Johnny Depp takes several minutes to cross the lobby of the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills. Every couple of steps he takes, it seems, he sees someone else he knows and has to stop for a hug and a chat.
“Hey, man, how you doing? How’s the kiddie? You get that thing sorted out? Great!” He knows a lot of people and, unusually in someone so famous, he also obviously remembers a lot about them all.
At last he’s sitting down, beaming in contentment. The gold teeth he’s had put in to make the next two Pirates of the Caribbean movies glint cheerfully in the light and his rings shine as he waves his hands through the air.
Eight years after moving to the south of France, he has something of the Gallic air about him in a slouchy dark hat and brown shirt and slacks. Perhaps most refreshing of all, he displays little evidence of the health-obsessed movie star.
Here he is for instance, talking about the usually dreaded Hollywood topic—a nice big glass of wine.
“My daughter, Lily-Rose, came up to me and said, ‘Daddy, can I have a sip of your wine?’ I said, ‘No, sweetheart, you won’t like it. Just smell it and see.’ So she did and said, ‘Yuck—it’s terrible.’ I said, ‘Well, it smells terrible because it IS terrible.’ She said, ‘Oh, come on, Daddy, you drink it all the time!’” And he bursts out laughing, a deep guffaw of sheer delight.
Johnny Depp is at a good place in his life right now. He’s 42, healthy, happy, and enjoying more professional success than most of us can dream of. He has a family he dotes on and enough money and status to make only the movies he wants to, whether it be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or The Libertine, the dark and often shocking story of the debauched second Earl of Rochester. Plus he has a huge, and growing, fan base.
“It’s always touching when strangers want to come up and say hello, especially kids. But it’s still surprising and a little strange too. It’s the sort of thing you’re never ready for and never get used to—and to tell the truth, you wouldn’t want to. If you did you’d come to expect it, and you’d have to be a little creepy to expect to have that all the time.”
Johnny’s struggled with fame for most of his adult life. An ordinary middle-class kid from Kentucky, he dropped out of school at 15 to become a rock musician and moved to LA a couple of years later to see if he could make it in the movies. The next thing he knew, he was 24 years old, star of the TV series 21 Jump Street, a teen heart-throb and Hollywood commodity—and, frankly, not liking it one bit.
“There was a period when I couldn’t understand what was going on. I couldn’t get used to being looked at all the time or pointed at in the street. I felt I’d been turned into a novelty and only felt like myself when I was alone,” he says.
“I’d get very nervous and uncomfortable in social situations and the only way I could feel at all normal was, well, to drink my guts out.” He winces at the recollection and it’s clear we’re not talking about vintage French wines.
“It took me a very long time to get used to being a public figure—or maybe not used to it exactly, but to accept it and recognize that it wasn’t such a bad thing. I needed some years to grow up and not take it all so seriously. Let’s face it. I wasted a lot of years being dumb! It was only getting together with Vanessa and having the kiddies that gave me a sense of perspective. These days . . . well, there are probably still shades of ignorance in there, but I’m not being dumb 24 hours a day anymore.”
Vanessa, of course is Vanessa Paradis, the French actress and singer who he fell madly in love with on the set of the Roman Polanski film The Ninth Gate. The pair live in unmarried bliss in the heart of the French countryside with their children, Lily-Rose, six, and Jack, three.
“Everything turned around when the kids came along,” he says. “We’re bringing them up quite simply, not to be bratty, but to be kind and considerate. We just tell them, ‘Do good things, and you’ll feel good by doing them—do bad things, and you’ll feel bad.’ It seems to have worked so far.”
The children know their father is an actor, and he allows them to see any of his films he thinks are suitable. “The Libertine is one they won’t see until they’re 30! But they saw The Nightmare Before Christmas on video and loved it. Also, I arranged for them to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, although when you take small kids anywhere, you’re always a little worried. I thought, ‘OK, Lily-Rose will probably be cool, but Jack’s attention span is short. He’ll probably run around and break something or try to poke my eye out with a sword.’
“But I was amazed, because when the film started, they sat down and didn’t move. Jack didn’t say anything at the time, but later, at home, he came in to the bedroom and looked at me and said, ‘Dad . . . you’re really weird!’”
While hs choiice of screen roles may be eccentric, the real Johnny is refreshingly un-Hollywood. Yes, he’s a happy man, is Johnny Depp.