There are two types of moviegoers: those who were fans of Johnny Depp before he made Pirates of the Caribbean and those who jumped on the proverbial bandwagon after he made Captain Jack Sparrow a household name. Well, almost a household name. I, by the way, fall into the prior camp: Depp blew me away with Ed Wood long before he played an eccentric pirate. There's also a third, less acknowledged camp of Depp fans that most adults don't take too seriously: children. Ironically, Depp didn't start catering to them until he made the first Pirates. Perhaps he wouldn't have wallowed in critically lauded, but commercial obscurity for so many years had he let the height-disadvantaged pre-adults know how much he had to offer them. He's back with another heaping helping of kid-friendly cinematic fare this month -- Rango, a Gore Verbinski-directed animated tale of a lizard actor who finds the role of his life in a dusty Western town -- here's the breakdown of what Depp had to say at the Rango press day:
QUESTION: So ... how did your kids feel about their dad playing a lizard? Were they down with it?
Johnny Depp: “They actually call me 'the Lizard King,' my children do. I've forced them to address me like that since they were tykes. Yeah ... no, it was an odd sort of thing. You know, 'Where you going, daddy?' 'Ah, I got to go to work.' 'What are you doing?' 'Well, I'm playing a lizard.' [Pause] 'OK.' It'd literally be that kind of thing. You drop your kids off at school, give them a kiss, and it was, 'Oh, yeah -- now I'm going to go be a lizard.' Or the things that I've done that my kids have been sort of privy to ... I mean, Willy Wonka and all, it just doesn't register [with them]. They're just kind of far more interested in Family Guy or Justin Bieber or --"
QUESTION: Are you a Belieber then?
JD: "A Belieber? Wow. I've actually never heard that one."
QUESTION: Ask your kids.
JD: "You know what? Yes, I am a Belieber. I am, and I shall remain so."
QUESTION: How did you go about finding your Rango voice?
JD: "You know, early on some of the talks that Gore and I had about the character. I mean, you know, talk about two grown men, you know, middle-aged men discussing the possibility of one of them being a lizard. So it starts off on a surreal kind of note anyway. But you know, it [wasn't about] finding the voice or finding the character. It was like we talked about people in life, when they have a tendency to exaggerate or lie or whatever, you always sort of notice that their voice goes up quite high, you know? It goes to another, a completely different register. Whereas, if I'm talking to you and speaking and babbling nonstop, and then suddenly I'm really nervous about telling you the truth -- you know, but I'm lying -- so that's kind of where it came from. You imagine the character to be just really like a nervous wreck."
QUESTION: There's a great call-back to Raoul Duke, your character from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But I couldn't help but feel you borrowed a bit from William Blake, too, your character in Dead Man. Was that a conscious decision?
JD: "No, it wasn't conscious but I can see what you're saying. Yeah, I mean, this sort of journey, this sojourn, this spiritual quest that William Blake was on, I can definitely see that. But, yeah, no, I didn't sort of consciously connect the two, not really."
QUESTION: Rango tells lies to get through a critical situation. Have you had to tell any interesting lies to get to where you are?
JD: "I actually tell lies for a living. I mean, that's what acting is, really."
QUESTION: You're lying right now, too, aren't you?
JD: "Yeah, I was lying. I'm sorry."
QUESTION: I'm impressed. Your voice didn't change. You know, go up.
JD: "No, it's kind of stuck at the moment in this register. Yeah, there are certain ... I felt having kids and stuff like that, I had horrific guilt for many years, playing along with the Santa Claus thing. Do you know what I mean? And waiting for that moment to arrive where they -- because you're never going to bring it up to them -- they're going to arrive and say, 'Hey, you've been telling me a lie for my entire life. What are you prepared to do about that?' I mean, it's like that kind of thing. So, yeah, I had horrific guilt. And we're now kind of just on the outskirts of that, so I feel OK. But, no, these are lies that society tells you. You must keep these lies going, these kind of myths. Yeah, and I feel guilt about it. I still do."
QUESTION: You've played a lot of characters that kids have fallen in love with, from Edward Scissorhands, to Captain Jack Sparrow, to Willy Wonka. How would you describe your relationship with that audience, as opposed to the audience you've developed for your more adult/complicated roles?
JD: "I think kids in general, as an audience, are the way forward because they're not sort of sullied by intellectual expectation or this or that. It's a very pure kind of response to the work. And the great luck that I had, for example before Pirates of the Caribbean, I had a daughter. And for about four years all I watched was, like, cartoons. Just cartoons. And I realized at that point that the parameters were far away from what we do in sort of normal, everyday movies, and that you can get away with a lot more. Kids accept a lot more, and they buy it because they're free. So for me that was everything, in terms of coming up with what Captain Jack would be. So yeah, I trust kids far more than I do adults. Kids give you the honest opinion, you know? They tell the truth."
QUESTION: You mentioned Pirates. Gore Verbinski directed the first three you worked on. He'll be directing you in The Lone Ranger coming up and, of course, he directed you in Rango. What is it you like so much about working with him? I've heard him say he likes the way you smell.
JD: "I've been told I smell good. I mean, I don't look like I smell good. [Smiles]. No, I mean working with Gore on three Pirates films and Rango, certainly, there are no limits to what you could [do], to the possibilities. He allows you to try all kinds of things that sometimes fail miserably. And other times, [he] goes into this kind of weird ... you've just arrived at some place that you know no one's ever been to before. And he welcomes it and he creates an atmosphere that allows you to just go essentially ape. And, yeah, it's a blast. That's really a fun part of the process."
QUESTION: I've read some reports that Gore fought tooth and nail to make sure that Rango wasn't going to be in 3-D. How do you feel about 3-D in general? Pirates latest sequel, On Stranger Tides, is being converted to it, I believe.
JD: "I'm waiting for 5-D. That's what I want."
QUESTION: I'm a huge Western fan myself and Rango has as many references to the genre as I think any Tarantino film does. Are you a fan and, if so, have you got a favorite?
JD: "I was always a fan, as Gore was, of the great old spaghetti Westerns. You know, the Sergio Leone films. But the one that always sticks with me, that I just thought was brilliant and perfect is Cat Ballou. Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou.”
QUESTION: Yeah, that's a great one.
JD: "[Marvin] reinvented some form of acting there."
QUESTION: Traditionally, voice work for animated films is recorded in a booth, but, with Rango, Verbinski opted to have the actors actually play the scenes out on crude sets. You're a very physical actor, so did you enjoy this process more than other animated films you've done?
JD: "Well, yeah. I mean, ultimately, it was everything. Though there were times when you didn't feel that, when you were doing it [and] you'd rather have been [in a booth] because you know, well, we're lazy. At least I am. And I'd sort of rather just sit in front of a microphone and do the thing. However, the process that we did, that Gore created this sort of atmosphere that was really, truly ludicrous. I mean, just ridiculous. It was like just regional theater at its worst. And somehow, because of -- not the idea of 'motion' capture, but 'emotion' capture, you know? Certain gestures, body language, movement, something you might have done with your eyes -- all those guys, these animators, took it and put it in there. So it was very strange. I mean, for Harry Dean Stanton to walk up to me one afternoon -- because I've known him for a million years -- and he walks up to me and says, 'This is a weird gig, man.' And I went, 'Oh, yeah. You've just started. You just wait.' But ultimately it was the right thing to do. And that was [Gore's] vision, and we saw it through."
QUESTION: In the past, you've said that you always choose characters that you have a personal connection to. What was your connection with Rango?
JD: "I don't know. I always had an affinity for lizards. I've always felt somewhat close to them. They're reptile, feeling somewhat reptilian myself at times. Oddly, I think, Gore might disagree, but I feel like when we were doing Pirates 1, 2, and 3, there was a certain ... at times when Jack Sparrow had to run, there was this very specific run that I wanted. I saw this footage of a lizard running across the water, and it was like the strangest thing I've ever seen. And so I said, 'Gore, he's got to be the lizard running across,' and he's like, 'Oh, yeah, absolutely.' So that was the whole thing. And so whenever we were in that situation, 'OK, it's time to ... you know, let's get in touch with the lizard,' and we did it. So I actually think that Rango was somehow planted in Gore's brain from that run, from that lizard run, you know? And when he actually called me and said, 'I want you to play a lizard,' I thought, 'Well, good, I'm halfway there. I know what I'm doing.'"
[At this point, Justin Bieber, who was in the Four Seasons hotel doing whatever Justin Bieber does, snuck into the room. As soon as Depp saw him, his face grew confused, then lit up.]
JD: "Hey, man. We just established that I'm a Belieber."
Justin Bieber: "You know, and I'm a big fan of you so I had to come support you."
JD: "Bless you, man."
JB: "I had to come say hi. I heard you were in the building."
JD: "Bless you."
JB: [Pointing at everyone else in the room, then at Depp]:"You're a Belieber and I'm a big fan of him."
JD: "Well done, man, thank you."
QUESTION:: Wow, that was weird.
JD: "How am I going to explain this to my daughter?"