Is Johnny Depp to blame for Transcendance box office failure? – interview

with Johnny Depp

The dismal performance of Johnny Depp’s starrer “Transcendence” in the US box office over the weekend heralded the 4th flop in a row for the Hollywood superstar. The $100 million production opened with just $11 million. The actor’s other movies that failed to deliver in the box office were: The Rum Diary (2011), Dark Shadows (2012) and The Lone Ranger (2013). Has Depp’s star power waned or is he making bad choices?

Directed by Wally Pfister, who shot Chris Nolan’s Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy , “Transcendance” has a high concept and explores pressing issues about our society and the repercussion of its reliance on technology from a new moralistic perspective. Hence, any star, including Depp, is bound to succumb to the temptation of being part of such a promising endeavour, particularly when it’s supervised by Christopher Nolan, Hollywood’s master of “big ideas” movies.

Depp inhabits the character of Dr. Caster, an artificial intelligence scientist whose consciousness is uploaded to the internet by his wife (played by Rebecca Hall) when he is assassinated by a radical anti-Technology group. Soon, his consciousness becomes viral, multiplying uncontrollably and causing havoc to all aspects of daily life.

Reading the script for the first time, Depp was captivated by Dr. Caster’s character. “Dr. Caster is just a sort of a very normal guy, who happened to be a brilliant scientist, but his normal human behaviour was until a certain point,” he tells me when I talk to him at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. “And then it’s about growing within the computer. Regenerating that person back together in the computer and mapping out the times of how old is he now in the computer, how savvy is he, how collected is he? and the ambiguity that is involved.

“So, I wanted people to question whether he was good or whether he was bad. I suppose that was it. I thought there was a great love story in it as well.”

Unfortunately, the love story that he refers to, between Dr. Caster and his wife, was not well served in the movie and fell unconvincingly flat, in spite of the valiant efforts of Hall to feign affection to his ubiquitous fuzzy image on computer monitors.

Artistically the film has failed to deliver, prompting critics to pan it (only 19 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes). But audiences are often indifferent to critics opinions when it comes to blockbusters like “Transcendance” that provide them with the necessary ingredients for pop entertainment namely a superstar and ample amount of impressive special effects, which begs the question why didn’t they flock to see it?

It has often been stated that since the late nineties, film stars don’t necessarily open movies anymore. Last year alone, we witnessed massive star-studded flops, even the king of summer blockbusters, Will Smith failed to save “After Earth” from from crashing, and hot Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx couldn’t save “White House Down” from drowning. And one of the biggest duds was delivered by none other than Depp himself in the shape of “The Lone Ranger” which crumbled in its opening weekend.

Last year, a studio executive told me: “Kids who are playing video games don’t care about stars; they want to see monsters fighting monsters.”

The executive, however, was proven wrong a few weeks later, when “Pacific Rim,” which boasted some of the biggest giant robots swinging battleships around, sank into an ocean of oblivion like its defeated alien monsters. Evidently, computer-generated monsters and dazzling effects on their own are no longer alluring to an increasingly sophisticated audiences, who demand more than just light and thunder.

Perhaps kids don’t care about stars anymore but they evidently care about their favourite characters. The Marvel Comic-based thriller “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” has amassed a worldwide total of $585.6 million in the last three weeks. Other such sequels and prequels featuring familiar characters made similar splashes in the box office last year too. Most notably “Iron Man 3,” which grossed a whopping $1.2 billion worldwide.

In fact, sequels and reboots seldom lose any money, if at all, albeit they often don’t feature big stars and if they do, they masquerade them in elaborate costumes and suits. Henry Cavill wasn’t well-known let alone a star, but his playing Superman last year did not hurt the box office for the “Man of Steel,” which grossed $668 million globally.

Nonetheless, Hollywood will continue to court stars for its blockbusters, because although they don’t seem to pull audiences in, they certainly push movies out. And it’s still easier to promote and sell a picture with a familiar name on the marquee. The stars have become an insurance policy.

Having witnessed the slaughter of many of their original blockbusters last year, Hollywood studios are gearing up to deluge the market with a flood of sequels and reboots this season, starting with “The Amazing Spider-man 2” this month, followed by “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “Godzilla,” “Transformers: Edge of Extinction,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Planes: Fires and Rescue,” and “Expendables 3.”

It’s hard to blame Hollywood for embracing familiarity and eschewing originality. After all, Hollywood is a business, and it can’t survive without producing a profit. This year, Sony pictures succumbed to the pressure of its investors and cut its production slate from 25 to 18 movies, due to costly flops last year, such as “White House down,” “Elysium,” and “After Earth.”

In this kind of environment, Warners Bros deserves a kudos for taking the risk in releasing “Transcendance,” and for offering another highly anticipated original “Interstellar” later in the year from director Christopher Nolan. After all, no one can predict the success of movie from the outset, and hence throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at one should not be taken lightly.

And charging Depp with failing to open the movie is absurd, though he admits that playing a role like Dr. Castor, whereby he had to sit in a box and deliver lines in a deadpan face is not his forte. “I feel much more comfortable in comedy but I also feel much more comfortable hiding if you will, because there are more possibilities,” the 50-year-old actor says. “I mean you give the director eight, nine, twelve ways of timings and things like that to go with a scene.”

That was perhaps what his fans were missing in this movie: his charming eccentricity. But they will get that soon in his upcoming caper movie “Mortdecai,” which he seems to be very proud of.

“Mortdecai has something very unique and special,” he enthuses. “It’s very different from anything I have done before. We haven’t seen that type of caper movie for a number of years. So I am really looking forward to that one.”

Who knows whether Mortdecai will resurrect his box-office power or not, but we can all be sure that the next “Pirate of the Caribbean,” sequel, which is currently scheduled for 2016 release, will most likely do.

Johnny Depp is not far from quitting acting

It seems that Johnny Depp is disenchanted with acting.

He has revealed to BBC Breakfast that he may be close to quitting acting, saying that he was “probably not too far away from his last picture.”

The Hollywood star, who is famed for roles in Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, expounded : ”At a certain point you start thinking. When you add up the amount of dialogue that you say per year and you realise that you’ve said written words more than you’ve had a chance to say your own words, you start thinking about that as an insane option for a human being.”

The 50-year-old is in the UK promoting his latest picture, “The Lone Ranger,” which has flopped in the US box office. In a recent interview with UKscreen, he said that he had made the film because he wanted to redress the injustice the American Native Indians had suffered for centuries.

During his 3-decade career, Depp has been nominated for three Oscars for his roles in Sweeney Todd, Finding Neverland, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Depp went on to  say that he wanted to do “quieter things,” but added “I wouldn’t say I’m dropping out any second, but I would say it’s probably say it’s probably not too far away.”

Johnny Depp creates a modern Tonto in The Lone Ranger – Interview

Husam Asi with Johnny Depp

As a 5 year-old kid, Johnny Depp was an avid fan of The Lone Ranger, watching the TV series religiously, but something about the show was troubling to him. “There was something wrong,” he tells me when I meet him at a ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “How come the red guy (Tonto) has to go and do this or fetch that or be the sidekick? Why is the white guy so prevalent and adored?” These troubling thoughts tenanted his mind for a long time.

The Lone Ranger is a masked ex-Texas Ranger, who survives an attack by Butch, who kills all his comrades in an ambush. A Native American, Tonto, saves him and becomes his trusted companion as he marches across the plains, fighting injustice in the American Old West.

The Lone Ranger first appeared in 1933 in a radio show, which spawned a series of books and a popular TV show that ran from 1949 to 1957. It has also been adapted into several movies. All these iterations of The Lone Ranger consistently depicted Tonto as a one dimensional sidekick, who lacked culture and substance. Other Native American characters were also portrayed as primitive savages, as was the case in other Hollywood movies.

Depp, who witnessed Marlon Brando’s undying passion for the rights of Native Americans, wanted to change that, so when he was offered the chance to play Tonto in Disney’s new The Lone Ranger in 2006, he leaped on the opportunity to present Indian Americans truthfully and honestly, and wipe out the 100 years of Hollywood cliche.

“It’s really the only reason I made the film to be honest,” he stresses. “It was something that I always wanted to do: to take that away. It’s a small chip on the boulder, but you gotta start somewhere.”

Directed by Depp’s collaborator on Pirates of the Caribbean and Rango, Gore Verbinsky, the new version of The Lone Ranger is narrated by and told from the perspective of Tonto, who becomes not only relevant but also the the central character, who actually manufactures The Lone Ranger,who is played by Armie Hammer.

Interestingly though, Tonto still speaks stilted English and chants incomprehensible prayers. Depp says that he did that deliberately in order not to alienate the audience who are conditioned to perceive Native Americans in a certain way, and gradually lead them onto a journey with Tonto. “I thought it would have been dumb to not embrace that and give the people what they thought they wanted,” he says. “At first, get them comfortable with that and then take it to another level with the character. That was my hope.”

Indeed, the 50-year-old actor lends Tonto the affability, intelligence and the playfulness that we often sense in the characters he plays, such as Edward Scissorhands, Jack Sparrow and Willie Wonka. Tonto utters hardly any words, but the gestures of his face, the twinkles of his eyes and movement of his body speak volumes. Inspired by Buster Keaton, Depp approached the story as a silent film. “My hope was that Tonto as the observer would become the eyes and the ears of the audience in a way,” Depp reflects. “Let’s minimise the dialogue and let it play in his face and his eyes. It tells much more of a story. I always have believed in that.”

Depp has also endowed Tonto with a new image based on a painting by artist Kirby Sattler, which he had seen online. Instead of the thin headband and dangling fringes that Hollywood had him wear, Tonto is shirtless, adorned with feathers, his face painted white with black stripes, and a stuffed crow atop his head.

“I loved the idea of the stripes down the face which would represent let’s say, personalities or bits of his brain,” Depp explains. “I saw this person split into quarters, by the painting. And there was a bird flying behind him, and I thought ‘Well, wouldn’t it be great if that bird was on top of his head?’ so Tonto came to me in a kind of series of images.”

The megastar’s efforts to resurrect and shed a positive light on the Native American’s culture were not lost on the Comanche (Tonto’s tribe), who made him an honorary member, while he was filming the movie. He was also given a Comanche name “Mawomey,” which means “shape-shifter.” Some Native Americans, however, were not impressed and accused him of perpetuating a stereotype through a character that lacks any cultural traits and in perverting the history of westward expansion that was devastating to their people. A charge that Depp, who claims that his grandmother had Indians roots, flatly rejects.

“Gore and I went through the script with Justin (the screenwriter) and sliced it as thin as you can,” he says. “It was microscopic, because I couldn’t stand the idea that there would be some juncture in the film where it might be questionable: what they meant and what they did and how they lived. It was very important to me.”

Indeed, Depp immersed himself into Comanche culture and even studied their language, in addition to hiring a Comanche advisor, William “Two-Raven” Voelker, who guided him through every step of the process. Nonetheless, his Native American critics were not satisfied, saying that he should’ve played The Lone Ranger and promoted a Comanche actor to portray Tonto. This decision, however, was made by the director, Gore Verbinsky, who told me earlier that he couldn’t find an a Native American actor of Depp’s calibre.

The heated debate about Depp’s portrayal of Tonto will probably simmer down when the star’s critics see the movie, because this is perhaps the first time that the whites are portrayed as covetous and brutal, and the Natives as noble and peaceful. As for Depp, he has heard only reassuring words from the Comanche nation and its chief, Chairman Coffey, who walked away from seeing the movie emotional and grateful.

“I was incredibly relieved and proud to hear that,” he enthuses. “Essentially I can’t blow smoke up my own buttocks, as it were. But he was proud, which made me feel very relieved.

Johnny Depp: The Accidental Actor

Johnny Depp: The Accidental Actor

Johnny Depp: The Accidental Actor

The highest paid actor in Hollywood and the star of The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise didn’t have acting ambitions when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1983. Johnny Depp, who had played the guitar from the age of 12, wanted to be a rock star. Up to this day, the superstar feels more comfortable among musicians than actors. So comfortable that he based his Pirate of the Caribbean Jack Sparrow on rock star Keith Richards.

“There’s much less ego with musicians,” he exclaims. “I grew up as a musician my whole life. It was always my first love. Over the years, I even approached my work like a musician. You think of it in terms of a kind of a form of jazz, you know what the notes are but can you play outside the notes now and again.”

I met Johnny Depp at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills . Exuding an air of tranquillity, he smiles broadly as he walks into the room. Having just wrapped the shooting of the fourth instalment of “The Pirates of the Caribbean,” his teeth are still capped with gold. Unlike other superstars, who don the latest fashions, Depp arrives in jeans and an old brown jacket. “I’ve had it for a very long time. It’s ancient,” he jokes.

The son of a waitress and a civil servant, Depp was on the move from an early age, first from Kentucky to Florida when he was six years old and from house to motel to apartment endlessly thereafter. By the age of 15, his father had gone, and he had been in trouble with his school and the law over the use of alcohol and drugs.

Eventually, Depp dropped out of Miramar High School at the age of 16 to become a guitar player. He formed a band, The Kids, which, after recording a demo, scored success, landing prestigious opening slots for bands like Talking Heads, Iggy Pop and The Ramones. Soon Florida became too small for The Kids, and they headed to Los Angeles.

Although the band had managed to land a few gigs, it was not enough to pull Depp out of poverty. But his life took a momentous turn when his first wife, Lori Anne Alison, introduced him to her former boyfriend, Nicolas Cage, who urged him to pursue acting.

Following casting leads, Depp landed a lead role in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” in 1984, followed by another in “Private Resort” in 1985. He even got a small role in Oliver Stone‘s Oscar-winning “Platoon.”

In the late 80’s, the accidental actor became a teen idol for playing a cop in the TV hit series, “21 Jump Street.” But the young star was uncomfortable with his new fame and unfulfilled by his TV role. After the expiration of his contract for three seasons, he sought to play fresh and challenging characters.

“To stay as fresh as possible is the actor’s main responsibility,” Depp says. “The challenge for me is to never bore the audience and try to give them something new, different, fresh and something they don’t necessarily expect from me each time out of the gate. Each time the pressure or the challenge for me is to do something that hopefully could entertain.”

Depp researches his roles assiduously, imagining them as he reads a script and then basing them on real life characters. Over the years, he has delivered some of the most outrageous characters in cinema, winning him critical acclaim, 3 Oscar nominations and phenomenal box office success.

Depp has portrayed a wide gamut of societal outsiders and real-life characters: a boy with scissor-hands, the eponymous eccentric B-movie director in Ed Wood, Peter Pan scribe J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland, a drug trafficker in Blow and bank robber John Dillinger in Public Enemies. But regardless of these characters’ vocations, they are all coloured with the child-like playfulness and the witty humour of Depp’s own personality.

“Any character you play, there is a whole lot of yourself that goes into it. Especially when you are a bit of a sucker like I am to try to milk every moment for some sort of absurdity or humour,” he says.

In his latest animation film Rango, Depp plays a family-pet chameleon, who ventures out in the wild and ends up in a gritty, gun-slinging town of Dirt, populated by whimsical creatures, and becomes their Sheriff. Having been deprived of water for too long, the town’s inhabitants rest their hopes on Rango to quench their thirst.

Initially Depp thought the film’s idea was strange when his 3-time collaborator, the director of the Pirates of the Carribean, Gore Verbinski, told him about it.

“He said ‘I have an idea for a lizard who is on a kind of an existential, spiritual sojourn and it going to take place in the Wild West, like an epic.’ It made so little sense to me that I thought I wanted to see it.”

Like with other projects, Depp lent his weight to the project, working with the director on the script, solidifying the storyline, deepening the character’s motivation and injecting it with humour.

Verbinski broke with tradition by recording the vocal performances not separately in the isolation of studio booths but with the actors working together on a prop-laden and partly dressed stage, enabling the animators to capture their facial expressions and bodily gestures.

“For a month, we actually acted everything out. We had about 3 or 4 cameras going all the time. We – the actors – felt really stupid, trying to sort of interact with one another,” he laughs.

Unlike Rango, the 47-year-old star is not facing an existential crisis in his life. The bad boy reputation that followed him for years and the stress of celebrity status are long gone thanks to his loving French wife, Vanessa, and his two young kids, who provide him with a domesticity he had never previously known.

“The two things that really matter to me is to be a good man and a good dad – that’s really it for me. In the interim, I can do some good, interesting work or something outside of what others are doing, so I am blessed,” he says.

He is also blessed with a lot of money. “Money is the universal language of the world. It’s freedom to be able to live your life how you need to live it and make sure everybody’s taken care of in terms of kids and family and extended family.”

Money has afforded him not only to own homes in south of France and Los Angeles, a jet and a yacht, but also an island, but these things, he says, are not as extravagant as they sound.

“Basically, the island represents simplicity, because unfortunately when you’re wandering around Hollywood or New York or various places, anonymity is gone and simplicity is gone. So you search for these places where you can get it. That’s pretty much what I’ve done with that,” he laughs.

Depp has just wrapped shooting The Pirate of the Caribbean 4, which, he says, was a gift for the fans of Pirate 2 and 3.

“I know that 1 had a sort of place, 2 and 3 became kind of mathematically entwined because they had to relate 1 to 3, so I think the story got a little bit complicated for people but they kept going back 2 and 3 times and I thought let’s give them something now a little more to the point, a lot more fun. That was really the main inspiration for Pirates 4,” he smiles.