Johnny Depp spent the early part of his career making eclectic, unconventional and critically acclaimed films that rarely made a dent at the box office. The past decade or so, he's made eclectic, unconventional and (usually) critically acclaimed films that have banked billions. One would think that the financial boom is a good thing, but when it comes down to judgments of street cred and artistic integrity, things don't always quite make sense.
The man who played Hunter S. Thompson, Edward Scissorhands and Gilbert Grape is, all of a sudden, accused of selling out. And he's not happy about it.
"'Pirates' was a film I did just like any other one, I made that choice the same way I made every other choice," Depp tells the Guardian in a new interview. As it turns out, with the ensuing franchise's multi-billion dollar box office take, the film launched Depp into the world of huge money movie stars, but he doesn't see how that impacts his authenticity as an artist.
"I wouldn't change anything, no. Because I think I went into it innocently, and it became what it became," he says. "And now they want to tear me down. Instantly, as soon as I did 'Pirates II,' they say: 'Oh, he's selling out.' What the f*ck does that mean, selling out? What if I did 'Ed Wood II,' is that selling out? I mean, it's not like I was ever looking to become franchise boy, I was never looking to become anything like that. I just latched on to a character I loved."
Perhaps ironically, Depp has received more personal acclaim in the last decade than he ever has before; he's received three Oscar nominations, earning his first nod for the first "Pirates" and then for "Finding Neverland" and "Sweeney Todd." And those films did not sacrifice integrity for box office success; "Sweeney" made $152 million worldwide, while "Neverland" took in $116 million.
He also can defend his choices to do films such as the "Pirates" franchise, "Willy Wonka" and "Alice In Wonderland," if need be, on artistic grounds.
"I want to do kiddie movies now. I'm fed up with adult movies -- most of them stink," he told the Telegraph in 2002. "At a certain point with movies it becomes all about mathematics: this has to lead up to this, this has to lead up to that -- you're always bound by some kind of formula. But since having kids and watching lots of animated cartoons and all those great old Disney films, I think they're better, they're much better. They're more fun and they take more risks."
Depp, through European retreats and a love of gardening, has been able to escape the press, now that he's a billion dollar film star. It's a much productive way than his previous method, when he was a star despite the relative commercial failures of his movies.
"I mean, all those films didn't do well at the box office. But I still had paparazzi chasing my tail, so it was the weirdest thing in the world. Everywhere you went you were on display," he remembers. "It was always some kind of strange attack on the senses; I was never able to embrace it. So self-medication was just to be able to deal with it."
That, of course, refers to his copious ingestion of drugs and alcohol. Which now, he only does on film, including in this fall's "The Rum Diary," which was a commercial failure. Maybe that flop will get the doubters off his back. And if not, he's got the delightfully creepy TV adaptation "Dark Shadows," as well as an off-kilter revival of "The Lone Ranger" on the way.