ENTERTAINERS OF THE DECADE: JOHNNY DEPP


Entertainment Weekly,
December 11, 2009




By Chris Nashawaty

Capt. Jack Sparrow was one of those without-a-net performances, so singular and subversive that it's hard to believe he got away with it.

When the decade began, Johnny Depp wasn't the Johnny Depp of today. Sure, the critics had anointed him one of the finest actors of his generation. But Depp still hadn't found his footing at the box office. Back then, he was an artistic martyr-Hollywood's very own Saint Jude, patron saint of cinematic lost causes. For every middling hit on his oddball resume like Sleepy Hollow or Chocolat, there was a misfire like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Then something happened. Johnny Depp found his stride in the most unlikely of places.

It's easy to look at 2003's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, a Bruckheimer blockbuster from Disney, and conclude that Depp had finally sold his soul. But anyone who's seen his lunatic turn as Capt. Jack Sparrow knows better. It's one of those without-a-net performances, so singular and subversive that it's hard to believe he got away with it. Which he almost didn't when the studio suits saw the dailies and nearly had a collective cardiac infarction.

The first Pirates made $305 million and proved that Depp's idiosyncratic gifts could entrance a huge mainstream audience. No one was more baffled by his success than Depp himself. When the actor sat down with EW in 2003, he said, "All I can say is for a guy like me who's been dangling in this business for the last 20 years, to finally have something hit, it's unexpected and very touching." Depp received his first-ever Oscar nomination for Pirates. And just to show that it was no fluke, he was nominated again for his tear-jerking turn in 2004's Finding Neverland. Then, in 2008, he was nominated a third time for what may go down as his ballsiest parlor trick, singing and slashing throats in Sweeney Todd. Today, Depp, 46, is an acting icon and a father. (He and his longtime partner, the French singer-actress Vanessa Paradis have two children, Jack and Lily-Rose Melody.) Depp is no longer the impish patron saint of cinematic lost causes, but something far rarer: an entertainer who's most magically alive in that fleeting moment between "Action" and "Cut."


MY ESSENTIALS

By Johnny Depp


FILMS

Down by Law (dir. Jim Jarmusch)
A sweet, funny, existentialist crime caper as only Jim Jarmusch could conceive. Superlative stuff. One of my all-time favorites.

Ed Wood (dir. Tim Burton)
Despite my involvement, this movie is a tender, comic gem. An amazing cast to work alongside in Martin Landau, Bill Murray, et al., but, of course with Tim, there exists an almost brotherly sensibility, which made the whole experience a joy. Ultimately, I feel, with the artistic freedom we had, TB produced an American classic. A love letter to a filmmaker that didn't receive many.

To Have and Have Not (dir. Howard Hawks)
A marriage of three of my favorite things: Bogart, '40s film noir, and Hemingway. I don't know how you'd beat that. It's not fair on anyone else really, is it! Oh, yeah... and Lauren Bacall as the dream girl of every man with a pulse and then some.

Time of the Gypsies and Underground (dir. Emir Kusturica)
Emir is a genius. This is visual poetry, with a healthy portion of both magic and the absurd. One of the last true auteurs, alongside Tim Burton and Jim Jarmusch, keeping the art alive in cinema.

Withnail and I (dir. Bruce Robinson)
"Scrubbers!" "Come on, lads, let's get home, the sky's beginning to bruise and we shall be forced to camp!" "I've got a bastard behind the eyes." Can I go on? No other film in history is as quoted or has inspired such cultlike loyalty. Probably the funniest f---ing film I have ever seen! Bruce Robinson. There's another genius right there. Literally, one of my top three films of all time.


MUSIC

Tom Waits, Rain Dogs
The devil doesn't have the best tunes. Tom Waits does. It's almost impossible to single out a particular recording of his. Over the years, Waits' continued quality of output has never faltered. His high-water marks are countless. This is merely one among many. For moon lovers and junkyard dogs everywhere.

Chuck E. Weiss, Old Souls & Wolf Tickets
A true gem. By turns sweet, funny, and beautiful. Just like the man himself. Genius!

Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks
The bitter pill. Venomous, and yet somehow cathartic. That line from "You're a Big Girl Now"- "With a pain that stops and starts/Like a corkscrew to my heart/Ever since we've been apart"-kills me every time. Heartbreaking. The man Dylan is incapable of a bad moment.

Babybird, Ex-Maniac
This is going to be released next year. [Frontman Stephen Jones] is a national treasure, if you're British. For everyone else, he's a diamond waiting to be found! Lyrically, he's black as night, brilliant and sharp as a razor.

Augie March, Watch Me Disappear
Rare and ageless, Augie March exist in the half-light of day. Stumbling upon this band, I've found their dazzling wordplay and sublime, mercurial, labyrinthine concoctions truly wonders to behold!

Vanessa Paradis, Bliss and Divinidylle
Now, some might accuse me of bias, and of course that cannot be denied, but neither can the understated pop genius of these two superior collections of classic Gallic melodies! The most beautiful soundtrack to our life en famille.

Bat for Lashes, Two Suns
This girl has something special. Ethereal, unearthly. Effortlessly distinctive and unique. Enchanting! Can be played on a constant loop and never sound the same twice.

The Pogues, Rum Sodomy & the Lash
Feral, beautiful poetry from one of our century's greatest poets. A grand testament to love, adventure, and hedonism! Shane MacGowan is Brendan Behan's dream come true!

Keith Richards, Unknown Dreams (unreleased)
Recorded in Toronto as Keith faced a prison sentence on a drugs charge, carrying a potential of life inside [he got probation], these eight tracks or so could make a grown man weep. Disarming, fragile, soulful. The sound of a man at the very edge, looking out.

Serge Gainsbourg, Histoire de Melody Nelson
So ahead of its time. So cool. Gainsbourg delivers his masterpiece here, and one which, for me, carries many a happy memory. So much so, my daughter was named in part after this flawless tour de force.

The Rolling Stones, Tattoo You and Sticky Fingers
Almost impossible to pick one LP, even more difficult to name just two, as they are all glorious, but these efforts have successfully soundtracked many a riotous late night out, slurping up the city, in another life.

Patti Smith, Horses, Easter, and Radio Ethiopia
To be honest, I could choose any Patti Smith record. They are each a gift from the gods. Alongside Dylan, Waits, and Richards, she is one of music's great survivors, and a true legend in every sense of the word. As important a poet as has ever drawn breath.


BOOKS

The People's Act of Love by James Meek
A darkly epic, grisly, beguiling journey set amid the frozen tundra of wartime Russia. Delicious prose. Once its dirty claws break skin, that icy death grip won't be letting go anytime soon. Unforgettable.

In the Hand of Dante by Nick Tosches
A modern masterpiece. Utterly superior to almost everything published within the last 50 years. I won't bother trying to describe it. Just go get it.

The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and The Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley
A fascinating, immensely readable book regarding Teddy Roosevelt's intense love for nature and how, during his presidency, he essentially became one of the very first eco-warriors.

The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy
The adventures of one incorrigible Sebastian Dangerfield. Unruly, willful, and wholly devious. This lyrical, comic wonder was introduced to me by Hunter. Every man should read this, and spend at least one evening in his life impersonating this unapologetic horror of an individual!

Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates by Tom Robbins
A shockingly good yarn, as only Tom Robbins can spin. Only a few writers have made me laugh out loud-Robbins does it with ease.

On the Road and Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
There is nothing I can really say here that hasn't been said before, or even add to that hasn't been added. Safe to say, these books are as important to me as they have been to many. Two pivotal, historical works that will never rest happily at home upon a dusty shelf.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
This dark, absurd, and subversive treasure lay hidden for many years, even after Bulgakov's death, such was the fear of reprisal for such a pointed, authentic stab at life under the tyrannical malevolence of Uncle Joe and the withering Soviet climate of the time.

A Season in Hell and The Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud and The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
Possibly the most divine writings in the history of the word. Throughout my life, more trustworthy pocket companions I could not imagine.

The Rum Diary and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Two of my personal favorites, both authored, of course, by a dear friend. The first, a deft, feral bastard of a novel. The second, simply epochal. Life-defining genius.


I could go on and on and on... Some other time, perhaps. JD.