Opening today is director Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies”. The film is set during the Depression-era’s great crime wave and it’s the story of the government’s attempt to stop legendary criminals John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd. This operation transformed the FBI into the first federal police force. By now you’ve seen the trailers and commercials, so you know the cast is filled with famous faces like Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Channing Tatum and David Wenham.
Anyway, to help promote the film, our partners at Omelete sent me to cover the international press day and I was able to participate in a small press conference with Johnny Depp. During the interview, Johnny talked about making “Public Enemies”, all his upcoming films like “Alice in Wonderland” and “Dark Shadows”, and a lot more. Since he doesn’t do a lot of press, if you’re a fan, you’ll love the interview. Read or listen to it after the jump:
As always, if you’d rather listen to the interview, click here for the audio. Again, “Public Enemies” is now playing everywhere.
Question: Why do you think we enjoy watching stories about criminals?
Depp: Well, they get away with things that we don’t get away with, especially Jesse James, back in that era. He was sort of the precursor to John Dillinger in a way. John Dillinger in 1933, when the banks were the enemies and the government…J. Edgar Hoover was teetering on criminal himself, and so John Dillinger as the common man stood up and said, ‘No, no. I’m not going to take it. I’m going to get what I believe is mine.’ Am I done? I don’t know. Should I say anything else?
Question: The scene where Dillinger walked into the police station, the most wanted man in America at the time, and went completely unnoticed, is that true?
Depp: It’s the truth.
Question: OK. That’s not my question.
Depp: [laughs] Well, that’s not my answer.
Question: You’re one of the most wanted actors in the world.
Question: If you had the opportunity to walk around wherever without being noticed where would you go?
Depp: Ooh, wow. God. That’s a very good question. Off the top of my head, where I could walk around and be completely anonymous? I’d walk through Disneyland with my kids. That’s what I’d do. I’d go on every ride and I’d walk through Disneyland with my kids. I’d let them experience that kind of thing. They don’t get to get daddy…daddy walks through Disneyland with them and things get weird at the moment [laughs].
Question: You’ve talked before about hats, how much you appreciate them and they become friends. You got to wear a lot of them in this movie. Have you made any new friends?
Depp: I have made some new friends, some new hat friends. Yeah.
Question: Which one was your favorite?
Depp: Oh, man. There were so many nice ones. There was a guy in Chicago making these things for us and he was such a great artist. I think the thing about hats, suits, coats, that whole thing; what I appreciate about it is what I suppose it represents. I mean, everyone made an effort then. Times were so different. There was still a kind of innocence. There was still possibilities. Everyone made an effort, hats and coats and ties. I’ve always felt like I probably should’ve been born in that era, but apparently I wasn’t. Not far actually though.
Question: In the movie Dillinger seems very comfortable with the media’s spotlight. How comfortable are you with that scrutiny in real life?
Depp: Well, I mean, the thing I’m infinitely more comfortable with is the process and the effort of making the character and the collaborative process. Making the movie basically. Then there’s this other stuff that goes along with it that I don’t think I will ever understand, but I do appreciate as a part of the gig. It’s a certain amount of attention that I suppose goes along with it. The alternative is a real drag, that if there’s no attention well then the job goes away, doesn’t it. John Dillinger, I think just like any red blooded American, was handed the ball and he ran with it. That’s not any different than what happened to me a very long time ago. You’re handed the ball and you go as far as you can go until somebody says, ‘Alright, kid. You’re done. Get off the ride.’ I think that’s what Dillinger was doing. Although, with Dillinger, he knew that the clock was ticking. His situation was infinitely more grave than mine. He knew that he had a very short period of time to deal with and he’d made peace with that. So that’s what he was doing. He was kind of the ultimate existential figure. He moved forward constantly and never went back.
Question: What kind of research did you for your role in ‘Alice in Wonderland’? Did you use the book or bring something outside of that to the character?
Depp: Well, certainly the book. The book is the basis for everything. There are little mysteries, little clues in the book that I found fascinating that were keys to at least my understanding of the Mad Hatter, like him saying, ‘I’m investigating that begin with the letter M.’ That was huge for me because when you do a little digging you realize you’re talking about a hatter, a man who made hats and if you go back and look at some of the historical hatters there’s that term that this guy or that guy is as mad as a hatter. There was a reason for that and the reason for that was mercury poisoning. So I found out what the M was and why they went nuts. So that became a huge thing. Then it was just kind of what I saw and what I thought the guy should look like. I made my little weird drawings and water colors and brought them to Tim [Burton] and he brought me his weird little drawings and water colors and they were not dissimilar [laughs]. You could’ve put them right together and they were pretty darn close. There’s a lot of color and brightness and then de-saturation in The Hatter. He’s like a mood ring I suppose.
Question: What’s so special about your relationship with Tim? Is that he lets you do whatever you’d like as an actor?
Depp: Well, the most special thing is that he very luckily has given me about seven jobs. That’s the most amazing thing. I’m looking forward to the eighth and ninth. There’s no real definition other than there is some kind of connection, some sort of understanding that Tim and I have that is at most times unspoken. Most people when they hear Tim give me direction or we’re talking about the character or something on the set, people are baffled. Completely befuddled and they don’t know what we’re talking about. A guy actually came to me one time after watching Tim and I talk for ten minutes and said, ‘I didn’t understand a word that you guys were saying.’ So, yeah. I don’t know. It’s just one of those things that you don’t question, but I sure love him.
Question: Have you ever fantasized about being a Robinhood character, taking from the rich and giving to the poor?
Depp: That’s what I’ve been doing for twenty five years [laughs]. I mean, it’s true. I started out printing silk screen t-shirts. I sold ink pens. I worked construction. I worked at a gas station. I pumped gas. I was a mechanic for a little bit. I went into sewers, down into sewer lines. I had a lot of somewhat unpleasant gigs for a time there. Ever since I suppose somewhere around 1986 I started to take from the rich.
Question: You mentioned earlier that the area that Dillinger lived in was a place where men were still men. Can you talk about what you mean by that? And how involved are you in the community you live in France?
Depp: Well, not necessarily the area, but that time. The ’20’s, ’30’s, ’40’s. Whether you’re talking about fashion or work and art, in any case whatever guys did, whatever women did there was a very strong sense of who was who and what was what. I think the way we are today…I suppose the easiest way to say it is that they were individuals back then. Today it seems like people are less individual, a lot less individual than they were. Most kids dress like the other kid down the street and they all talk with a kind of lingo. Back then, man, you had Cab Calloway and you had Harry The Hipster Gibson and you had Mez Mezzrow. Today you’ve got the odd one out. You’ve got Tom Waits and you had a Hunter Thompson and you’ve got a Bob Dylan. But they today they’re infinitely more sort of few and far between in my opinion.
Question: I’m surprised you’ve lived in France for so long and haven’t done a movie there. Do you have any plans to do a film there?
Depp: Well, as I was saying earlier, my dance card is a little bit thick at the moment, it’s a little bit full but I do have plans one day to do more work in France. I did do a film that I refer to as ‘The Unpronouncable’ by a guy named Yvan Attal with Charlotte Gainsbourg. I had a bit part in there. That was quite fun, doing scenes in French. In terms of the community where we live, I mean we do bits around the area and whatnot, whatever we can, whatever helps but for the most part I’ve been on location for so long now that I don’t know what time zone I’m on. Truly. I could be in Puerto Rico at the moment. I still sort of am [laughs].
Question: You talk about being comfortable in the era of John Dillinger. Do you think he’d be comfortable in this age or a duck out of water?
Depp: I think he’d probably run screaming. I truly do. It’s so wide, the world, now. I’m shocked at things that I see. I’m shocked at things that are available on the internet. I’m shocked at technology is promising in the next couple of years. There’s great and then there’s unbelievably scary, the possibilities. You can hear somewhere in the back of your mind Albert Einstein saying, ‘I don’t know how world war three will be fought, but I know how four will be fought. With sticks and stones.’ So, yeah, I think he’d run away.
Question: You played Dillinger as a man with a sense of humor. Was that in the script? Was he really a man with a sense of humor or did you add that?
Depp: Well, he definitely was a man with a sense of humor and I just happen to be a sucker for humor. So anywhere I can sneak in something that I find potentially interesting or funny I do it as much as I can get away with. But he definitely had a sense of humor, John Dillinger. This is a guy who would go to the World’s Fair at the height of his sort of notoriety, public enemy number one in 1933. He goes to the World’s Fair with his little Brownie automatic camera, hands it to a cop and says, ‘Would you take my girlfriend’s and my photograph?’ That’s a guy with a sense of humor. Also, he was a guy who at the same time as having that great, that wonderful outlook, like I said, knew the clock was ticking, knew his time was up, knew there wasn’t much more to go. He was going to make the best of it in any case. It’s pretty amazing.
Question: Can you talk about working with the HD cameras which I think is a new thing for you? Also, I have to ask about ‘Dark Shadows’ and what the status is there.
Depp: ‘Dark Shadows’ is happening. Tim is working on ‘Alice in Wonderland’ which is obviously quite a large piece of work there. So when Tim is done with ‘Alice’ and we get the script, which is very, very close, in order we’ll probably attack it next year. It’s exciting, very exciting. It’s like a lifelong dream for me.
Question: Mr. [Richard] Zanuck said that you own the rights and have been fascinated with it your whole life.
Depp: I loved the show when I was a kid. I was obsessed with Barnabas Collins. I have photographs of me holding Barnabas Collins posters when I was five or six. I’m very excited to do it. HD. I did a film with Robert Rodriguez a few years back called ‘Once Upon A Time In Mexico’ and that was all HD. That was my first experience with it. The one thing that I will say is that I suppose if you push it there’s a danger of a digital noise or something. The quality is quite good. It requires a lot less light. So there’s a lot to be said for it. There’s a lot of good. Also, it’s a fifty two minute tape and so you can kind of just keep going. Nobody has to say cut. You can just invent until you fall asleep. So all of that is good, but I still love that texture of cinema. I still love the layers of cinema whether it’s 35mm or 16mm or 8mm, super 8 which I love. I love the grain. If I had my druthers I’d film everything in kodachrome.
Question: Dillinger was a sign of his times during The Great Depression. Seeing as we’re in a recession now, do you feel that there’s a time and place for a Dillinger again, outlaw that gets a heroic status? And as a Hollywood star do you feel the recession, and if so, how?
Depp: Most definitely. It will definitely find it’s way into your world. So, sure, I’ve been able to witness it on a lot of levels. I mean, luckily I am very, very privileged and feel very lucky to be getting work and my kiddies are not feeling the brunt of any kind of horror that’s going on today. So I’m super lucky.
Question: And what about a place for another kind of Dillinger in this era?
Depp: I don’t know. I don’t know if we make that same species of individual, truly, anymore. Dillinger, I don’t believe he went out there to kill anyone. I think he just went out there to get what he felt was rightfully his. He wanted payback. I think today we’ve gone so far technologically and also just emotionally and psychologically, I mean there’s a lot of crime out there and there’s a lot of stuff going on. People don’t care that they’re going to go to prison. They couldn’t give a rat about the repercussions. They go out and they do what they do and they don’t care about hurting anyone else. So it’s a very, very different time. I don’t know. There must be someone out there who wants to stand up and take a shot, but I don’t know if we as a species are the same as we were then.
Question: So mercury was a disease that affected hatters?
Depp: Mercury poisoning. There was mercury in the glue. So they’d start to go a little sideways [laughs].
Question: Is ‘Pirates 4’ happening?
Depp: It’s looking very good. What we’re trying to do is just get a script in order and make sure it’s the right thing to do. If we can get a great script it’d be a ball.
Question: Any comment on Megan Fox saying she wants to be your wife?
Depp: Oh, really? Where is she? That’s very sweet. Very sweet.