Director recalls near plane crash with Johnny Depp
The way “The Rum Diary” director Bruce Robinson recounted it, had the private jet crashed off the West Coast, he and Johnny Depp would have exited this world… laughing hysterically.
Johnny and Bruce, who wrote Roland Joffe’s Oscar-winning “The Killing Fields” and directed the acclaimed “Withnail and I,” were flying back to LA after location scouting for “The Rum Diary.” “We were drinking an Haut-Brion, and we were sitting there,” recalled Bruce, who started as an actor in Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” (he played Benvolio). He co-starred with Isabelle Adjani in Francois Truffaut’s classic, “The Story of Adele H.”
“I wasn’t paying for it,” Bruce quipped about the expensive wine he and Johnny were drinking when the Gulfstream lost power to both engines. “It was more than one bottle. This was very much before we started shooting the film. Suddenly the whole thing goes silent—nothing. We’re looking out of the window, and the horizon is there, but it’s starting to come like this (vertical, he demonstrated with his hands).”
The London native said, “Because of the quality of the wine we were drinking, and because we were really identifying with each other, I made a terrible joke that the worst thing that could happen in a plane crash is people getting in luggage racks!”
“Johnny started laughing at the joke, and so did I,” Bruce said in his British accent. “We were on our knees holding each other, roaring with laughter while it was crashing. It was ridiculous! Then, suddenly, the engines came back on. We were just crying with laughter. Normally, if I’m sitting in an environment like that, and that happened, I’d be running up and down, foaming at the mouth, freaking out. But, it was just this environment.”
He explained, “There was the excitement over the fact that we were about to make this movie together, and this incredible feeling of warmth I had toward him that seemed to be reciprocated. Because you can make a movie with an actor and you don’t click—but, Johnny and I were really getting it on. I nearly said like a house on fire, but it should be getting on like a plane crashing. It was ridiculous but true!”
Asked where he had been all these years since directing his last film, Bruce replied, “I’ve been writing. That’s what I do—I’m a writer. I had a very unpleasant experience with a movie out here (LA) some years ago. I determined that I would never want to direct another film. I kept my promise for 17 years—until Johnny came along.”
Johnny wooed Bruce to direct “The Rum Diary,” a film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s debut novel of the same title. “I’ll use the word—he kind of bullied me,” Bruce cracked. “He said, ‘No, you’re doing it. You’ve got to do it.’ I was resistant to doing it. But, he’s such an enormous film star that I acquiesced to his confidence in me. I said, ‘OK, I’ll give it one last shot—I’ll do it.’ And, that’s why I am here.”
We got curious about the film that made him vow never to direct again. He obliged. He named the film: “Jennifer Eight,” which was released in 1992 and starred Andy Garcia and Uma Thurman. “It was a gruesome, terrible experience,” he revealed. “One of the things that you have to have if you’re directing a film is the confidence of the people who have hired you to direct it—so that what you’re doing isn’t being second-guessed all the time, and the process isn’t corrupted by a lack of mutual respect between the parties who have elected to do the film.”
Bruce added, “The lack of respect for me on that movie was so extreme that I would be directing some actors in a scene and I’d hear behind me, over my shoulder, ‘OK, we got that. Cut it.’ You would turn around and say, ‘Listen, I’m directing this movie. I’ll say when we’ve got it, and I’ll tell you when we’re going to cut.’ It was horrible—so, I walked out of the gates of Paramount Pictures. I said, ‘That’s it! I’m not doing this ever again.’ ”
Johnny’s “tenacity” made him change his mind after many years. Bruce gushed about Johnny, especially the artist behind the man, a side the public rarely sees. “Johnny is an astonishingly special artist. I vaguely knew him before this movie. I didn’t know the breadth of his abilities. He’s a great oil painter.”
“Johnny’s style is rather modern,” he shared. “He paints his friends, basically. He gave me an enormous oil painting that he had done of Keith Richard—all painted on cigarette papers. It’s a beautiful painting. It’s in my house in England. He’s also an extraordinary musician who can play anything. A great rock guitarist, pianist, everything—so, in that sense, he’s extraordinarily special to me, because the only thing I care about genuinely in the world, apart from politics and brackets, is art!”
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