— In a town where looks are the supreme currency and playing the role of handsome leading man is what most actors strive for, Johnny Depp has made his mark playing the unattractive, misunderstood, quirky character.
If you look back at the collection of characters he's brought to life — from Edward Scissorhands to Gilbert Grape — they're a quirky bunch.
"I always thought it would be interesting to see them all in the same room together," Depp told Vargas.
Drug use, arrests, high-profile romances and, ultimately, true love would shape an acting career that Depp basically stumbled into.
Born in Kentucky, he grew up in Florida. His father, a civil engineer and his mother, a waitress, clashed through much of Depp's childhood and eventually divorced.
Depp would take his guitar and lock himself in his room, escaping into his music. At 15, he dropped out of high school and started a garage band. A few years later, he and his buddies headed to Los Angeles to become rock stars. But the gigs were few and far between and Depp was forced to take odd jobs.
Depp said he and his friends got jobs as telemarketers, selling pens.
Falling Into a Remarkable Career
Depp said he didn't have much of a knack for it. "I was hideous, just awful. … Then I met Nicolas Cage … and Nick told me one day, 'you should try acting.' I just said, 'at this point, I'll try anything.'"
With zero training and no acting experience, Depp auditioned and landed his first role in the movie Nightmare on Elm Street.
"Here I was, this skinny kid with tattoos and spiky hair and all that. And miraculously, he hired me for the gig," Depp recalls.
Before he knew it, Depp's rock star dreams were being pushed aside when he landed another small part … this time in the movie Platoon.
And then came the role that catapulted him from failing musician to teen heartthrob — an undercover detective posing as a high school student on the 1987 TV hit 21 Jump Street.
But Depp says he hated the poster boy image that came along with the role. "I didn't want to be a product. I didn't want to be some sort of saccharine kind of bon bon, you know." So, he began looking for a way to turn that image on its head. But when his agent handed him the perfect script to do just that — the script for Edward Scissorhands — he became plagued with self doubt.
"I thought this one of the greatest things I've ever read, and, at the same time, I thought … this will never come to me. Never. Never."
He was so convinced that he wouldn't get the part that he called his agent and canceled his audition. But his agent wouldn't let him back out. Depp said, "She screamed at me and went crazy and … and forced me to have the meeting."
In spite of himself, Depp landed the lead in Edward Scissorhands. In it, he traded his teen star image for a pale, spiky-haired, scarred freak who had scissors for hands. Depp's body movements and subtle facial expressions made the character loveable. It became Depp's trademark.
Depp says he drew inspiration from silent films. "I always loved silent film. Everything had to come out of their emotions and their eyes and their body movements."
Depp threw himself into his subsequent roles — sometimes too much. In the film What's Eating Gilbert Grape, for example, he plays a brooding caretaker to his 500-pound mother and his retarded brother, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.