Johnny Depp has made it. His critically lauded roles in Donnie Brasco, Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood have made the Kentuckian one of the world's most famous actors. He could easily join his peachy-skinned contemporaries in a limo-driven, salad-munching lifestyle. Instead, Johnny, who stars in the long awaited film of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (out November 13), forgoes endless charity bashes, opting instead for the smoke of guns and barbecues. Depp is a self-confessed Hollywood loner. Over a cigarette after a hard day's filming in Paris, he explains why. . .
As a child, Johnny breathed fire.
"I was maybe 12, and me and this friend put a t-shirt on the end of a broom handle, soaked it in gasoline and lit it. Then I put gasoline in my mouth and breathed fire like Gene Simmons of Kiss. Only it set my face on fire; I was running down the street with my face on fire. My mom obviously was going to see that my face was all burned up, so I lied completely. I said we were shooting fireworks off and one went off in my face. And she fell for it. She certainly didn't expect me to say, 'Well, I put gasoline in my mouth and blew it into a huge stick of fire, mom.' The fireworks story was easier for her and me; and she bought it, bless her heart. It was one of the dumbest things I've ever done—not the dumbest, but right up there—and I have done lots of stupid things."
Johnny was not exactly the school heart-throb.
"In my high school, there were different classes of people: the jocks, the smart kids, and the rednecks. Then there were the burnouts. I was one of the burnouts. None of the girls wanted to hang out with me. I was just, you know, kind of a weed-head: a weird kid. I wanted to be Bruce Lee. I wanted to be on a SWAT team."
His mother advised him on fight tactics.
"My dad is a big, really fucking tough-looking guy, but the advice on fighting came from my mom. She told me when I was really little: 'Lookit. You get in a fight with somebody, and they're bigger than you, you pick up the biggest fucking brick you can find and you lay 'em out, you just fucking knock 'em out.' I'll never forget it. My mom is one of my best friends in the world."
He fired a shotgun at a bomb that Hunter S. Thompson had made for
"It was the first time I ever met Hunter. We were in Aspen, Colorado for Christmas and went to the Woody Creek Tavern where he hangs out. He came in wielding two cattle prods with serious voltage going up and down—you could see it, crackling. We got talking and ended up going back to his house. I was with my girl at the time—Kate—and her mom and a few others. I noticed a beautiful 12-gauge nickel-plated shotgun on his wall and said, 'That's a terrific shotgun.' Hunter says, 'You wanna fire it?' Next thing I know, he's pulled it off the wall and is leading me into the kitchen.
He had a couple of big tanks of propane in there and handed me some nitro-glycerine capsules. We taped them to the side of the tank, took it out back, and I shot it. I've shot guns since I was eight years old, so I knew I could hit something. The target itself—a tube of nitro-glycerine—was pretty small, but a shotgun sprays, so I knew I'd hit something near. But I was kind of like, 'I hope I don't miss.' And bang! Boof! Bullseye! I got it first shot. There was this 75 ft burst of fire, an enormous explosion. It was great fun. I was a little worried about shrapnel, but no one got caught, thank God. Mrs. Moss was a little freaked out, but she did well. She hung in there, and when we left she was kinda like, 'Who is that man?'"
He was bald for four months.
"The first thing I felt was wind on the top of my head—wind on the pate. It was very strange. When you're out on the street, you start to notice other bald men, and there's a moment of recognition. You look at them and it's an unspoken thing in which you're saying, 'I understand, man.' Even though my baldness was only temporary, while we were shooting Fear And Loathing, it was like: 'You're bald, I'm bald and there's nothing we can do about it.' I felt real weird. When Hunter first saw it, he said they hadn't gone far enough and wanted to fix it. So I let him shave my head. I trusted him. I really did. He was incredibly gentle. He put on a nice skin cream and had a mining light on his hat and it was good—no cuts, no weirdness. But when he saw it, he said, 'Jesus Christ, man, cover that up.' I looked really strange. But I don't think I'm heading that way. My hair's thick. It's good to have it back, I'll tell you. I wasn't sure—I thought maybe it'll grow back, maybe it'll not; maybe it'll grow back as an Afro; maybe it'll grow back in little tight pin curls. Who knows what'll happen. It was like waiting for Christmas morning. For a long time."
Johnny likes to shoot.
"I have a few guns in the house, just in case some nightmare happens. I sometimes go shooting as well. I go out into the desert and set up beer cans, because when they get really hot and you hit one there's an enormous explosion; it's nice. I never shoot moving targets, though. Living things are out. My father's been trying to get me to hunt with him for years. He hunts wild boar. But I can't kill an animal. I can eat quite a few animals, but I just can't shoot 'em."
Johnny loves pig flesh.
"Swine is the greatest! I mean, it's fine if you're a vegetarian, but fucking A, man, how can you not eat pork? I live for pork, it's the best thing in the world. And I love Burger King and McDonald's—couldn't choose between them. I'm from the South, I'm complete and utter white trash. I couldn't really trust anyone who doesn't eat pork. It's not that I dislike vegetarians, some are okay. I've even dated a couple—they'd just sit there and watch me feast on hog. And I know the McCartneys fairly well. I knew Linda, who was really great, a funny lady. We'd come back from the pub and she'd say, 'What did you guys eat?' Stella would tell her she'd had a ploughman's, and I'd say 'Shepherds pie.' Linda'd be like, 'Oh my God!' She was really funny about it, and she actually converted me—I didn't have any meat at all for nine months. I could deal without steak; hamburgers were a little rough; but pork was just terrible, I pined for bacon. I missed pig. It was a steak, the little trollop, that dragged me back in there. I was working out a lot lifting weights at the time because I had to gain 20 pounds of muscle for Donnie Brasco. I couldn't get fat—it had to be muscle. That's tough on soy beans. This one guy said, 'Look, you're not going to gain the weight unless you eat meat,' so I just said, 'Fuck it—steak now!' And next morning, obviously, it was bacon immediately."
Johnny rates feet above breasts.
"Feet are very important. Very, very important. They are way up there on the priority list. About top two. A bad pair of feet, let's see, would be with long toenails. I can remember seeing my great grandmother's toenails. She was a full-blooded Cherokee. Her toenails were really long and curled—like cashews. Long toenails are a bad move. Horrible, can't even think about it. Just an awful image. Feet say a lot. If a girl doesn't take care of her feet there may be problems elsewhere."
Johnny lives in Bela Lugosi's old house.
"I bought it three years ago. It's great. Bela Lugosi lived in it in the Forties; they shot part of the Wizard of Oz there, and those things are very interesting little tidbits, nice to know. But I just loved the house; it's such a strange design, very unusual architecture. It is like a weird little castle in the middle of Hollywood, but I'm hardly ever there. I haven't been in it for five months."
Mr. Pink lives in his guest house.
"He's a friend of mine who lives in the house and takes care of the property—the infamous Mr. Pink. I don't know why he's called that. For 25 years he has been Mr. Pink—well before Reservoir Dogs, so it's not a gang-name thing. He used to work with Pink Floyd, and it'd make sense if it was because of that. He's a good guy. If I lived there alone, the place would be a wreck. They'd call in the health department. There's no way I could take care of all that stuff myself. Mr. Pink is great, sort of a good friend who just takes care of everything."
Johnny also lives with a pitbull
terrier called Moo.
"He was a present from Kate. Moo is not scary. He doesn't bite—that's just the propaganda against pitbulls. It depends what the owner's like—I don't bite too hard. I miss him when I'm away. I also have two rottweilers, called Red and Black. So it's Moo, Pink, Red, Black and me. I don't have a colorful name yet. I'm looking forward to one, though."
An eight-foot yellow gorilla stands
proudly in the Depp front yard.
"He comes from Fear And Loathing. He's got the words, 'You Can Run But You Cannot Hide' emblazoned on his stomach. I saw him and fell in love with him—as one does with an eight-foot gorilla—and I thought, 'Aah, I've got a good idea. I'll rig him up for those bastard neighbors who've been complaining about the construction and fucking leaves in their garden.' That was horrible shit. They're real trainspotters, real nit-pickers. I had the construction crew on the film build his hand so he was flicking the bird (giving the finger). He also has a giant erection; we built a pump into him so he's constantly peeing into a bucket. The neighbors haven't commented yet, but they must know he was put there especially for them. I've had him moved now, but he used to stand facing their little veranda where they sit and have coffee every morning. Now he's right at the end of my driveway, so just as you park your car there's this enormous gorilla with a giant hard-on—welcome to Johnny's!"
The gorilla is not Johnny's first
piece of unusual garden
"I used to have a nine-foot rooster, many years ago. I always thought it was good to say that I had the biggest cock in Los Angeles. I am not saying there are no grounds for that without him, but when you have a nine-foot rooster you can say that to anyone."
He has a tattoo that reads 'Wino
"Putting tattoos on hurts. Taking them off hurts more—'specially if they don't give you the anesthetic. But it's worth it, the pain going on, and off. They're both worth it."
Johnny loves to smoke.
"I am a good smoker; a good driver; not a bad drinker; and an excellent sleeper—the four things I do best in life. I love smoking, I've been doing it for years. Never even thought about giving it up. I roll my own: Drum tobacco. A scummy Hollywood gossip columnist once said I was obviously a dangerous character because I spoke up for the legalization of marijuana and rolled my own cigarettes—you gotta watch out for guys who roll their own cigarettes. Stay away from those boys.
You can smoke in my club, the Viper Room. We break that law because it's ludicrous. Los Angeles is one of the most polluted cities in the world: stand in the street, you get cancer. Why not get drunk in a bar and get cancer? At least you'll have a good time getting it. LA is a very stupid place with stupid laws."
Johnny is a Kentucky Colonel.
"That's because of Hunter. It's what Hunter calls me—the colonel. He made me one. It wasn't something I'd ever thought about, even though we're both from the dark and bloody ground of Kentucky. But Hunter kept rousing me, saying, 'You mean you're not in the Kentucky Hall of Fame?' And I'd say, 'Fuck, why are they gonna put me in that?' So eventually he said, 'I'm going to arrange this—you're bitter, I can tell.' I told him I didn't give a fuck, but he kept on, and the next thing I know, he's had me made into a Kentucky Colonel in the Kentucky Colonel's Association. They give you some certificate which says: You are Colonel Johnny Depp. Colonel Saunders was the same kind of colonel as I am—I could start a fried chicken chain. Or maybe a fried pork chain."