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by R. Kurt Osenlund
July 3, 2013 11:28 AM
58 Comments
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Exploring Johnny Depp's Fall From Gonzo Grace

Which, of course, it won't. "Pirates 5" is already in the works, with "Kon-Tiki" directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg at the helm  (because, ya know, they can make films at sea), and Depp, says the rumor mill, collecting something in the $100 million range for carrying on the character. But, really, there have already been a bounty of unofficial "Pirates" sequels sprinkled throughout the last 10 years, as Sparrow spawned a character template to which Depp and the studios have rigidly adhered. Whatever auteur qualities a director like Burton used to have, he's sold out as much as his once-freaky man muse, repeatedly coaching him in the same formulaic, Sparrow-like mode, with grotesques like Willy Wonka ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"), The Mad Hatter ("Alice in Wonderland," which is also sequel-bound), and Barnabas Collins ("Dark Shadows") reiterating the same over-the-top humor that was once mere subtext in Depp's work.

One of the more intriguing things about Depp's otherwise un-intriguing career is that he currently seems to stand as a link between Hollywood's decline of star-driven vehicles and its dependence on brand recognition. As most recently evidenced by the overall flop of A-Lister Will Smith's "After Earth," the model of banking a blockbuster on a major celeb is no longer Tinseltown's modus operandi, and pushing known products, as we learned from high-earners like "The Avengers" and "Man of Steel," is the new way to play.

This was highlighted by producer Linda Obst, who, in a recent chat with New York magazine's David Edelstein, noted that the industry's obsession with text familiarity comes down to foreign markets like China, which are currently providing 80 percent of industry profits, and want to see more of the American icons they already know and love.

Among these American icons? Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and -- thanks to a few high-seas adventures -- Johnny Depp. This explains why "Dark Shadows," a film that performed rather poorly in the U.S., wound up second behind "The Avengers" in international sales, and why "The Lone Ranger," whose titular character isn't even played by Depp, is poised to perform well overseas too. Chinese viewers may not know or care about a resurrected sixties vampire soap opera, or a decades-old cowboys-and-Indians tale that's unequivocally American, but they know Depp's face, and they'll shell out the cash for his brand.
"Lately, it seems that even if Depp wanted to, he couldn't go back to the kind of actor he was."
Depp may contend that the "stupid money" he's basking in is "just for the kids," a catch-all excuse he could use to cover any future skepticism about his earnings, but when unsavory headlines surface, like his recent exit from the Whitey Bulger mob movie "Black Mass," it's near-impossible not to raise an eyebrow. Depp reportedly walked because he won't accept any less than $20 million a picture, a figure that would have comprised a third of the "Black Mass" budget (early word is that Joel Edgerton has stepped in as a replacement).

The worst of it all is that, lately, it seems that even if Depp wanted to, he couldn't go back to the kind of actor he was. Most of his films from the past 10 years that have strayed from the Sparrow formula, from "The Libertine" to "The Tourist," have been financial, critical, and audience failures. And even the Hunter S. Thompson-derived passion project "The Rum Diary," funded by Depp's highfalutin production company Infinitum Nihil (which, with its implications of "infinity" and "nihilism," carries grim connotations about what's to come), yielded one of Depp's poorest showings on every front.

It's deeply unsettling to think that, beneath all those daring nineties projects with true film artists, what was brewing in a seemingly incorruptible and exploratory performer was an ego the size of a pirate ship. If you make it to "The Lone Ranger," keep your eye on Depp, and watch how fully he's gotten his paycheck-pocketing routine down to a science. Grumble, grimace, quip, jump, joke, stand tall, repeat. Depp's no longer just part of the Hollywood machine, he's become a Hollywood machine.   


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58 Comments

  • john | July 9, 2013 7:28 PMReply

    See ..This Mov.ie online at T H E A T E R 1 5 . C 0 M.

  • Shavonne | July 8, 2013 2:48 AMReply

    Ahh, yes he is a failure because he stars in some Hollywood tentpoles. He finally can buy his own island and has lost all of his acting credibility. I don't see that same comment made about say, Angelina Jolie or Reese Witherspoon or Sandra Bullock who have all made some serious schlock. Get off your high horse, the man can still act. At least he e isn't making the never ending 1920s or 1940s or 1950s period piece hunting for an Oscar nom like Leonardo di Caprio.

  • Buscemi | July 7, 2013 6:34 PMReply

    Depp's decline began with one simple decision: making a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean (a film that was directed by neither Burton or Verbinski). The film was totally unnecessary (since At World's End had a concrete ending) and though it made money, it tarnished the brand name as well as Depp's name. Since then, everything has gone wrong.

    As for The Lone Ranger's box office failure, it can charted towards four things:
    1. It was too expensive (the film should have cost around $80-100 million).
    2. Armie Hammer isn't a star (pairing with Depp reminded me of the decision to cast Matthew Modine in Cutthroat Island after every A-lister turned it down).
    3. Disney put too much into it due to their slate cutting in recent years (back when Dick Cook was around, it would have been a minor project for the studio).
    4. The Lone Ranger is simply unadaptable. The property already failed as a film once before and the target audience is either dead or near death. So why try fighting a battle you can't win?

  • j70 | July 6, 2013 11:25 PMReply

    A few issues with this article.
    1. The Tourist is in the black.
    2. Depp's production company didn't finance The Rum Diary. Film Engine and GK Films (yes, they finance Depp's development but there is a distinct difference)
    3. Apart from salary renegotiations, Depp pulled out of Bulger bio because he had issues with the sales company, who used his name to pre-sale at Berlin without a finalised deal.

  • Andrew S | July 6, 2013 2:12 PMReply

    It's not the audience's fault! He should have taken a long break sometime around Chocolat - but he opted to do crappy role after role with Tim Burton and Gore Verbinski. It's his own fault that he's become a joke and he really should stop acting for a good long while after this one - wait he's doing another Pirate's movie!

  • Bellezebub | July 6, 2013 10:03 AMReply

    I would argue that all of this is actually the audience's fault. As the article claims, his attempts to reach out and not be Sparrow for all of his films have amounted to nothing. The Libertine was an awesome film, ditto for Finding Neverland. But of course those aren't really films to which parents can take their sniveling, overfed spawn (finding Neverland would require waaaaaay too much imagination and focus for the average American brat. Plus they have accents. They're practically talking a foreign language). What else would he do but recreate his most successful character? TBH Burton himself has gone off the boil, so maybe some time away from that relationship would do them both some good. I would like to see Depp stop doing cartoons as well, but perhaps that's unfair when his whole career, save for The Brave, has had an element of the cartoonish about it. It's one of the things I like about him-but it's been over-played. I think that all of the criticism that he's facing is because we expect more from him; I mean, no one criticizes Rogan for playing the exact same part in every goddamn movie that he does. But cut him a break.

  • Milena | July 5, 2013 7:19 PMReply

    No doubt about it; he's the "Ham, What Am".

  • Tom | July 5, 2013 6:55 PMReply

    Depp?!...he stink's!

  • Pedro | July 5, 2013 10:24 AMReply

    I find these articles always interesting, in the sense they are cyclical in the need to tarnish the concept of actors who become very popular. I'm certain that the backlash to Daniel Day Lewis' career would begin also, should he be more prolific (articles pointing out how he's so method that he has lost his "cool" are bound to happen). Johnny Depp can be accused of being overly productive and quite possibly burning his image a bit too much, with a lot of films coming out every year. That being said, he's still the same actor he always was, tackling characters that are different and giving his interpretation of those characters in films of uneven quality. Generalizing and summarizing someone's career as a "fall from grace" in a 10 year range would be like saying Jack Nicholson had no career after "Batman" (and that was his commercial peak). This article makes it's point highlighting specific pieces of work from an actor who, for the better and the worse, has carved a career that is unique and quite successful.

  • Jake | July 5, 2013 1:15 AMReply

    I'd say Depp's role in "Sweeney Todd" was both a stretch (what with the singing) and firmly in his wheelhouse, but I thought he was interesting in "Public Enemies." Depp's finest work of the last 5 years or so, however, is "Rango," a vastly underrated movie. As dispiriting as this strain of argument ("x was so great, then he sold out") can be, I really feel as if it's spot on with Depp. I think a director other than Burton or Verbinski needs to come around and really kick his ass into gear.

  • - | July 4, 2013 6:43 PMReply

    I can't be the only one who thinks he's overrated. He's one of these actors like Leonardo DiCaprio who a lot of people constantly say is 'the best actor alive', when they don't hold a candle to people like Daniel Day-Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, etc.
    I mean, he is good, but fucking hell.

  • Moonpatrol | July 4, 2013 2:27 PMReply

    This is a terrible article in that it doesn't talk about what went wrong in the new movie. Is it because he is inserting his Pirates character into the lone Ranger? Has he run out of new creative energy? He is an interesting guy for sure and claims he has a really weird job called acting. How many of us could wear a crow on their head and show up to work like that?

  • Gina B | July 3, 2013 4:44 PMReply

    What about Ed Wood? Great film and great acting. At his finest. He'll be fine.

  • Daniel | July 5, 2013 12:35 AM

    Let me sum up the article for you: "Ed Wood was a really long time ago."

  • Tegan | July 3, 2013 4:44 PMReply

    His last chance for respectability was teaming up with Wes Anderson for Grand Budapest Hotel and he ruined that. Second rate, musician and idiosyncratic actor with a bit of charm and good looks. I'm sure he doesn't care though, since he never watches his films. The man wanted to be a musician and fell into acting. For him it's just a job so of course he goes for the money. Blame Nicholas Coppola who's films are also commercial bile

  • Marisa Damele | July 3, 2013 4:19 PMReply

    Johny Depp is on top of the list of best actors. He can disguise and become the character in the most realistic way. He is awesome. Who could have been The Scissors Man, Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Hat Man in Alice in Wonderland, Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribean, the cold murderer in Sweeny Todd, etc, etc. Nobody like him. He changes his looks, his voice, the emotion on his eyes. I am going to watch Lone Ranger, although I don't like the story, just to watch Depp perform. Whoever gives him bad comments doesn't know anything about acting.

  • Vernon Norbert | July 5, 2013 12:31 AM

    Uh, the point is that all those characters are played the same way.

  • yousef | July 3, 2013 3:31 PMReply

    "Most of his films from the past 10 years that have strayed from the Sparrow formula, from "The Libertine" to "The Tourist," have been financial, critical, and audience failures."

    well i didn't know that an indies like the libertine and the rum diary were excepted to be a major success but what about charlie and the chocolate factory,alice in wonderland,public enemies,finding neverland,sweeney todd,corpse bide,rango??? they were all financial,critical and box office success.

  • ricky | July 3, 2013 3:28 PMReply

    "you can be sure that a major factor swaying Academy voters was the $654 million global haul of "The Curse of the Black Pearl"

    now this is nonesense. if they nominated him because of the $$ he make for hollywood then why didn't they nominate him for alice which make a billion dollar? and what about the other awards cermonies who nominated him ? Golden globe,bafta,critics choice awards,sag(win) did they nominated him because of that too? btw most of your points are vailed

  • Jennifer Knight | July 3, 2013 3:23 PMReply

    Apparently Johnny is coming to terms with his own significance. Moloch is alive and well in Hollywood. Hell, for that matter, Hollywood is alive and well in Moloch. PS - the writer in this case is most likely an idiot.

  • Eustace | July 3, 2013 3:19 PMReply

    , "you can be sure that a major factor swaying Academy voters was the $654 million global haul of "The Curse of the Black Pearl"

    I agree with most of the article but this line is ridiculous. If you think money made affects nominations then you know nothing about the Oscar voters.

  • R. Kurt Osenlund | July 3, 2013 3:51 PM

    Going to have to disagree with you here, Eustace. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that "Curse of the Black Pearl," well in advance of films like "The Dark Knight" and "Avatar," began drawing the Academy's attention back to mainstream blockbusters. If a tent pole has the right Oscar-friendly element (like a performance everyone's talking about), and is a mega-seller on top of that, you can bet Oscar voters will pay extra attention. They want films that will advance the industry as much as they want "prestige." Any Oscar pundit will tell you that, while it's not an ironclad deciding factor, box office definitely has influence during awards season.

  • Olivia | July 3, 2013 3:15 PMReply

    I absolutely love Johnny but you've got to understand about him is that he's like a drifter he'll settle somewhere for a while then keep moving thats what his acting career is like aswell. He picks roles he can relate to on a personal level, nothing about the money. I love how versatile he is, and still believe (will always believe) he's the greatest actor in Hollywood. Hardly any actors can do what Johnny does and change SO quickly.

    He hasn't go worse if not he's matured and got a lot better, his career isn't the most important thing right now he's focusing on family etc. I respect the hell out of that man! <3<3<3

  • cary | July 5, 2013 10:10 AM

    "He picks roles he can relate to on a personal level, nothing about the money. I love how versatile he is, and still believe (will always believe) he's the greatest actor in Hollywood."

    Please, are you just naive or simply blind?

  • Lisa | July 3, 2013 3:07 PMReply

    I tend to agree with the writer of this article. I miss the old Depp. I enjoyed his movies in the 90's but honestly the only one I can think of that I enjoyed in the 2000's is "Finding Neverland".

  • johnny | July 3, 2013 3:06 PMReply

    Trying to be versatile hasn't been in fact good for Depp's career, as of lately. The way he accepts awkward roles and then "disappears" into them as always been one of his most beloved characteristics. However, as many of you noticed, in the last few years this doesn't seem to be working so well (and by this I mean his recent turns in "Alice" or "Dark Shadows"). Continuing with the Pirates franchise doesn't seem like a good option for him.... maybe work with better (and different.... someone who's not Tim Burton or Verbinski) may be a good change. Also, you apparently forgot (or you didn't like) his amazing turn in "Sweeney Tood", which I still think it's his last best performance.

  • Moonpatrol | July 4, 2013 2:34 PM

    Tim Burton is someone he should get away from. In Alice & Wonderland he was going to do his dance at the end and I was expecting to see dome of the real J Depp but instead they had some stupid thing where his head rotates around 360 degrees. That's Tim Burton for you. The combination of those two is long past worn out. I think J Depp has creative things in store but Tim Burton needs to move on and retire. Remember planet of the Apes?

  • Avi | July 3, 2013 3:00 PMReply

    "Sweeney Todd", "Public Enemies" and "Rango" are great movies! As much you do want to prove your point, you can't forget these movies.
    I want to see his work in "Transcendence" even if in the surface his character isn't that complex (isn't a character driven movie) the plot is GREAT!!
    Also I saw an interview about "Black Mass" and he said he's desperate to do the movie and work with Barry Levinson. And it seems that he believes the issues with this project are because "the time". Like his agenda isn't working with the times of the movie...i'm not sure if he talks often with his management team!

  • R. Kurt Osenlund | July 3, 2013 4:02 PM

    I do think "Rango" is a wonderful, beautiful film, but the buffer of animation does it some serious favors. Depp's schtick is there, but it's filtered through a charming CG creation, and the Wild West setting maintains nostalgia without white elitism because the movie stars a bunch of multi-colored critters. I do not like "Public Enemies." Mann's HD photography is frantic, oversharp, and kills the period. I enjoyed a lot of "Sweeney Todd," but I don't know if I could return to it now. I didn't even mention how much I've grown to loathe seeing Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in the same frame. Hell, Verbinski, casting Rose McGowan as the madame with the fully-loaded prosthetic leg would have been more inventive.

  • Suvo Pyne | July 3, 2013 2:47 PMReply

    Although it pains me to admit, but truth lies in this article. Depp needs to work with someone else than Verbinski, Marshall and Burton. Burton is good, no doubt. But, both Depp and Burton need to work with someone else now. The creativity is stopped from Burton's side, because he always makes a film with Depp in his mind.
    As for, I believe he's one of the finest actor, and still has things to offer. Let's pin our hope on Transcendence

  • Moonpatrol | July 4, 2013 2:36 PM

    Well said, and you put into words what I had in my mind but couldn't express.!

  • Dave Barak | July 3, 2013 2:47 PMReply

    Depp is a great actor, possibly the most versatile of today, but he's throwing that talent away and it doesn't seem like he cares. He may possibly end up in a figurative actors' Skid Row, drunk on cash.

  • terry | July 5, 2013 10:12 AM

    He is not a great actor, his range is really limited. He's been picking good roles but that was 20 years ago. He is dead now.

  • Ignacio | July 3, 2013 1:39 PMReply

    hey! Michael Mann's Public Enemies was good too. But, I have to agree 100% with this article, though, Johnny Deep has NOTHING to offer since a long time ago.

  • Henry | July 3, 2013 1:32 PMReply

    Rango, Sweeney Todd and The Rum Diary. that is all

  • P | July 3, 2013 1:28 PMReply

    Depp is wonderful in every which way! That he's spent a great deal of time over the past several years making family-oriented films geared primarily towards younger demographics should come as no surprise as he has young kids. And while I too prefer "Blow" to "The Lone Ranger", I'm sure that Mr. Depp will fall back into the fold at some point and applaud him for capitalizing on the "super business"-side of film while managing to have so much fun with it.

  • P | July 3, 2013 1:27 PMReply

    Depp is wonderful in every which way! That he's spent a great deal of time over the past several years making family-oriented films geared primarily towards younger demographics should come as no surprise as he has young kids. And while I too prefer "Blow" to "The Lone Ranger", I'm sure that Mr. Depp will fall back into the fold at some point and applaud him for capitalizing on the business in the meantime while also managing to have so much fun with it.

  • Duddi | July 3, 2013 12:39 PMReply

    The commercialism has made him what he is today !!! - The man was so unique that it's hard to believe that the same man is doing this terrible stuff nowadays. What made him unique were his choices and the list of directors he has worked with ("The old Burton", Jarmusch, Polanski, Gilliam vs. Verbinski, Marshall and especially this new Burton, who after Sweeney Todd in "2007"... has been chasing butterflies with projects like Dark Shadows and Alice in Wonderland with a Johnny boy in front of camera, that has never backed out and has alwayss been up for the next puffed pay-checque... And yet another P. of the C. (nr. 5) is on the way... He should've followed Pitt's and Caprio's path instead of this commercial path... A commercial movie after some time is OK, but a whole line of it, pffff give us a break already.

  • vp19 | July 3, 2013 12:31 PMReply

    Deep has reached the point where his very presence distorts a movie..."The Mad Hatter In Wonderland," anyone?

  • yousef | July 3, 2013 3:14 PM

    not really he is the best thing about his latest movies and he was the best part of alice which got him a gloden globe nom

  • Tim | July 3, 2013 2:13 PM

    Wow, true indeed. That whole movie was a mess though.

  • No | July 3, 2013 12:28 PMReply

    "Grumble, grimace, quip, jump, joke, stand tall, repeat." This sounds much like Brando's 1960 period until the Godfather and Last Tango.

  • Gina | July 5, 2013 7:10 PM

    Excellent point! He definitely needs to be "Travolta'd", along with Eric Roberts, but he should lay low for awhile.

  • HORHAY LOUISE BORHAZE | July 3, 2013 12:20 PMReply

    WhatEVER! Depp is free to do as he pleases. His brilliant Tati-like performance in Verbinski's RANGO outshone any indie or Oscar-bait performance that year.

  • HORHAY LOUISE BORHAZE | July 3, 2013 12:19 PMReply

    WhatEVER! Depp is free to do as he pleases. His brilliant Tati-like performance in Verbinski's RANGO outshone any indie or Oscar-bait performance that year.

  • greg | July 4, 2013 3:55 AM

    Doesn't matter how many times you enter you same empty comments Horhay. No one cares

  • HORHAY LOUISE BORHAZE | July 3, 2013 12:19 PMReply

    WhatEVER! Depp is free to do as he pleases. His brilliant Tati-like performance in Verbinski's RANGO outshone any indie or Oscar-bait performance that year.

  • HORHAY LOUISE BORHAZE | July 3, 2013 12:19 PMReply

    WhatEVER! Depp is free to do as he pleases. His brilliant Tati-like performance in Verbinski's RANGO outshone any indie or Oscar-bait performance that year.

  • HORHAY LOUISE BORHAZE | July 3, 2013 12:18 PMReply

    WhatEVER! Depp is free to do as he pleases. His brilliant Tati-like performance in Verbinski's RANGO outshone any indie or Oscar-bait performance that year.

  • HORHAY LOUISE BORHAZE | July 3, 2013 12:18 PMReply

    WhatEVER! Depp is free to do as he pleases. His brilliant Tati-like performance in Verbinski's RANGO outshone any indie or Oscar-bait performance that year.

  • HORHAY LOUISE BORHAZE | July 3, 2013 12:18 PMReply

    WhatEVER! Depp is free to do as he pleases. His brilliant Tati-like performance in Verbinski's RANGO outshone any indie or Oscar-bait performance that year.

  • HORHAY LOUISE BORHAZE | July 3, 2013 12:18 PMReply

    WhatEVER! Depp is free to do as he pleases. His brilliant Tati-like performance in Verbinski's RANGO outshone any indie or Oscar-bait performance that year.

  • HORHAY LOUISE BORHAZE | July 3, 2013 12:18 PMReply

    WhatEVER! Depp is free to do as he pleases. His brilliant Tati-like performance in Verbinski's RANGO outshone any indie or Oscar-bait performance that year.

  • Truth Powell | July 3, 2013 12:06 PMReply

    I never bought into the Johnny Depp hype. Pirates of the Carribean and all the sequels are some of the worst movies made in the past 10 years. When I heard of The Lone Ranger I thought he was going to play the title character. As soon as I found out he was going to be Tonto I knew it was going to be some BS. How do these ideas get past studio execs that have to sign off on millions? Do they even like movies???? Note to the world at large: Ex-grunge and gothic girls are not tastemakers.

  • yousef | July 3, 2013 3:16 PM

    are you kidding? the pirates franchise is one of the best ever!

  • keira | July 3, 2013 11:44 AMReply

    Depp is DEAD. Duh.

  • greg | July 4, 2013 3:54 AM

    He is whimsical at best. Depp lessens the role he is playing. He cant act any longer, his roles come off as a flippin joke. He can be as popular to the masses as he appears to be. But it doesn't change the fact that his roles are silly at best and is a distraction for each movie. The viewing public cares less about acting than it did in years past and he is able to cash in it. I could care less if the guy ever made another movie.

  • yousef | July 3, 2013 3:15 PM

    nope. he is still popular and a big deal but he just have to make a better choies