:
Johnny Depp: I don’t do well with modern films, to be honest.  Just opening credits, and I’m just gone.  People make great films.  I just don’t have the eyes to watch them.  But there’s a film that I was really, really impressed with, that I absolutely adored, and I’ve seen it a few times now.  And it’s called Exit Through the Gift Shop by Banksy.  And I thought it was a very brave film, and a very honest film.  I’m all the way with that film.
All this attention is weird to Johnny Depp:
Johnny Depp: Attention is a strange sort of being, anyway, the idea of attention. If someone appreciates your work, it’s always nice that someone appreciates your work.  But I’ve never quite understood any of the other bits, you know.  Whatever, somehow you’ve been voted some thing for a magazine and it’s a complete mystery to me.  I wake up and I have to look at that head when I brush my teeth every morning, you know.  And it’s weird.  And it’s unpleasant at times.  So I don’t know about the attention thing.
Johnny Depp’s long history with lizards:
Johnny Depp: I always had an affinity for lizards. I’ve always felt somewhat close to them.  They’re reptile, feeling somewhat reptilian myself at times.  No, oddly, I think, Gore might even disagree, but I feel like when we were doing Pirates 1, 2, and 3, at times when Jack Sparrow had to run. There was this very specific run that I wanted.  I saw this footage of a lizard running across the water and it was like the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.  So I said, “Gore, he’s got to be the lizard running across,” and he’s like, “Oh, yeah, absolutely.”  So that was the whole thing.  And we did it.  So I actually think that Rango was somehow planted in Gore’s brain from that run, from that lizard run.  And when he actually called me and said, “I want you to play a lizard,” I thought, “Well, God, I’m halfway there. I know what I’m doing.”
He can play a lizard, but he’s not sure he should play Pancho Villa:
Johnny Depp:  Well, it’s a project that I think is a little bit up in the air, you know.  Kusturica is an old friend, and certainly a filmmaker that I admire greatly.  From the first second that we spoke about it, I always had a bit of a problem.  My dilemma is just the fact that it’s Pancho Villa.  It is Pancho Villa, and it’s one of the great heroes of Mexico.  And for me, I feel like it should be played by a Mexican, and not some mutt from Kentucky, you know what I mean.  I still feel very strongly about that. So it’s sort of floating at the moment.  But it’s a great character and Kusturica is a great filmmaker.  I’m sure he’s going to do something very special.
Justin Bieber actually arrives at the press conference to meet Johnny Depp:
Justin Bieber:  You know, and I’m a big fan of you so I had to come support you.
Johnny Depp:  Bless you, man. 
Justin Bieber:  I had to come say hi. I heard you were in the building.
Johnny Depp:  Bless you. We’ve established that I’m a Belieber.
Justin Bieber:  You’re a Belieber and I’m a big fan of him.
Johnny Depp:  Well done, man, thank you.  Okay, now, who’s not a Belieber now? Aren’t we all Beliebers?  Bless him. How am I going to explain this to my daughter? That was the Beatles. 
Photo credit: Apega/