Depp the next Brando? Peers call him a contender

April 19, 1995|By Barry Koltnow | Barry Koltnow,Orange County Register

Writer/director Jeremy Leven recognized it from 80 feet away. Everybody else will have to be content with recognizing it on the big screen in "Don Juan DeMarco," in which Marlon Brando plays a psychiatrist treating a delusional Johnny Depp, which opened last week.

"We were shooting this scene where Depp and Brando are standing on scaffolding 80 feet in the air and there is no question what is really going on up there," Mr. Leven said.

"I was standing next to the director of photography, and we looked at each other at the same time and recognized what was happening. Marlon was passing the torch to Johnny. You could feel it in your bones. It was so obvious.

"Marlon was giving Johnny the room to be the next Marlon Brando. And you know something? I think Johnny can handle it."

Faye Dunaway, who co-stars as Mr. Brando's wife, said the same thing after the film was completed. In fact, she has publicly declared that Mr. Depp already is the "next Marlon Brando."

And just how does the newly anointed king respond? In true Brando-esque fashion, he looks down at the floor, shuffles his feet and mumbles, "I don't know what to say."

Mr. Depp, 31, is as famous for getting in trouble as he is for his gutsy film choices that range from "Edward Scissorhands" and "Benny & Joon" to "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" and "Ed Wood."

Kentucky-born and Florida-raised, Mr. Depp fell early into the classic bad-boy pattern. The son of divorced parents, he dropped out of high school and got into some relatively minor trouble in his hometown. He formed a rock band, married early and then packed up the band and wife and moved to Los Angeles.

By 24, he was a divorced teen heartthrob thanks to his role as an undercover cop on the Fox hit "21 Jump Street," but he quit the show after three seasons to pursue a film career. There have been many intense love affairs (actress Winona Ryder and current flame Kate Moss, the supermodel waif, to name two) and as many tattoos.

He owns the hip Sunset Strip nightclub the Viper Room, outside of which actor River Phoenix died from a drug overdose and has been the subject of countless tabloid rumors involving drug abuse, alcoholism and brawls. Last September, he was arrested on two counts of criminal mischief for allegedly trashing his New York City hotel suite.

He paid $9,767 in damages, and the next night he was in trouble again, accused by a man of starting a fight in a Manhattan bar.

So, Mr. Next Marlon Brando, how do you like the spotlight?

"The stuff they write about me is pure fiction, but unfortunately, people believe that fiction," the soft-spoken actor said. "My nieces read that stuff, and that gets upsetting to me. Based on what they read, people think I'm this drug-addicted, brawling, brooding, angry, rebellious mental case. I am not any of those things, yet the media has created this image of me. I am just an actor, and there is nothing that fascinating about being an actor."

The good news for Depp is that he has managed to maintain a respected acting career despite the negative publicity and without sacrificing his basic principle of accepting only roles that interest him without any regard for the film's commercial prospects. Reportedly, he was offered the Keanu Reeves role in "Speed" and the Tom Cruise role in "Interview with the Vampire" but turned them down.

"I'd feel ridiculous being in some of those movies because it would no longer be about the work.

"At the same time, I understand that you have to have a balance in this town, between commercial hits and smaller roles, and that balance is tricky to maintain. But I like to experiment and try new things, and my agents have been very supportive with my choices. They already think I'm weird, so they let me do what I want."

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