His last two movies flopped and his current one may be shut down – how can Johnny Depp salvage his once unblemished reputation?
Johnny Depp has always been seen as the antithesis to your classic Hollywood star, your Tom Cruises and your Keanu Reeves’, a pretty boy actor, but one seemingly uninterested in fame and being a celebrity, happy to supplement his big budget flicks with smaller, semi-arthouse fare. Depending on who you talk to he’s either a bohemian, trendy, magnetic screen presence, or just another bankable, go-to-guy for quick bucks under a different guise – not so much the antithesis of Cruise et al, rather the same type of actor but playing to a different, yet equally massive market. Whatever you think of him, there’s no denying he’s been Hollywood’s hottest property for many years.
However, all is not well in the world of Mr. Depp. His last two films, passion project The Rum Diary and his latest Tim Burton collaboration Dark Shadows bombed, critically and financially. The budget for his latest Disney project The Lone Ranger is spiralling out of control, causing major studio panic, with it having been threatened with shut down once already. Is this the end for Johnny? Surely not, not if he does any one of these five things anyway, starting with the most important…
1. DUMP TIM BURTON
Tim Burton is, to my mind, the worst director in the history of the world, one who has a visual style as infuriating as it is repetitive, and who doesn’t have an original idea in his head. In fact, since Edward Scissorhands in 1990, only 2 of his subsequent films have been original stories, Mars Attacks and Ed Wood, and the others have included some truly fucking awful remakes: Planet Of The Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, to name three of the worst offenders.
The fact that he continually casts Depp alongside Helena Bonham-Carter isn’t in itself a bad thing, Wes Anderson has achieved glorious results with his regular troop of Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman et al., but their creative relationship has grown at best stale, and at worst like a carton of milk that’s as lemon squeezed into it before being left out in the sun for cats to piss all over. We all know what we’re going to get from Depp and Burton, the mystery, if there ever was any, is gone, and if he chooses to do one more froth-goth, dark-Disney, cop-out contract filler, then it could be the final nail in a coffin even Barnabus Collins couldn’t escape from…if you didn’t see Dark Shadows then you might not get that joke, but in the grand scheme of things you’re probably better off.
We all know what we’re going to get from Depp and Burton, the mystery, if there ever was any, is gone
2. WORK WITH QUENTIN TARANTINO
In some ways Tarantino could be the perfect fit for Depp, it’s a wonder their paths haven’t crossed creatively already. Arguably Tarantino’s greatest skill is his ability to pick apart contemporary pop culture and an exemplary knowledge of film throughout the ages, mix it all together and pour it out over celluloid. He did it with John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, taking an actor still associated with song and dance performances in Grease and Saturday Night Fever and making him do the jive with Uma Thurman, thereby creating a scene that will go down in the annuls of cinema history.
Also, Tarantino still commands a great deal of critical respect as well as being a huge box office draw. There is something larger than life about his characters that would suit Depp, and it’d give him a chance to do a picture more grounded in reality, to cast off the weighty shackles of Jack Sparrow and Edward Scissorhands once and for all.
Or, he could just…
3. PLAY A SUPERHERO
Maybe the best thing right now is to stick to what has made him the most money and gained him the most plaudits in recent years, namely, take on a franchise? Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man showed the world that a superhero can be idiosyncratic as well as charismatic, two qualities which Depp has in spades. Around the time the third installment of Batman was being discussed there were quite a few rumours flying around suggesting Johnny Depp may be cast as The Riddler, but with DC rebooting the franchise for the sake of a Justice League film, could Depp provide the right blend of authenticity and eccentricity to play the caped crusader in a world more akin to the comics?
Could Depp provide the right blend of authenticity and eccentricity to play the caped crusader in a world more akin to the comics?
4. TREAD THE BOARDS
Maybe the problem isn’t with Depp, maybe it’s with cinema in general? Maybe he’s tired of the repetitive nature of the process, the constant travelling, the press junkets, maybe he needs a break?
The stage could be perfect. One of his huge strengths as an actor is his way with language, the fluidity and poise with which he can sail through dialogue. By the same score, he’s an excellent physical comedian, as his performances in Edward Scissorhands and Benny & Joon will prove. Also, who wouldn’t want to see Johnny Depp live?
5. BE A SUPPORTING ROLE
When was the last time you saw a Johnny Depp film that wasn’t “a Johnny Depp film”? He’s so much the leading man that all the pressure is on his shoulders, especially in his Burton films, where supporting characters like The Mad Hatter are shoe-horned into top billing. Even Pirates Of The Caribbean quickly became a vehicle for Depp, with subsequent films built around his performance and not much else, and if Disney don’t shit their pants then a 5th instalment of the franchise is very much on the cards.
There’s a wonderful kind of osmosis that comes from a good cast, where no-one star is there to outshine. Think of the scintillating chemistry between George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson in O Brother, Where Are Thou?, Brad Pitt’s brief frenetic excellence alongside Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys, or the way all the actors in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy jostle for position, it’s a joy to watch.
I think Johnny Depp would thrive in this environment, able to bounce off other actors, playing a minor role with major dramatic implications, a character with less screen time but one who is integral to the story.
There is one other option for Depp, and that would be to just take a break, work on producing or writing for a few years, get out of the spotlight that shine so brightly on him whether he likes it or not. Then he could come back with a second wind and return to form. This would be my preferred choice, if only because it would definitely mean we don’t get any Tim Burton shit for the next few years. I live in hope…
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