Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Interview: Johnny Depp on 'Rum Diary,' Hunter S. Thompson

Try and live normal...Stay for a drink

Johhny Depp rarely gives interviews.

Johnny Depp, a cast member in the film
Chris Pizzello/AP Johnny Depp, a cast member in the film "The Rum Diary," poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Oct. 12, 2011. Based on the novel of the same name by the late Hunter S. Thompson, the film is released in theaters on Oct. 28.

Johnny Depp doesn't just star in "The Rum Diary," director Bruce Robinson's rum-soaked film about a reporter working and drinking in Puerto Rico in the 1950s. Depp found the manuscript for the novel on which the screenplay is based -- literally found it -- while visiting writer Hunter S. Thompson.

Depp's character in the film is a fictionalized version of Thompson, whom Depp also played in the film version of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." The two were close, and Depp spoke recently about Thompson, who killed himself in 2005, as well as what the guy who has played characters as dissimilar as Capt. Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka and Edward Scissorhands looks for in a role.

Question: Watching "The Rum Diary" (which opens Friday) actually makes you feel as if you have a hangover. How do you convincingly play a drunk?

Answer: Well, uh, let's see, uh, uh, uh -- sense memory. (Laughs.)

Q: Ha. Of course you're not really drinking when you're shooting.

A: No. We'd still be shooting if we did that. Especially Bruce and I. It's just observation. I've certainly been drunk in my life now and again. It's just watching people and sponging that up, as much as you can. It's not that difficult. You just sort of allow your spine to get a little bit looser. I think the main thing, when people get drunk they try to not be drunk, and that's the sort of key. They start to blink more, they try to sit up.

Q: Kemp, your character, is based on Thompson, but it's not the gonzo version many people know.

A: Kemp is the younger version of Hunter. He's the Hunter who is on the road to try to find out who Hunter was, to try and find his voice. It was more of a sort of boozy crawl than a psychedelic experience.

Q: Don't you think his reputation as such a wild man takes away from recognition of his talents as a writer?

A: Most definitely, yeah. There was certainly that side of him that was, you know, as he called it, "It's time to break out the too-much-fun club." And basically that was when Hunter was happy and in a good mood and let's go nuts and do irreverent things and absurd things and have a ball, and there were no repercussions and we couldn't give a rat's about them. There was that side of Hunter.

But there was also a side of Hunter that was made of very strong moral fiber and a Southern gentleman to the very last. Chivalrous. Truly a gentleman and hyper, hyper, hyper sensitive -- hence the self-medication. And that's a side that not many people know or got to see. He was shy, so at a certain point his safety was just assuming the character, in a way.

Q: You can't write as much as he did without some degree of self-discipline.

A: This is a guy who sat at a very young age and typed out "The Great Gatsby" multiple times because he wanted to know how it felt to write a masterpiece. That's supreme commitment.

He had studied all these writers that he adored. Hunter and I would sit and talk for hours and hours, because I have this fiendish kind of obsession with writers of the 19th and 18th centuries, so we would talk for hours about these guys. It was probably one of the things we connected on, probably because he couldn't believe some (expletive) actor knew who Nathanael West was. ...

He was deeply, deeply in love with words, and he found a way that no one's capable of copying to this day, found a way to express himself with the greatest command of language.

Q: He had a way with words, certainly.

A: The guy was capable of wonders. I called him after he saw the film of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," to give you an example of how this man's mind worked. And I thought he would hate me, I really did, because I thought maybe I've done something too close to home for him, maybe he would find it uncomfortable.

I said, "All right, you saw it." He said, "Yeah, I saw it." I said, "Do you hate me?" He said, "No, man, no, no. Christ, it was like an eerie trumpet call over a lost battlefield."

And that just (expletive) blurted out of his mouth. He just spewed it.

Q: Kemp talks that way. At first it sounds false, but then you think, oh, some people do talk that way.

A: Well, they do. He did. "The American dream is a piss-puddle of greed," yeah. That was Hunter.

Q: Is it different playing someone you knew and were close to?

A: It's very different. Fortunately the one thing with Hunter is, I had a head start. He was so generous with me, and we got so close that I was able to sponge up as much of him as I possibly could. I had the luxury of kind of knowing him inside and out.

Q: You actually found the manuscript for "The Rum Diary" yourself, right?

A: Yeah, stumbled upon it, yeah. I was preparing for "Fear and Loathing," and we were in the war room (at Thompson's house) looking through boxes for the manuscript of "Fear and Loathing," which included, like, cocktail napkins and cherry stems and bandages, and all the weirdest stuff in the world. Suddenly I happened upon this other box that I broke open and, right on top there, stuffed amongst these papers, was "The Rum Diary." And we started reading it, the two of us, cross-legged on the floor. And I said, "Hunter, you're insane, man, this is (expletive) great writing. You need to publish this. I don't care when you wrote it. Let's publish it."

And he said, "You're right. However, I think we should produce this movie together." And that's when it really began.

Q: It's set in the late '50s, but in some ways the financial struggles of the newspaper Kemp works for are timely. Was that coincidence or happy accident?

A: I don't know if I'd call it a happy accident. ... I think it's an accident, for sure. But even the idea, at that time, in 1959 and 1960, Cuba became what Cuba became, and still is, so it was off-limits to Americans. So the next focus was Puerto Rico. It was the despoliation of a paradise. I think that was something that enraged Hunter. ... There are a lot of issues that correlate with what is current.

Q: You've played so many eclectic roles. What is a Johnny Depp role, and how do you know when you've found one?

A: It's pretty simple. I just read the thing, and I'm looking for that moment that sparks, that something that lights me up. The idea that I see something in a character that maybe I can bring something new to, maybe I can try something different that hasn't necessarily been done to death. It's really just kind of that. When I read a script, and I get a script that I really like and a character that appeals to me, I start getting these waves of images. It could be anything. It could be people I've known. It could be dogs I've had in the past. It doesn't matter. I just get these images and start to apply them to the character. Really, that's kind of it.

What I like, and what I think is important in terms of being an actor, is that first and foremost, to bore your audience is like the worst thing you can do. Always try to keep them guessing. Always try to send them something out there that they're not necessarily expecting. And always try to challenge yourself as an actor. The idea that I could have fallen flat on my face in terms of a couple of these characters is the very reason I did it. If you're not prepared to fail miserably, then you're just sort of walking through, aren't you?

Enjoy the Larry King special with Johnny Depp too:

by Bill Goodykoontz The Arizona Republic Oct. 25, 2011 08:20 AM

Interview: Johnny Depp on 'Rum Diary,' Hunter S. Thompson

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