The house is way up in the Hollywood Hills. Nosebleed territory. To get inside the gate, you have to know a secret code. A vintage motorcycle that is probably cooler than I realize is parked in the yard. The house itself is not terribly big, your basic modern job, but it has these great floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook L.A. It's furnished with the kind of cool old stuff you see at flea markets: stripped-wood mirrors, '50's leather chairs, a beat-up wooden table. A huge mattress is plopped down in the middle of the living room, right in front of the VCR, and not too far from a plastic rooster twice the size of Neill (our art director, who's here supervising the shoot). Tons of CDs and reading materials are piled around, including a volume of poetry by Jack Kerouac. A Replacements tape is playing on the sound system.
Johnny Depp lives here. At the moment he's sitting on the floor in front of the windows, being photographed for the cover of Sassy. A lock swinging from a piece of black rope is tied to the belt loop of his jeans. It's 12:30 on Valentine's Day and I notice that there's a big box with a lace bow on the table. I'd bet it's for Winona Ryder, his 18-year-old fiance. They met last September, were engaged in February, and "Winona Forever" is now tattooed on his right arm above the American Indian.
Soon the pictures are done, and Johnny is set free temporarily. Then we go outside and sit by the kidney-shaped pool. I ask him questions about the current state of his life. He answers me politely and honestly enough, but his face is half-covered by his hair, and I get the distinct sense that there are just a couple things he'd rather be doing. It's freezing, by the way.
ACTING. "I don't know why I like acting. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don't. It's not like it's the greatest, most rewarding thing you can do in life. It's strange when you think about it. Most of the time you're saying somebody else's words as opposed to your own, and that's pretty weird. It doesn't make for a very stable brain and it doesn't make for a very relaxed person."
BAND. "I don't have a band anymore, but I still write and I still play guitar. [Johnny moved to L.A. from Florida with his band The Kids in 1983.] What I was planing to do when I got Elm Street, my first movie, was just do the movie and then keep going with the band. But the band broke up when I put them on hold for six weeks, eight weeks, whatever it was. They couldn't deal with that, and I understand that. I miss playing on stage. I miss the feeling that you have, that sort of camaraderie that a band has. But I don't regret anything. I think that everything worked out the way it was supposed to. That's the only way I can look at it. If I had kept going with the music, I think things would have turned out a lot differently. Good or bad. Either way."
CRY-BABY. "Cry-Baby, as it's being billed, is the ultimate juvenile-delinquent musical comedy. It's saying that what people would perceive as bad is not always...what somebody appears to be is not necessarily what they are. I play Cry-Baby, the leader of the Drapes gang [greasers], who sort of falls in love with the queen of the Squares—it's classic Romeo and Juliet, only John Waters twisted."
DOC SEVERINSEN. "I think Doc [Johnny Carson's bandleader] has a fantastic mustache and is one of the best-kept secrets in Hollywood. I would love to spend a couple of days rummaging through his closet, looking especially for the clothes he wore in the early '70's."
EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. "Edward Scissorhands [the film by Beetlejuice director Tim Burton that Johnny and Winona are filming right now in Florida] is about a guy who's sort of an innocent placed into a normal—or what people think is normal—suburban life. It's the story of his dilemma and what he goes through. It's really exciting for me to be doing a movie with my fiance, with Winona. But to be doing a movie with Tim Burton, and to be doing another movie that's not just your normal, everyday, shoot-'em-up, fighting, posing, kissing, gun-toting, law-officer kind of thing...I feel very lucky."
FISH STICKS. "There's no doubt in my mind that Mrs. Paul's makes a fish stick that is without equal. After a hard day of work, I'm sure they bring a lot of joy and happiness into many American homes. Of course, that's just my opinion."
GAS. He'd be pumping it if he wasn't a star, John Waters has been known to say.
HAIR. The morning of our interview, Johnny dyed his hair black for his role in Edward Scissorhands. "I wanted it to look as artificial as possible," he says. He's also wearing it longer and in his face these days so fans and photographers won't mob him.
IGGY POP. "When I was a kid, when I was 12, 13, 14, my heroes weren't baseball players and football players. My heroes were Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Aerosmith and Kiss and all that sort of strange rock and roll that was going on at the time. Working with Iggy on Cry-Baby was sort of like working with one of your childhood heroes. He played my step-grandfather, so it was great to have him as a father figure. One really great thing was that Iggy and I were on the same floor of the hotel, and we'd get together and play guitar all the time. He's a really smart guy."
JUMP STREET. "My feeling is that it's done about all it can do. It was a good idea initially, but I don't necessarily believe cops in schools is right or fair—I think that's a little bit fascist—but it was a great idea in terms of it helping people. It could put things in perspective not only for kids but for their parents. They came up with some neat ideas and tackled some interesting issues. But at this point it's hard not to be repetitive. You know, what more can we do? How many more schools are in our jurisdiction? How long before we're found out? I mean, you can take artistic license to a point, but after that it becomes surreal.
There's two more seasons that are expected. I don't know anything about whether it's been picked up or not. But I guess, contractually, there are two more seasons that are left. So if the series continues, I guess I'll be there."
KAFKA. "I like Franz Kafka. Anybody who writes about a guy turning into a giant waterbug is really a good writer. But Jack Kerouac is my favorite; he's always been a big hero of mine. J.D. Salinger—I think he's great. I like Charles Bukowski too—he's very open and honest about everything. I like a lot of different writers. I love to read."
LEARNING. "I don't think you can ever learn enough. If I had time, I'd still be studying acting. I did study for a little while at a place called the Loft Studio in L.A. I still read books on acting and everything."
MARY. What everyone called each other on the set of Cry-Baby. Don't ask me why.
NARCOLEPSY. "I though I might have had it at one point in my life, but I found out that I was really just rather bored."
OTHER ACTORS. "I guess I sort of like the obvious ones. I think Robert DeNiro is the most incredible actor around. Marlon Brando has always been great, and he has the best outlook on this business—he thinks that's it's just a joke. It basically is. He doesn't take it seriously at all. It's sort of a way to get paid a lot of money. I also like Eric Roberts. The Pope of Greenwich Village was one of my favorite movies ever."
PU-PU PLATTER. "My musical taste is sort of a pu-pu-platter combination of things. I like The Pogues, The Replacements, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong. And I still love the old stuff—The Clash, The Sex-Pistols, Iggy and David Bowie."
QUITTING ACTING. "I think I'll act until I make enough money to buy my own planet and move onto it. Uh, no, as long as I can keep doing stuff that I want to do and have fun, then I'll be doing it."
REBELLION. "When certain things come out about an actor's past or about his life, they immediately put a label on you, something that is marketable for them. The people that wear the suits and sign the checks need something to sell, a product, they need to call it something. They say: 'He dropped out of high school—oh, he's a bad boy. He has done drugs at one time in his life, he got in trouble with the law at one time in his life, so he's a bad boy.' The term rebel is what kills me. It's such a played-out thing. It's all so stupid. I would imagine it was a good word about 200 years ago, but now it's such a joke!"
SAL. "Sal [Jenco, his friend since they were kids in Florida, and who plays Blowfish on Jump Street] would be great in movies. He's got a lot of different sort of character-type things he does. He's not normal. He's really fun."
TAXIDERMY. "I have witnessed and heard about people having their pets stuffed—dogs and cats, etc.—and it's fascinating to me that these people loved their animals so much that they would want to pet their filthy, rotting, lifeless pelts postmortem."
TEEN MAGAZINES. (This is the T word we really wanted, but Johnny was very attached to the Taxidermy topic) "John Waters had read some stories on me in teen magazines, and he picked up on this reluctance I had to be sort of labeled and pinned down. He still teases me about the fact that the way he found out about me is the very thing that I hate, which is teen garbled weirdness. One of the reasons I did the movie is that it really made fun of being labeled. It really made fun of what people's idea of me was."
UNDERARM HAIR. "I remember when my friend Sal first sprouted underarm hair. We were about 11, and I was very jealous. I still hold a grudge."
VISION. "To be a good director you have to have a really strong vision, like John or Tim Burton, and you have to be open enough so that the actor is allowed to use his own stuff and his own ideas and is not used as a puppet, as a tool."
WATERS. "When John Waters first wrote me and told me he was writing Cry-Baby, he sent me a tape of Hairspray. I watched that and thought it was really great. But I had already seen Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble, so I expected him to be some really off-the-wall guy, to put tacks under your chair just so he can get a laugh, just for his own personal weirdness. But he's not at all what someone would think he would be. He's really smart, and he has a very solid vision of what he wants. We got real close on the movie. He's one of my best friends."
At this point my mind goes sort of blank. The interview is over. I stand up. Johnny stands up. We shake hands. I walk to the car with Jane and Neill, and as we drive back down the hill, the image of a nine-foot rooster is embedded in my brain. I realize, with regret, that my life has not changed one bit.