If you look younger than you are, you’re in good company. Even though Johnny Depp is 26 years old, he still looks like a teenager. “I was always young looking,” the handsome, brown-eyed actor says. “It’s just something I got used to after a while. And it’s actually helped me get acting parts when they’re looking for kids.”
Johnny, who was born on June 9, 1963, in Owensboro, Kentucky, is the star of the hit TV show 21 Jump Street. He portrays Tommy Hanson, one of the baby-faced undercover policemen who go back to high school and college to help solve crimes.
In a way, it’s sort of ironic that his current role should lead him back in to the hallowed halls of high school. “It’s the last place I thought I’d be.” Johnny told Winter Superstars magazine. “That’s because for me, in real life, high school was not where I wanted to be.” Indeed, Johnny dropped out of high school in his junior year, at the age of 16. At the time, he says, he just wasn’t interested in school and he was hanging out with the wrong crowds. “I was just like any other kid in school.” Johnny says, “I wasn’t particularly good in class and I had problems with my parents. But we’ve worked things out since then.”
Soon after he dropped out, however, Johnny regretted his decision and decided to go back, but, he says, the school wouldn’t take him back. So Johnny decided to go out and pursue his first love—music. He traveled with his band and performed in nightclubs, then decided to move to Hollywood to become a rock star.
“My band and I moved to California to get a record contract and make albums,” he says. “Like a lot of people, we just wanted to become a famous rock band. It was fun but frustrating, too, because we didn’t make it. But I’ve been really fortunate because I was able to luck into acting through a friend.” Nicolas Cage, the cute and quirky actor who co-starred with Cher in Moonstruck. Johnny and Nic are good friends who often hang out together at Los Angeles Lakers basketball games.
Johnny’s first role was the character Glen in the super-scary movie A Nightmare on Elm Street. Since then, he’s appeared in Private Resort, Dummies, and Slow Burn. He also appeared in the award-winning movie Platoon as a soldier who interprets Vietnamese.
“Making that movie [Platoon] was a lot of hard work, but it was rewarding,” he says. “It wasn’t just like, ‘Get on the set and shoot.’ We went through basic training, just like the real soldiers, and ate rations and slept in trenches. It was tough. But having done that, I feel I can do just about anything.”
His roles so far have helped Johnny to build his confidence in what he’s doing without becoming cocky. He’s determined not to let his success go to his head. Part of that springs from his childhood. “Where I grew up, people weren’t real big-headed about things,” Johnny says. “No one likes it if you brag about how you’re better than other people. So you try to be the best you can be. And if someone compliments you, you say, ‘Thank you.’ But you don’t make a big deal about it.”
That same confidence is evident to those who work with Johnny as well. Holly Robinson, Johnny’s co-star on 21 Jump Street, told TV Guide. “He’s naturally cool. Everybody else tries to be cool, but Johnny just is.” But while that “coolness” is part of his appeal, it doesn’t keep Johnny from being able to accept pointers and criticism from fellow actors and actresses, especially from those who have experience behind their words. Johnny says he wants to continue to learn more about his craft and would like to further his film career. Johnny’s most recent project, a musical love story called Cry-Baby, is sure to lend him a hand in that area.
When he’s not working on the TV series or on his film career, Johnny likes to hang out in comfortable clothes, like faded jeans with holes in them, T-shirts, black leather biker jackets and occasionally a bandanna.
Although acting in a TV series takes a lot of time and hard work, Johnny likes to squeeze in a variety of activities when he gets the chance. He enjoys art, especially the paintings of such greats as Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and Vincent Van Gogh. Johnny is also an avid reader. His favorite authors include Jack Kerouac and Ernest Hemingway.
Indeed, for Johnny, reading seems to be a way to make up for some of what he feels he missed by dropping out of school. “You know those great books that I didn’t read in high school—you know what, I’m reading them now,” he told Winter Superstars magazine. "I’m really a voracious reader. I read everything now. I really feel like I’ve got to make up for lost time—I don’t want to be limited.”
Despite his success in acting, Johnny regrets his decision to drop out of school—and firmly discourages kids from following his example. “Quitting is doing exactly that,” he told Winter Superstars magazine. “You’re saying ‘I refuse to learn anymore. I refuse to try to learn algebra, or social studies.’ It’s quitting. And to my mind NOW, any kind of quitting is bad.”
When an actor says, “Okay, I’m satisfied with my work and I’m the best I can possibly be,” I think that’s when he’s in real trouble! —Big Bopper