A year ago, if you’d mentioned the name Johnny Depp most folks would’ve looked puzzled—Johnny who? Now, everyone, from the chilliest reaches of northern Canada to the hot beaches of southern Florida know. He’s the star of TV’s hit, 21 Jump Street; that cool guy with the mysterious smile, recently named one of the ten ‘Sexiest Bachelors Of Our Time!’
Yet it was only a few years back that this very same hipster was a wild teen whose middle name spelled ‘trouble’, a high school drop-out who once lived in a car with his best buddy; an aspiring rock ‘n’ roller who had to sell pens over the phone just to pay the rent.
How’d Johnny make the jump? How did he go from a practically penniless young tough to the comfortable and sought-after star he is today? And how’d he do it so fast?
Success is not something that John Christopher Depp ever chased, certainly not as an actor and never-in-his-wildest-dreams as a teen idol! Growing up in the working class town of Miramar, Florida, Johnny had only one passion—and that was making music. He lived his life to a very special beat and he did everything his way. Often, that got him into hot water—with authority and with his parents. “As a kid, I got into a lot of trouble,” Johnny admits. “I experimented with drugs and alcohol, I did damage to other people’s property—I was impossible to discipline.”
Remarkably, Johnny got out of the most serious kind of trouble on his own—“I just realized that the guys I was with, the guys doin’ the same things as I did, were stagnating, man. They just weren’t going anywhere. And I decided to split that scene.”
But Johnny went right on doing things his way. He devoted himself to music—locking himself in his room and doing nothing but teaching himself guitar! He dropped out of school at 16 and left home to play with a local band.
Naturally, none of this thrilled his parents. But they knew their son well and decided to be supportive; they had faith that eventually he’d be okay.
Materially, Johnny had little. But following his heart and his instincts has always been what Johnny’s all about—and exactly what he’s always done.
After moving out of his parents’ home, Johnny took to the road with his band. When the guys heard through the rock grapevine that Los Angeles was the place to be for a good unsigned band—they headed west. But paying gigs were hard to come by and the livin’ wasn’t quite as easy as they’d heard.
The scene, however, was hopping. Johnny found it easy to hang out with other young talents—and through a mutual friend, he met actor Nicolas Cage. At the time, 1983, Nick had few parts—he was in his uncle Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Rumble Fish, but was far away from Peggy Sue Got Married or Moonstruck.
Still, Nick had a good eye for talent—and even better showbiz connections. When Johnny confided that he “needed a job really badly, Nick suggested Johnny meet his agent and give acting a try—“you know,” Johnny fondly remembers, “sort of as a sideline, something to do while waiting to break into rock ‘n’ roll.”
Nightmare On Elm Street
With mixed emotions, Johnny went for the meeting Nick had set up—within a few hours time, he was off and reading for a part in a movie! What was it about Johnny that made the Hollywood agent send him—a “wet-behind-the-ears” kid from nowhere—on a movie audition so quickly?
Surely not his experience—he had none!—or his burning desire to be an actor, or his talent—she couldn’t even know at that point if he had any! No, there was something else about Johnny, a combination of his looks, his attitude and that undefinable ‘something’ that translates into ‘star quality.’ And Johnny had ‘it.’ Whatever ‘it’ is, this agent recognized it.
So did the casting director for Nightmare On Elm Street. After a short audition, Johnny had his first acting role. He played ‘Glen’ the kid who “got sucked into a bed and died.”
To this day, Johnny himself is not sure how he got that first acting job. “It’s strange, because the part was written for a stereotypical jock. I looked completely the opposite—earrings hanging everywhere from both ears and spiked hair! I don’t understand it, but for some reason or another, they hired me.”
And for some reason or another, ‘they’ kept right on hiring him. Johnny’s next movie role was Jack Marshall in the teen comedy, Private Resort (“possibly the stupidest movie ever made,” the always candid Johnny opines). He did a cable movie called Slow Burn with Eric Roberts—“that was fun, Eric’s one of our greatest actors and I really learned from him,”—and guest roles on the TV series Lady Blue and Hotel. Although Johnny was working steadily enough as an actor, still he considered it little more than a way to pay to rent until his music career took off.
That attitude changed dramatically when Johnny landed in a new movie called Platoon.
In next month’s 16, you’ll find out how a small part in that big movie turned Johnny around—and led him right into superstardom!
© IFOD 2003 – 2021