A dive into the Depp end

first_imgWhen upcoming starlet Abbie Cornish recently had the good fortune of being compared to Hollywood personality du jour, Nicole Kidman, her response was somewhat unexpected. She would much rather, she stated, follow in the footsteps of Cate Blanchett. What’s the difference? Well while Kidman has become a ‘star’ – if not a legend, Ms Bacall – invariably headlining films, Blanchett is one of a number of young actors who are happy to share top billing, take small parts, and star in independent films, all in order to play more interesting roles. It’s a rare thing to have a strong character actor who can also open a film (and who is camera-friendly to say the least), but Blanchett seems to be on her way to attaining a goal arguably only having been achieved by one other actor, the chameleon-like Johnny Depp.That Depp has become something of an anomaly in Hollywood terms is evidenced by the fact that this month the National Film Theatre is dedicating a season of films to him, a privilege rarely granted to so young an actor, going instead to classic icons such as Cary Grant. The programme has been designed to showcase Depp’s range as an actor. Along with the recent Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003) and Finding Neverland (2004), the two films which have garnered Depp Oscar nominations and cemented his reputation as one of the most talented actors of his generation, the season features a number of lesser-seen films which have contributed to his current critical acclaim.Edward Scissorhands (1990), Ed Wood (1994), Dead Man (1996), Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998) see Depp play a number of oddball outsiders in surrealist settings, working with such cult directors as Tim Burton, Jim Jarmusch and Terry Gilliam. Although only Edward Scissorhands fared well at the box-office, all four films have become cult hits, and the idiosyncrasy of the roles transformed Depp from a teen heartthrob to respected actor. Through them, Depp carved a niche for himself as a serious, somewhat spiky performer, willing to take risks with parts that other actors might consider damaging to their star personae.It is, however, all too easy to pigeonhole Depp as an offbeat actor. To do so is a great disservice to such a versatile screen presence. One of his biggest strengths is to consistently select roles that surprise critics and audiences alike. Pirates Of The Caribbean and Ed Wood highlight his humour, proving that Depp acquits himself equally well in comedies as he does in drama. Parts in the factually-based Donnie Brasco (1997) and Lasse Halstrom’s whimsical Chocolat (2000) see him playing it straight, the latter demonstrating that Depp still has the straight-up sex appeal that he displayed in his early TV parts, and which won him the role of Don Juan in the film of the same the same name. And the jewel in the programme’s crown is What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993). Critical reaction to the film centred on Leonardo DiCaprio’s convincing portrayal of a mentally- handicapped teen, but Depp’s performance as his older brother, the eponymous Gilbert, is as understated in its deilvery as it is poignant in its address.The success of the actor, and the desire of young upstarts such as Cornish to emulate it, may well be indicative of a new approach to acting amongst Hollywood’s luminaries. While the reputations of icons such as Grace Kelly and James Stewart was premised upon the conflation of the actor with their characters (as Hitchcock famously stated), a new generation of performers, spearheaded by Depp, are looking to extend their range and durability by becoming as versatile as possible. Instead of being stars, they want to be actors, who can transform themselves with each part.The current trend for ‘uglying up’ amongst Hollywood actresses, including recent Academy Award-winners Hilary Swank, Charlize Theron and Halle Berry, is in no small part due to Depp’s influence; and the industry’s eagerness to reward this nouveau method acting is proof enough of the extent to which his practises have become standardised. A decade before Tom Cruise dyed his hair silver and Nicole sported that nose, Depp was deforming himself with regularity, with little impact on his enduring appeal to female audiences.Comedian, tragedian and heartthrob, Depp’s distinction lies in the very indistinction of his career. And if proof positive were needed of how many incarnations Depp has taken, it’s now possible to take an online quiz: ‘Which Johnny Depp are You?’ (www.quizilla.com). Cary Grant never managed that.The Johnny Depp season continues at the NFT until 30 April. Finding Neverland is out now on DVDARCHIVE: 0th week TT 2005last_img read more