Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Depp leaves the captain behind


PARIS -- As we speak, it's been six days since Johnny Depp unswashed his buckle after the last "that's a wrap!" on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

"Six days of decompression," he says of leaving behind the character of Captain Jack Sparrow.

And the subject today is what constitutes a normal life.
Normal is relative, of course. His own state of normality consists of his partner Vanessa Paradis and their children Lily Rose, 11, and Jack, 8. (Paradis is, these days, filming the movie, Café de Flore in Paris for Quebecois director Jean-Marc Vallee). The weather's getting nasty in Europe, so some downtime beckons on Depp's private island in the Bahamas before he starts shooting the remake of Dark Shadows in April.

But the normal we're talking about is his character in the thriller The Tourist, a math teacher from Wisconsin named Frank who's traveling by train from Paris to Venice. There, in what director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others) intended as a tribute to the Hitchcock classic To Catch a Thief, he meets a beguiling mystery woman named Elise (Angelina Jolie) who turns his normalcy upside down amid a hail of bullets from law enforcement officers and criminals alike.

From Edward Scissorhands to the Mad Hatter, Depp plays weird well. But normal? "Well, that's it, isn't it, the opposite of Capt. Jack," he says. 

"The ordinary everyday man, with no particular highs or lows in his life. He just kind of moves on like any pedestrian, and to put him in a series of situations that are so radically outside his hemisphere was great fun.
"I like the idea of exploring normalcy, those people who are considered the most 'normal' I find the most fascinating because they're always really weird," Depp says with a laugh. "They have these routines teetering on obsessive compulsive tics I find fascinating."

In real life, he found more in common with Angelina Jolie than did poor, manipulated Frank. They hung out as couples, Depp and Vanessa, Jolie and Brad Pitt, drinking wine while their kids played video games. "It was sort of surprising after all these years of being in the racket that we'd never met," Depp says. "We had a lot of mutual friends."

And mutual antagonists. "You can't help but know that she and Brad are globally sort of hounded and tracked and stalked (by the paparazzi). And what I was most impressed by was her normalcy. She's very down to earth and smart and funny and kind and caring. She's a great mommy."

He jokes that the paparazzi "are busy with Brad and Angelina. They've kind of lightened up on us over the years, even at times teetering on respectful. Angelina and I talked about it. None of us really go out all that much. Vanessa and I certainly don't. We just stay home and try to lead a simple life. You go to your job and do your bit and come home and sit in front of the TV and giggle at Family Guy."

In Venice, the photogs were a fact of life, but not one uppermost in Depp's mind. He had quasi-comic action shots to film, running across rooftops in his pyjamas, being dragged down canals by one boat while handcuffed to another.

"The biggest fear we had of the stunts, when you're being pulled down a canal in Venice, is not that you're going to hit something, it's that you're going to go into the drink. You've got to take all these medicines and antibiotics if you're going to go into that drink, because it's really become quite, um, interesting over the years."

Otherwise, the most daunting stunt was a ballroom scene, where he and Jolie were required to dance. "The dancing is the thing that scares me most. I don't dance and I've never danced in my life outside of films. Weirdly, it seems like in almost every film I do now, I end up now having to dance. And go to jail. I end up in the clink in almost everything I do. It's funny and horribly ironic."

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