Johnny Depp was charming and gracious during today's Paris press junket for The Tourist. He followed Angelina Jolie, who spoke of putting the team together for the film, and Johnny brought the humor to both his interview and the project. He also talked about his cool image, pajamas, fear of the Venice canals, and penchant for taking artistic liberties with his characters. Johnny also revealed his deep love of his French home base and what draws him to certain roles. He said it all with the roguish smile that has given him the reputation of one of Hollywood's nice guys. His and Angelina's kind words about each other are coming up soon, but first here's what Johnny had to say:
In terms of where you are at in your career as a global movie star, what makes you choose a project?
Johnny Depp: I never think of myself on those terms as a "huge global movie star," so I can't help but smile because it just doesn't register as me. It still feels like I'm doing the same bits, just trying something different each time, exploring something new. It's important to keep challenging myself and try to come up with some new face every now and again. Many years ago Marlon Brando asked me, "How many films do you do per year, kid?" I said, "I dunno, maybe three." He said, "Too much. We only have so many faces in our pockets." And I went, you know, that's really true, but I feel like I still got a few faces left.
Many of your most famous characters have tons of elaborate costumes and makeup. What did you bring to your character Frank?
JD: The story, the script, and the character dictate where you're going to go. I imagine someone I may have known in the past that reminds me of a character. [The Tourist's] Frank has this heavily groomed beard, which I by the way can't grow so was all glued on. It's a perfectly landscaped beard, which came from a guy I knew years ago and I was always fascinated with, because it looked like something in a jar. I couldn't believe someone could actually treat [a beard] so pristinely.
In The Tourist there's a scene where you're in pajamas; how did that come to be?
JD: I wanted footie pajamas with little bunny ears, but [the director] wouldn't go for it. Initially he was supposed to be either in a towel or his underpants, but there was something about a grown man in pajamas that you'd pull out of Leave It to Beaver's dad's drawer. The imagery, juxtaposed with the background of Venice, I just thought there was something really funny about it.
The canal scenes are intense. Did you go in the dirty water or was that left to the stunt men?
JD: All that stuff — doing the stunts, being yanked down a Venice canal in a boat, being handcuffed to the railing — was way secondary to the immense fear that I had of going into "the drink." The stunt guys who did have to go into [the canal] were on serious antibiotics like weeks beforehand. I remember being cuffed to that railing and getting ready to take off and saying to myself, you're going in . . . you're going into this water. Luckily, I didn't, but it was pretty close a couple of times.
Did you have any actual tourist experiences while shooting in Venice?
JD: My tourist times were between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. That was the only time that I could really wander and have a look around, because there's virtually no one on the streets at that point. Everywhere you look is kind of a visual poem; I was amazed — these wonderful facades, clotheslines with people's laundry, and little signs on churches "bread for the poor." It's a beautiful, magical place. That's the Venice I like to see as opposed to going into the gondola and putting a flower in my teeth. I like the nighttime Venice, the quiet Venice, when it feels like the ghosts are around.
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What sort of artistic freedom do you look for in roles? Was it always that way?
JD: Is there something in there outside the author's intent that I can add that is maybe a little bit different, that is coming from the outside and is not done to death. Is there something I can add to make it interesting? I've always had that, it's probably a bad habit. I remember doing Platoon back in '86 with Oliver Stone. I was rewriting my dialogue, which is probably why he mostly cut me out of the film. I suppose Cry Baby was the first character I felt good about. With Edward Scissorhands, nobody really knew what I was going to do; even Tim [Burton], bless him, was a little nervous initially with my take on it, but it all worked out. I guess it probably comes from being locked into television for years and the parameters were so rigid there was no room for movement. There was no room to grow so I swore to myself after that I wouldn't do that again. If I had to go back to construction, that's OK, I was pretty good at that. Pumping gas, I can do that too.
Paris is home to you now. What makes you love the city so much?
JD: Everything. The literary history in Paris has been and always will be a fascination for me. The books that were written here, art history, paintings, painters who wandered these streets, great poets — it's just always been magical for me and I've always oddly felt more at home here than anywhere else in the world. I suppose just to be surrounded by all this art, and all this incredible work that people have done over the years. You can feel. It's still there, you still feel all those real writers. It's very inspiring.
Your character in this movie is not Johnny Depp cool; how did you figure out what you wanted to do with this character?
JD: The idea was to make him really the everyman of the movie, the math teacher who doesn't have particular highs or particular lows in his life and has a slight amount of OCD in his weird routines. [I wanted to] take this normal guy and put him in these high-stakes situations that were less than normal. The electronic cigarette was the device that would ring the alarm that he's in panic mode.
The director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck said you added the humor to the film; what is the story behind that?
JD: I thought, if you took this guy and put him in these situations, especially if he's going to stick around, he has to recognize the level of absurdity in what he's going through. Also, if I see a gag coming around the corner, I snatch it up. I can't help myself. You spend 90 percent of the time when you're working trying to make your costar laugh, and I guess some of it's in the film.