Johnny Depp: what is he good for? With "The Lone Ranger," the American public is wrestling with this vital national question. Rest assured that Depp has also done this, racking up a number of self-taunting roles and cameos. Behold his five most meta appearances:
"Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare" (1991)
Johnny Depp's first film was "A Nightmare On Elm Street," in which he meets his doom by being sucked into a bed and sprayed out as a blood geyser:
At the time, Depp was working in telemarketing after his band had fallen apart. "I sold ink pens," he told James Lipton in 2002. "Not a bad gig, you know, telemarketing to getting sucked into a bed." Famously dissatisfied with his subsequent TV teen idol status on "21 Jump Street," Depp found his artistic mojo again when cast in John Waters' 1990 "Cry-Baby." Here he worked again with Rachel Talalay, who'd served as assistant production manager on the first "Elm Street" and stayed with the franchise, working herself up to the director's chair for "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare." Talalay was also a longtime John Waters associate, having written and asked him for a job in 1980 and graduating to producing "Hairspray" and "Cry-Baby." She married her husband with Waters officiating, since he'd been ordained as a Universal Life Church minister by Depp. ("Johnny wanted John to marry him," she explained in 1991. "John told Johnny he was too young to get married and married us instead.")
With all that shared history, it's not surprising that Depp agreed to do a cameo in "Freddy's Dead." "I'd come off of producing 'Cry Baby' and been all about cameos, which is also how I got Depp for the day," she said in 2011. "Respect for his past, unlike those guys who try to bury their early movies." He did, however, insist on being billed as "Oprah Noodlemantra" for his brief, anti-drug-PSA-mocking appearance:
"Secret Window" (2004)
Five days after the career-changing "Pirates of the Caribbean" was released, shooting began on "Secret Window." This poorly-received Stephen King adaptation isn't as bad as its mostly hostile/indifferent reception (both critically and commercially) would have it; it's a pretty dumb but enjoyable showcase for Depp to alternately brood as a very angry, blocked-up writer and — at certain select moments — to go totally nuts.
In a retroactively fascinating "Time" profile from 2004, when it seemed like Depp would still stick revert to weird, relatively anti-commercial terrain, writer/director David Koepp admitted he didn't really have any idea why Depp agreed to do the part. "I'm grateful, but it's hard to be certain of what motivates Johnny," he said. "It's possible he just wanted to play a character named Mort." Surely a draw was the climax (SPOILER, obviously) in which Depp's writer has a total breakdown: there's no less than three Depps on-screen, all haranguing each other. This "Multiplicity"-esque freakout has a ludicrous charge, with the actor confronting himself, because there's no one else weird enough to plausibly challenge him:
This is where it starts to get really strange. "Rango" is an animated Western, ostensibly for children, heavily modeled on "Chinatown," in which Depp voices the titular animated lizard using the rapid Hunter S. Thompson patter he'd nailed for "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." He wears a Thompson-esque shirt throughout, and early on he confronts his past self: blowing down the highway, he's almost splattered on the windshield of Thompson, driving to Las Vegas.
"Pirates"/"Rango" director Gore Verbinski said the self-cameo (which allows Depp to voice Thompson again, a part he'd revisit in live-action in 2011's "The Rum Diary") came about out of sheer boredom with how the storyboarded sequence was playing out: “How can this be a little more interesting, because it feels just like an animated movie? Bouncing around, hitting windshields…” and somebody suggested, “What if we saw Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo driving through in the Cadillac?” And I was like, “No, no, it’s not enough to see them drive through. He needs to at least hit the windshield and see Hunter S. Thompson react.” "There's another one!" Thompson sputters, confronting himself. "A lizard." Then, using his windshield wiper, he blows his past, weirder self off-screen.
"21 Jump Street" (2012)
More ghosts of the past for Depp, this time in the well-established vein of TV show stars getting the chance to show up in the feature version of their fame-establishing moments. This one's pretty straightforward: at the climax, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum get momentarily bailed out of a tense spot by Depp, who rips off a full prosthetic beard to reveal his now unmistakably famous visage. "We had no idea," Hill sputters. "You're like an amazing actor, man." Then Depp gets unceremoniously offed, which is probably exactly the farewell he'd like to this particular former incarnation.
"The Lone Ranger" (2013)
Depp's made vague claims of Native American ancestry in the past. Though somehow no one seemed particularly interested in the fact that he was playing Tonto until this week, the outrage over his questionable ethnic role-playing is now sputtering out. Note this, though: in 1995, Depp played William Blake in Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man," in which his faithful native companion was Nobody (Gary Farmer), whose catchphrase was "stupid f**king white man." In "The Lone Ranger," Depp is now the Indian, and the phrase (minus the expletive, per Disney standards) is now coming out of his mouth. Even better, Depp's referencing a movie he says he's never seen.
Because the relevant "Dead Man" clip isn't online, enjoy this excerpt from Jarmusch's "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai," in which Farmer reprises his signature line while the dude shooting this clip off his TV cracks up: