Johnny Depp walks into the room. He casts a shy smile at the assembled company. “Hi,” he murmurs. He then goes round and turns off all the lights, only becoming aware of the questioning glances when he’s flipped the last switch. “There’s something weird about lights being on in the daytime,” he explains.
It all began five days ago.
“How do you fancy interviewing Johnny Depp?”
It was a hot Friday afternoon. I was looking forward to a nice, relaxing weekend. Then the features editor asked me that question. After the Smash Hits staff had picked me up off the floor and revived me I managed to scream, “Are you mad?! Of course I fancy it!” As casually as possible. Five days isn’t long to get used to the idea of coming face to face with Johnny Depp. The relaxing weekend went out of the window and nerves started to creep in.
Before I knew it, it was Wednesday morning and I was on my way to the Lanesborough Hotel to meet Johnny. That’s when it dawns on me. I’m going to interview Johnny Depp! I’M GOING TO INTERVIEW JOHNNY DEPP!!!! The same Johnny Depp who is a hugely famous American actor, the same Johnny Depp who billions of girls all over the world have posters of on their walls, the same Johnny Depp who’s famous for going out with Winona, the same Johnny Depp who’s very good-looking and does everything within his power to disguise it. Yep, that Johnny Depp.
The Lanesborough Hotel is a very discreet place. It reeks of money. There are gold finishings everywhere; on the lampshades, on the table legs, even on the light switches. In the foyer are the other two journalists selected to take part in this small, intimate press conference. One is from a boffins’ guide to movies called Film Review. The other is from famous London listings magazine Time Out. Smash Hits is the only youth magazine that Johnny has agreed to talk to face to face. The conversation turns to Johnny. Boffin bloke: “I hear he really really hates doing morning interviews.” Gulp. The clock on the wall strikes 11. That’s 11 o’clock in the morning. What happens if he got out of the wrong side of the bed? What if he’s moody and won’t talk? Complete panic sets in. A porter comes over. “Mr Depp is ready for you.” It’s too late to turn back now. Here goes . . .
Up in Johnny’s suite we are greeted by a press agent from Johnny’s film company. She tells us that we have to wait for ten minutes while Johnny “gets himself together” i.e. gets out of bed! We are in the living room next to Johnny’s bedroom. I take one end of the sofa. And that’s when HE enters the room. It’s strange because although Johnny Depp is actually only about 5’ 7”, he gives the illusion of being really tall. He says hello and shakes my hand. He has a very firm handshake for someone who’s got such incredibly small hands—they’re almost like a child’s. After he’s done the business with the lights, he takes off his battered brown leather jacket and places it neatly on the back of his chair. He’s also wearing a tatty dark grey T-shirt with three holes in the right shoulder and a black and white striped waistcoat. Dark grey jeans cover his legs and to finish the look he’s got a pair of slip-on DM boots on his feet. He looks scruffy but clean and really, really lovely. Johnny Depp has very prominent features. His cheekbones look very sharp in pictures but up close there is a softness about them. His whole face is very delicate looking, quite girlish. He has the most incredibly huge eyes. They’re a very deep brown chocolate color. He maintains eye contact all the time and when he looks at you, you pay attention.
His hair is dark brown with red tints left over from dying it for his latest film, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. It looks as though it hasn’t seen shampoo and water for a few days and it also needs a damn good brush. He has a habit of pushing his hair off his face, giving you a glimpse of his beautiful, angelic features. Then the rats-tails fall back into place and ruin the effect!
He has a very deep voice and is softly spoken which adds to his air of vulnerability. There’s just something about Johnny Depp that makes you want to give him a great big hug and tell him that everything will be OK.
Johnny sits down in an armchair—right next to where I’m sitting. He’s sitting next to me! He picks up a new pack of Marlboro cigarettes and starts to bash them against his leg. I have to ask: “Um, excuse me, Johnny, what are you doing?”
“Wait and you’ll see.” He smiles knowingly.
Another ten seconds of bashing before he opens the box, takes out a ciggie and holds it up triumphantly. “See?”
“Er, no. What?”
“Well,” he gasps as if it’s obvious, “If you do this to the pack then the cigarettes end up looking like this.”
Silence. There is no noticeable difference between his cigarette and any other, but if Johnny Depp says that it’s different, then it must be different.
Seeing everybody’s confusion he laughs and shrugs, “Oh well.” He clicks his blue lighter and asks, “Don’t mind if I set my lungs on fire, do you?”
John Christopher Depp II was born in 1963 in Kentucky (hillbilly country) but his family moved to Florida, way down south, when he was seven. He got married at 20 to childhood sweetheart Lori-Ann but they divorced two years later. He’s since been engaged to three actresses: Jennifer Grey, Sherilyn Fenn and of course Winona Ryder—but more about that later.
Johnny originally wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll star. He was always in bands and only stumbled into acting as a way of earning money. After a few films he got the part of Tom Hanson, the schoolboy cop in 21 Jump Street. Suddenly, everybody wanted to know him. Surprisingly, Johnny hated it. He begged the producers to release him from his contract, he even offered to work for nothing, but they said no. He had to wait six years until he could leave. You can see him in Benny and Joon and he’s also made What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Arizona Dream, yet to have release dates.
Any nerves are gone now. It’s weird but Johnny Depp has a very calming influence on everybody in the room. He creates a lovely atmosphere of friendliness. He pours himself a glass of Buxton still mineral water, takes a sip and never touches it again until the end of the interview. He lights a cigarette and looks at the boffin bloke who asks the first question.
Why have you chosen to play oddball characters in your films?
Johnny takes a puff of his ciggie and clasps his hands.
“I’ve just responded to the characters or stories. It wasn’t like I deliberately went and found the weirdest things I could do. I feel more comfortable playing roles like Edward Scissorhands and Sam from Benny And Joon than I do playing straighter roles. I think it’s to do with people who are judged because they’re different.”
Then the woman from Time Out asks her first question.
In Benny and Joon you imitate one of your idols, Buster Keaton. What do you like about him?
“I liked the way he could communicate without using words. It’s simple to say to someone that you love them, it’s harder to express it without words. I’m fascinated with the idea of speaking without speaking and I’m more fascinated with silence than with noise. A growling dog scares me more than a barking dog.”
Now Johnny looks at me. It’s my turn to ask a question. Everyone else is asking knowledgeable film questions. I work for Smash Hits, and this is what I have to ask:
Johnny, what’s your earliest childhood memory?
Silence. Oh dear. Even more silence. Perhaps he’s got the huff because I’ve not asked him a question about his esteemed film career. He stops smoking, places his hand over his mouth, puts his head down and . . . giggles! He’s not miffed at all. It’s just that he’s never been asked this before.
“Oh wow, my great grandmother’s toenails! I don’t know why I just remember seeing them. They looked a bit like cashew nuts. My great grandmother Minnie was about 102 when she died and her toenails are just something I remember.”
Johnny laughs at this memory. He seems to be up for a bit of fun after all. Next question from the Smash Hits camp then:
Have you got any interesting body scars?
“Yeah I have some.”
Is it true that you actually scar yourself?
[Laughing] “From time to time! I had this thing, you know, I think that in a way your body is a journal, for me it is anyway. I started scarring myself when I was a kid, it was just a way to remind myself of things that had happened. I wouldn’t advise it though! I haven’t done it for a couple of years. Thirty and scarring myself?” [Shakes his head and laughs.]
How would you describe yourself in five words?
[This stumps him. Much head scratching before he finally says] “I don’t think I could. Hey! That’s five words, there you go!”
He looks dead chuffed with himself for being so smart.
Do you like being mobbed?
“Well I wouldn’t say that I go to the mall as much as I used to! I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever be comfortable with but then again if it were to stop I would probably start worrying.”
Do you ever refuse to give autographs?
“No. [Looks mortified that anyone could think being asked for their autograph is a problem.] No, not at all. It’s such a harmless thing, I can’t imagine it bothering anyone.”
What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
“Stay who you are. While I was working on Edward Scissorhands I felt really vulnerable and insecure and Dianne Wiest who played my adopted Mom was really supportive and told me not to worry, so that was nice.”
What are you afraid of?
“Bees man, bees. I’ve been stung and it really hurt. When I was a little kid I got stung on the ear by a whole herd of them, a gaggle of bees. It was my own fault. Oh yeah. I shook the bush or wherever they were nesting and then I ran but they caught me!”
What makes you cry?
[Gets desperately serious] “Well there’s a couple of different ways to cry, I mean I could sit in a restaurant and watch an old woman eat and for some reason that upsets me. There’s something about how human it is to see an old woman feed herself. It’s real weird and I don’t know how to explain it. There’s something really necessary about it. Sort of lonely.”
Are you scared of being alone?
“I wouldn’t say I was scared of it. While filming Gilbert Grape there were times when I was really lonely but I don’t know if that had anything to do with the character I was playing, so I made myself feel that way to prepare for the film.”
Did the split with Winona make you feel lonely?
[He turns in his seat so his whole body is toward me, his hand is shaking slightly as he takes a puff of his cigarette. His voice becomes slower and softer. Up until now, everyone’s avoided talking about this subject.]
“Well, we’ve been apart for about a month now. You know, when you’re with someone and you love someone it’s never easy to cut the connection between you but I would say that the split was a natural thing, it was something that had to happen. I wouldn’t say that it was devastating to her or me, it was just a natural progression.”
Are you still friends?
“Oh yeah. The split was very amicable, we’ll always be best friends.”
How’s this for timing? Just as the conversation is getting intimate, his press officer comes in to tell us the interview must finish now.
“Time’s up I’m afraid.” Johnny lights another cigarette, stands up and says goodbye. I lag behind to get an autograph for a friend. I tell him Sarah, a designer at Smash Hits, is a devoted fan and would love to have his autograph, would he sign a piece of paper for her?
“Sure,” he says, smiling, “who is it for again?”
“Sarah back in the office.”
He takes my pen and writes, “To Sarah back in the office, hope all is well, Johnny Depp.”
That Johnny Depp. What a marvelously brilliant bloke. Hope all is well with you, too, sweetheart!