Soapbox


Some friends of mine came across the picture above and it always made me laugh. Partly due to the varying body types but also because it showed off the crazy assortment of characters Johnny Depp has played (I cropped out the tourist stuck in the middle in case you were wondering). As a kid who thrived on 80s pop culture, TV shows like 21 Jumpstreet and movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street were huge influences. Depp would go on in the 90s to establish himself as an actor never afraid to take an eccentric role; one who truly committed to the craft.

There were, of course, the Tim Burton films: Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Sleepy Hollow. But there was also What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Donnie Brasco, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. What made all of those projects so great is that you had a different Johnny Depp in every film. He wasn’t resting on his laurels, he pushed himself to find the character.

Then the new millenium hit and it started off in a promising manner, with Before Night Falls and Blow. But in came Pirates of the Caribbean and Captain Jack Sparrow was born. Depp loved the character so much he’s reprised it 3 more times (with a Pirates 5 already set for 2015). That wouldn’t be so bad, if Depp would leave Captain Jack on the high seas. For whatever reason, he’s allow the character to divide him in half. With nearly every Depp role in the last decade, audiences have been “treated” to either some variation of the swarthy, rum-loving swashbuckler or to some variation of his abysmal take on Willy Wonka (much kudos to Gene Wilder for calling Depp out on this and I was new to the film critic thing then so I was far kinder than I should have been). And sure, there’s a role or two that fail to follow this formula, but for every Public Enemies or The Libertine, there seem to be four of five movies with some variation of Jack Sparrow or Willy Wonka in it (e.g. The Lone Ranger).

While I completely understand the allure of Hollywood essentially giving away a printing press for money, there was a time in which the craft of acting seemed to interest Johnny Depp. For over ten years now, only glimpses of that actor have been seen and it’s both sad and infuriating. Sad because I miss the feeling of being excited that Johnny Depp had a new movie coming out. Knowing his name is involved these days means I just have to wonder which of his two acting personas will be up on screen (though depending on whether it’s Gore Verbinski or Tim Burton in the director’s chair pretty much answers that question).

And it’s infuriating because Depp is clearly capable of so much more. He’s that rare actor who can convincingly deliver nearly any performance; hero, villain, victim, assailant, heartbreaker, manipulator. He’s got all these tools and he’s decided to put them on the shelf and go back to his familiar pirate hat or throw on some goofy make-up time and time again.

Until he can string two movies together that don’t involve regurgitating the same played out quirks, this actor who had for some time been one of the surest bets in the acting game has simply become a source of constant disappointment. Where have you gone, Johnny Depp? There are plenty of us who remember when you didn’t base characters on simple gimmicks. We miss you and hope you’ll return soon.

Oh, and if that rumor about a sequel to Alice in Wonderland are true, maybe the olive branch to all of us would be to nix that production. We saw the first one. There’s no need to add insult to injury.