"It’s a little weird to be driving down the street and to see a big picture of myself,” says Johnny Depp of his “trippy” experience as the star of Dior’s Sauvage eau de parfum campaign. A self-described lone wolf, Depp infamously prefers life out of the limelight.
For the Dior campaign, photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino captured the complexities of one of Hollywood’s most enigmatic leading men. “I think that when Jean-Baptiste looks at you, it’s like he’s dissecting you,” says Depp. “He is pulling back layers to find the side of you that he finds interesting or inspiring, and then he really captures something of you in it.” In the film created for the new fragrance, the screen flashes back and forth between Depp’s moody features and that of a wolf. “They are isolated by choice,” Depp tellingly offers of his admiration for the wolf. “There is certainly a part of me that tends to be that loner,” he shares. “You never find me in the center of the crowd. I just like to stay back a little and hang in the shadows.” Mondino captured the darker side of Depp in his most natural state. “All I had to do was be,” Depp explains of the beauty of the collaboration. “There is nothing fraudulent about it. As amazing an experience as it is to play Jack Sparrow in [Pirates of the Caribbean], ultimately, there is always that corporate kind of thing,” he says, citing his experience with Dior as the opposite. “It required nothing but truth. It was not formulaic; there was no pretense. They are unafraid of taking risks and doing something different. It’s a piece of art,” he adds of the latest Dior campaign.
This year, Depp also stars in myriad roles that seem crafted in his own mysterious image, including crime thriller LAbyrinth as well as comedy-drama Richard Says Goodbye. In November, Depp assumes much-buzzed-about titular role of J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Despite some controversy over the casting, Depp is already earning acclaim for the role, due no doubt to his deep reverence for complex literary characters, citing influences ranging from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. “The people who inspired me ultimately when I was growing up and watching TV or movies were always individuals—real individuals, very different types of comedians, entertainers, actors and singers,” he notes. “They weren’t trying to be like anyone else. They were on their road, and it was unique,” Depp says, explaining that authenticity over fame has always been appealing. “I always thought cool was the individual—the person who is simply themselves.”
There is no doubt that the same enigmatic charm the actor applied to Captain Jack Sparrow will enchant as Grindelwald. “To be able to play a character like Captain Jack, who can virtually say anything—even if it makes no sense whatsoever, and then try to somehow make it make sense, which just makes it even more jumbled and abstract—and get away with it... it’s weird,” says Depp. “When I play Captain Jack, there is rarely a time when I am not smiling; just being him makes me smile. He can do anything, say anything—all that in one character who is everything [that] I am not,” he says.
Depp reveals an inherent shyness that lurks beneath the elusive shroud. “I can be cheeky, but I was never that outgoing. I was always very shy,” he shares. “To be Captain Jack Sparrow, to find that within me, to allow myself to let that curtain drop away, and be absurd and irreverent, and try shit as a character, it’s a nonstop experiment.”
No matter the role, Depp dives deep into character study, fully transforming for the role and improvising on instincts. “If there is a screenplay, I can tell in the first 10 pages... or three or four pages already, but I give it about 10. Then I know if I am right for it. I choose if I think I have something I can give to the film, to the vision—something that has not been done to death in terms of performance or character interpretation. That’s really it,” he says. “I have been doing this a long time,” he adds. “I have always rewritten lines.” Depp reveals that he allows Captain Jack to emerge in his own way. “Years and years ago, I stopped reading screen direction. When you read a script the first time, you read the dialogues and the directions to see what the film is as a whole. After that first time, I never read screen direction again. I don’t want to know what I am supposed to do or where I am supposed to be because it should just happen. It allows more freedom.”
“The most important thing that an actor needs to do is not to act, but to react,” Depp sagely offers. “That’s what it’s all about, and you do one of the most difficult things in the world, which is to just be—to be in the state of being,” he says, showing the wisdom gained over decades of honing his craft and maturing in the industry. Today, more than ever, Depp exposes a raw and real vulnerability that is the very definition of a modern man. “A definition of a man is being true and loyal and present, and fighting against any injustice, be it on the small day-to-day level or a huge grand scale, with or without fear. To go in the world as yourself, when there is nothing else,” he says.
“It’s interesting because when I play a character, I have no limitations,” Depp shares. “I can do anything in front of the camera. It’s a strange thing when you are more comfortable as a character in front of a camera than you are as yourself. If I had to get up and make a toast at a dinner, I would be a wreck, but as a character, a whole world opens up.”