LOS ANGELES – “We’re on great terms,” said Johnny Depp about Vanessa Paradis from whom he is separated, in our recent interview in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Between sips of cold Beck’s beer, Johnny, looking younger with a short haircut, discussed the end of his relationship with the French singer-actress, mother of his two kids.
“There’s nothing weird, nothing strange,” he said. “It’s very normal. We’ve all been through it. She’s a great mommy and a great woman.”
Asked if a film with Vanessa, long talked- about even before their “amicable separation,” was still possible, Johnny replied, “I wouldn’t see any weirdness at all in making a film with Vanessa now—whereas prior to, I might have. It might have felt weird.”
Johnny, who stars in Disney’s new take on “The Lone Ranger,” said the separation hadn’t affected his views on love. “I think if you love, you have to love beyond what you think is love or what you’ve experienced love to be. When, let’s say, the s**t hits the fan, keep loving. I know it sounds like some sort of a Hallmark card but I don’t mean it to. You cannot abandon ship. You got a couple of kids. You got a woman who’s been good to you. Keep loving, no matter what.”
The star recently notched a big milestone. It’s almost hard to believe that Johnny turned 50 on June 9.
“We kept the birthday celebration very simple,” said Johnny, who plays Tonto in his reteaming with Gore Verbinsky, director of three “Pirates of the Caribbean” blockbusters. “I spent it with my kids. We went to dinner. To me, the whole idea of celebrating one’s birthday is just a bit like clinging to some sort of vanity, something that I’d rather not cling to. So hitting 50 was like hitting 40 or 30. It’s one of those. I’ve had a decade. Cool.”
He added, laughing, hands on his back, “I didn’t suddenly wake up and go, ‘God, my back is just killing me.’”
If he’d gone through a midlife crisis, what was that like for him? “It happened at 20,” Johnny answered with a grin. “I don’t think we have a long enough piece of paper to name the things that I inflicted upon myself during my midlife crisis at 19, 20.” Referring to his “bad boy” days that involved his use of drugs and alcohol, Johnny quipped, “At the time, it was called self-medicating.”
He elaborated: “At that point, it was like, all those philosophical questions slam you in the face. What is life? What am I here for? What am I to do? Does anything matter? I chose to, let’s say, ‘soften’ the process back then. I think that was my midlife crisis. I don’t have any great energetic spark that’s going to make me buy a multicolored Maserati or a Ferrari or something like that. No, I’m quite comfortable in my old truck.”
His memorable screen characters, including his latest, Tonto, are men who are not comfortable in their milieu. Johnny identifies with that recurring aspect of his roles.
“I always felt like an outcast—virtually from birth,” he admitted. “I always did. I never felt like I fit in anywhere particularly. I certainly wasn’t a jock. Prior to dropping out of high school, I was never part of any clique. It’s like the through line of the characters I’ve played. There’s definitely a correlation [among] these people. They’re outsiders in some way. And I still feel it.”
He is not at ease being tagged as sexy. “Never in my life have I ever thought of myself attached to the word, which I’m [also] unable to say,” he pointed out. “Yes, indeed. That, to me, is a ridiculous notion. I mean, it’s very strange.”
He’d rather be one of his colorful, eccentric characters. “For example, if you take Captain Jack and then Tonto, I can say that I would love to spend time with them. If I had to lean in one direction, I’d hang out with Captain Jack. I really would. He’s fun.”
Now add Tonto to Johnny’s list of iconic roles. Playing the Native American warrior almost came with a price. While doing his own stunt and galloping on a horse alongside costar Armie Hammer, who plays the title role, Johnny tumbled off the animal. He was nearly trampled by the horse and narrowly escaped serious injury. Johnny has hoof prints on his chest—he was ran over by the horse’s rear hooves.
“It was not like, in slow motion, but not as fast as [it was actually] happening at the time,” he recalled. “I was able to recognize and understand things that were potentially unpleasant. The horse flipped me. I went to the side. I had a hold of his mane. All I saw were the striations of this animal’s incredible muscles. I actually had time to think, ‘Wow, what a beautiful thing!’ The next thought was hooves… It happened at a normal speed. There was no fear.”
He continued: “Then it was done. I just decided I better let go. Boom, I hit the deck and very luckily, amazingly, I was able to stand and continue to breathe. It could have been weird. I think the horse actually saved my life; I truly do. He went out of his way to not make impact. I had the hoof of his left back leg. He got me across the ribs, which hurt for a bit. I consider myself lucky.”
Johnny’s black-and-white painted face as Tonto is likewise an addition to his made-up screen faces. “Well, don’t we all play with makeup at home?” he jested. “Should we just admit it? We all do—boys and girls.”
His kids, Lily-Rose and Jack, are no longer surprised by their father’s latest look. “They’re so used to it by now—seeing me play these really strange beings,” he said with a smile. Then laughing, he said his Tonto costume, complete with a bird on his head, takes the cake. “They did say, ‘Wow, that’s really weird!’”
Johnny volunteered that there were times when he didn’t bother washing off the makeup, especially for the scenes of Tonto as an old man. “There were nights when I would sleep with the old-man makeup on. I wouldn’t take it off because I knew the process was going to be longer in the morning if I took it off. So I slept in the old-man makeup for two or three nights, I think.”
He will put on the mascara again as Captain Jack Sparrow in the fifth “Pirates” movie, to be directed by Norwegians Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg—the duo behind “Kon-Tiki,” a 2013 Oscars best foreign film nominee.
“I met them not long ago actually—maybe about three weeks ago,” he said of the filmmaking tandem. “I thought they had a great take or approach. It’s rare that you work with two directors. Certainly, I’ve worked with the Hughes brothers (Albert and Allen) and loved the experience of working with those two guys.”
Of the “Kon-Tiki” directors taking a shot at his popular franchise, Johnny said, “When we arrive at the point where we’re in the think tank, trying to figure out where we’re going to go, they just seemed right. They have a very good sense of humor. And a very funny understanding of where we might take Captain Jack.”
On whether he shares real-life parallels with Tonto, who seeks redemption after an experience in his youth (as shown in the film), Johnny replied, “Redemption might exist in some ways for some people. I’ve never had redemption. I’m still that child (who feels like an outcast). I don’t watch the movies. I don’t want to know about (box office) numbers and things like that. I really don’t want to know. I’m happy being as ignorant as I can allow myself to be. ”
(E-mail the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.)