Blow : Interview with Johnny Depp

After being a cool dude for most of his life Johnny Depp has come of age, helped by fatherhood, an ongoing relationship with French actress and singer Vanessa Paradis, and a new life Paris for the last two years.

Being an exile suits someone who feels a perennial outsider.

He has always had a struggle to be taken at more than face value. The almond brown eyes, the part-Cherokee cheekbones and the sensuous lips
made Johnny Depp a gorgeous pouting icon for a generation of teeny boppers.

He's rather relieved that such onerous responsibilities are over. He's been out of the US media glare for the last couple of years, exchanging it for the more muted attention he receives in France where's he's been living with his amour Vanessa Paradis, the actress and singer. Together they have a baby girl Lily-Rose Melody who's 21 months and upon whom he dotes with a fervour.

Dressed down in teeshirt and jeans, and looking a tad dishevelled, he says: "That's the interesting thing about becoming a father. Suddenly you universally have somehting in common with other people. I can be sitting next to a very straight, humourless businessman or stockbroker type on an aeroplane and we'll just start talking about kids. And that conversation last three or four hours."

Depp, 37, almost seems the cliche of the proud dad. Yes, he does have the polaroid snaps of Lily-Rose in his wallet and will whip them out at the slightest encouragement. It may be too much information for the faint-hearted but he cut the umbilical cord when she was born.

He has shouldered responsibilities with the same enthusiasm and thoroughness that he invests in his roles. "It's had a really radical effect on me," he says reflectively. "It's all kinds of these profound things crashing on you when your child arrives into the world. It's like you've met your reason to live."

Whereas he and Vanessa have been embraced into the fold of French celebrity - he has received special César honour (the Gallic equivalent of the Oscars) - they are not subject any more to the same kind of relentless scrutiny that was evident when they started their relationship. Already she has voiced the view she would like more - and true to her word the couple are expecting their second child in the autumn.

Depp, at 36, always was a rebel waiting to be tamed as well as being a self-confessed francophile. They managed to keep their trysts secret until the ceremony for the Césars just over two years ago. Depp was given an honorary award by the actor Pascal Greggory who divulged the couple's interest in each other - thereby making them national property times two.

They've been together since he left Kate Moss. The decision to start a family was "without question the greatest thing I've done in my life".

Before their first-born made her appearance he dutifully scoured the Côte d'Azur to seek out a property, helped by Paradis's father, an interior design consultant who knows the area well.

Four million francs or £500,000 later, their love nest as the scandal sheets insisted on styling it, at Saint Aygulf, near Saint Tropez, with stuning views over the sea, was ready and waiting. The only trouble was that the paparazzi kept falling out of the trees, and now they tend to prefer the anonymity of their £1million apartment in Paris or occasionally Depp's other home in Los Angeles.

The couple chose the location of their seaside abode because it's where they first spent romantic interludes before the rest of the world cottoned on to the relationship. Depp and Paradis who met at a dinner in Paris given by mutual friends, have been used to toing and froing in private jets and limos just to be together.

Whereas he is more open about divulging details of their life together she is more reticent. She once told me: "There's no reason I should share my private life with the whole world. I don't answer personal questions. I'll do interviews to promote a particular film, that's all. There will always be rumours about me and Johnny. Everytime a papparazzi takes a picture of him and some girl he is supposed to be with her. That
doesn't matter to me. I know who he is and what we have, and I'm secure with that. I know him and I know us, and nothing anyone says can change that."

Depp has come a long way since the latter half of the Eighties when he starred in 21 Jump Street, a television cop show which turned him into a Stateside idol. The show was never seen in the UK except on satellite. He was given the opportunity to play on his teen-idol image in 1990 with John Waters' Cry-Baby (1990), a pastiche of Fifties youth movies, and then there was Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1991), in which he played the spike-fingered boy robot. Both films allowed him to play what were fey and vulnerble creatures.

They helped him knotch up his career status. He also became famous for going out with Winona Ryder, and also having Winona forever tatooed on his right arm (subsquently removed). Then he became famous for not going out with Ms Ryder after they split up

His choices have always been quirky and off the war. He made cult Yugoslav director Emir Kusturica's first American film Arizona Dream (1993), and then he made Lasse Hallström's What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993), as a small-town boy taking care of his family. Then he gave the performance of his career as an angora-wearing transvestite director in Burton's Ed Wood (1994) and stayed with the same director for Sleepy Hollow (1999). There was also his weirdo in Benny & Joon (1993), and bemasked as the great romantic in Don Juan De marco (1995).

Of late his work has been more than credible with Roman Polanski's Ninth Gate, The (1999) and Sally Potter's Man Who Cried, The (2000).

Depp has never been one of those actors whose name can greenlight a 100 million dollar blockbuster, and he has no desire to be except on reflection he wouldn't mind a slice of the profits. "It's fun to imagine what you could do with that kind of money. I could buy that island I've wanted to buy all my life, and live there with my family. Or I could buy some great piece of art that's just going to feed my eyes every day. It's fun to toy with the notion of that, and it is very tempting because money, unfortunately is freedom in today's world."

Every time he returns to LA he realises exactly why he's no longer living there. "I'll never understand the animal, the machine of Hollywood business. And I don't want to understand it. It's like joining a club,
a clique just because everyone else is in it. You don't have any particular interest in it, and it has nothing to do with who you are as a person. You just join it because it's the thing to do. The quality of life is so different in France. There is the possibility of living a simple life. I would never contemplate raising my daughter in LA. I would never raise any child there."

Depp manages to achieve a low profile fairly effortlessly. He hopped unnoticed on to a Eurostar from Paris recently for a round of interviews in London and caused no great stir. He was never in the loop so being out it has not affected the choices he is offered. He reteamed with Hallstrom for Chocolat (2000), as the long-haired gypsy who eats lots of sweets and smooches Juliette Binoche which certainly won't do his cred any harm. And he's been working in Prague on From Hell (2001), an adaption of Alan Moore's novel about Jack the Ripper. During his London foray he followed the footsteps of The Ripper for two hours walking around the East End as part of his research.

He and Vanessa were due to take part in Terry Gilliam 48 million dollar Man Who Killed Don Quixote, The (2001) in which a modern-day advertising executive is whisked back to 17th-century Spain where he is mistaken for Cervantes' hero.

But calamity struck when Gilliam's Quixote, Jean Rochefort, suffered a double disc hernia, with sources claiming that the movie is "on hold" awaiting a decision from the completion bond company as to its future

Depp will be seen shortly playing George Jung, a key player in the 1970s cocaine-trafficking boom, in a fact-based drama Blow (2001), from director-producer Ted Demme. Depp's performance alongside penélope Cruz and Ray Liotta, is impressive, playing both the middle-aged Jung pulling one last cocaine megadeal, before rewinding to his youth in Fifties Boston. Depp's ageing process is meticulous.

He admits with a slightly bemused air that he never wanted to be a film star. Like most of his generation his dream was to be in a rock-band.

The great grandson of a full blooded Cherokee, he was born in Owensboro, Kentucky, which he describes as "the barbecue capital of the world." He grew up in Miramar, southern Florida, the youngest of four children. He was named after his father John, a civil engineer.

When his parents split up, he stayed with his mother Betty Sue. When he was 12 he got his first guitar, and by 16 he was playing in a band called The Kids who used to support the likes of Iggy Pop and the Ramones when they came to play in Florida in the late Seventies.

In the early Eighties, the Kids went to Los Angeles in search of that elusive record deal. It didn't happen, but Depp met and married Lori Anne Allison, and spent a couple of years drifting. They divorced a couple of years later, but through his ex-wife he was introduced to Nicolas Cage who in turn sent him to his agent. That resulted in an audition which provided a part in Nightmare on Elm Street as the doomed boyfriend who was eaten alive halfway through the film.

During his teeny bopper days he received more than 10,000 letters a month, mainly from girls containing declarations of undying love - and also more upfront propositions. At least domesticity with Paradis has put a stop to that.

Depp accepts that he has become rather a specialist in portraying lost souls - even Jung (Blow (2001)) fits the pattern - or vulnerable innocents. "I don't see it as limiting myself," he says, " because I am doing things that are true to me. The only thing I have a problem with is being labelled."

Author : FeatsPress