After years of balancing arty projects with popcorn flicks, Johnny Depp nabbed an Academy Award nomination for a perfect combination of the two, playing the swashbuckling Keith Richards—oops, we mean Captain Jack Sparrow—in last summer’s smash Pirates of the Caribbean. Did Depp have Oscar expectations? “That was not in any way in the cards,” reports Bernard Weinraub, whom we nominated to meet Depp for this month’s Playboy Interview. “With his public persona, I didn’t know what to expect. He comes across as a way-out guy, but he’s not like that at all. He’s friendly, very easy to talk to, quite down-to-earth and real. Although he wants to separate his private life as much as he can now that he has two children, he was willing to talk about pretty much anything. He seemed like a really smart guy.”
In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Ed Wood and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Depp specialized in playing misfits. In real life Depp specialized in getting liquored up, arrested and involved with the likes of Winona Ryder and Kate Moss. Now with an Oscar nomination and a $300 million hit under his belt, Depp has emerged at 40 as the hottest actor in Hollywood. Is he a changed man? In his most revealing interview to date the rebel actor talks frankly about his life as an exile, a dad and a former boozehound.
A candid conversation with the brooding actor about growing up, getting sober, being a middle-aged sex symbol and smacking the hell out of the paparazzi.
Born in Owensboro, Kentucky, Depp was an indifferent student. At the age of 16 he dropped out of high school, began pumping gas and joined a band that opened for Iggy Pop and the Ramones. In 1983 the band moved to Los Angeles but struggled to find gigs. For a while Depp sold ballpoint pens by phone. His then wife, Lori Allison, introduced Depp to Nicolas Cage, who arranged a meeting with an agent. The rest is history.
Flash-forward a couple of decades, and Depp is the hottest actor in town. His latest film is Secret Window, and future projects included J.M. Barrie’s Neverland, in which he plays the author of Peter Pan; The Rum Diary, based on a Hunter S. Thompson novel; and The Libertine, in which he will play a debauched 17th century poet. More is on the horizon, including a Burton-helmed version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the inevitable gazillion-dollar sequel to Pirates.
Depp’s run-ins with the paparazzi are tabloid fodder, as are his bad-boy exploits involving drink, drugs, and a long list of beautiful women, including Sherilyn Fenn, Jennifer Grey and Winona Ryder. He and Ryder were serious enough that he emblazoned himself with a WINONA FOREVER tattoo. (When they broke up he had it laser-altered to WINO FOREVER.) He was dating model Kate Moss when he famously trashed a New York Hotel room and was arrested. Depp co-owned a popular Hollywood club called The Viper Room. It was there on Halloween night in 1993 that rising star River Phoenix died of a drug overdose. The tragedy contributed to Depp's image as an actor teetering on the edge.
Depp has since settled down with his girlfriend of six years, Vanessa Paradis, the French actress and pop singer. They have two children, Lily-Rose, four, and Jack, two. The couple divide their time between Los Angeles and St.Tropez, France.
PLAYBOY sent journalist Bernard Weinraub to meet with Depp in a suite at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Los Angeles. Depp arrived decked out in a cowboy hat, with a Che Guevara charm, an amulet and a tiger’s tooth around his neck. He promptly opened a bottle of water and rolled a cigarette.
Playboy: You’ve been through quite a few changes lately, not the least of which is that Pirates of the Caribbean has made you one of the hottest stars in town. You were even nominated for best actor.
Johnny Depp: It’s really weird. [laughs]
What impact did Pirates have on your career and your life?
I’m the wrong person to answer that. For one thing, four- and five-year old kids and people in their 50s, 60s and 70s—a broad spectrum—loved that movie. That hasn’t happened to me before. That was great. I just want to continue getting good jobs.
Has Hollywood’s view of you changed?
I don’t know if Hollywood’s view of me has changed. I’m certainly getting calls from people and filmmakers who maybe didn’t know my name before. That’s all right. My next film has been planned for a while. The story takes place in Restoration England. I play John Wilmot, the debauched poet. He killed himself with drink and syphilis at the age of 33. A real piece of work.
You’re now considered a bankable movie star.
I’ve always been some distance from that game. I guess there have been times when I was on the brink of bankable. But that’s all so weird. All these weird lists—top five stars, top 10, “Let’s get this guy because he’s bankable.” I don’t think about that. You’re on the list two weeks and then—poof—you’re gone. It never jarred me that I wasn’t on the list. If I’m considered bankable this week, that’s great. Next week I’ll be totally off. I’m used to that. I’ve never had an allergy to the idea of commercial success. When you put a movie out and it’s successful, that’s great. I just wanted to get there in the right way, in a way that’s not too compromising or demeaning or ugly. Whether I’m there as a bankable movie star or not, I don’t know. If I stay there, who knows?
Do you consider yourself a star?
Well, the real movie stars were Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Spencer Tracy, Montgomery Cliff. How could I put myself in the same category as Clark Gable? Tom Cruise is a great movie star. Do I consider myself a movie star? I consider myself a guy with a good job, an interesting job.
Maybe better than a good job. You’ve become big box office. You’re spending less time in France and more in L.A. to be closer to the action.
Well, I still live in France part-time.
Are you as at home in France as you are here?
Now I am. It was amazing at first, because I didn’t speak the language. I loved that, because I didn’t have to talk. It was great just to be out among people and not have the responsibility to say anything. I wasn’t thrown into the spotlight to be the novelty or entertain.
Are you often in that position?
Yeah, and this was nice. I could sit there and drink wine. Ultimately, though, what I love about being over there is the culture, which is very old.
What’s your life in France like?
Simplicity, really. We have a little house in the country. We wake up in the morning, the sun’s coming out, we make coffee, and then we make breakfast for the kids.
Now that you’re back in the public eye in a big way, do you feel more exposed?
We’ve always had our run-ins with the paparazzi. That hasn’t changed. They are very ambitious. They’re looking for God knows what. You think, Why that kind of intense invasion?
Did it cause you to question making Pirates of the Caribbean in the first place?
No, I’m not going to complain. When we’re in a public place, like at some opening or premiere, I don’t mind the press. It’s the nature of the beast. But when you’re shopping for Christmas presents for your kids, I just don’t understand the fascination. The other day I had a lunch meeting in the San Fernando Valley. There was a literal convoy, with seven or eight vehicles, behind us. My girl took my kids to the park the other day, and the paparazzi surrounded the perimeter just to photograph her playing with our children. It’s ugly. I don’t mind so much when they do it to me, but when it’s my kids, that’s another story. It’s evil.
Is there less harassment in France?
Not necessarily. They fly helicopters over our property, in front of the kitchen window. They have these long lenses.
Here’s another big change: You recently turned 40. Are you surprised that you made it?
It was questionable for a while.
Were you genuinely worried that you wouldn’t?
In your teens and your 20s, you’re immortal, you’re untouchable. It’s only later that you begin to realize you are mortal.
You once said that everyone thinks of you as a drug-addicted, brooding, angry and rebellious mental case. How apt was that description?
Well, for many years they said I was a wild man. Now they say I’m a former wild man, former bad boy, former rebel. I guess “former” because now I’m a dad. The media tries to stuff you in a mold. It happens to everybody. He’s the new bad boy, the new James Dean, the new whatever. It’s both amusing and annoying. My mom reads that stuff. So do my nieces and nephews and all my family. At times it was flat out fiction.
At one point your life did seem out of control. Was it drugs?
Mostly alcohol. There were drugs, too—pills—and there was a danger that I would go over the edge. I could have. I thank God I didn’t. It was darkest during the filming of Gilbert Grape.
What were your drugs of choice?
I was never a cokehead or anything like that. I always despised that drug. I thought it was a waste of time, pointless. But I was poisoning myself with alcohol and medicating myself. I was trying to numb things.
I was trying not to feel things, and that’s ridiculous. It’s one of the dumbest things you can do, because all you’re doing is postponing the inevitable. Some day you’ll have to look all those things in the eye rather than try and numb the pain.
How far did it go? Were you ever an addict?
No, thank God I was never hooked on anything. I never had a monkey on my back. I just wanted to self-medicate, to numb myself through liquor. It’s how I dealt with life, reality, stress, change, sadness, memories. The list goes on. I was really trying to feel nothing.
What led you to stop?
Family and friends sat me down and said, “Listen, we love you. You’re important to us, and you’re fucking up. You’re killing yourself. You’re killing us in the process.”
Did you listen to them?
Not right away. You don’t listen right away because you’re too dumb. You’re ignorant. You’re human. Finally it seeps in. Finally the body and mind and heart and psyche just go, “Yeah, you’re doing the wrong thing.”
Did your family and friends actually do an intervention?
At a certain point they intervened. At the time I said I appreciated it. I went through the motions. I said I was okay, and I went for a couple of months being a dumb ass. But I could see things turning into a nasty tailspin. And then I thought, Maybe I’m slow, but this is ridiculous. Fuck it, just stop! So I stopped everything for the better part of a year. I guess I just reached a point where I said, “Jesus Christ, what am I doing? Life is fucking good. What am I doing to myself?” Now I drink a glass or two of red wine and that’s it.
River Phoenix died of a drug overdose outside your club. What impact did that have on you?
It was devastating. I can’t imagine the depth of pain that his family and close friends felt. It was rough for me, but for them it must have been unbearable.
How well did you know him?
We knew and were certainly respectful of each other. There was always the sort of promise, “Hey we’ll get together and do something sometime.” I liked him. I liked his work ethic, and I liked his choices. He was a sharp guy. He had so many amazing possibilities before him. Fuck, what a waste. For what?
Did it affect your drinking and drug use?
That was 1993, when I was doing Ed Wood. I was completely sober—no hard liquor, no wine, no nothing. Even so, all the tabloids started saying we were having drug parties. The whole thing was weird, awful, ugly and sad. The incident is seared onto my brain, onto my heart.
Are that and the other darker times in your life reflected in your work? Tim Burton once said you had an affinity for damaged people. Do you?
I do have an affinity for damaged people, in life, in roles. I don’t know why. We’re all damaged in our own way. Nobody’s perfect. I think we are all somewhat screwy, every single one of us.
Did you feel damaged as a child, or was yours a relatively normal childhood?
Normal? I wouldn’t go that far.
Then how was it abnormal?
It was strange, though then again, it was normal to us. It wasn’t until I started going to other kids’ houses and hanging out, having dinner, seeing what a family is supposed to do that I saw that we weren’t so normal.
How was it different?
Even down to sitting around a dinner table together—it wasn’t an everyday occurrence in my house. At my house dinner easily could have consisted of a bologna sandwich, and then you’d split. You might come back later and grab a few peanuts, and then you’d split again. That was it. I would go to my buddy Sal’s house for dinner. I couldn’t understand what was going on with everyone sitting down together. I’ll never forget seeing romaine lettuce for the first time. I thought it was weird—I was afraid of it. There was salad and appetizers and soup. I had no idea about that. I grew up on hillbilly food.
Apparently you were no more at ease in school. Were you a problem student?
Yeah, in high school.
In what way?
There was this vicious woman, a teacher. If you weren’t in her little handpicked clique, you were ridiculed and picked on. She was brutal and unjust. One day she told me to do something, I can’t remember what. Her tone was nasty. She got very loud in my face in front of the rest of the class and tried to embarrass me. I saw what she was doing, that she was trying to ridicule me. I turned around and walked away. As I did, I dropped my pants and mooned her.
How did she react?
She went out of her mind. Then of course I was brought before the dean and suspended for a couple of weeks. At that time it was coming anyway. I knew my days were numbered.
What in school interested you?
I was more interested in music than anything else. Music was like life. I had found a reason to live. I was 12 when my mom bought me a $25 electric guitar. I had an uncle who was a preacher, and his family had a gospel singing group. He played guitar in church, and I used to watch him. I became obsessed with the guitar. I locked myself in my bedroom for the better part of a year and taught myself chords. I’d try to learn things off records.
I was very lucky to have my brother, who is 10 years older than me and a real smart guy. He turned me on to Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, I remember listening to the soundtracks to A Clockwork Orange and Last Tango in Paris. I loved Aerosmith, Kiss and Alice Cooper, and when I was older, the Clash, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones.
Why didn’t your music career pan out?
At a certain point I realized that, in terms of a job, maybe I didn’t have the passion for it.
What effect did your parents’ divorce have on you?
I was 15, I think. It had been coming for quite a long time. I’m surprised they lasted that long, bless their hearts. I think they tried to keep it together for the kids, and then they couldn’t anymore.
How were they as parents?
They were good parents. They raised four kids. I was the youngest. They stuck it out for us all those years. But we lived in a small house, and nobody argued in a whisper. We were exposed to their violent outbursts against each other. That stuff sticks.
What led you to acting?
Opportunity. I never really had an interest in it in the beginning. Nicolas Cage—we had some mutual friends—introduced me to his agent. She sent me to a casting director, and I auditioned for the first Nightmare on Elm Street. I got the job. I was stupefied. They paid me all that money for a week. It was luck, an accident. I did it purely to pay the rent. I was literally filling out job applications at the same time, any kind of job. Nic Cage said, “You should try being an actor. Maybe you are one and don’t know it.” I began acting, and I thought, well, this is an interesting road; maybe I should keep traveling on it. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, so I started to read everything I could about acting—Stanislavsky, Uta Hagen, Michael Chekhov. I started soaking it up.
Then you landed a starring role on 21 Jump Street. How do you look back on that experience?
It did great things for me, and I’m thankful for the experience. It was a great education, but it was very frustrating. I felt like I was filling up space between commercials.
Yet it was very successful and launched your career.
Yeah, I’d been evicted from an apartment and had moved into a friend’s place. I was scrambling to pay the rent, waiting for residual checks from other things that I’d done to pay the bills. I went from that to making a bunch of money. I went from anonymity to going to a restaurant and having people point at me. It was a shock. But what really bothered me was that I could see the machine. I could see the wheels turning. I could see where it was all going, and it scared the shit out of me.
Where was it going?
Fox was creating the Fox network, using 21 Jump Street to build it. They were shoving my face out there, selling me as this product. It made me crazy. I thought, After this you’ll be in a sitcom. You’ll be on a lunch box and then a thermos and a notebook. And in two years you’ll be ridiculous. It paid good money and was a good gig, but I wanted something else.
What did you do to change your career?
I waited and waited and waited to do a movie, because I wanted to do the right one. I wanted to go as far away from the series as I could. The first film I did after Jump Street was Cry-Baby with John Waters. That was a great experience. After that I did another season of the series, and then I did Edward Scissorhands. During that movie I got the phone call saying I was out of the show. I felt like, Ah, possibilities. I was freed up. I swore to myself that I would never again compromise to the degree that I had. I swore that I wouldn’t just follow the commercial road. I wouldn’t do what was expected of me or what was necessary to maintain whatever it is—a popular or financially rewarding career. I promised myself that I wouldn’t do that.
Has the success of Pirates changed your attitude?
Years ago I said to myself, I’ll never do television again. No way. Nothing in the world could get me to do it. And then somewhere in the back of my mind I’m thinking that it might be cool someday to do a television series, just to be in one spot for a while. You never know what’s going to happen. One minute you’re doing one thing and people are interested, and the next minute they’re not interested. It’s just an odd game. I mean, I may want to do dinner theater. Maybe it’s not so bad. I’ve always said I might end up being forced to do McDonald’s openings dressed as Edward Scissorhands. You never know.
You’ve turned down roles later played by people such as Brad Pitt, including the part in Thelma and Louise. Was that a mistake?
I don’t regret any of the things I didn’t do, and I certainly don’t regret any of the things I did do, down to the dumbest. Everything happened the way it should happen, even ridiculous things that I did in the beginning. I don’t regret any of it.
You’ve starred with some impressive actors, including Al Pacino and Marlon Brando. What did you learn from them?
I watched them like a hawk. I sponged as much of an education as I could. Ultimately it solidified what I already knew from being a musician: Do what’s right for you. Whether you’re a musician, an actor, a painter or a writer, there’s some degree of compromise in what you do, but don’t compromise unless you think it’s right. Stick to your guns, no matter what. Don’t let them step on your toes, man.
And then there was Traci Lords in Cry-Baby. Is the former porn star a method actor?
I remember meeting her. I could sense she was a little bit protective of herself, wary of people. She was a little closed off in the beginning, but soon she was incredibly sweet and really professional. Kind of adorable. I loved her, man. I love her to this day.
These days how do you choose which movies to do?
I can tell in the first 10, 15 or 20 pages of a script, sometimes in the first three pages. I can tell if it’s something that’s going to be right. I start getting images in my head, then I start writing things down.
What are you looking for?
I just want something different. I want to be surprised. I want something that doesn’t feel formulaic or beaten to death. For Secret Window, I read the script, and I loved it. The ending is great. I didn’t see it coming. It’s based on a Stephen King novella. It’s extremely well written. Even the screen direction is entertaining: “looks left, looks right, walks to the fridge, grabs a Cheeto and splits.” The story has a great twist.
Is it true that you based your Pirates of the Caribbean character, Captain Jack, on Keith Richards?
And Pepe Le Pew.
Yeah. When I was a kid Pepe was one of those great Saturday morning cartoons. Pepe is a French skunk who hops along, the most happy-go-lucky guy in the world. As he’s hopping along, people are falling over from the stink, but he never notices. I always thought, What an amazing way to go through life.
And why Keith Richards?
When I decided to do the movie I started thinking about pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries. It came to me that the modern-day equivalent is a rock-and-roll star.
How are they like pirates?
They live dangerously. They’re wild and capable of anything, just like pirates. And once I made that connection, I thought, Who is the ultimate rock-and-roll star? Keith Richards.
Do you know Richards?
I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with him over the years, and yes, I have gotten to know him. And he is kind of a pirate. For the movie, I didn’t want to do an imitation of Keith, but I wanted to take the spirit of Keith, the beautiful, laid-back confidence.
Since when do pirates wear all the make up your character wears?
Actually, for awhile Keith did. Bob Dylan did too in the 1970s. He went through a period when he wore dark kohl eyeliner. I looked into the kohl thing. It comes from the nomad tribes in the desert in Africa. It’s protection for the eyes from the sun. Football players use it for that today. And I took other stuff from Keith, too—things dangling in his hair, the beads.
Richards isn’t your only influence. Apparently you based Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow on Angela Lansbury, and Ed Wood on Ronald Reagan. They seem a strange sampling of choices.
Well, Angela Lansbury is an amazing actress. I thought of Ichabod Crane as a very nervous, ultrasensitive prepubescent girl. That’s where Angela Lansbury came in. I thought of some of the work she’s done over the years, especially in Death on the Nile. I also based Ichabod a bit on Roddy McDowall who was a very good friend.
And President Reagan?
Ed Wood was based on Reagan, yes, but also on the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. And Casey Kasem. It was a weird little soup of those three.
Why those three?
I remember watching Reagan make speeches. He had this kind of innocence and a na´ve, blind optimism—“Everything’s going to be fine.” You’re like, “Well it’s not! It’s not going to be fine.” Jack Haley’s performance as the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz is one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. Watch that film and think about a grown man giving that performance. It’s really astounding.
What about Casey Kasem?
[Doing a Kasem impression] What I always liked about Casey was that he had a delivery that was so upbeat.
Are you the only actor who uses such weird inspirations?
I don’t know. Something happens to me when I’m reading a screenplay. I get these flashes, these quick images.
You received some unfavorable press last year during the war in Iraq. You said that America is like a dumb puppy that can bite and hurt you. Were you surprised by the reaction?
I would never be disrespectful to my country, to the people, especially the kids who are over there serving in the armed forces. My uncle was wounded in Vietnam, paralyzed from the neck down. I would never say those things the way they claim I said them.
What exactly did you say?
I essentially said the United States is a very young country compared with Europe. We’re still growing. That’s it. I wouldn’t say anything anti-American. I’m an American, and I love my country.
What’s your view of President Bush?
What can I say? He’s somebody’s kid. He’s somebody’s father. God bless him. Good luck. You know what I mean? I don’t agree with his politics, and I’m not going to pretend to, but I don’t agree with a lot of people’s politics.
You’ve had other public troubles, including the time you trashed the hotel room with Kate Moss. What happened?
Very simply, I had a bad day. I’d been chased by paparazzi and was feeling a little bit like Novelty Boy. Obviously something wasn’t working in my life. For a few years I wasn’t angry but just sort of frustrated and upset because I didn’t know what it was all about.
What do you mean?
I didn’t know what it was all for. When they said, “Come on, do this movie. You can make tons of money,” it just pissed me off. Fuck that. What does that mean? That’s not what it’s about. So it built up, and I lost it. It was the culmination of many things, a bad spark, and I went off. I did what I felt was necessary. Thank God it wasn’t a human being but a hotel room that I took it out on. It was a weird incident. There was a hotel security guard who was really kind of pissy and arrogant. I wanted to pop him. But I knew that if I did, it would obviously be a horse of a different color—lawsuits and God knows what else.
What happened exactly?
I did my business, and they came up to the room. By that point I had cooled down. I said, “I’ll of course pay for any damages. I apologize.” That wasn’t enough. The guy got snooty and shitty. The next thing you know, the police were at the door. As dumb as the incident was, I don’t have any regrets about it. I don’t think it merited the amount of press it got, and I certainly don’t think that I needed to go to the Tombs in New York City in handcuffs. I was in three different jails that night. But it was all part of my education, you know?
You had another run-in with the police, in London, this time directly related to a clash with paparazzi.
We were at a restaurant, and Vanessa was extremely pregnant. All they wanted were photographs of me and Vanessa and the belly. At that point I thought, Man, I’m not one of those whiny actors who says, “Oh, the paparazzi, they won’t leave me alone.” I could give a fuck about it. However, on this particular night I just decided, “Look, this is my girl. This is our first baby. I’m not going to let you fucking people turn this into a circus. You ain’t turning this deeply, profoundly beautiful, spiritual, life-changing experience into a novelty. Not without a fight.” I went out and talked to them. I said, “Look, guys, I know what you’re after. I understand that you have a job to do. But you’re not going to turn this into a circus. Just give us a break. You’re not going to get what you want tonight. I’ll see you another time.”
To which they of course said, “We’re sorry. We’ll leave.”
Right. They were very aggressive: “Fuck you, Johnny.” That kind of shit. I swung around and told Vanessa, “Go out the front door, get in the car so they don’t get us together or get your belly.” She did. She was in the car, so everything was going to be cool, but they were so shitty. One guy was trying to hold the door open. He had his hand wedged in there. I looked down at the ground, and there was a 17-inch wooden plank, a two-by-two or something. Instinct took over. I picked it up and whacked the guy’s hand. I went outside and said, “Now I want you to take my picture, because the first fucking guy who hits a flash, I’m going to kick his skull in. Let’s go. Take my picture.” They didn’t take my picture. I was livid. They walked backward down the street. I walked them away from Vanessa in the car and down this other street. It was beautiful. It was well worth it. It was kind of poetic. The next thing I knew, I saw flashing lights on the buildings around me. And a paddy wagon.
How long were you in jail?
It was brief. It was around 11:30 or midnight, and I was out by five or six the next morning. No one filed charges against me, because they didn’t want their names exposed. Had they filed charges they would have had to give their names and would have lost their anonymity. The cops were actually terrific, real sweet. As I said, I didn’t mind as much before I had kids. Everything changes when it comes to my children.
Everything. The way you sleep changes. Your whole life is changed. Every inch of it is different.
How are you different?
I think it just wakes you up and kind of gives you the opportunity to be who you really are. Before my kids came along I was freaked out to hold a kid. When I was a teenager and my brother had babies, I was always freaked out to hold them. They just seemed so fragile. I’d hold them for a minute and then, “Okay, here. Take the kid.” So I was surprised how quickly almost instantly, I was okay with my own baby. Within 24 hours I was fine with it all—the diapers, everything. One of the most amazing moments in my life was holding my brand-new baby, Lily-Rose, just after she was born. She wasn’t three hours old, and I was holding her. Her little eyes were kind of half open. She was drifting into sleep. Looking into those little eyes, I thought, My God, I’ll never be closer to another human being in my life. And you’re not, until your second one comes. Before the second one came, there was this strange thing, a snippet of worry. I thought, How can I love the second as much as the first? Is it possible? And when little Jack arrived it was instant. Instant. They just seem so fragile.
Who gave you parenting tips?
One of the greatest pieces of advice I got was from my brother. When I told him Vanessa was pregnant, he said, "Congratulations. You'll never sleep the same way again. You'll never have another calm day as long as you live, but it's worth it." He said it just off-the-cuff, but it was right on the money.
Has parenthood influenced the movies you make?
Yes. I actually feel as though I make choices with my kids in mind. It helps me to be clear about what I will and won’t make. I want to have my kids say, “My pa did only the things that he felt he should do.” I don’t want them to be embarrassed. I think maybe they can be proud of some of the work I do. Maybe they will be proud that I decided to go against the grain a little bit and fight the good fight. When you’re older, drooling, and your children are changing your diapers, they will know that there was integrity.
Vanessa is French. Are French women different from American women?
They speak French better.
You know, Vanessa could have been anything—Icelandic, Armenian, Egyptian, whatever. It would have hit me with the same force. I wouldn’t say that it was the French thing.
How did you meet?
We met briefly years ago. I remember thinking, Ouch. It as just hello, but the contact was electric. That was in 1993. It wasn’t until 1998, when I went to do the Polanski film The Ninth Gate and was in the lobby of the hotel, getting messages. I turned around and across the lobby saw this back. She had on a dress with an exposed back. I thought, Wow. Suddenly the back turned around and she looked at me. I walked right over, and there were those eyes again. I knew it was her. She asked, “Do you remember me?” I said, “Oh yeah.” We had a drink and it was over with at that point. I knew I was in big trouble.
What was different about this relationship?
Everything. After we started dating I worked a long, long day and night, and I came home, back to my apartment in Paris, at three or four in the morning. Vanessa was there, and she was cooking for me. That’s not to say that a woman must cook for a man—that’s not what I’m saying—but it took me by surprise. It was a whole new ball game for me. I’d never experienced that before. It was like she was a woman not afraid to be a woman. I hope that doesn’t sound weird or sexist, because it’s not. I’m totally in agreement that women are the stronger, smarter, more evolved sex.
Have you considered marriage?
Sure, but it would be a shame to ruin her last name. It’s so perfect—Vanessa Paradis. So beautiful. It would be such a drag to stick her with Paradis-Depp. It’s like a flat note. But for all intents and purposes, we are married. We have two kids together, and she’s the woman of my life. If she ever said, “Hey, let’s get hitched,” I would do it in a second. We’ll do it if the kids want us to, or maybe when the kids are old enough to enjoy it with us.
Your kids’ names are tattooed on your body. Is the JACK tattoo after your son or the pirate in Pirates of the Caribbean?
Both, actually. I had a fake one for the movie, but I moved it and flipped it to make a real one for my son, Jack. My daughter’s here, on my heart.
How many tattoos do you have in all?
Let’s see. [counts] There are 10, I think.
The WINONA FOREVER tattoo is somewhat famous.
Yeah, it’s here on my arm. It was the kind of thing you do on the spur of the moment—“Fuck it, let’s do it.” Then you break up, but it’s still there: a girl’s name on my arm.
Did it put a damper on new relationships following your split with Ryder?
Yeah, it can turn a situation a little sticky. I changed it to WINO FOREVER, which is actually a bit more accurate.
How painful is it to have a tattoo removed?
Painful. The guy said, “I should give you a local anesthetic, but I said no, “I’m fine.” He hit me with a laser and it seemed as though someone had stretched an electric rubber band all the way to Mars and snapped it on the end. Your skin burns and bubbles up.
Do you find it ironic that after your public relationships with people like Winona Ryder, it’s only now—when you’re married and have children—that People magazine pronounces you the sexiest man alive?
Who gave you the news?
My sister called me and said, “Hey, guess what.” It’s so odd. I was glad I was in Paris at the time, because I thought nobody would know. Then, at the bar at the Ritz Hotel, a guy goes, “Hey, man, congratulations.” A friend of mine ran into Gerard Depardieu. When I saw my friend, he said, “Oh by the way, Gerard says to tell the sexiest man alive . . .” I mean, if somebody actually believes it, I’m deeply flattered, but I don’t get it myself. It’s mortifying. You think, Where does that come from? Why did they choose me? Why now? I guess it’s just my time.