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At The Cutting Edge

by Rob Lowing
The Sun Herald, Sydney Australia
June 15, 1991

What do you do for an encore after playing the role that everyone, including Tom Cruise, wanted?

Well, if you’re Johnny Depp, the TV heart-throb, you follow your Edward Scissorhands success with the oddly-titled The Arrowtooth Waltz [Editor’s note: later renamed Arizona Dream] with—of all people—veteran comic Jerry Lewis.

At 27, the former 21 Jump Street TV teen idol is attracting considerable attention for his film choices. Unlike other young TV stars venturing into movies, Depp mussed up his handsome TV cop image by deliberately choosing quirky, ambitious movie roles: as the dancing hero of the musical spoof Cry-Baby (“That’s Mr. Baby to you”) and the young man with scissors for hands in Edward Scissorhands.

Cry-Baby was the first time I could make a decision to do a role for myself,” said Depp, speaking by phone from the Arizona set of Arrowtooth Waltz. “It wasn’t just a deliberate decision to contrast with my TV image—it was a great part. But it did come after a decision to wait a few years for (movie) material I really wanted to do.”

You can measure Depp’s reputation as one of today’s most interesting dramatic stars by the caliber of the directors who want to work with him. In a recent interview with The Sun-Herald, The Russia House director, Fred Schepisi, tabbed Depp as top of his list of people he’d like to work with. (Added the Australian director: “My daughter will kill me if I don’t work with him.”)

Tim Burton, riding high on the worldwide success of Batman, knocked back Tom Cruise in favor of Depp to play Edward Scissorhands. (According to Rolling Stone magazine, Cruise reportedly wanted the ending changed so Edward’s face could be cosmetically restored.)

Depp suffered for his art. Temperatures topped the 100 degree mark on the Scissorhands set. Under his black bodysuit, he wore what he calls a “cool suit.”

“It works like a radiator, you plug into a box and it shoots cold water around which cools you.

“It wasn’t an easy shoot,” said Depp, noting that he had to practice for “a few months” with the lethal scissor hands.

“The hardest thing was to place the hands specifically on the right spot—especially when I had to cut the dog’s hair. There was dog hair going everywhere.”

Was it worth it? “Yes, yes, yes,” said Depp, sounding exhilarated. “It was an incredible opportunity for me. It was such a safe place emotionally to be, just to be able to play someone who was so open and clear.

“I think this was very personal for director Tim Burton. He had a very strong visual image, Edward came out of Tim. I saw Edward as very romantic in a very tragic way.

“The story was loosely based on a book called Der Strumpelpeter about a boy with wild hair and very long fingernails who won’t conform. I saw Edward as a puppy, with that unconditional love, and an infant, completely untouched with no judgments on anything.”

Interviewing Depp offers a fascinating look past all the hype and hoopla surrounding one half of the year’s hottest celebrity couple.

After equally well-publicized romances with Twin Peaks’ Sherilyn Fenn and Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Grey, Depp has been dating 19-year-old Winona Ryder, star of Burton’s Beetlejuice and Depp’s co-star in Edward Scissorhands.

At the center of a relationship which attracts all the attention of a Madonna and Sean Penn romance is this quiet, extremely self-contained young actor who comes equipped with a much older man’s wry, ironic sense of humor. (The best advice he received, and lived by, said Depp, is “Don’t trust a soul—until they prove you different.”)

When asked about marriage plans, Depp said that “Winona and I are engaged, happy and having fun. She was great to work with and I hope to do it again—soon.”

It doesn’t take much acquaintance with Depp, though, to predict that when he and Ryder tie the knot, they’ll do it in some unconventional way or in total secret, catching everyone by surprise.

Depp might boast the traditional heart-throb’s glossy good looks, courtesy of his part-Cherokee heritage. However, off screen, his well-documented passion for authors like J D Salinger and Jack Kerouac, phobia about clowns and predilection for tattoos (he has three: one of “Betty Sue,” his mother’s name, an Indian chief and “Winona Forever”) have helped blur that Hollywood image.

The actor wants the image blurred. The years of being TV’s handsome boy cop on Jump Street, for example, are well and truly over: “TV is such a box. At this point in my life, I’d say that I’d pump gas before I’d go back to a TV series. I’ve pumped gas before and I can do it again. I’m in a different medium now.”

“But,” noted the high school drop-out, turned rock and roller (Depp’s band, The Kids, appeared with Iggy Pop and Talking Heads) turned actor (Platoon, Nightmare on Elm Street 1), “I suppose I should say, never say never.”

Next up for Depp is a return, thank you appearance in the new Nightmare on Elm Street Part 6, which also boasts a cameo from Roseanne Barr.

Currently, Depp is finishing Arrowtooth Waltz, “a story about a young man who goes out into the world and encounters evil. It’s a strange, funny story.”

Comedian Jerry Lewis, Chinatown star Faye Dunaway, and model/actress Paulina Porizkova, who starred in Her Alibi with Tom Selleck, co-star.

After that, there is the possibility of a film produced by Mel Brooks, a tragedy about a young writer during the Depression.

As for more personal ambitions for the next few years, Depp says immediately, “I’d like to read some books.”

Edward Scissorhands is showing around Australia.

-- donated by Theresa

-- photos added by Zone editors