Johnny Depp has played an endlessly diverse set of characters over a decades-long acting career: a swashbuckling pirate, a murderous mob boss, a loopy chocolate-factory owner, a nefarious barber — but according to the actor himself, all of his characters have one thing in common: they’re all gay.
Depp was reminiscing about his acting career at an American Film Institute festival discussion at the Dolby Theater this week when he recalled a particularly fraught conversation he had with Disney executives regarding his performance in the first installment of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Depp had heard that Disney’s top brass were less than thrilled by the early footage they’d seen of his character, the smarmy pirate Jack Sparrow.
“It trickled back to me somehow that, ‘Goddammit, Johnny Depp’s ruining the film! What is that thing? Is it drunk, is it gay?'” Depp recalled hearing at the time, according to the Guardian. At a subsequent meeting with an executive from the studio, Depp said he was asked outright if the character was gay, to which the actor replied: “Didn’t you know all my characters are gay?”
Depp revealed a lot about his acting process during the wide-ranging discussion at the Dolby Theater, where he was joined by his Black Mass director Scott Cooper. Depp revealed that he “hates” watching himself on screen — he has yet to see his own performance in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — and that he ignores all screen directions in scripts so as to make his performances more organic.
The actor also said that playing characters based on real people — as he did most recently for Black Mass, in which he plays the notorious Boston mobster Whitey Bulger — is “a completely different process” than playing purely fictitious characters.
“It’s very, very important to me, no matter who the person is, to play that person with the utmost degree of truth that I’m able to bring,” he explained of his process while playing true-life characters. “But playing a character like Jack Sparrow or Willy Wonka, that requires nothing but a degree of responsibility to the intent of the story – responsibility to the filmmaker to deliver the goods. More than anything it just comes down to imagination: what are the ingredients for this character?”
“I felt pretty confident that I could pull it off under the right circumstances,” Depp said of playing Bulger. He added that he hopes audiences forget they’re watching Depp “the actor” within the first seven or so minutes of a film: “That’s really important to me.”
Check out more from Depp’s discussion at the AFI festival here.