Johnny Depp, after years of following his own eccentric hunchback muse, became a big moneymaking Hollywood star in 2003. And, fittingly, he did it in the most improbable way anyone could imagine: Playing an affected, fey pirate captain. Depp gave Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl a jolt of imaginative energy every time he was onscreen, helping make it one of the year’s most entertaining movies—and he did the same as a conniving CIA agent in Once Upon a Time in Mexico. We caught up with Depp in Montreal, where he was filming the thriller Secret Window.
Everyone loves that the inspiration for Captain Jack Sparrow was Keith Richards and Pepe Le Pew. What was behind Agent Sands in Once Upon a Time in Mexico?
The idea behind him is there was a guy I used to know in Hollywood, in the business, who on the outside was very charming—soft-spoken and almost hypnotic in the rhythm he used to speak. He refused to call me Johnny—always called me John. You knew this guy was aiming to fuck you over, but somehow you stuck around because he was just so fascinating to watch.
What’s your favorite movie this year?
Not a new one, but In a Lonely Place, with Humphrey Bogart—that’s an amazing film. And I thought Finding Nemo was brilliant. I still quote the seagulls every day: “Mine, mine, mine.” That was one of my favorite moments in any movie ever.
What was the best place you visited this year?
One place would be Disneyland. I have two kids, so it’s a ball. Walking around Disneyland, my daughter, who’s four now, gets so excited and so happy. She likes the princesses and the roller coasters. And then eight o’clock at night rolls around, and the kids are walleyed. You’re carrying them home.
Had you been excited like that when you were a kid?
Yeah, when I was a little kid, I went to Disney World in Florida and loved it. I was obsessed with the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean—the darker rides.
Little did you know—
Yeah, who could have ever thunk.
Four seems young to be loving roller coasters.
That’s what I thought, too. But I think it’s the absolute freedom, like flying. I remember when I was a little kid, I used to dream of flying a lot. I guess most kids do. You grow up, and all kinds of hardship gets thrown on your shoulders, you don’t dream of flying anymore.
Do you still remember your dreams?
Now and again. There’s a dream I still remember very well, from years ago. I was being chased by Alan Hale, the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island, all over the place. I ran, and I jumped bushes, and he came around the corner with that Skipper laugh, and I ran into—I was in East L.A.—some woman’s apartment, and I turned and looked in the kitchen and there was sort of an older Hispanic woman who was squatting on the kitchen floor, peeing. And then the Skipper burst in and he chased me all over the place. It was one of those dreams that seemed to last six hours. But I’m over that now.
What are your hopes for the year ahead?
Boy, just to keep moving forward. Happiness for my family. And I hope that things get better all over and the weirdness in Iraq stops, all that stuff. I think sometimes it would be amazing to be able to go back in time to when innocence was a possibility. But the last time like that was the Fifties, early Sixties. We’re overwhelmed by information, technology, everything at this point—but, you know, maybe it’s just a transitional period.
Do you think you made any mistakes this year?
I make mistakes every day. Yeah, I think I did, by talking politics with a German journalist whose command of the English language is probably not up to snuff, and having the intent of something I said misinterpreted. [Depp was quoted as comparing the United States to “a dumb puppy with big teeth.”] And then having that thing sneak around and bite me on the ass. That was a nasty moment, but it’s all cleared up now. I got to say what I needed to say.
What was your most extravagant purchase?
I bought myself a Mont Blanc pen. There’s something about an amazing old, heavy, thick fountain pen with a broad nib that just makes you want to write more.
What kind of writing do you do?
Journal form, thoughts and notes. I remind myself of a book that I want to read or an old movie I want to see. Or when I’m making notes before I do a film, when I’m working on the guy, the character.
What music have you been enjoying lately?
Well, I’ve been listening to a lot of gypsy music. There’s a band I really love called Taraf de Haidouks. There’s a British artist called Baby Bird who’s really gifted. Old blues stuff: a lot of Robert Johnson, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf.
So what else are you looking forward to in the year ahead?
Well, there is talk of a Pirates sequel, which would be fun. It’d be nice to step back into Captain Jack’s shoes for a spell. And hopefully, in the middle of next year, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with Tim [Burton]. I may have to do that. It’d be insane not to. You know, it’s an amazing character that Roald Dahl created—all the characters, but certainly Willy Wonka—and the challenge is to find another avenue that Gene Wilder didn’t take. Because Gene Wilder was so brilliant. I don’t want to let anybody down.
Any chance of getting the aborted Don Quixote movie back off the ground?
I hope so. That’s the dream. Terry [Gilliam] and I, we started talking about Quixote years ago, and then we tried to do it and it took a giant dump on us, more on him than on me. The last time I talked to him, he seemed very optimistic that we could get it back on the road. Terry came to visit me one day on the set of Pirates. He was looking at everything, all the giant sets, and he said, “This is just great. I’m so pleased that you’re selling out. [laughs] This can be a giant hit, and we can get Quixote back and running.”