Interview & Photoshoot – Johnny Depp on Playboy magazine, 1996
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PLAYBOY: You have only one urinal. Does the Viper Room men’s room get crowded on weekends?
DEPP: [Nods] It used to get wet. There was a guy who would somehow sneak in here with a monkey wrench. He would loosen a nut on the urinal so that when the next person flushed, water would go everywhere. It was like Niagara Falls. You had people running from the bathroom, slipping, security guys sprinting over to throw down towels. This happened fairly regularly for weeks, and I came to respect the toilet guy. I liked his method, his consistency. He clearly took pride in toilet sabotage. But then it stopped, and I kind of miss him.
PLAYBOY: Why do you call the place the Viper Room?
DEPP: After a group of musicians in the Thirties who called themselves Vipers. They were reefer heads and they helped start modern music. [Lights a cigarette! You know one great thing about having your own club? You get free matches.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any plans to quit smoking?
DEPP: Nah. I think if you find something you're good at, you should stick with it. I have switched to lights, though. It got to where I would wheeze going up a flight of stairs, so I went to diet cigarettes.
PLAYBOY: You've been accused of selling out--"doing the Keanu thing," as one critic said--for making Nick of Time.
DEPP: Who cares? I'm interested in story and character and doing things that haven't been done a zillion times. When I read Nick of Time I could see the guy mowing the grass, watering his lawn, putting out the Water Wiggle in the backyard for his kid, and I liked the challenge of playing him. He's nothing like me. And I wanted to work with John Badham because he made Saturday Night Fever and invented some interesting ways of shooting. Nick of Time is a thriller, and it gives me a chance to play a straight, normal, suit-and-tie guy.
PLAYBOY: If you wanted big money you could have also made Mobsters, a potential hit. You've turned down other mainstream films for movies such as Dead Man. How much did that one pay?
DEPP: Less than my expenses during the shoot. But it's a poetic film. I did Dead Man so I could work with Jim Jarmusch. I trust Jim as a director and a friend and a genius.
PLAYBOY: How do you see your career? Is it something you're sculpting as you go along, a body of work?
DEPP: It's more primitive. I look at the story and the character and say, "Can I add any ingredients to make a nice soup?" In some sense there is a monofilament running through the guys I've played. They are outsiders. They're people society says aren't normal, and I think you have to stand up for people like that. But I didn't plan it. It's not like had to play them. Except for Don Juan, I had to play that guy, and Edward Scissorhands. I loved Edward. He was total honesty. Honesty is what matters, and I have an absurd fascination with it, whether it means being true to your girl, your work or yourself.
PLAYBOY: You weren't on the list for Scissorhands until Tim Burton met you and was won over. Did he ever say what he detected in the former star of 21 Jump Street?
DEPP: Tim isn't the type to verbalize it, but in snippets of conversations he has said it had to do with my eyes. My eyes looked like I carried more years than I had lived. He also felt my looks were deceptive, because I wasn't what people thought.
PLAYBOY: What was that?
DEPP: Oh, whatever catchphrase they sew onto your back.
DEPP: Yeah. Or confident actor.
PLAYBOY: Are you a method actor? Are you in character between takes?
DEPP: No, and I don't buy it when a guy says, "You must call me Henry the Eighth. Even when I go get a Dr Pepper I am Henry the Eighth!" I can't see that. If you're truly in character it becomes unconscious. If you realize you're in character or say you are, then you're fucked. It means that you're satisfied, and that's the worst.
PLAYBOY: Your eccentric films make people wonder if you're allergic to box office success. Aren't you tempted to make one big score, one Batman, to bankroll your pet projects?
DEPP: That demon has visited me. He's my best pal. He says, "Look, make two movies that are obvious commercial vehicles, blockbusters, and you'll have the freedom to do smaller independent or experimental films. You can build an audience and bring it into that new world--open some minds." I've thought that, but I don't believe it. I would feel untrue to myself, untrue to the people who appreciate the choices I've made. For me the career thing has to be a little purer, more organic.
PLAYBOY: And you are happy with your choices?
DEPP: Maybe I was trying to do movies for good reasons--to make something I believed in--but I never thought of them as small, eccentric films. To me, Ed Wood wasn't a small film even if it ultimately made ten dollars.
PLAYBOY: You were shooting Divine Rapture, an unusual film co-starring Marlon Brando, when financing collapsed, production stopped and everyone was sent home.
DEPP: That sucked. One minute we're filming, the next minute there's no money. It was like being in the middle of sex, right at the peak, and a guy walks in with a gun: "Stop it now." That's when you feel shitty, because you remember it's the movie business, based on money.
PLAYBOY: Brando used to say he was so disgusted with the business that he didn't care anymore, he just wanted the money.
DEPP: If he could do that, I applaud it. If I could do a bunch of movies and make zillions of dollars and not care, why not? I just can't do it now. It's probably ridiculous the way I talk about honesty and shit when really, what am I being true to? Some company. A bunch of guys who invest in a movie. They buy the product and distribute it. That's not so pure. It's art and commerce, oil and water, and here I am in some sort of artistic frenzy. Maybe I'm just very naive. Twenty minutes from now I'll probably say fuck it and sell out completely.[...]