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Rebel With a Cause

by Isabelle Caron
Photographs by Bob Frame
FW Magazine
Winter 2003

Hollywood's favourite troublemaker, Johnny Depp has left the hills of Tinseltown for the south of France and he's found happiness in his new role as loving dad. Here Depp dishes on family life, George W. Bush, pirates and inner peace.

Remember the infamous legend of Johnny Depp, 40, that swashbuckling pirate of Hollywood, renowned for his incendiary performances onscreen as well as his notorious offscreen love affairs and hotel room broadsides? Well, that legend currently resides deep within Davy Jones' locker, because the new and improved Depp, despite having played a pirate in the box-office smash Pirates of the Caribbean, has transformed himself into a mellow papa.

These days, Depp spends his time with the lovely French actress and singer Vanessa Paradis. The couple have been together for the past six years, and their blissful alliance has produced two adorable children, Lily-Rose, 4, and Jack, 18 months. Having a family has resulted in a much lower-key lifestyle for Depp . . . and the former brooding bad boy couldn't be happier. "I could never imagine that having a family would bring me so much joy," reveals the handsome-as-ever star. "The birth of my children has completely changed my life. They have calmed me down and made me aware of all the love I am surrounded with."

FW: Although you finished filming The Pirates of the Caribbean quite some time ago, your smile still flashes the seven fake gold teeth of Jack Sparrow, the pirate you portrayed in the film. Why?

Johnny Depp: The truth is that ever since my daughter, Lily-Rose, saw me in my costume, she would tell everyone that her daddy was a pirate. Since she truly believed it, I couldn't bring myself to tell her that I was only playing a character in a movie. It was obvious in her eyes that a pirate with golden teeth was so much more fascinating than a mere actor, and I didn't want to let her down or disappoint her. She even told her mother that when she grows up she wants to be a pirate with many gold teeth and roam the seven seas.

Have you taken Lily-Rose on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland?

I did. In fact, I was surprised when, instead of wanting to go on the Alice in Wonderland or It's a Small World rides, Lily-Rose just wanted to go on Pirates over and over. It made me remember all the joy I felt when I was a child of six and being completely in love with that ride, asking my mother to go on it time after time. So it was a great pleasure to see my girl enjoying the same thrills. We laughed harder and harder with each other every time we went on it.

You sound like a very happy and proud papa.

Before my children were born, I didn't know that the most beautiful thing in life is one's own family. I am deeply touched by the love I feel from Lily-Rose and Jack. They have brought me a happiness that I never knew existed.

You have been a notorious chain smoker. Is it true that you've stopped smoking cigarettes because of them?

Almost, but not entirely just yet, because it's very hard to stop for me. But now I have such a great incentive. I mean, when I look at Lily-Rose and Jack, I want to live long enough to see them grow, to see them having their own children. That pushes me to live a very healthy life. So you see, not smoking is a sacrifice I will very happily make. I would do anything for my family because they are the key to a happy life at home.

And where is home now for the Depp clan?

I have homes in Paris, the south of France and in Los Angeles.

Jack, your little boy, is only a year-and-a-half old. What's he like?

He's strong, healthy and a real terror! He touches everything and breaks things, and falls down constantly. It's like living with a drunk! [laughs]

Are you a hands-on father?

Of course. I do all the things that a mother or father does. I change Jack's diapers, give my children baths, I sing them songs, tell them stories, play with them, console them and love to cuddle them. This paternal instinct just comes naturally to me, and, to be honest, I find it tremendously enjoyable.

You and Vanessa have been together for six years.

She is the sweetest person I know. The kindest. She has a heart of gold. I can tell you that at a time when people marry and divorce quickly, Vanessa and I are a very solid couple who care about each other deeply and work at making each other happy.

Was it love at first sight?

Yes. When I first met her (on the set of the Roman Polanski film Ninth Gate), what struck me was her beauty. I fell in love with Vanessa the moment I set eyes on her. I was a lost cause at that point. But what touched me immediately afterwards was her tenderness. Very quickly I realized that I couldn't live without her. It was only a few months later that we found out she was pregnant with Lily-Rose and I made the decision then to join her in Paris and start a new life with her over there.

As an American, how has it been to live in France?

Fantastic. I haven't become a French citizen, but have felt so welcome by everyone I meet in France that for the first time in my life I truly feel at home there. More so than in Los Angeles, where we also have a house.

Since America's involvement in Iraq, have you felt any strong anti-American sentiments in France?

You know, the French are polite and well-cultured people. They do smile when the name of George W. Bush is mentioned, and they laughed when the Americans changed the name of french fries to "Freedom Fries" because of the anti-French sentiment at the beginning of the Iraqi war. But that's all.

And what are your thoughts about President Bush?

I think that he is a bad liar. It would be one thing if he lied well, but being a bad liar is unforgivable. If you are going to lie, do a good job of it.

In a way, being an actor is also being a liar.

Actually, it's only pretending and realizing your dream. For instance, when I played a pirate, for me it was going back to my childhood, being a little boy on the beach with my friends and pretending to be Jean Laffitte or Blackbeard.

Would you have made a great pirate?

Oh, yes. Like them, I don't work for the money or treasure, but for the adventure and pleasure. I would have loved to roam the seven seas, free as a bird. I have always watched pirate movies with great envy.

With two young children at home, do you have time to see any movies in the cinema?

Not really, but we watch a lot of them on TV. We rent cassettes of all the Disney movies because Lily-Rose loves them. At night, when the kids are in bed, I will watch movies that Vanessa made. She is quite an amazing actress.

What has Vanessa brought to your life?

She makes me feel like a human being and not just a Hollywood movie product. Because she possesses such a joie de vivre, Vanessa has taught me to be positive instead of negative. And she has also inspired explosions of creativity within me.

Do you ever plan on getting married?

Vanessa and I consider ourselves already married. We just haven't gone though the formalities, like signing papers. To each other, we have been husband and wife since day one.

How is your French these days? Are you speaking the language fluently?

[Laughs] Non! But I have made enormous progress. Vanessa is a great teacher, and so is my daughter. With me she speaks English, but Lily-Rose speaks French with her mother all the time, therefore she's able to help me when I'm struggling with my French.

What kind of girl is Lily-Rose?

She's very smart and very curious. She never stops asking me questions. Not too long ago she came to me and said, "Daddy, does God have a maid?" I couldn't give her an answer because I really don't know. I mean, I haven't seen a script on that particular subject yet! [Laughs]

Spending a great deal of your time in France, have you remained close to your friends in Hollywood ?

Of course. But I am not into the movie industry scene. I don't follow who is doing what, who is the new thing, or the old thing, who is a failure or a success. I am totally in the dark when it comes to Hollywood, but you know what they say . . . ignorance is bliss.

You have always been a reluctant celebrity. Did your perception of Hollywood change when you moved to France?

I was kind of bitter and angry about Hollywood, but at the same time very lucky to have been able to work steadily. I was also lucky to have done movies that I wanted to do. Films that weren't necessarily commercial, but that meant something.

You never wanted to sell your soul to play the Hollywood game, working only for the monetary rewards. Why?

Because I felt that everybody—the public, the actors—were being cheated. Hollywood had become an assembly line of garbage, for the most part, and I just didn't want any part of it. I had tasted a little of that when I did 21 Jump Street and never liked the feeling.

That was the show that launched your career. What memories do you have of it?

Bittersweet. We would make one episode after another and it was exhausting. But at the same time I am proud of the series because we were telling stories about AIDS, abused children and drugs.

What provokes anger in you today?

Ignorance, greed, nastiness, prejudice and injustice.

Your involvement with charities shows that you are trying to make a difference in this world.

I work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. They grant wishes to terminally ill children around the world. These are children who have less than six months to live, although some, defying all odds, do stick around longer. I consider myself lucky every time I meet one of them. They have shown me more strength and courage than I could ever have in their situation. I also work with D.A.R.E. [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] which educates children and their parents about the dangers of drug use. It's a very good organization that we should all help.

It seems as if fatherhood has changed you not only as a person, but as an actor as well. There's much more responsibility now in choosing the films you want to make.

That certain key you have been given when you become a father makes you a better human being. But with this key you also have much more responsibility. Suddenly, everything you do matters because your children will be watching, following your actions. That knowledge has given me a certain bravery, a certain force, to move forward in a decent manner that will make my children proud of their father. The way I look at it, Vanessa and I didn't give birth to our children, they gave birth to us. I strongly believe that they chose us so they could teach us about life. So, today I feel better about my work because I feel better about my life.

How would you define yourself as an actor?

I am an actor who wants to touch his public—to make them laugh or cry, and especially to think. That's been my goal.

And how would you define yourself as a man?

I have never been happier, having lost my rebellious nature and rage. After living 35 years in a fog, not really living but barely surviving, with nothing to look forward to, I am now living the most magical time of my life. I have become a truly blessed father whose principal concern is his family, and I thank my stars each day.

-- donated by Joni