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Johnny Depp – The Master of Disguise

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Considered by many as the most versatile actor in Hollywood history, Johnny Depp has gone from wannabe rock star, to ballpoint pen salesman, to the most recognisable face in Tinseltown. A self-described oddball, Depp’s road to stardom is as varied as his acting career. So, how did the youngest of four from Kentucky, USA, become one of the most beloved actors of his time? The story is as odd as most of his characters.

In 1979, a 16-year-old John Christopher Depp II dropped out of high school to focus on his music dreams, joining local neighbourhood garage band, the Kids. Although never quite hitting the big time, the band did well enough to open for 80s leg- ends Talking Heads, and the B-52’s, yet money was still scarce for Depp and his fellow bandmates, forcing them to live for months in a friend’s 1967 Chevy Impala. At the age of 20, Depp met and married 25-year-old makeup artist Lori Allison. On her suggestion, Depp and his band moved to Los Angeles, with the hopes of strik- ing it big. But the City of Angels can be a tough place, and Depp and his band were going nowhere, selling pens for a telemarketing rm to make ends meet. Depp was starting to regret a lot of decisions.

In 1984, however, things took an interesting turn for the 21-year- old hustler when his wife introduced him to her ex, Nicolas Cage. Immediately seeing potential in Depp, Cage encouraged Depp to take up acting lessons, as he felt Depp had the right look to make it big. After several small roles as a lm extra, his rst signi cant role came in the form of a little horror lm called, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Even though the movie was a huge success, Depp still had other issues to deal with. His marriage with Allison was falling apart, eventually leading to divorce. The band was going nowhere, and the members decided to go their own separate ways. With ev- erything falling apart around him, Depp threw himself into acting, giving all of his time to acting classes, and even turning to a private coach. The lessons paid o in 1987, when Depp replaced Je Ya- gher in the role of undercover cop Tom Hanson, in the popular TV series, 21 Jump Street. Depp became a superstar, an overnight teen idol… a title he resented.

When his contract on 21 Jump Street expired in 1989, Depp walked away from the series that made him a household name, in pursuit of meatier roles, and to further his acting career.

JOHNNY (NOT) BE GOOD

Desperate to shake o his teen-idol status, Depp was adamant to change his image, seeking out un- conventional roles. His wish came true when he was casted as the freaky outsider Edward Scissorhands, in Tim Burton’s movie with the same name. It was Depp like you’ve never seen him before. The movie was a hit, making more than $54 million (about R700 mil- lion). Following the lm’s success, Depp carved a niche for himself as a serious, somewhat dark, idiosyncratic performer seeking out roles that would surprise his fans and critics alike. Next up was a Golden Globe-nominated performance as Sam, a social misanthrope in the 1993 hit, Benny & Joon, followed by What’s Eating Gil- bert Grape, playing a young man dissatised with the limitations of his small-town life. This was also the movie that saw the debut of a future Hollywood superstar, Leonardo DiCaprio.

Professionally, Depp was hitting all the right notes, however, his personal life was in a shambles. A tumultuous relationship with supermodel Kate Moss saw Depp dabbling in drugs, spiralling into a deep depression, famously trashing a New York hotel room after one of the couples’ many fights. Depp also owned one of the hippest nightclubs, the infamous Viper Room, synonymous with the death of fellow actor River Phoenix after a drug overdose out- side the club. Depp’s personal life was a mess. However, his wild behaviour did not affect his professional life, as the big hits kept rolling in. Another Golden Globe nomination was on the cards, as Depp once again teamed up with Tim Burton for the biopic, Ed Wood. Donnie Brasco was up next, where Depp played an undercover FBI agent seeking to infiltrate the Bonanno crime family. He then went on to star in the Terry Gilliam cult classic, Fear and Loath- ing in Las Vegas, playing the part of real-life gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s alter ego. During filming, Depp cultivated a strong friendship with the controversial journalist, a friendship that lasted until Thompson’s death in 2005.

The 90s were a great decade for Johhny Depp, but the start of the next decade would be his biggest yet.

FROM PIRATES TO PAN

In 2004, Depp would undertake his most successful role ever, that of pirate Captain Jack Sparrow in the hit, Pirates of the Caribbean. Audiences fell in love with the character that was loosely based on the mannerisms of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. Depp was so convincing as the drunk and comedic pirate that he received his first Academy Award nomination. However, Depp went the opposite direction for his next role, playing the part of Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie, in the moving and incredibly sad Finding Neverland. The lm earned him more than 10 award nominations. In 2006, Depp returned to Captain Jack, which broke box office records. The third instalment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise did even better, bringing in $138.8 million (about R2 billion) on its first weekend. Once again, teaming up with Tim Burton, Depp’s next role would be his oddest one yet, starring in the dark and gory musical, Sweeney Todd, which tells the story of a barber who kills his customers to have them turned into pies by his neighbour. The movie might have been weird, but Depp’s performance once again wowed the crowd, earning him another Golden Globe. But the oddball roles did not stop there for Depp, from Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter, to Barnabas Collins, a vampire who escapes imprisonment and returns to his family home, only to annoy the current family living there. It was clear by now that Depp was not your average Hollywood actor. His insistence on playing challenging and odd characters only strengthened his versatility, and in 2015, he might be playing his toughest and most inspiring role yet.

MURDER MOST FOUL

Set for release later this year, Black Mass is an American crime lm based on the 2001 book, Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob, by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. The lm depicts the true story of Whitey Bulger (Depp), a prominent leader of organised crime in the U.S.’ South Boston, Massachusetts. Whitey is the brother of William “Billy” Bulger, a senator in Massachusetts. Following a string of violent acts, he becomes an FBI informant for 30 years, in order to take down a Ma a family invading his turf. The film focuses on the period of the late 70s and early 80s, as Whitey was solidifying his position as leader of the Irish-American Winter Hill Gang. The film is gritty and often disturbing in its portrayal of Whitey, a role Depp was clearly up for as he delivers his absolute best.

Through the years, Johnny Depp has shown that he is indeed the chameleon of the silver screen. From a drunken pirate, to an Irish mobster, from a demonic barber, to a drug-fuelled gonzo journalist, Depp has done it all. You would think that nothing Depp does can surprise anymore… that is until his next movie comes out.

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