The Battle Cry: Dear Johnny Depp…


Dear Johnny Depp,

Far be it from me, a lowly movie writer, to tell you how to run your career, but clearly, whatever you’re doing right now is just not working. That was clear last year when America decided they did not want to see you as the vampire Barnabas in your pal Tim Burton’s take on Dark Shadows and that’s just as true this year, when they had even less interest in seeing you play a crow-topped Tonto in your other pal Gore Verbinski’s movie The Lone Ranger.

Sure, you still have all of your international love from other countries who think that your over-the-top histrionics are becoming of an American movie star, but here in the United States, we’re getting kind of bored with you. You’re either playing the same character in different wigs over and over or giving every performance the Jack Sparrow treatment because you think that’s all that audiences want from you these days.

But you see, I fondly remember the early post-“21 Jump Street” days when you’d team with John Waters for Cry-Baby or a young tyke named Tim Burton for his movie Edward Scissorhands and you forged quite a movie career for yourself going into the later ’90s and early ’00s with movies like Chocolat and Before Night Falls and Donnie Brasco and Dead Man and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Ed Wood. It wasn’t all about money back then, it was about making true cinematic art with visionary filmmakers. I didn’t even mind when you helped butcher Alan Moore’s From Hell because you were doing something different from what we’ve seen from you, and I was thrilled when you and Tim Burton had a hit with your take on Sleepy Hollow.

You were a teen heartthrob that made the tough transition to serious adult actor, but then along came Pirates of the Caribbean and that became such a huge worldwide hit that it propelled you into A-list status and suddenly your name over the movie title was more important than the quality of the movie. You stopped making artsy movies and started going for the big bucks with an endless stream of starring roles in Tim Burton movies. (And don’t even get me started on whatever happened to the Tim Burton we loved!)

Ever since then, it seems like you’ve been hacking out movies like a cat coughs out furballs and it shows. The last Pirates of the Caribbean already showed signs of “Depp-ression” in terms of quality and Americans were not fooled. The fact that The Tourist, a movie that paired you with no less than Angelina Jolie, could barely make $70 million over the winter holidays, was the first sign there was real trouble in paradise. (Seriously, I don’t even want to HEAR about the $200 million it made elsewhere. It was a crappy movie.) I will give you extra credit for taking part in such awesome docs as When You’re Strange and Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson and I so wish that The Rum Diary lived up to the latter’s legacy. I just wish that doing those movies would convince you to reevaluate what used to be important to you as an actor and as an artist.

Here are a few suggestions I can make to you, Johnny, not as a professional Hollywood agent or crisis manager, but as an honest-to-gosh fan of your work and your movies, because you’ve made a lot of great ones in your 30-year career.

First things first. You need to step away from your pals Gore Verbinski and Tim Burton and vice versa. None of you three are doing the other two any favors at this point because it’s fairly safe to say you’ve said and done everything you possibly can do together and the work has started to get shoddy. Rango was an exception, but there was something about you and Gore both working outside your comfort zones that made that special.

For heaven’s sake, lower your rate! I mean, seriously, nothing you’ve done in recent years is worth the $20 million plus that you command at this point and maybe if you make a few deals, you can work with some cool new and younger directors who are making their mark with lower-budget films. You used to make cool indie movies all the time and having you in them generally made them better, so maybe it’s time to return to that aspect of your career instead of just going for the big dollar movies.

Taking a few smaller, supporting roles in bigger tentpole movies might allow us to appreciate your skills in moderation, which would probably do wonders for your flailing career. It’s worked for a lot of once big-name actors, like Kevin Costner in Man of Steel and plenty of others, where they take a supporting role that surprises us, maybe even puzzles us, but then they give their all for ten minutes of screen time and we love it!

Take a year off. It’s not like you’ve been making a ton of movies in recent years, but when you’re in one movie a year and we don’t like that one movie, then there’s a real problem. You might have to do a Will Smith or a Sandra Bullock and just take it easy for a while so when you come back, we’re excited to see you again. (Unless like Smith, you take a supporting role opposite your son.)

I actually have high hopes for your role in Wally Pfister’s Transcendence, because that sounds like a really clever and intelligent script and you’re playing a regular person in that one–I hope!–but then a few months later, you’re back to playing Captain Jack Sparrow, a character who has, at least in my mind, worn out his welcome two movies ago.

So that’s where we’re at, Johnny… if it’s okay that I call you “Johnny.” Something needs to change if you want us to keep loving you, and you’re nuts if you think you’re going to make 300 million Americans change overnight. So I suggest you go back and reevaluate what made you want to be an actor in the first place… what made us love you as an actor… and if it’s greedy agents and managers that are pushing you into some of your most recent choices, just go ahead and fire them and start from scratch. You’re Johnny Depp. You won’t have any trouble finding someone who knows how to turn your career around so you’re not reduced to the B or C list of stars or even worse, the type of actor that studios start considering as box office poison.

Yours truly, Edward Douglas, The Weekend Warrior